Friday, November 2, 2007

What is Feminism?

What is Feminism? Can Christians be Feminists? Can Conservatives? Can “Pro-Lifers?” Non-white women have often been marginalized within feminist discourse; poor women are nearly non-existent as valiant voices. Also, many issues have divided feminists like sex work or lesbian rights. About five years ago, I listened attentively with my Intro to Women’s Studies class as Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, authors of Manifesta and leaders within Third Wave Feminism, preached to the choir at a neighboring university. Our class was trying to define feminism (so cliché right). We got as far as “feminism is the idea that women are equal to men and thus should be allocated equal rights and opportunities.” But, how do we define “woman?” Feminist theorist Chandra Talpade Mohanty importantly questions the overgeneralization of women’s experiences and the emphasis of placing gender at the center of oppression without complicating it with race and class. While working at a feminist magazine where all of the content was written by and for girls, I came across the same question when an intersex person sent in a piece for publication. What is a woman?

The existence of “pro-life” people who claim to be feminists, also begs the question of what is a feminist and what is a woman. I just had to ask Baumgardner and Richards: can you be “pro-life” and a feminist? Surprisingly, their answer that day was explicitly yes! They cited a list of ways “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people could work together to make a change in our world, like making education and contraceptives available. But, because the idea of personhood is the root conflict for “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people, a definition of feminism remains in limbo. In an age where technology proliferates and ideas over what is “natural” are debated, who decides what defines a person? Or more precisely, who has the power to decide?


Brian said...

About the only way I can conceive of pro-life people as feminists is if they limit their definition to their personal decisions, and make no overt attempt to criminalize abortion. The second they step over that line and become anti-choice, I don't see how they can lay legitimate claim to the mantle of feminism, because they're trying to remove womens' ability to make personal choices about medical conditions.

Katie said...

I wonder if because so-called third-wave feminists are sensitive to feminism's exclusive past and, in some circles, negative connotations, there's a bit too much rush to say "Everyone's included." I share the reservations Brian articulates in the thoughtful post above.