Do You Even Know Why Being A Feminist Matters?

Feminine vs Feminist

Do women want to be known as feminine? As possessing those traits unique to the female of the species?

Those I know personally do. Not all, of course, no matter sexual orientation, but most.

We like to get cute haircuts—the ones that flatter our faces.

We like to wear that new snazzy outfit—the one that flatters our figures.

We like to flirt, to put those feminine wiles into practice, and turn the heads of others—significant or someone we’ve just met.

We joy in giving love to those we love.

Don’t we?

I know I do. It’s part and parcel of the fun aspects of being a girl, no matter one’s age.

Most of us (at least the women I know), also want to be known for our abilities, our strengths, our skills, our artistry in whatever craft or business we practice as well.

In other words, for who we are, as well as what we are.

Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or corporate executives (or any combination of everything in between), we want to be recognized for the jobs we do, which we do so well.

So, when did the desire for the former become at odds with the latter?

When did the idea of being both become anathema?

About the time women spread their wings to become fully fledged citizens of this country is when.

Back in the days of yore, when I was coming of age, the legal rights of women in this country were, well, filled with lots of holes. Here are just a few of the missing pieces for women, when I was growing up:

֎ Not until 1972 was single women's access to birth control legalized in all 50 states via The Supreme Court (in Baird v. Eisenstadt).

If you couldn’t even decide when to have children, your life was tricky, to say the least.

Now, if you’re a millennial, you might think that was ancient history. But for those of us of that era, ah! The terror of becoming pregnant was quite real. And since:

֎ The Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to choose, didn’t happen until 1973, well, we were left in a bit of a box.

No available birth control, no access to abortion. Rest assured, teenage hormones ran every bit as strong then—just as from the dawning of mankind, until today . . .

But let’s take the actual sexual act out of it for a bit. I know, I know—people have quite strong emotions about that, especially a woman’s right to choose.

So let’s focus for a minute on the financial aspects:

֎ Until 1974, a woman couldn’t get a credit card in her own name, without a man’s signature.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 gave women that right. The law forced credit card companies to issue cards to women without a husband’s signature.

֎ In Texas anyway, in the ‘60s, a female couldn’t purchase her own home without a male relative’s signature.

I mean, think of that: You weren’t even free to buy your own place to live, no matter how much money you had.

Attorney Sara Weddington, the lawyer who successfully litigated Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, said one of the reasons she got into activist law was that once she had graduated from law school, mind you, and tried to buy a house in 1960s Austin, by law she couldn’t borrow the money without a male relative’s signature. This was in the ‘60s! I was coming of age then.

Ancient history, some might say.

But everything brings us back to the legal differences in the sexes, no?

֎ Income disparity. In 2015, women made 80 cents to a man’s dollar—in the same job.

So, it’s kinda difficult to take sex out of this, no? So back to it and some inconvenient truths on this subject:

֎ Legally, you couldn’t decide not to have sex with your husband, if he wanted to. Hopefully, you married a great guy! But with spousal abuse being what it is . . .

Spousal rape wasn’t criminalized in all 50 states until 1993.

֎ Until this very year (2016), you could not keep your husband, who had been convicted of spousal abuse, from owning a gun. The US Supreme Court decided Voisine v. United States this very year. So even if he beat you, and your children, the gun stayed. Until this very year.

We could go on with these facts.

A movement began in the ‘60s, carrying into the ‘70s and obviously beyond, to claim the same legal rights for women as men received.

And oh, were the women on the forefront of that movement chastised! For being man haters. For being bitter and unfulfilled (and yep, ‘unfulfilled’ in this instance meant exactly what you might have guessed—sexually frustrated).

The idea being that only unhappy, man-less, those poisoned with unrequited loveless, lonely lives would fight for their own rights.

That by doing so, they jeopardized the Norman Rockwell vision of the family structure.

This continued on, and indeed—still goes on today. A seminal fact bears repeating, as it affects us all: In 2015, female full-time workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent.

