This semester’s Feminist Theories of Discourse class has taught me a lot. The content and class discussions challenged my thinking about feminism’s role in my life, both personal and professional. My very first think piece was a reflection on feminism – what my working definition of the term was and how I could best communicate that definition to the people in my life, specifically the men in my life who do not consider themselves feminists. In that think piece I came up with the following definition, “feminism is a partnership rooted in love and against stereotypical gender norms that offers choices for bettering the lives of those who ascribe to it.” While I still accept this definition, I want to expand it based on the discussions and readings done throughout the rest of the semester. In what follows, I will explain the ways in which my definition of feminism has expanded over the course of the semester and then briefly discuss the ways in which this thinking will inform my personal and professional life in the future.
For me, “feminism” is a mindset, not just a movement. It is a way of looking at the world and of interacting with other people. My definition of feminism draws specifically from bell hooks conception of the partnership model. She writes, “Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other.”1 In furthering this point, she claims, “To offer men a different way of being, we must first replace the dominator model with a partnership model that sees interbeing and interdependency as the organic relationship of all living things.”2 In other words, feminism is not seeking equality; instead it seeks a partnership, rooted in love and respect. It seeks a valuing of the other manifested in integrity. This is a point where my definition of feminism broadened: I have moved beyond a strict focus on relationships between men and women to include ideas related to intersectionality and anyone who is “othered.” That means people of other races, genders, abilities, etc. With a feminist mindset, I will seek to create partnerships with all beings, which emerge organically out of respect and love instead of out of hierarchy and domination.
Themes of hierarchy and domination pervade our patriarchal society and, for me, feminism seeks to break down these patriarchal structures. In doing so, it focuses on a break from traditional gender norms as a means of bettering lives. As such, feminism offers men alternative ways of being. bell hooks quotes Olga Silverstein’s notion that male sex roles must be redefined in ways that break sexist norms. “Currently, sexist definitions of male roles insist on defining maleness in relationship to winning, one-upmanship, domination.”3 In other words, a strict set of acceptable behaviors, norms, and roles are set for men in our society. To achieve manhood, men must live within these set boundaries. Michael Kimmel discusses this too (and Valenti draws attention to it): there are “rules of manhood” and “relentless pressure on men” to be tough, show no emotion, be daring and aggressive, etc. (Valenti, 189). In this sense, feminism offers men a break from the pressure to fulfill stereotypical gender roles. It also allows women to break from stereotypical gender roles. What I failed to explain fully in my first try at a comprehensive definition of feminism is that, in my definition, a split from stereotypical gender roles is not required. Feminism does not require that women no longer cook and men no longer be sole financial providers for their families, but instead feminism creates a space for individual or partnered decisions to be made based on circumstance and context instead of solely on gender.
Clearly the mindset of feminism has the potential to change the way that a person interacts with society and the people in his or her life. For me, this is essential. I have thought a lot about the title “Feminist.” I have several men in my life who claim that they ascribe to feminist ideologies, but who do not take the title because of the negative connotations surrounding it. It is my goal to act in a way that breaks down those negative connotations. Because language is important to me and I understand the power of it, I believe that the term “Feminist” is an identity, not just a title. I will do my best in my personal and professional life to present an alternative view of feminism that breaks down the “anti-men” stereotype so often associated with it. In connection to this, it is also my goal to be with a man who accepts a feminist identity for himself. I will not settle into marriage until I find a man who calls himself a feminist. In doing this, I anticipate that there will be discussions regarding the roles we will fulfill in our family since we will not be operating on a path that honors stereotypical gender roles without first discussing them. Additionally, careful consideration will go into work/family balance. While I find this balance generally easy to accommodate now as a single female, I anticipate that it will get much more difficult when a partner is figured into the equation and even more difficult with the addition of children. I refuse to attempt to navigate those circumstances without a partner who identifies himself as a feminist and approaches the world with a feminist mindset.
In my professional life, I will go after any job that I feel qualified for. Statistics and stereotypes will not stand in my way. While I have no control over whether or not I get those jobs, I can control whether or not I try for them. And I will. I will also fight for the things that I value in my workplace. Again, I know that I cannot control all of the structures that are already in place, but I can control how I react to them. I will fight for the things that I value – respect, integrity, and family to name a few, and I will choose my battles when my ability to honor those things is compromised, or I feel that those things are not being given to me.
This semester has been an incredible learning experience. My eyes have been opened to the difficulties that lie ahead for me as a feminist. I have already faced several situations in which my feminist mindset has left me feeling uncomfortable, mistreated, and angry. I choose to channel that anger into action in my own life, which coincides with my definition of feminist. I am a feminist who cares about establishing relationships built out of respect and integrity and love. I choose to treat people in feminist ways, showing each of them that I organically value them as partners on this journey. All I can control is how I act. And I will act as a feminist.
2 hooks, bell. The Will to Change Men. 117.
3 hooks, bell. The Will to Change Men. 117-8.
Abby Zwier is a Communication Studies Master’s candidate at Colorado State University. She is interested in studying the rhetorical messages present in films depicting teenage romantic relationships and plans to spend her next year in Graduate School writing a thesis on this very topic. Life post-graduation is uncertain, but Abby is dedicated to walking through life in feminist ways, paying tribute to those who worked so hard to give her the opportunity to travel such a beautiful, fulfilling, and promising path.