Feminism: A Reflection

Today, I want to write about feminism. Feminism can be a controversial topic. I bet you someone will read that opening line, and will say: “Enough already. Stop harping.” Or they will have stopped reading after the title because they don’t want to hear any more man-hating drivel. In which case they will miss the fabulous joke about pandas in the next few lines.

A man in a movie theater noticed what looked like a panda sitting next to him.

“Are you a panda?” asked the man, surprised.

“Yes.”

“What are you doing at this movie?”

The panda replied, “Well, I liked the book.”*

So. Anyway. Do I have your attention? Even you in the back? I present Feminism: A Reflection.

Feminism has a bad rap. In college, a  found that many of my fellow female classmates resisted calling themselves feminists because they didn’t want to seem too extreme or radical. “I believe in equality and everything,” they would say. “But feminism has these connotations of being sort of confrontational and man-hating, doesn’t it?”

It does have those connotations. But this is unfortunate. Because it doesn’t have to mean these things, and it is still so, incredibly relevant.

Jessica Valenti wrote a great editorial, published recently in The Nation, about how success and likeability are positively correlated in men but they are negatively correlated in women.

Here, I stopped reading, and I was like: “WHAT.”

Valenti goes on to say that women often “adjust their behavior to be likable and as a result have less power in the world.”

And I thought is this true?

I thought about how I often catch myself working hard to smooth ruffled feathers, or make peace, or say the right thing for the sake of seeming nice and funny and, well, likeable. And then, I thought about how I sometimes do this even when it feels inauthentic, or as if I am selling myself short, or discounting myself. Or apologizing for myself. And how it sometimes leads me to feel disempowered.

Valenti also references Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement speech at Barnard in 2011. In her speech, Sandberg talks about how it has been 30 years since women became 50% of college graduates. So why haven’t we seen more women heading to the top jobs? It’s a really good question, actually.

There are a lot of contributing factors. But I definitely think that one of them is the phenomenon that Valenti outlines:

a)   In general, people (both men and women) seem to like a woman less and less the more successful and powerful she becomes.

b)   Women therefore sometimes hold themselves back in order to be liked.

There seems to be only one good solution for women. Roll up their sleeves and prepare to face some pushback on the road to success. Easier said than done, I realize. But a worthy undertaking.

In summary, feminism is still relevant. If someone tells you to stop being a loud and strident feminist, listen patiently and thoughtfully (if you feel like it), and then tell them that you will stop being loud and strident once women are given equal pay for comparable work, once they hold an equal number of top government posts and leadership positions in the most influential companies. Because until then, you have a point.

*Source: http://www.jokes4us.com/animaljokes/pandajokes.html

6 Comments

  1. Well, I came for the panda joke, but I stayed for the very insightful posting.

    It’s interesting – Part of me wonders if the word ‘feminism’ has become more of a burden toward equality because it’s been hijacked and it’s meaning twisted into something that it isn’t, (man-hating, angry, etc). I thought the term ‘Equalist’ might be a better way to express myself.

    But perhaps that kind of attitude is just another example of the sort of appeasement thinking that you’ve outlined here. Food for thought, definitely.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I’ve wondered the same thing myself, whether the term “feminism” is just too loaded, and whether there might be a better word for what I’m trying to express and stand up for. At the same time, I keep coming back to the idea that abandoning the term gives feminist’s detractors more power. For me, owning the term feels really important and empowering.

      Glad you enjoyed the panda joke, too. 🙂

  2. Completely agree…THANK YOU :D!!! Too many people hold negative connotations regarding feminism when I find this subject has the potential to be quite beautiful and empowering!!

    1. Hi Aleia, thanks so much for the comment. I think that feminism at its best is truly empowering. So glad you enjoyed the post. That makes my day. Thanks for stopping by and reading, and for taking the time to comment!

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