I mean I don’t know about you, but that just isn’t fair.

Yet, those trying to change things are still chastised. The term ‘feminist’ virtually began carrying with it that negative connotation. Funny enough, it still does today.

I can’t tell you how often I hear a female espouse bits and pieces (if not all) of the above, and then when I ask, “Are you a feminist?” The answer is, “Oh, no! I love men.”

As if one precludes the other.

Because if you’re for autonomy (over your life and your body), for making the same wage, for, well, the same rights as men have, you’re pushed into that vat of man-hating witches.

Even as we speak, folks like Rush Limbaugh rail against ‘femi-nazies,’ as he calls them.

Amazing though, isn’t it, when you dissect all of this?

What if you’re just a regular female, who wants a nice relationship or marriage or family (or not), and to have work she loves, and be compensated in the same manner as a male? To be able to buy her own home, to not be raped by her husband, to have access to birth control, to have autonomy over her own body?

Are you a man-hater for wanting this? For speaking up about it? God forbid, for working to receive equal pay?

I am a feminist. Limbaugh and that ilk can launch all the insults they want at me. I’m still a feminist. I believe women deserve the same rights as men—in all aspects.

And I love being female, being feminine. I like men—a lot. Lol. But isn’t it interesting that I feel the need to qualify that here?

Something tells me I’m not alone in being both.

Right?

So tell me, how did we get so far afield, and more importantly, how do we get back to what these terms really mean?

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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48 comments
Tandy Elisala says October 26, 2016

Wow. Just wow, Susan. What a reflective article you’ve written. Women are still in ‘boxes’ in many ways. I’m a feminist, too. You are definitely not alone in your thinking. This is excellent information for ALL women, men and children to know!

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Clara says October 26, 2016

I stopped calling myself a feminist for a lot of the reasons you mention. The change in what it means to be a feminist confuses me as to its meaning nowadays.

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    Susan Malone says October 26, 2016

    Isn’t it funny how that happened, Clara! You’re not alone. And this is a great time to revisit that!

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Sabrina Quairoli says October 26, 2016

It’s important to know where we came from to know where we are going. I didn’t realize 1974, a woman couldn’t get a credit card in her own name. I was a child back then. I am really greatful that I can get a credit card in my name.

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maria @closetohome says October 26, 2016

All I can say is that I will be happy when this election is over and we can focus on issues that are affecting our wages and unemployment as a nation. It always feels good to get your feelings out and get support from fellow women.

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Michael LaRocca says October 26, 2016

Any man who is not a feminist, or who will not call himself a feminist, is someone I don’t want to know.

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Tammileetips says October 26, 2016

I had no idea about the credit cards!! I love how far we have come as a country and hope it keeps improving!

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    Susan Malone says October 27, 2016

    I know–can you even imagine? Boggles the mind how women even functioned!

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Tamuria says October 26, 2016

Susan, this is such a powerful post. Yes, I’m a feminist.I also like being female and feminine. It is sad to see how that word has so many negative connotations that women are now ashamed of it. I’m not sure how we get back to what those terms really mean but I do know we can’t stop fighting for equality in all parts of life. We need to do this for future generations just as former generations did for us.

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    Susan Malone says October 27, 2016

    And that’s just it, isn’t it, Tamuria–the fight is not just for ourselves, but for our daughters and nieces, granddaughters and grand nieces. Oh, and all their brethren as well 🙂

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Chelley @ A is For Adelaide says October 26, 2016

Absolutely amazing piece. I feel like you are not alone in both… but how we got to this point, is beyond me.

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    Susan Malone says October 27, 2016

    It is a puzzle, isn’t it, Chelley. And now we just keep bringing the nation forward.

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Lydia Brown says October 26, 2016

Hi Susan, your post brought back memories some very good and some sad. I remember friends who would put women down for wanting to be soft and gentle and as you say feminine. They thought we had to chose to take a rough stand because men saw our femininity as weakness. I recall thinking it sad that they felt they had to surrender and then attack other females. Times have change but stills so sad these freedoms you have mentioned did not happen so long ago. I remember the too well. Thanks for sharing.

