Young women seem to be rejecting the feminist label. I’ve observed this. Others have observed this. While women of other generations struggle with the feminist label as well, the young are expected to be progressive. So, I do think it’s noteworthy that younger cohorts distinguish themselves by being overwhelmingly pro-gay marriage, but are just as split as older cohorts when it comes to abortion.
Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Berstein set out to redefine feminism for the Millenial generation, to uncover where the dialogue has landed us, and to continue having it. They chronicled their findings in Girldrive, after a road-tripping across the U.S. and interviewing many, many women. Smart, insightful, important, and easily recommendable as a whole, there’s one passage in the book that made me smile with particular delight:
“On our way from California to the Southwest, we brainstorm a list of men we want to interview–mostly guys who are our dear friends but whom we would never date because they’re asshole to girls. Or men who seem to defy gender labels and act as feminine or masculine as they want. Or hipster dudes, who, despite their gender-bending aesthetic, are more macho than you would think. Or…the thoughts race on. ‘There should be a femasculine movement, Emma quips in the car, only half-joking.”
What I find so genius about this is that I always envisioned the natural end of feminism to be the point when there would no longer be a need: feminine qualities would be valued and given the same amount of societal respect as masculine ones, alleviating both genders and all people from the pressures of embodying gender-specific qualities; all human qualities would be valued across the board so that everyone, even those that don’t identify as the stereotypical and traditional man, could be treated respectfully, seriously, and equally. At one point, Nona and Emma interview a trans-man, Nathan. They ask,
“Does he understand male privilege now that the whole world thinks he’s male? ‘Yes!’ Nathan says emphatically. ‘People pay more attention to me. I don’t feel like I have to prove my knowledge anymore.'”
Distinguishing characteristics of my utopian post-feminist society (non-exhaustive):
- Freedom from “proving yourself.” Don’t want to put 80+ hours a week into building a fast-paced career and love getting your mommy on? That’s cool. But in my utopia workplaces have evolved to understand traditionally feminine characteristics as equally valuable assets: diplomatic conflict resolution, empathy, emotional intelligence, etc., so you wouldn’t have to roll like a dude to be successful. And neither would men who don’t want to.
- Men can and do take paternity leave, get their daddy on. Sweden’s had the option of paternity leave available for a few decades now. And they are gradually, increasingly, seeing shifts from traditional distributions of work, and more men are actually taking it. This is awesome because it will neutralize the tendency to assume women will interrupt their careers, and let men wield greater home-power. I know college-aged men already stressing about becoming financially secure and building a nest for their future wifey. With women constituting about 60% of college enrollees, women may be making more money than their future husbands, and it may then make even more sense for men to be making the career interruption. I can’t speak on behalf of all men, obviously, but I know there’s societal pressure for them to define themselves based on their career. And I know dads like to spend time with their kids. So I think it’s only fair to advocate for their right to choose.
- No one is forcibly feminized or masculanized. I saw fight club at age 12, and one of the many things I spent time considering as a result, was whether our society was actually too feminized. Seeing girls significantly outnumber boys in my honors classes in middle school and then in high school, I thought perhaps men were being discriminated against. It seems the things young boys are into really are overlooked in grade school, and considering physical activity (see: obesity) is behavior worth encouraging, it seems positive change could be made on this level. I’m focusing on men because as a female I feel like I overlooked the fact that men are subject to societal standards of masculinity in the same way that women are subject to standards of femininity, and that seems just as unfair. The point is, in my utopia no one needs to conform to traditional notions of either to gain points in whatever institution their competing.
- Ability to comment on romantic and sexual relationships without being diminished for doing so. I read this article on Salon when Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive was published a few years ago. Rebecca Traister makes excellent points about how older accomplished women aren’t expected to write about their personal lives and younger women with sex appeal totally are. First, I always thought it was kind of bullshit that chick flicks and chick lit were dissed, and that it was considered stupid or something that women cared about relationships. Second, in my utopia everyone digs an insightful reflection on your intellectual life viewed through the lens of your personal life, and older women are totally allowed to be horny. I will get there one day and I don’t care to see surprised faces.
- Heels phased out of professional footwear. A zombie apocalypse during work hours would put women at a severe disadvantage, and in the wake of all the subsequent destruction, we would be vital in propagating the human race. Seriously, though, after several hours in heels I don’t know how women aren’t distracted from the task at hand by their feet. Not fair.
There is, of course, so much more to aspire to (eliminating sexual violence, equal pay, sex ed etc.), but as far as defining the future of feminism for our generation, finding overarching goals with the LGBT community and movements and creating a cohesive push towards gender equality, this seems like a relevant start.