Feminism is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. The belief in women’s rights and the pursuit for “gender equality” is what started the feminists movement.
Three waves of Feminist Movement
There have been three “waves” in the feminist movement. The objective of the “first wave” of the feminist movement in the 1800’s was to “[secure] equal rights for women, with gaining the right to vote being their primary goal”. In 1920, women gained that right with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.
The second wave of feminism began in the 1960’s and sought to resolve issues such as “equal pay and job training for women, reproductive choice, maternity leave, subsidized childcare, and an end to sex discrimination”. Feminists during this period believed that the laws and customs of the time restricted “women’s ability to achieve significant roles in society”; that women were being exploited for their “reproductive roles and household labor”; that they were being treated as “second-class citizens”; and that “male dominance” was the problem with society. “They believed that as long as women are solely responsible for the reproduction of children, this oppression will exist”.
This “second wave” ideology is still very much a part of modern-day feminism, however in the 1990’s feminists expanded their mission to include all who experience societal oppression, including “oppression based on gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or physical ability”. This expansion represents the third wave and the current philosophy of feminism.
Recently feminists from the United Nations Women appointed actress Emma Watson, as the United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador. Watson, in her U.N. speech introducing the new feminist campaign “HeforShe” which seeks to include males in the quest for gender equality, stated that “[her] recent research [had] shown [her] that ‘feminism’ has become an unpopular word”; that many women are choosing not to identify with feminists because the name carries the connotation of being “too strong”, “too aggressive”, and “anti-men”. Then after conveying why the feminist movement is important and what it has meant to her, Watson said “If you still hate the word (feminism), it is not the word that is important, but the idea and the ambition behind it.”
Though I can tell Watson sincerely believes this, my research has shown me otherwise. Time and time again female celebrities have been chewed out for not labeling themselves as feminists. For example, Big Bang Theory actress Kayley Cuoco who recently came under fire for an interview she did for Redbook magazine. The television show’s leading lady, who is currently one of the highest paid actresses on television, making a whopping one million dollars per episode, was asked if she considers herself a feminist. Cuoco replied,
“Is it bad if I say no? It’s not really something I think about.” She continued: “Things are different now, and I know a lot of the work that paved the way for women happened before I was around…I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that’s because I’ve never really faced inequality.”
She went on to say that she enjoys taking on a traditional role in her marriage. “I cook for Ryan five nights a week: It makes me feel like a housewife,” she told the magazine. “I love that. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but I like the idea of women taking care of their men. I’m so in control of my work that I like coming home and serving him.”
But “its not the word that is important, but the idea and the ambition behind it,” right?
Like many actresses and artists before her who have rejected the “feminist” label, Cuoco’s response was met with a flood of hateful comments from the feminist community who felt that her remarks were “unappreciative” and “unintelligent” because she, as a very successful working woman, is reaping the benefits of the feminist movement and therefore doesn’t understand what it means to be a feminist.
I disagree. I think she does understand what feminism means, and recognizes the feminist movement’s role in her success. But why should she identify with a group that rejects the traditional gender roles she supports, and seeks to achieve gender equality when her experiences have already allowed her all the same opportunities of her male counterparts?
Most people, myself included, would agree that all human beings are equal regardless of gender, class, race, or religion, and should be afforded equal rights. But like Cuoco, I do not label myself a feminist.
For one, because, despite Ms. Watson’s recent statement, feminists have a history of resenting men due to our patriarchal society and the rights that were once denied to women by men. Therefore the name still carries a negative connotation.
Secondly, and more importantly, because although feminists do stand for “gender equality”, that is certainly not all they support. And just because I believe in a woman’s right to vote, own property, hold a job, and get paid as much as men for the same work, doesn’t mean I support other feminist ideals, like abortion, which for the record, is pretty high up on their list of “Must-haves” in their fight for “gender equality”.
Third, I believe in the traditional family; with a bread-winning husband, and a homemaking wife, who work together to run the home and raise the children. I love being a wife and mother, and it seems that feminists can’t accept that a woman would actually want to be a housewife or that not all women who stay home with their children feel oppressed.
To the credit of the feminist movement, women’s rights have come a long way since the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. But so have their ideals. Maybe I would have been a feminist in the 1920’s, but that label no longer corresponds with my beliefs.
Yes, I believe in equality, but if I had to be labeled for that belief, I’d prefer to be called an egalitarian.