The word “feminism” has become a nose-scruncher. It’s mere utterance will often cause the person hearing it to make a “Did-you-really-just-say-that?”face. Go ahead, try it out on someone and see what happens. I did a survey on the word during graduate school. Even those of us who don’t mind the word tend to give lengthy explanations for what, exactly, it means to us and almost-desperate assurances that we are not the kind of feminists who burn bras, neglect our underarms or hate men. It is a shame the we allow semantics to dismiss this entirely valid and worthy movement. I understand that associations with words are inevitable, especially words that feel loaded; and, let’s face it, are. In the service of knowledge, however, it seems we might gain more if we search for meaning in the nose-scrunching in lieu of slamming an entire movement with a quick judgment and look of distaste.
One blog stated that “less than 30% of American women considered themselves to be Feminists.” (http://aloftyexistence.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/big-bad-f-word-feminism/) That goes to show that we are confused. Let us look first at what the actual definition of the word means:
1.the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2.an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
3.the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
What educated, equal-rights-motivated man or woman would not agree with the concept of feminism as it is described above? So that leaves us with what people associate with it. The survey I collected housed shockingly honest answers. Here are a few: “man-hating bitch,” “bull-d*ke,” and yes, even the C-word was used. Talk about loaded. Let’s explore.
The New Feminism is “my” term for Feminism in 2012. It may not be original, but that has a purpose: I believe it is imperative that we recognize the origins and concepts that feminism started out with, which is, quite simply: to honor the feminine viewpoint and to lend credence to women’s intuitive and deeply feeling nature. In doing this, we also honor men and the masculine viewpoint. In my experience, respect tends to follow respect.
Part of the reason people have had such strong reactions to feminism is due to the fact that the movement itself had no boundaries. How could it? Women back then had no model, no one to follow; no “blueprint,” if you will, for conduct or how to proceed. Men had always been in power. Women were only just discovering theirs. Women of that time were faced with a new-found freedom and like any pioneers, women had to go forth and break past boundaries in order to know what their boundaries were. It is said that one only knows limits when one has gone past them. So women took risks and pushed past “reasonability” precisely because there was no other way to learn. Did those women make mistakes? Of course. But they also paved the way for honoring a new way of being; one which includes both masculine and feminine perspectives.
The path now is towards integration of the feminine principles that were once confused as being the same thing as masculine principles. Decades later, men and women still harbor negative feelings towards the idea of feminism. And no wonder: both sexes have feelings about the movement that are totally valid and need, once again, to be integrated, understood and assimilated in such a way that we can become more whole as a society.
Let’s talk about the male perspective. I can only speak on this viewpoint from what my survey yielded and what I have been told by male acquaintances, friends and family members. One of the main grievances that came up was that men felt accused, belittled and undervalued. A friend remarked, “Well, women said they want to be the same as men, so see how they like opening their own doors and paying their own way.” Another said, “Women should have to pass the same tests as men do if they want to be firefighters.” These thought-processes should be explored and discussed – but not in terms of feminism. These remarks are resulting from a basic, core misunderstanding: that women wanted to be “the same as men.” I don’t think any woman you ask wants to be “the same as a man.” That was never the issue. Equality of rights or pay does not mean “men and women are beings with no differences.” It means simply that the female perspective ought to be valued with the same weight as the male perspective. It means when women are being hired for the same job, they ought to be paid the same salary (and in my humble opinion, sharing financial burdens is usually a worthwhile goal of any partnership). This seems to me basic common-sense. Yet, because both sexes were rightfully confused when women began to understand their voices mattered as much as men’s and their contributions were as significant as men’s – we all were led somewhat astray. Change, especially enormous change, always has confusion and fear within it – otherwise it would not be called change. As a society, though, we failed to adequately deal with the angry feelings on both sides. We did not look at where feminism was going, because it was a completely new frontier! We have delved into gender differences since that time, and we are finally beginning to see the value in the feminine.
Many people would agree that in Western society, especially, we have too long over-valued the masculine ideals of goals, achievements, focus and work without valuing it’s opposite feminine ideals of nurturing, intuition, feeling and mystery. One is not greater than the other. Together, they unite to make a beautifully balanced whole. It is also not that the masculine perspective is “bad.” It has never been bad. If we do not balance it with it’s opposite, though, we become lopsided. How many people do you know who are workaholics, goal-focused to the point of being completely out of touch with how they are feeling? How many people rush through meals or pick up fast food because they “don’t have time” to care for themselves? This is the masculine side gone awry. Don’t get me wrong – the feminine can go awry as well. When intuition is not countered by facts, or feelings not anchored by a focus, we see emotional outbursts that don’t seem to fit the situation. Western society, as a whole, though, needs to embrace the feminine. The Feminine has been dismissed and condescended for far too long. How many times do we say, collectively, “Oh, she’s crazy” when a woman is emotional? How many times do we look down on men for any displays of emotion? And how, do you imagine, a person experiencing deeply-felt emotions would begin to come out of that state? By telling him or her that he or she is crazy? I don’t know about you, but that tactic would sure back-fire on me. An individual (and thus, a society) comes out of that state through acknowledgment and integration. This is what we must do with the feminine principles we have so long neglected – acknowledge them (instead of labeling natural human emotion “crazy”) and integrate them with our wonderful masculine.
They say that men and women need one another. I think that is true. The question is less about what some woman or man can give you, though, and more about how you can balance the qualities of both natures in your own self. Where do you need more nurturing? Where can you trust your intuition? Can you develop it? Are you in touch with what you body needs? Alternately, where could your life use a more refined focus and determination? Where do you need to touch base with the facts and where do you need to cultivate your imagination?
In his exceptional book Invisible Partners, John A. Sanford writes, “In the final analysis, the opposites can only be united in an individual personality. The union of male and female cannot be achieved while we unconsciously project one half onto a human partner and act out the other half….it is only the union of these two principles (masculine and feminine) that constitutes a complete human being.” (pp. 112-113)
True Feminism – what I hope is truly the New Feminism – will always love and respect the masculine, just as a developed masculine will love and respect the feminine. While we do not have a comparable word for men (because Patriarchy was the status quo), it is imperative to remember that valuing one perspective does not equal the diminishing of the other! The goal is to have a society which values both. To do that, we must start within.