Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Feminism Isn't a Four-Letter Word, Part II

(originally posted 07/08 at wordpress)

by Blythe Pavlik

A few weeks ago I had a typical college chat, yet this one made it into my mental database as relevant in the ongoing, flowing conversation about feminism. In one of my classes I was tasked to get to know a fellow student and introduce her to the class. As well, this student would get to know me a bit and introduce me to the class. Knowing of my involvement with the Women’s Resource Center, she remarked on our shared interest in Women’s Rights. I responded by asking, “Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?” She grimaced and retorted quickly, maintaining a curl of rejection on her lip, “a feminist? No... no, I don’t.”

I offered a half-pinned smile and simply said, “huhm.” This was not the moment in time to offer my peer my personal interpretation of feminism, of course in Cliff-note (or Clare-note) style. I recognized that she would likely only feel bombarded by my preaching and end up feeling more disconnected from the word.


A word like so many other controversial words that unnecessarily takes on the identities created by misunderstandings of a public terrified to embrace change. If I think of feminism as a character, I see an enormous spirit - creative and powerful, yet sadly, entrenched in public disapproval and degrading gossip. It seems to me that feminism is lost on so many people, not because of its inherent meaning, but because of the patchwork of meanings forced onto it from outside sources. Sources that offer judgment without seeking understanding.

I suppose my concern with the widespread misconception of feminism is that it becomes less available to all the people who need it. While it is very true that the word itself has only the meaning we give it (like every word), some words can become sacred places for those who seek refuge. Words like God, Goddess, love, Mother, and friend. Really... all JUST words. And words that, too, have their own public misrepresentations. But these words bare the weight of what they mean. They act as a name of something abstract, complex and deeply important. Feminism is certainly a word worth pondering.

I suppose for me, finding a word to describe how I feel about women’s role in the society provides me with a "sum up" and offer more solace and contemplation. For me, resting in feminism is like being welcomed into a mulit-generational Red Tent. I can come with my own stories or I can simply feel heard just for being here.

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