An Essay By Dorielle Caimi
I have spent my life as a sincere participant in the Feminist movement, or, more accurately, participating in the principles behind much, if not most Feminist ideals. I flew out to Washington D.C. to partake in the Women’s March earlier this year; I have taken numerous women’s study and ethics courses; and my life’s work (my art) is rooted firmly in the study of women. Also, I am a woman. In short, I am a fierce woman’s rights activist. However, I have never been fond of the word “Feminism.” It never seemed to get down to the heart of the issue of inequality. So it is with much thought, heart, reflection, and research that I write these words: I believe that word “Feminism” has become obsolete. I fear that we are using an old word in a new zeitgeist, and I am wary of the implications of using the word “Feminism” in these sweet gender-bending days of now.
When I was at the Women’s March, I saw so many men and women wearing t-shirts that said: “Feminism: the radical notion that women are human.” In a visceral response, I found myself pondering this question: why bother with the word Feminism, then, if its main concern is to transcend gender and make being human the primary concern? Why use a word that constantly points to gender as primary?
The greatest indication I have that our sweet old lady-friend-of-a word, Feminism, is getting tired is evidenced by the rise of the LGBTQ movement. Feminism is having a hard time holding us all together in one neat little gender package. I am not sure how many more letters we are going to add to the LGBTQ acronym, but I am sure that people are beginning to transcend gender.
The problem with the word Feminism is that the very word itself forgets the masculine. It champions the female as independent. But independence does not exist; it’s a mirage; it’s the ego’s way of assigning the individual value. The truth is, we are not independent beings; we are interdependent. We need each other as social beings for survival. I champion the men who have walked the streets wearing t-shirts that say “I am a Feminist” (Bravo! or Brava! Not sure which one applies here). But I don’t think it’s fair to them to continue using this word. And I don’t think it’s fair to us. Men have to be brought to this table. But why would a man come to a table where a defining attribute of his being (at least physically) is completely absent?
Fighting for equal rights now has changed. As Emma Watson declared in her address to the U.N. in 2014:
"Men don't have the benefit of equality either. We don't often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes.
When [men] are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don't have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won't be compelled to be submissive. If men don't have to control, women won't have to be controlled.
It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two opposing ideals.”
She goes on to admit, however that “we are struggling for a uniting word.”
And what is that word? Well, currently the best we have is “Feminism.”
However, the word Feminism ironically cannot encapsulate the ideals from which it departed. It is an exclusive, one-sided ideal. When our mothers’ mothers used it, Feminism was a novel bomb shelter. It was a way for women to build a protective construct around themselves so that they could have the freedom to explore themselves without the constructs of what society said a woman was. Since then, Feminism has stuck around doing what our fore-mothers didn’t want it to do: namely seeking to label women as this or that. That’s why Feminism has been through so many conflicting waves.
We cannot fight for equal rights from one side, and the very nature of the word “feminism” will always suggest one side, over and over again, unfinished, un-whole, like the Yin and Yang castrated from half of itself. It is an unwise word. It is a Catch-22, self-fulfilling-prophesy-of-a-word, and it is hurting our cause because it isolates us. It’s a Catch 22 because we want to be seen as human first, regardless of our sex, but the etymology of the word ironically points directly at our sex before it has time to address the human who just so happens to have a vagina. The more we keep parading around as Feminists, the more we are carrying around our old baggage unable to move into the light of interdependence.
There are those who would argue with me that I must not understand what Feminism truly means. I do. Let’s break down some history, shall we:
1. Feminism: This term dates all the way back to 1837 when Utopian Socialist, Charles Fourier, first coined the term “Féminisme.”
2. First-Wave Feminism started roughly in the late 1800’s and focused on legal issues that women faced, primarily women’s right to vote and own property.
3. Second-Wave Feminism came into play in the 1960’s and broadened the debate to a wider platform of issues, which delved into women’s sexual identity, domestic abuse, marital rape, reproductive rights, etc.
4. Third-wave Feminism came about in the 1990’s as a reaction to the perceived failings of first and second-wave Feminism by proclaiming that women basically should not be defined by their sex altogether. This form of Feminism came into play when non-heterosexual women and women of color started voicing that the old waves did not portray them accurately.
5. Fourth-wave Feminism takes spirituality into theory and attempts to take on politics, psychology, and spirituality of women’s issues: this includes things like taking a serious look at body shaming, sex work, plus-size fashion, and reproductive justice.
6. Post-Feminism, though not “anti-feminism” directly challenges 2nd and 3rd wave feminist ideologies.
Now here is where things get tricky:
7- Infinity. There’s Liberal Feminism, which seeks individualistic equality to men. There is Radical Feminism, which is extreme, and basically blames men for everything. Libertarian Feminism, which proclaims women as self-owners, exempt from external interference; Separatist Feminism, which doesn’t support heterosexual relationships; Lesbian Feminism, which is closely related to Separatist Feminism. Conservative Feminism is conservative to the degree of the society around it; Ecofeminists claim that men’s control of land is responsible for the oppression of women and the destruction of the environment; Marxist Feminists argue that Capitalism is the root cause for the oppression of women; Anarcha-Feminists think we should struggle against the hierarchy. Other forms of Feminism include but are not limited to: Indigenous Feminism, Third-World Feminism, Africana Feminism, Transitional Feminism, Neo Feminism, Post-Colonial Feminism, Post-structural Feminism, and, my favorite, just because I love lipstick: Lipstick Feminism (which believes that makeup and revealing clothing are a form of female empowerment).
These are all concerns that surround women, yes, but the basic nature of all of it is that they call for a multitude of voices to be heard. None of them is totally correct, and none of them is totally wrong. This is because women, like men are not singularly anything. However, with Feminism constantly trying to wrangle us up into a group, we keep arguing over semantics instead of treating these issues, not as women’s issues, but as complex human issues.
