Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reinventing Feminism

Yesterday was the 100th annual celebration of International Women's Day. In the United Kingdom and the United States, the entire month of March is dedicated to women's history. When I think about what it means to be a woman, I think about what feminism means to me.

When I was 18 and just beginning my college career, I was working at a catering company. One evening I was assigned an event for a local feminist group in Portland where Linda Ellerbee would be speaking.  Was this the same Linda Ellerbee from Nick News who inspired children to make a difference in their communities? The same Linda Ellerbee that had me glued to the TV on Sunday nights? The one who thought kids ought to know what is going on in the world and gave them outlet to discuss real issues? I was a huge fan of Linda Ellerbee as a child and I was extremely interested to see what she had to say on the topic of feminism. Before that evening, I might not have referred to myself as a feminist, but her talk transformed me.

I didn't grow up in a particularly political home. And often I would spend time with my very conservative grandmother who felt that feminism could be taken as an insult to family and to husbands. Maybe I had the impression that she thought the word had too much authority? At a young age, I thought that feminism was negative. And for a long time I thought that maybe I wasn't hardcore enough to be a feminist, and that taking on that title meant you had to be all one way and not another.

The night I saw Linda Ellerbee speak, she asked one simple question, "Do you believe that women deserve equal rights and the same respect as men? If you answer yes, then you are indeed a feminist." And in that moment I realized that all along I had been a feminist.

I am a feminist and I had always been a feminist.

My mother always taught me that I had choices in life and that only I could decide what would be right or wrong for myself. Was this some kind of radical indoctrination? My grandmother might say so. She had always sent a message that girls needed to behave and act in a certain way and live up to certain female expectations. My mother on the other hand always asked me what I thought about things. If I asked her a question about something, she'd prompt me to come up with my own research and opinions on the subject. And when I came up with my conclusions, she'd ask me, "What does that mean?" sending me into another spiral of thinking. But what she would never do was tell me what to think or how to go about something. Early on, my mother was teaching me to be a feminist.

Courtney Martin edits a blog called It has been a while since I've watched a TED Talk that made me feel so empowered and inspired.

Near the end of Courtney's talk she remembers witnessing her mother deliver daily acts of caring and creativity. This struck me as wonderful.

The idea of reinventing feminism is a great idea, because it can spark a change in attitude. For a lot of men and women, my grandmother included, it's about identifying aspects of feminism that you can relate to rather than turning it down completely. And that's how you open your mind to new ideas later on. Although my grandmother might never see herself as a feminist, she has given her care and creativity to others on a daily basis for as long as I can remember.

Feminism to me is about equality and respect.

On a side note, I thought this was an interesting inforgraphic/presentation about where women around the world are today. Food for thought:

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