The Meaning of Feminism


Celebrities have been making headlines lately because of their remarks about the meaning of feminism, its drawbacks, and the huge role it plays in the lives of women. Recently, Zosia Mamet from Girls garnered attention for her comments about modern feminism in a recent issue of Glamour. Here’s the link in case you haven’t read it already. Basically, Mamet makes the common-sense argument that just because a woman isn’t a CEO—and does not want to be—does not make her any less of a feminist. Sacrificing a high-paying job, or any job really, to have children, is not betrayal. And that’s a message that all women need to hear.

Excerpted from the fantastic column:

“We are so obsessed with “making it” these days we’ve lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms. As women we have internalized the idea that every morning we wake up, we have to go for the f—king gold. You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn’t enough—that’s settling, that’s giving in, that’s letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime. Who in her right mind would want to do that? And who would even be able to?”

Mamet makes the argument that feminism has put undue pressure on women to pursue traditionally male-oriented goals like power and money. She rightly proclaims that we need new goals, and ones that aren’t quite so gender specific. After all, who says that all men crave power and money over a simple life with domestic or artistic pleasures? It’s important for each woman to set personal goals for herself to achieve happiness and a sense of equality, whether it’s in the home, as a teacher, the owner of a business, or the president of a Fortune 500 company. That’s a message I can get behind.

On the other hand, we have Shailene Woodley, a woman who does not identify as a feminist for many personal reasons, some of which have drawn hateful remarks from self-proclaimed feminists. Woodley has said in an interview with TIME magazine:

TIME: You’ve talked about before—with Divergent specifically, too—about being conscious of the kind of messages that you’re sending to young female fans when you’re taking on roles. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Shailene Woodley: No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.

My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism. I don’t know how we as women expect men to respect us because we don’t even seem to respect each other. There’s so much jealousy, so much comparison and envy. And “This girl did this to me and that girl did that to me.” And it’s just so silly and heartbreaking in a way.

Shailene-Woodley-ELLE-20th-Annual-Women-In-Hollywood-Beverly-Hills-California-October-22-2013I have a lot of respect for Shailene Woodley and I definitely would agree with the general statement that “taking power away” from men does not work and should not be the goal of feminism; feminism is not about gender wars, at least for me. I agree that feminism suffers when it places too many rules on women, a sentiment I think both Woodley and Mamet would agree with.

It is in this respect that I very much agree with Shailene Woodley, but I think she’s wrong when she says she isn’t a feminist. I think she’s just defining it in her own way. I do think it’s ironic that she’s arguing for a sisterhood when she seems to criticize other women for their behavior, but her comments do ring true, sadly.

So what is the meaning of feminism? Is it power and wealth, is it stripping men of their power, is it being the stereotypical “strong woman?”

I don’t quite know what the “meaning of feminism” would be if I were ever asked this question, and I think that’s the point. In the past, feminism has placed strict rules upon women about how to act, how to dress, how to walk and talk, and that kind of attitude is always destructive. I can understand denigrators of feminism complaining about one evil being replaced for another, but the answer is not eschewing feminism altogether: it just means we have to rewrite the “rules.”

I’m a girly-girl and will never feel shame about wearing makeup and pretty skirts; it’s who I am and I won’t change it to make others take me seriously. If my mind and my speech and my accomplishments don’t make you take me seriously, then certainly changing my wardrobe or eyeliner won’t. I always think of that episode of New Girl when Jess says that wearing polka dots and liking girly things doesn’t make her any less tough and strong. We’re all very multi-faceted, aren’t we?

Defining one’s own brand of feminism is essential for women and for men. In my opinion, there is only one stipulation: support other women always, be kind to women whose decisions you don’t agree with, and don’t feel ashamed of your own decisions. And that—I think—is what feminism means to me.

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  • LOVE this! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • WOW go Zosia Mamet!! I had no idea she was that bright — sorry, I realize that’s probably not fair of me, but her character on “Girls” (and the show in general) leaves much to be desired.
    As for Shailene Woodley… I think she still has a lot to learn.
    Your comments about makeup and skirts really resonated with me. I had a pretty heated argument with my boyfriend over the weekend; he was complaining that I wear makeup too often. And I had to explain to him that I *like* wearing makeup for many reasons, and that being “true to myself” doesn’t require me to go “au naturel.” I’ve come a long way since high school when I refused to wear skirts at debate tournaments because I thought they would make me appear “weak” to my opponents. ha!

    • I’m so glad you commented, and that you find “Girls” to be as lacking as I do. I thought I was the only one! I don’t want to be represented by one of several “types” of women.
      I think that as a society in general, we still tend to think of femininity as a weakness, and why is that? Why does power have to be in a pantsuit to be taken seriously?
      I too have come a long way since high school when I thought I couldn’t be a feminist because I liked makeup. Now I learn to fight back against criticism and declare my feminine independence. (I wonder if Mary Wollstonecraft is reading this beyond the grave? She probably has better things to do 😉 )
      Just in general though, I think feminism should be a sisterhood first and foremost; I think Shailene Woodley has hit upon an unfortunate truth when she says we don’t support each other enough.
      Thank you so much for commenting.