Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happy International Women's Day

One day, when I was 5, I was out playing with the neighbourhood boys when someone had the brilliant idea to "play ninja turtles."

Naturally, I called dibs on being the one with the pretty purple mask.

"No way, you have to be April, and we rescue you!"


"Because you're a girl! (duh)"

Well. Something about that rubbed my five-year-old self entirely the wrong way. So, after trying unsuccessfully to convince the boys that I could be a perfectly capable ninja turtle, I did what any self-respecting ninja turtle would do. I refused to play and went home to cry about the injustice.

Et voila, a tiny little feminist was born.

I'm not sure when I became aware of the f word, but it must have been fairly early on, because for as long as I can remember, I took for granted that the majority of people would say they were feminists. I mean, come on, who doesn't believe women and men should be given equal rights and respect?

I didn't realize just how wrong I was, until my second year of college. Our history and politics teacher had been going over the suffragists movement, when she asked who in the class identified as a feminist. My hand, of course, shot up automatically. When my eyes followed a second later, I realized it was the only one.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I guess I figured there might be a handfull of people who bought into the bra-burning, man-hating stereotype, but really? In a room full of journalism students, about 70% of whom were women, I was the only one. Seriously?

So, not unlike when I was denied ninja turtle status based on gender, I started asking why.

Most of the people I talked to either hadn't thought about it or thought it was an outdated concept. My favourite response though, was, "Well I believe in equality, but I wouldn't call myself a feminist."


It seems somewhere along the line, someone did a really effective job of convincing us that feminism was a dirty word. That feminists are cranky, ugly whiners with a vendetta against men. Probably the same someone who would like us to believe that shaking our asses in music videos is the true road to empowerment.

I'm not buying it.

Unfortunately, feminism is not likely to ever be an outdated concept. As long as there are women in the world fighting for the same rights and opportunities that men have, fighting to be viewed as more than disposable property, fighting to be heard, we need feminists. We need men and women who are willing to take up that fight and to be guardians of the rights feminists have fought for.

Even in countries like Canada, where we like to think we've come pretty far, we will always need people who are willing to stand up and be counted next to the amazing feminists who fought long and hard to ensure that women were even recognized as people under the law. We take our rights for granted, but if we're not vigilant, they can all too easily be taken from us.

So yes, I'm a feminist. I believe in equality and I'll damn well be a ninja turtle if I want to be!

*Since originally posting this, I've started a thread on the subject on 20sb. There's a very lively and fascinating discussion with great insight and opinions from all sorts of 20-somethings going on, If anyone else is interested.

Thanks to everyone who has commented and to Elle Bee for her own awesome post on the subject! Hearing so many of your well-thought out opinions on the subject has been seriously exciting!


just me said...

What most people don't realize is that if they think women should be paid as much as men, and given the exact same rights -- they're a feminist.

floreta said...

great post! i consider myself a feminist and think it's a shame that most people associate it negatively. feminism is still alive today.. third-wave feminism and web technology/networking/outreach is the future of feminism i think.

Mari said...

Nothing left to say, I agree with all of the above- all these women who think it's a bad word drive me crazy! (and we're not ugly, mannish or boring!)

a feminist

Elle Bee said...

A friend and I discussed this over wine on Friday. How neither of us believe it's really possible to be a woman and not be a feminist -- since everyone is likely to want the best for their gender.

I believe that women should be able to make their own choices and that no one should chastise them for those choices -- whether they want to focus on career, a family, or both.

Feminism gets such a bad rap because it's always associated with radical feminism -- much like different religions focus on the radicals rather than on the moderates. I'm a woman, and I want all women to be successful in anything they want to do. Though I don't burn my bras (I need them!), I'm a feminist.

Gretchen said...

AMEN. I've always considered myself a feminist, but not until recently have I started trying to figure out exactly what I can do to help. I've experienced firsthand the prejudice that women face on a daily basis and I HATE that it's still going on today. Anyhow, stellar post and I love the conversation you've sparked over at 20SB.

Anonymous said...

But you didn't answer the real question: what ninja turtle would you be??

insomniaclolita said...

Agree with every word. Seriously. ANd I hate how they stereotype feminists myself.

Anonymous said...

A friend and I just got into discussion about the merits (and non-merits) of feminism yesterday, and I quickly discovered that I was more of a feminist than I thought. I love this post. It's given me a lot of food for thought.

Sarah said...

Thanks so much you guys. It seriously makes me feel so hopeful knowing that there are people like you out there!

Notonlyneurons: Clearly I'd be that one with the purple mask and the stick!

Mere said...


I was having dinner with a friend of mine about a year ago and we were talking politics when she said "I don't think it's ever a woman's place to be President." I almost choked. REEEALLY?! We've always had differing political opinions but the fact that a young woman who had just graduated from a liberal university with a female president actually said that to me was staggering.


Alianna said...

I'd classify myself as an egalitarian more than a "feminist". I believe in equality free from prejudice regarding gender, religion, race or age.

The reason I'd never call myself a "feminist" is because I took a Feminist Philosophy course at uni and most of the crap they debated about I actually didn't really agree with, so I changed my status.

In general though, most people associate Feminism with lesbians, bra-burning, environmentalism and being a hippy in general. It's sad really, because most of THE feminist writers were actually middle-class women, not "hippies". The word is not necessarily dirty, but it is more often than not associated with some rather radical things. I just find it easier to explain my views than to label myself with some noun very few people understand.

I'd probably have put up my hand in that class though.

Sarah said...

Mere: Yes! That's the one! I feel like I'll never stop being amazed by the limitations people are so eager to put on not only others, but themselves. I think I might have spit food upon hearing that.

Sarah said...

Aliana: You should check out and/or join in the discussion over at 20sb if you're interested. It sounds like you'd have lots to contribute.

To me it's important to use the word feminist in order to reclaim it from people who would like to make it into/keep it a dirty word with bra-burning, man-hating associations.

To say that you believe in equal rights and opportunities for all but are not a feminist, implies and reinforces the idea that feminism is not about equality.

Sarah said...

Sorry for miss-spelling your name!

Alianna said...

Unfortunately, some feminists are not about equality, but matriarchy.

I do agree with you though; the principle was to bring about equality. It's unfortunate that now the word requires an explanation.

P.S. No worries on the spelling!

Sarah said...

Sure, but to me, that just means they don't get feminism. Were these the kinds of people you came across in your classes?

Over on the 20sb thread someone pointed out that the fact that some Christians are overzealous whackos, doesn't mean that other people stop calling themselves Christians.

There are always going to be people who misinterpret or try to twist a movement for their own aims in any group but I don't think that makes the core values and aims less legitimate unless we give in and let it.

Sarah said...

By the way, I'd certainly classify myself as an egalitarian as well. To me the two aren't mutually exclusive.

daria said...

Right on, sista!! I completely agree. Feminism is something I think (and write) about often. It's one of those "scary" words to many, but it's such a fundamental concept and certainly a rightful demand.

harper & beatrix said...

ok. ok. i'll try to never say i'm not a feminist again.


Anonymous said...

yes, i do call myself a feminist! i'm all about equality and BOTH sexes being able to do whatever they want with the same rights, fair pay, and no reason to be criticized for it. but i agree that there is a negative stigmatism associated with the term. i also feel like i might not fit with others' idea of what "feminism" is (probably speaking of the "radicals" here), because i'm not in love with my career, working 60 hours a week with a chip on my shoulder because i have some point to prove to the world about how, even though i have a vagina, i CAN do what men can do and earn just as much money as they can!!! in fact, i actually work part time, while my husband works full time. we're really happy this way right now.

great post!