Outside of the Men’s Lib. Movement, I don’t see men squabbling over a term so profoundly as I do Feminism. It’s becoming very clear to me that the word Feminism has evolved into something completely new, like a cell that has split into so many different factions, that it has taken new form altogether. What is that form: it’s just a complex representation of humanity. It is a human call unto itself that cannot be defined by a singular and, in this case, polarizing term.
As I write this now, I am terrified. But I’m not terrified of men. I’m terrified of women. I’m afraid they will think I’ve forsaken them and their cause. But, anyone who knows my life’s work (my art), knows that I am a champion for the rising of the feminine. It finally occurred to me that being afraid of saying I wasn’t a Feminist for fear of being attacked by women was a very ironic hypocrisy. When I realized I wasn’t free to say that I was not a Feminist, I realized that Feminism is tripping at the finish line. I realized that Feminism is creating chains, despite its intentions not to. If women are starting to feel inclined to say things like “I’m so sick of Feminism. Women’s this, women’s that- just fuck off,” (as my friend screamed on Facebook one day) it is an indication that the word Feminism is teetering in a territory where it doesn’t belong, and we need to look at that. And just as our mothers had to let us go into the world and think for ourselves and express our thoughts, so too does Feminism need to let future generations grow up and express their thoughts. It has to let young men and women move into the uncharted territory that awaits us.
I think people are afraid to let go of the term because they are afraid that we will repeat the past if we don’t keep fighting for history as Feminists. After all, how can we forsake our familial traditions of hard-fought feminism, right? But I am not suggesting that we throw the female babies out with the bath water (let alone miraculously delete centuries of recorded human history); I am, however, suggesting that we get the babies out of the tub, and let them grow into their next phase of life. How about we stop using that word and start looking for a new word? Let’s face it, not everyone is willing to accept the label “Feminist” but most are willing to accept the label as “human.” Being human is our defining, transcendent common experience first, then our gender may or may not come into play. I strongly believe that this is where our mothers’ fight has lead us: for people like me to be free to say this.
It is very clear to me that this is the next step our fore mothers hoped for: putting Feminism to rest because it has unearthed new (or ancient) truths about human nature. I’m not going back into a practice of Feminism; I’m moving into a practice of being a human with both my masculine and feminine traits revered and intact. I’m going to perpetuate that practice because that is my divine right, and because there are too many experiences that both men and women share that transcend gender. I, personally, would like to stay open to those human experiences. I can understand that Feminists want to fight for a good cause, but even a good intention well-played will lead into new territory. And how are we to traverse this new terrain? The tricky part is knowing when you’re flogging a dead horse, and the scary part is being willing to get off and find a new one, or maybe even buy a hybrid vehicle.
There is so much energy that we are wasting by defending Feminism. We keep telling skeptics to look past the word and reach behind it for what it represents: fairness, justice, truth, equality, communication, agency, etc. But these are not “FEM-inist" topics of interest; these are human topics of interest. Human first; gender second. This is a concept where Feminism will never truly be able to arrive, unless it wants everyone to be feminine, and I don’t think that’s what we are wanting. But, for good measure, let’s debunk some Feminist ideals:
Believing that plus-sized women are beautiful isn’t Feminist, it’s healthy human thinking. On the reverse side: believing that men can be attractive for a multitude of reasons outside of their physical build is also healthy human thinking. Women’s reproductive rights are not a Feminist issue, they are a human issue over which the people who can make babies in their bodies (that would be women) should be the primary policy writers in government. Respecting her choice to follow through with a pregnancy or not isn't Feminist; it’s human respect and trust that she knows when she is ready to become a mother. Standing up for badgered, raped, and killed women is not a Feminist issue; it’s good human virtue, and it profoundly involves the people who are doing the badgering, raping, and killing. Giving a woman time, privacy, and professional leave to breastfeed and to take care of her child benefits all of society, not just women. Fighting for women’s equal wages is not a Feminist fight; it’s necessary to elevate the human race. Allowing women to participate in politics and write policy isn’t “Feminism,” it’s allowing for more voices to be heard within the human race for a better understanding of itself. Understanding that all women are not the same isn’t “Feminist;” it’s agreeing to disagree and understanding that all people are not the same. Saying that these wars are Feminist in nature completely takes the root cause out of the equation. It puts up a wall between the masculine and the feminine. It’s as if we are constantly looking at effect, without looking at cause. Everything that happens to women affects men and everything that happens to men affects women. There is no war for Feminism; there is only a war for human rights: for who we authentically are as human.
If we can get rid of the word Feminism, then we can get rid of the baggage that it holds, we won’t have to waste time arguing about it anymore; men will be more inclined to get involved; and we can come together and start solving the bigger problems in the world that involve the wiser brains and hearts of both men and women (penises and vaginas aside).
And finally, Feminism is a divisive word. It’s very existence keeps us in a weird woman-shaped box and ties us to our sex in a very imbalanced way. It consequently ties men to their sex and reminds all of us constantly of our sexual differences, which there very well may be but not in all cases. Feminism is a name for an army; and trust me, this is not a war we want to wage. It would be like the dog that chases its tail: the dog can wage war with its own tail all it wants, but ultimately it’s waging war on itself (and probably also becoming dysfunctionally dizzy).
I think we need to allow ourselves the chance to be free: Free to evolve into whatever comes next: free to bury the hatchets of the past; freedom to prove ourselves through our actions, and freedom to allow people to say who and what they are and what they are not. Freedom to be free, to change, to love, to be wise, and to evolve. Let’s put that on a T-shirt.