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    Susan Malone says October 27, 2016

    Yes, Lydia–the flip side of that issue! I remember that well also. Not that long ago (and still today) many women were chastised for choosing to be stay-at-home moms. I mean, really?? The fight for freedom and autonomy means at its essence that you get to choose the life you lead!
    I have a print hanging above my stairwell of a Native American girl with a wolf, which says: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.” It’s a sentiment I’ve striven to live by all my life . . .

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Nancy @ whispered inspirations says October 26, 2016

Great post! I’m definitely a feminist.

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Bethanny Sudibyo says October 26, 2016

Hmm, I do consider myself a feminist but I dont say it out loud everytime just because I think today this word is very much overused. In very small situations, some women will make it about equality issues. But i know there is a lot of equality issues out there that actually needs out attention. But that’s just how I feel.

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    Susan Malone says October 27, 2016

    I so understand, Bethanny. And isn’t it food for thought that we don’t say it out loud sometimes.

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Crystal says October 27, 2016

I agree that being feminine doesn’t mean you can’t be a feminist. Just because I enjoy the stereotypical role of wife & mother, I appreciate that it is my choice.

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Joan M Harrington says October 27, 2016

Hi Susan,
This was definitely a thought-provoking post! Thank you! I guess thinking about being a feminist brings to mind equal rights for women on all fronts. Also, just saying it makes me feel empowered!! I loved all of these statistics you shared as so many of them I did not know about, so thank you for sharing! Interesting though, that in this day and age, us women do not have the same or more rights than men…..hmm

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    It is interesting, isn’t it, Joan. How can we be in this boat in 2016! Time for all of us to take a hard look and begin doing what we can.

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OurFamilyWorld says October 27, 2016

What an awesome tips and I enjoy reading this. I’m calling myself a feminist

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Valerie Robinson says October 28, 2016

Great post! I see the term thrown around a lot but often wonder if people truly know what it means.

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    So true, Valerie. The connotation has become so negative, and it’s time to take it back to what it really means–equal rights for women on all fronts.

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Reba Linker says October 28, 2016

Your post really highlights how crazy this discussion has become. As you write, it’s very fear based. You put it so succinctly – that by defending their basic rights, women “jeopardized the Norman Rockwell vision of the family structure.” What is always interesting to me is how fear often engenders exactly what it is afraid of: by responding so forcefully, fearfully, and aggressively towards women, more than a few man-haters were newly minted. Who wants to be treated unfairly and then suppressed for speaking up about it?! The beauty of it is that most women naturally choose the higher ground and are patient and persistent with the process. Thank you for a wonderful post, moving the issue forward, and allowing greater space for us to love men – and still work for change!

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    Oh, I am so with you about fear, Reba! Funny how the Universe responds to that, and brings it straight about as if we’re all Dr. Frankensteins with our monster creations. It’s up to us to do exactly that–move the issue forward, love the men around us, and work for change!

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Rachel Lavern says October 28, 2016

Funny, how I have always somewhat shied away from the term feminist. It has always conjured up images of a radical woman ranting away about something or another. Funny, because I am a bit radical myself. But, as you point out, it is basically demanding equal rights for women and their is nothing radical about that–it should go without saying.

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    All so true, Rachel. I think we’ve all shied away from the term at some point, for that very reason. Time to own it, and demand those equal rights!

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Beverley Golden says October 28, 2016

Great piece, Susan! Yes, I am definitely a feminist and happy to both be one and to say I am one. As far as we women have come, seems we have to continue to remind younger generations so we keep the well-fought advances women have made. It’s interesting how polarizing the differences are between being a women and a man in this day and age. The feminine energy continues to rise on the planet, so it makes some sense that there would be a backlash and that ‘men’ (not all men though) would be fighting to keep things the way they were…way back then. Thanks for keeping this conversation front and centre. Too bad it still is part of our current cultural conversations, but it is!

