Viewpoint: Don't be afraid to be a feminist

BY CASSIE BALFOUR

Published March 5, 2011

On any given day, many men open doors for me, and I make it a point to smile and say thank you. I’m a woman who identifies as a feminist. Contrary to what Anny Fang claimed in her blog post (There are bigger issues than holding doors, 2/17/11) these are not mutually exclusive. Fang’s article was riddled with tired clichés that only perpetuate stereotypes about a heterogeneous group of people (yes, there are plenty of men who embrace feminism). It was disheartening, but not surprising.

I’m a feminist because I’m committed to equality and making sure that women’s rights are protected. However, I know that proudly asserting my feminism will elicit eye-rolls and groans from the uninitiated, and I’m expecting at least one comment claiming that I’m a feminist because I’m probably incapable of snagging a boyfriend. But I have bigger things to worry about like the fact that the GOP recently attempted to redefine rape or one in six women in the United States will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Those are feminist issues. I’ve taken a number of women’s studies classes, and I’ve yet to read any feminist theory that rallies against men for monopolizing door-opening duties.

In her blog post Fang calls feminism “futile.” I found this baffling considering we have feminism to thank for securing women’s suffrage and fighting for sexual agency. Modern feminism is concerned with fighting for the rights of all women — including women of color, queer women and women of lower-socioeconomic class. Feminism is about recognizing disparities and attempting to rectify them. I may be a privileged woman by virtue of my education, but this doesn’t apply to all women.

It would be impossible for me to try and comprehensively define feminism — the University has deemed the topic important enough to dedicate a department to the subject. In the United States feminism came in three waves, and each wave of feminism had different ideas and beliefs. It would be narrow-minded to say all Christians are against gay marriage when in reality there’s an immense amount of Christians with diverse beliefs. Feminism is the same way. Maybe there are feminists who think all men are chauvinistic, but I know plenty of men — gay and straight — who are strong feminists. Unfortunately, the stereotypes persist.

If, for some reason, my feminist beliefs come up in casual conversation, someone will inevitably ask if I shave my legs. And if one more guy tells me he is a bra-burning supporter, I may lose faith in humanity. What hurts the most is when fellow women are proudly anti-feminist — usually in an attempt to win the affections of some guy. I remember when one friend gleefully ousted me as feminist to a bunch of guys at a party. “Cassie’s a feminist,” she sneered, not even bothering to modify the word feminist — the implied adjectives might as well have been scrawled across my face: ballbreaker, feminazi and that one word used to knock a woman down to size-Bitch. By invoking the F-word, she established herself as the universally revered “Guy’s Girl,” and I was cast off as a militant man-hater. Yes, these are stereotypes feminists have to contend with and probably have stopped many would-be feminists from identifying as one. You don’t have to be a women’s studies major to be a feminist — I’m not. I don’t even belong to any explicitly feminist groups on campus. Feminism is multifaceted, but it ultimately teaches people to be critical of power — not men.

If rights for women around the world are important to you, you’re probably a feminist. If your heart soared when you saw Egyptian women standing shoulder to shoulder with men in Tahrir Square, you might be a feminist. If you think all women should have access to birth control and family planning services, you’re probably a feminist. If you’re a woman who likes sex, you might be a feminist. If you see that Republicans tried to pass the (laughably named) Protect Life Act — which would allow anti-abortion doctors to let a pregnant woman die rather than perform an abortion — as a brazen attack on women, you might be a feminist. Don’t be afraid to identify as one just because of how someone will react. The movement needs your voice, and now that it’s faltering, maybe now more than ever.

Cassie Balfour is an LSA sophomore.