Feminism and anti-feminism

As mentioned, I’m teaching Gender & Politics this summer.  As every time I teach the class, I had my favorite paper assignment of any classes.  Here’s the assignment:

Informally discuss the meaning of feminism with at least five people. Make sure to ask them if they are a feminist, why or why not, and what do they think of when they hear the term. How did people respond? Why do you think that people reacted as they did? What did these conversations help you learn about perceptions and reality of feminism in America?

These papers are always great fun to read and discuss in class.  Invariably, all sorts of interviewees actually support female equality, but equate feminism with lesbianism, hairy women, and bra-burning.  Thus, in a very timely article for my class, Slate has a really interesting article on feminism and how there’s a long history of “anti-feminist” reclaiming feminism.  Not surprisingly, Sarah Palin is the latest at this:

Sarah Palin made quite the splash recently with her comments to the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List about conservative women reclaiming feminism, asserting that anti-choicers were “returning the woman’s movement back to its original roots.”…

The invocation of the word feminist at a meeting of anti-abortion women can be confusing, but it shouldn’t be. There’s no real reason to consider Sarah Palin a feminist. She’s just the latest incarnation of a long and noble line of feminist anti-feminists: women who call themselves feminist but also object to the existence of the feminist movement and organize in opposition to it.

Of course, despite the widespread support for women’s equality, the use of the word “feminist” is confusing because so many people associate it (quite wrongly, in my book), with a very narrow band of strident, radical feminism.  Unfortunately, even in many, many people sympathetic to the goals of feminism, the word itself has taken on quite a negative connotation.  As long as that remains the case, feminism has a problem.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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