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    Isn’t it funny how younger women don’t know anything about the history, Beverley. I’m always so surprised! And you hit a big issue about the rising feminine energy. A bizarre statistic shows that in times of women gaining power in a culture, the ideal of physical femininity has gone to the Twiggy look–which is basically the body of a 14-year-old boy. Hm, that sounds like another post!

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Alene Geed says October 29, 2016

I love this post. It speaks to so many issues I faced as a young woman. Since I chose not to marry early, but rather pursue a career, I was often viewed as having something wrong with me. Happily I managed to muddle through, become successful and eventually marry the man I am still in love with today. I am so pleased that the women of today do not have so many of these issues. Your post reminds me of Ibsen’s ‘the Doll House’ About a woman forced to secretly take on certain male duties..plus her traditional female roles. And being ostracized when the truth was discovered

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    Oh, Alene–I love that Ibsen play! And oddly, women still get viewed as having something wrong with them when pursuing careers first. And watch out if that’s what they do exclusively! Time to widen the tent 🙂

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Roslyn Tanner Evans says October 29, 2016

This is so relevant especially in light of our political choices & climate. I think many women equate being a feminist with having to speak out, become an activist & not just standing for equal rights for women.

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    I agree, Roz. The term still carries so many negative connotations. Time to take it back to what it truly means.

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Elizabeth O says October 30, 2016

Unless you took a women’s studies course in college or made extra effort to stay informed of the impact women made in fighting for many rights that are taken for granted today, you’d be clueless about the points Susan raised.
I taught Women’s Studies at the University level and created courses on the subject for 14 years and so this is a subject close to my heart.
Some of my students who rejected the feminist term gave many reasons for doing so and their faith/pro-life was a big one. The beauty of the movement is that it is about choice first and foremost. If a person chooses to reject the enormous effort our suffragettes and the many women who paved the path to our collective freedom made, so be it.
So much work remains to be done globally and we can focus our energies on truly empowering women in all areas of their lives through our actions and mentoring others; that to me is truly living the feminist ideal.

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    Elizabeth, you are my hero! I love, love that you created courses at the university level on Women’s Studies! You have definitely done your part to educate, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    And I so agree–focusing our energies on truly empowering women really is living the feminist ideal!

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CourtneyLynne says October 30, 2016

I hate how the word feminist is used today! I always say I “can’t stand” feminists because I’m all about more traditional family values but if you look at the term how it’s meant to be I totally am a feminist and believe in woman’s rights.

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    Susan Malone says October 31, 2016

    And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? To take what the term really means, to be honest about it, and then no matter from which area of life you come, apply it to your choices. Now that’s an equitable world!

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Sharon M Hart says November 1, 2016

Thanks for posting an informative and important article. I am a feminist as are my husband and my son. We have expanded the traditional definition of feminism to mean opposition to all forms of privilege and oppression based on difference – that includes racism, sexism, and ageism.
Thanks again for sharing.

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    Susan Malone says November 2, 2016

    Oh, I love that, Sharon! “Opposition to all forms of privilege and oppression based on difference.” Great definition!

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Donna Verret says July 25, 2017

Isn’t it odd that there is no “male term” equaling feminist? Malevist? And I am still on “high-alert” for women’s rights and equality, but we now have bigger fish to fry. First and foremost (in my eyes), we have to re-embrace humanism. A positive effect of that effort is that we have men and women joining together against dangers to all. . . . and maybe. . . just maybe. . . via common goals, more walls will come down. P.S. Rush Limbaugh is a circus act, a drug-addled fire-spewing nut, and anyone who believes anything he says should likely seek professional help. Can you tell that I’m a little wound-up today???? 🙂

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    Susan Malone says July 26, 2017

    I’m with you, Donna, on re-embracing humanism. And we are joining together, men and women both, to that end. I was so gratified at the Women’s March in January by how many men marched.
    Lol on being wound up! You go, girl!

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