When did the definition of feminism become so muddled?
Would it be safe to assume that we’ve all read the New York Sunday Styles story, “Sex on Campus“?
If the answer is yes, carry on. If it is no, the brief summary goes: reporter travels to college campus–the campus in question is the University of Pennsylvania. Reporter interviews a slew of female students about their romantic lives in conjunction with their rigorous academic schedules, and this marriage of work and pleasure essentially leads to the thick of the piece, which tackles hook up culture and the consequent (often unilateral) relationships that manifest as a result.
The reporter does not make mention of having discussed the burgeoning thesis with any men on campus (“hooking up” takes two in equal parts though, doesn’t it?) which, in my opinion, immediately positions the interviewed women not in control, but to blame. There’s a sense of innocence inconspicuously tied to silence, and in this story, the men are on mute.
Most of the interviewed female students share that they’re hooking up to have fun, and are far too busy to invest in serious relationships, but still yearn for a good time. One such woman, identified by the first initial of her middle name, goes so far as to say, “Ten years from now, no one will remember — I will not remember — who I have slept with, [b]ut I will remember, like, my transcript, because it’s still there. I will remember what I did. I will remember my accomplishments and places my name is hung on campus.”
I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here, or continue peeling layers of a dialogue that’s not particularly novel, but as many of the reactions to this piece have alluded to: why is it surprising or worthy of note that hyper driven people who prioritize work above relationships might still want to physically connect? Is it because, in this instance, the hyper driven people are women? Personally, I don’t find it so surprising that women also enjoy sex.
While many aspects of the piece left me frustrated (see: a brief nod to non-consensual hookups, included almost as an afterthought), what I really can’t wrap my head around appears toward the end, when interviewee “A.” dubs herself a “true feminist” chased with the declaration that she is “a strong woman.” Though worthy of note that in contrast to her “strong woman” assertion, she is ultimately hiding behind a circumspect middle initial, it is still refreshing to hear a young woman refer to herself as feminist, no strings attached. These days, the word has become so violently stigmatized and convoluted that it’s treated like a brutal accusation. The real difficulties in understanding feminism actually lie in how infrequently the term is used in the right context.
Frankly, feminism does not necessarily equal strength. (Particularly when the concept of personal strength is so subjective.)
But when did the definition of feminism get so muddled? I had an ex-boyfriend who used to ask me if ‘identifying with feminism’ meant that I was constantly seeking truth (and if that was the case, how I could lie to myself so frequently). No, fucking moron. Just equality. Similarly as misguided, I once heard a friend of my mother’s cite her predilection to cook as one such reason she is not a feminist. On the other hand, Kate’s mother submits that while procuring her M.D., she was so engrossed in studies that she more or less missed the women’s lib movement (along with most culturally significant events of the ’60s and ’70s). This hardly detracts from her support of equality, but she doesn’t quite identify as a feminist, either.
In my mind, the only thing that matters when defining feminism is a dedication to equality. That’s it. That’s all. Whether a person’s traits are more traditionally female or male are irrelevant. This is why it’s so upsetting when the ideology is vilified, or used to justify the adoption of (frankly, insulting) stereotypical ‘male’ traits. Being a feminist does not mean acting like a man, or hating men, or looking down on the wide breadth of definitions of feminism – and femininity – as transcribed throughout history. Put simply, it means that you believe in equality. Now show me a person who doesn’t get that.