Wikipedia, in it's infinite wisdom, tells us that the word 'feminist' may be traced back to 1837, when a French philosopher and (unsurprisingly) socialist coined the phrase. It took the better part of a century to swim across the pond to these United States where a bunch of wealthy white ladies adopted it by climbing into white dresses and mustering up the audacity to demand the right to participate in our democracy.
Over the course of the next century, women found their shoes (sensible flats) and clawed their way out of the kitchen. By the time my peers and I arrived to represent the very tip of the Millennial iceberg, the idea of a woman going to graduate school and pursuing an actual career didn't seem even the slightest bit crazy.
Well, we did it.
Big fat thanks to the baby boomers who burned their bras and made a whole boat-load of people uncomfortable so we could earn almost 80% of a man's salary!!
Yes, it's progress.
It is. Obviously, I slipped for a moment there into my smart-ass, sarcasm font, but I am truly grateful for those women who refused to conform; those gals who knew that maybe JUST maybe, lacking a Y chromosome shouldn't disqualify us from enjoying the same sort of basic rights that men enjoy.
But I am also well aware that the fight of our foremothers is far from ended.
We judge, shame, and lecture women about their clothing, their actions, their behavior. When an unconscious female is assaulted behind a garbage dumpster, we shudder and bristle and wonder what she did to put herself 'in that position.' We make the most personal and delicate decisions for her by limiting her access to certain medical treatments and claim that her body, because it is capable of creating life, is an open target for legislation.
We congratulate her for making it into the workforce and reward her with wages amounting to more than 20% less than her male counterparts and then refusing to join the rest of the developed world in offering paid family leave. Not even one stinking day people.
Oh, you wanted kids too??
We use the word 'pussy' to denote weakness and ask each other to 'man up' and 'grow a pair.' Little girls are deemed bossy and ushered gently away from STEM curriculum; their confidence battered by society openly rewarding 'cute,' but brainless behavior.
Indeed, from the day she is born, we coo over a little girl's appearance and by the time she reaches puberty; she's learned to despise her reflection. She will stand cautiously in front of a mirror and contort her body in uncomfortable angles; grimly noting the areas that don't reflect the billboards and magazine covers and all the other images bombarding her as the impossible gold standard. She will learn that her value can be rated on a 10-scale and her worth is tied very directly to the number printed on the label of her pants and blinking back at her from the bathroom scale.
And to decide one day to embrace the feminist movement? That my friends, is a complex and somehow divisive sort of move to make. Women with great success stand at podiums and denounce this movement. They seem to happily embrace the fruits of their laboring predecessors; but can't seem to stand the thought of embracing the disruptive nature necessary to enable those changes. For reasons not totally clear, they scrunch their noses at the idea of pressing further the cause of ending sexism and sex discrimination (bell hooks). Perhaps it's just easier to let the waters calm and accept that females are indeed the weaker sex; better than causing waves that might draw attention to those dark insecurities which were handed out like candy to grade schoolers and then took firm root before high school graduation.
Men, white men in particular, may cringe at the idea that the feminist movement should even exist. Nobody wants to be labeled the 'bad guy,' and it sure does suck to be told that you have been afforded every privilege but somehow still didn't conquer the world. Likewise, to discredit their accomplishments by implying it was all an accident of genetics is just as unfair as denigrating women for their gender. Also, where's their movement? A club promoting the advancement of white men? Pretty sure we all know what happens when that sort of thing gathers any sort of momentum. Yup, it's a lot of pressure to be on the team favored to win. It's a lonely place and nobody is picking up a poster board and marching down the street in your honor (at least nobody who isn't hiding behind a white hood and looking for trouble).
Sure, historically men haven't always been the most gracious winners. But it's certainly arguable that the sense of entitlement rewarded to boys at birth is not evenly distributed among all men. My personal experience has been that most men are gracious and humble and at least marginally empathetic. The men in my life for the most part haven't bullied or condescended and wouldn't dream to openly practice misogyny; they instead stand firmly against it in most cases.
But I am fully aware that this is not always the case. And having respectable and honorable men in the world does not negate systemic sexism. It does not un-assault countless women, many of whom were too afraid to even report the violence or violation. It does not solve the issues of equal pay or equal representation in our elected offices. Having reputable and decent men in the world does not undo the damage that the media has inflicted upon the collective female body image.
So having men in the world who are willing to try and understand a women's complicated perspective doesn't mean the problem is solved; but it does mean the problem MAY someday, be solved or at least, be less of a problem.
One could say the same for those women who cannot bring themselves to be called 'feminists.' Indeed, there are plenty of women who stick firmly in their space and are totally contented with the world as it is. They may scoff at the very notion of feminism; calling out 'crybabies' and 'liberal snowflakes' and paling at the idea of a pro-choice agenda; believing also that we've come far enough and it's best to let well-enough alone.
It's a movement that is living and breathing and ever-evolving. It will be met with resistance and criticism until the end of time I suspect. It's a movement I didn't personally see as very important until just recently, when I saw that it was so greatly threatened.
And now? We March.