There it was again, in an interview in Parade magazine last Sunday, with Emma Thompson and Dotson Rader:
Rader: When you were at Cambridge, you became a feminist. I don’t mean that in a negative sense.
Thompson: No, it’s not a negative word.
Well, Emma, it wasn’t originally, but now I think it is. Younger women start their sentences with, “I’m not a feminist, but...” In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes,
We accepted the negative caricature of a bra-burning, humorless, man-hating feminist. She was not someone we wanted to emulate…In our defense, my friends and I truly, if naïvely, believed that the world did not need feminists anymore. We mistakenly thought that there was nothing left to fight for.
Feminism has fallen out of favor. This is partly because it has been taken over by extremists. Lately, for example, it’s considered bad feminist form to diet, lest one be perceived as selling one’s soul in compliance with cultural norms of beauty. (Dang, right after I started back on Weight Watchers!) According to an article in Elle Magazine this month, Marisa Meltzer says,
There’s a thread of old-school feminist thought that says taking pleasure in being admired for our looks is participating in our own oppression…
Daughter, please. There’s also a thread of feminist thought that says make up your own mind about what you want to take pleasure in. Just don’t let anybody limit you based on gender.
The feminist movement (a) made some mistakes and (b) got co-opted by the forces of capitalism. Unfortunately, the message of feminism was perverted from “you can be whatever you want to be” to “you must be a spectacular over-achiever.” Women are expected to be perfect mothers and partners while running corporations, and they’re freaking out and opting out.
Although we’ve opened up classrooms and board rooms, allowing women to go where only men have gone before, we’ve ignored the fact that women have wombs, ovaries and breasts, plus the talent for perpetuating the human race. This requires a little more effort and time, which they’re not getting. They’re expected to pop out babies on their lunch hours and get right back to work, pumping breast milk in the ladies’ room while wolfing a sandwich at their desks.
It’s horrendous. A nightmare. I’d be pissed, too. But instead of competing with each other for the title of Superwoman, we should recognize that women face similar difficulties and challenges in work and life. That used to be the basis for feminism. Our common difficulties impelled us to band together and fix things. We rejoiced in our collective power to shape a society that for too long had taken our contributions for granted while barring us from real power.
Back in the day, we wanted to be liberated from stereotypes that said we couldn’t be astronauts or fire fighters, and from rules that we should act or look a certain way to keep society from feeling threatened. Yes, some of us took it too far. Some of us became narcissistic assholes. If you were raised by one, I apologize.
But here’s one of the coolest, most empowering things I, as an old broad, can share with you. If you don’t like something? Change it, alone or collectively. Remember, there is more power in numbers, so you might get a couple hundred thousand sisters to join you in your mission. Call it whatever you want, but do something. Make yourself proud.
You can wallow in the nastiness of what is, or stand up, hose off the mud, and create a better world for yourself and other humans. If not for yourself, for your daughters and sons. At least, please try.