A Beginner's Guide to Feminism
I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty new when it comes to feminism. I would say I “woke up” about two years ago, and new things are still becoming evident to me every day. I’ve embarked on the never-ending, ever-evolving journey of feeling self-empowered, and part of this is working on my feminism literacy by opening my eyes to the environment around me. If you’re new to feminism and wanting to find a place to start, this list will help give you a taste. With these, you can start dipping your toes in the water to question societal norms and begin changing the conversation.
1. No trash bins in bathroom stalls. This one just makes me think there wasn’t a woman at the table helping design the bathroom, when there definitely should be. And I also get frustrated that I have to take my tampons outside of the stall and put in a communal trash.
2. Luxury tax on tampons. Just… why? The only reason I (and even President Obama) can think of is that only men were at the table when the tax laws were developed. Just in 2016 alone there was a large movement by states to make changes to this. You can read about those here.
3. Dress code. This is one I’ve been thinking a lot about recently after seeing a photo of a protest sign that said “My clothes are not my consent.” In high school I remember rules about whether I could wear spaghetti straps and not show any belly skin. In my opinion, these dress codes exist to not distract boys and men who “can’t help but look”. The very principle of this has roots in rape culture, slut-shaming, and body image woes.The concept of dress codes were recently challenged in the US Congress when an antiquated dress code was enforced about showing shoulders, and some boys have joined to protest in high schools (this is what I like to see!).
4. Need for paid family leave. I believe this to be one of the largest contributors to gender inequality and institutional fostering of gender roles at a woman’s disadvantage. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide job protection for 12 weeks unpaid leave. When I first learned about this through Human Resources Management training in residency, I had to ask again to clarify that it was unpaid. The instructor confirmed I heard correctly. I plan to have an entire post about research from other countries and current US states and large companies that are starting to catch up, but for now I’ll leave this video here.
5. Marketing strategies to women. I fully admit that I know when something is marketed to me that I feel a desperate want for, but most certainly don’t need. I’m at a point where I can recognize this and make choices whether to scratch that itch or not. However, in the big picture of things the market strategies create a female identity that automatically leaves each individual to counter and defend a particular market she doesn’t subscribe to. As women, we should be empowered to create our own identities and not be capitalized on by businesses trying to create our story. After all, we are the largest consumers in the market.
6. Only “his” instead of “his or her”. Whenever I read an article or listen to the TV, I’ve begun noticing every time a statement only has “his” instead of “his or her”. I’d be interested to see a book that wasn’t specifically about a woman that used “her” as the default.
7. Importance of access to contraceptives. Family planning allows women all over the world to make choices about her future. It saddens me that politics, religion, and sexism play a role in depriving women of making these choices on their own. Melinda Gates has become someone I follow to stay informed about the need, especially in developing countries.
8. Changing last names after marriage. I’ve started creating a database in my mind of women who changed their last name, hyphenated, or not changed at all. I’ve spoken with both men and women about what resulted after marriage with mixed responses for the reasoning behind their choices. The bottom line for me is that it should be a decision that is ultimately the woman’s choice.
9. Masculinity. I say a lot that I wish there was a different word for “feminism” because it truly is about challenging societal norms around gender identity as a whole. A lot of what plagues women today is an indirect result of the pressure society puts on men’s masculinity. One of the biggest challenges for me is that men are (in general) raised to suppress emotion and thus equating emotion as weakness. This translates to men being emotionally unstable and can (in)directly affect treatment of women and also brand an “emotional” woman as weak.
10. Intersectionalism. I started hearing about this “third wave” of feminism being branded as intersectional and realized I needed to learn a lot more about it. A very basic understanding can be explained by the fact that women can have more or less disadvantage to find opportunity based a combination of her race, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, language, religion, economic class, etc. In the big picture of diversity around the world, people have different privilege and disadvantage depending on which intersection you are look into. In order to recognize these intersections we must first understand our own privilege. Then we can begin to disentangle a “woman” from an “African American woman” and from a “Muslim transgender woman”.
This is not meant to be man-bashing or diminish the struggles that men also go through. I simply seek to provide you with a starting place to open your eyes and see some of the most basic and common things that happen right under our noses may in fact be an opportunity to create positive change that benefits everyone. It’s as easy as staying curious, asking questions, and having a conversation.
These are just the beginning - let's get started.