What’s in a Feminist? That which we call a Rose.

Three days in Hikari, and I delved into some Feminism 101.

The last day my predecessor was here was the first day I met Sarah, the other JET who works at my Board of Education. The three of us rode with the office ladies to run errands. On the way, we discussed feminist issues, feminist politics and feminism in general.

“What is your definition of feminism?” Sarah asked Jessica and me.

For a moment, I found myself surprisingly completely stumped. What is my definition? Living the politics of feminism has become so much my life that I don’t often go back to the basics and ask myself simply – what is it?

I answered her that it’s a political, social and cultural movement dedicated to reaching equality… equity, between the sexes. That it’s an ideology centered on advancing the rights and protection of women worldwide.

Jessica, who vehemently denies being a feminist, said that her definition is a little differnet. She holds views of feminism as being an ultra-liberal movement that sees women and men as essentially the same. She disagrees with this idea, saying that while equality in some situations is good and even necessary, that women and men are different and should be treated as such.

Sarah sat thoughtfully for a long while and eventually said, “I think every woman in the world is a feminist in some way.”

It reminded me of conversations Friend Noelle and I had before I left LA. We discussed the merits of feminism – old feminist thinking versus new feminist thinking; political versus cultural feminism. And mostly, we discussed our mothers. For both of us, our foundations in feminism are in having incredibly strong, independent, often super-human mothers. And yet our brilliant mothers, who raised us both to be these strong, independent women, will rebuke the title “feminist” until the day they die. For them, what is feminism? And, even if they will not accept the title, are they still feminists?

Is every woman, in some way, a feminist?

In Japan, the women’s movement barely exists. It exists in the bigger cities, perhaps, but the majority of Japan is rural, and rural Japan hasn’t yet received word that equality of the sexes is a possibility. A woman at my office told me the other than that it has “gotten much better” even in the last 10 years – that 10 years ago, she would be expected to make coffee and tea rounds in the office, refilling the mens’ cups. Today, they are just expected to make the coffee every morning and serve it when a man points at his empty cup. Much better.

I have thought a lot about these conversations the past few weeks. I want to find hope in Sarah’s comment and want to believe that it’s true-  that being a woman is being a feminist; that every woman believes in the power of womankind. But I don’t think that every woman is a feminist. I keep seeing a scene from my sophomore or junior year of college.

Outside the student union, preachers would often come and lament the evils of debauchery and fornication. This annoyed me enough… but one day, a woman was outside preaching alongside her husband. She didn’t yell bible verses or scream about salvation… No, she preached about the evils of a college education for women. She screamed that women belong in the house, that God created men to be the head of the household, and that the Bible says it’s so. She yelled at each woman passing that they are living in sin becausue of their pursuit of higher learning, their pursuit of a career.

I think my answer to Sarah was fine, but feminism, for me, is more than that textbook definition. For me, feminism is about loving women and our absolute capability for greatness. It gets political because we live under a power structure that won’t often allow us express and achieve that greatness, so we have to fight for the space to do so. The definition is always changing and adapting to the current needs of a generation.

FMF – This is What a Feminist Looks Like

And this, this, too, is what a feminist looks like:

Noelle and me in our feminist capes at Ms. in LA!

Noelle and me in our feminist capes at Ms. in LA!

This too…

Hanging out with the Ms. editors and Noelle after a day of go-karting! From the left - Noelle, Jess, Kort, me

Hanging out with the Ms. editors and Noelle after a day of go-karting! From the left - Noelle, Jess, Kort, me

So now, I’ll pass Sarah’s questions to you –

What is your definition of feminism? Is every woman a feminist?

~ by C on August 29, 2009.

One Response to “What’s in a Feminist? That which we call a Rose.”

  1. Oh, this is lovely Cyn Cyn.

    I’ve thought of this often enough, as you know. And I still don’t have a clear definition. But I believe feminism has a lot to do with power and choices – having the power to make choices, free of pressures based on gender expectations. And being equally compensated for the choices we make – whether it’s equal pay or reproductive options.

    I just want to be judged as a person. Not a woman.

    Not every woman is a feminist. But Sarah Palin would like that definition. But I think it’s obvious that more women are feminists than who embrace the title. Like our mothers 🙂

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