This is something I’ve thought about before, and for obvious reasons, it is coming up again. I will get no love for this, especially as people will likely (rightfully) take it as a bit of an attack on women politicians they support, but here we are.
We are much too generous with the word feminism.
It has always struck me as ironic how much people get angry about the idea of feminists, as feminism has basically turned into a nothing term. Any woman that declares herself strong and proud of her female identity is a feminist. Many people and activists vocally talk about how everyone should label themselves as feminists. Staunchly conservative women loudly declaring that you cannot define feminism for them and so-called “left” leaning women agreeing.
Feminism has become a catchall term for simply “I am not ashamed of the fact that I am a woman” and it needs to stop.
The reality is equality for women is no simple thing, especially in a country and world where there are many factors outside of gender that impact women. So until we live in a more fair society, feminism needs to be all-encompassing.
As long as women of color are impacted by systemic racism, feminism MUST be about racial justice.
As long as women are stuck in the cycle of poverty, feminism MUST be about economic justice.
As long poor women and women of color are the first, the hardest, and the longest impacted by climate inaction and poor environmental policies overall, feminism MUST be about environmental justice.
As long as gay women are denied the freedom to be with who they choose, feminism MUST be about marriage equality.
As long as transwomen are denied healthcare, the ability to define their own identity, and the myriads of other ways they suffer, feminism MUST be about rights for the trans and non-binary communities.
As long as women of many walks of life lose their husbands, sons, and even themselves to a broken justice system that goes after black people, the mentally ill, and other groups ruthlessly, feminism MUST be about justice reform.
As long as women are denied access to the healthcare they need, as long as women are dying unnecessarily in childbirth, as long as we are being ignored, feminism MUST be about healthcare reform.
As long as women with mental illnesses are denied access to therapy, medication, and will be treated safely in an emergency, feminism MUST be about mental health justice.
As long as women are suffering, you cannot claim you believe in their equality while completely ignoring the other facts that ensure that will never be the case.
“But shouldn’t feminism be about issues that impact all women like pay, sexual liberation, etc.” Maybe, I disagree that it should be, but maybe. But here’s the kicker. Everything listed above impacts those issues. Your race determines your pay, with white women making significantly more than other women. Your race, class, and geographic location impact the access to the healthcare you have. Your race and class will impact your experience if you report sexual abuse.
There’s also the matter that no matter how far forward we get with “women’s right” some groups will be boxed out. If racial injustices remain, black women will likely be denied access to the victories of “feminism” because of said racial injustices. Once again, most victories in closing the pay gap have not actually helped many women of color.
What you focus your personal activism on is your choice. People have to pick and choose where they volunteer their time and money, and it’s not that there is anything wrong with making your priority one thing or another. But your core beliefs, who you are willing to fight for, how you feel about specific issues, all of this does matter.
And in the case of powerful women, the way they vote, the policy positions they support vs. the ones they don’t, the way they speak. All of this matters.
We’ve gleefully labeled many powerful women who have time and time again showed that they don’t care about all women and all the problems facing women as “feminist.”
Stop being so generous with the word feminist and make people fight for it and prove it.
Hell, many of us aren’t.
But we should all strive to be. Even as that makes it difficult, even as it means we have to pay much closer attention to the different horrors that many women face, we do not ourselves. Even as we realize that things we dismissed once before need to be part of our feminist ideals. Even if that means realizing that powerful women we respected don’t deserve total respect, or maybe any respect at all.
Someone can be great on certain women issues, and it’s essential to have those fighters in our corner. But that doesn’t make them a feminist, and those victories don’t mean that all women get to enjoy them. We need to be aware of that and consider it as we move forward.