I was converted to feminism my junior year of high school. Before that I believed it was an unnecessary movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. My mother gave me a copy of Betty Friedan’s, The Feminine Mystique. I remember being surprised when I looked up the publication date and realized that a feminist book written in 1963 seemed applicable to my life in 2006. Issues I had never seen as a problem suddenly became blaring social dysfunctions.
But like any movement, Feminism becomes repulsive to the average person when it becomes exclusive. I’ve read many blogs, articles, and books, and sat in many discussions with my friends where the underlying rhetoric assumes that the world has only two types of people: The Feminist and the non-Feminist. We often accidently take the “holier than thou” approach implying, “I have the truth about gender relations, and the ignorant are unethical.”
As feminists, we need to be careful that this doesn’t become the driving force behind our words—because who does this serve? What change can happen with exclusion? If feminism is an ideology developed to change women’s lot in society, and create equality and equity for all people, then what change can really happen if we spend more time pointing fingers than persuading?
Feminism is a delicate balance between intellectualism and solving women’s issues. I will always take the advice a professor of mine gave. In her office she told me that if you always wear a lens of controversy against the “other,” you would only see the world as a place of men oppressing women. When this is what the world becomes to you, there will never be a solution and the perpetrators of sexism will always be the demonized “other.”
But the perpetrators of sexism are not usually evil. They generally just don’t understand the current need of gender equality in the world today. I have a friend, who never was sexist, but just did not believe that that rape culture in the United States existed. He had always thought it was an outlandish claim by radical feminist groups, but by discussion and conversations with me about women’s issues he had gradually come to an understanding of the magnitude of such problems. Whereas harsh rhetoric in the past turned him off to the discussion of gender relations, one-on-one discussions with a friend has helped him to take the feminist cause upon himself.
It is interesting how much ideologies and theory really do affect actual implementation of policy—and sometimes prove to create projects that are half-useful and half-harmful because they are not encompassing enough. Robert Moses was the master builder for New York City in the mid 20th century. His approach has greatly influenced the way urban planners operate even today. He worked from an extremely Modernist ideology (with the assumption that the ends justify the means and that everything could be solved rationally or scientifically). He created the concept of urban renewal—fixing slum and blighted areas of cities with urban infrastructure. Moses built bridges, parks, roads, and affordable housing projects, but his projects became perverted as he destroyed neighborhoods, and destroyed communities in the name of social progress. He never visited the slums to understand what the problem actually was. He operated too much on intellectual theory and now his name will always be attached to the egregious problems of intercity segregation, poverty and violence across the U.S. His ideals got in the way of ultimately helping the people he thought he was serving. We cannot let Feminist Theory get in the way of people. Like the aims of urban renewal, Feminism is for everyone and has potential for improving society, but in order for any good to actually happen, we must listen to the reality which people face and stop slapping labels to issues and naysayers. We must talk to the people who oppose us and tell them the practical issues we stand for, not just the ideological. If problems become a human issue not a feminist issues, usual groups closed to the “feminist agenda” have been more inclined to listen.
People can and do become “converts” to the cause of women’s issues. No matter what brand of feminism you adhere to, at the end of the day, feminist ideology is meant to serve women and create a better equitable and equal system for all people. So be patient, and understand that thought processes and paradigms rarely shift after hearing one argument. I had to be converted to Feminism and so does everyone else. We are not born with ideas we are taught them. Feminism goes against the mainstream. It teaches ideas which people have never encountered and so it should be persuasive, practical, and kind not theoretical, harsh, and exclusive.