I was first introduced to the concept of feminism right around the beginning of high school. I was extremely intrigued by the idea, and decided to look more into the feminist movement. Immediately, I was met with a large amount of information, coming at the issue from all different sides. From what I knew at the time, I was reluctant to call myself a feminist. I associated the term with the radical, bra-burning stereotype, and naturally didn’t want to be recognized as that type of a person. However, as I grew, and became exposed to more information, I gained a deeper understanding of feminism, which is why today, I will proudly call myself a feminist.
From my view, the ideas of feminism, and on a broader scale, equality, represented values that everyone could get behind. That’s why I was so shocked when, particularly this past year, I saw an outpouring of backlash against feminism and those who called themselves feminists, from many individuals that I knew well.
I wondered if maybe the fact that there were so many people who were not just uncomfortable, but vehemently opposed to the idea of feminism represented an ideological discrepancy. So I decided to do even more research, but this time, not by reading documents or listening to slam poetry. This time, I decided to reach out to my circle of peers, and see what feminism meant or represented to people I was close to. I received some very interesting and thought-provoking responses.
“Feminism to me is the freedom of expression, right to do whatever feels right, and live independently”
“Feminism to me is total equality of the sexes. I feel like I personally look at it as the ability for both sexes to receive the same treatment and privileges. As a man, I want the same ability to be quirky, weird, and sensitive, without being called ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ by chauvinists and homophobes, and as a feminist I find it wrong that my parents let me walk home from parties at midnight, but my sister needs to get picked up or get a cab because ‘there are strange men out’. Feminism is ending all these gender stereotypes so everyone has the ability to be their true self”
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. Both have positives and negatives and should be treated equally, in all senses. There’s no reason to complain about one another. People should learn to appreciate one another for who they are”
“I think feminism is simply the movement and the belief that women should have the same ability to succeed to the same degree as men. I think it means that women should be treated the same as men, and that men should be related the same as women”
“Feminism to me means equality for both sexes, as opposed to being misandrist and wanting women to take over the world”
“Feminism is the equality of all sexes and genders. To me, the goals of feminism are clear: equal rights economically, socially, politically, and judicially for all genders. Over the past few years I’ve felt as though I am on the outside looking in on our strange, andocentric society and have been able to pick apart and identify flaws in gender equality. I find it so strange how the inequalities between genders had not occurred to me for so long”
“Feminism is the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor, that deconstructs gender binaries and the material implications of those binaries. However, my identities (Marxist, atheist, middle-class, cis-gendered male, bisexual) could potentially bias my definition”
“There are people who call themselves feminists who are actually misandrists or transphobes or a variety of other things. I know for this reason, some people are anti-feminism. Yet judging feminism by misandrists is like judging Christians by the Westboro Baptist Church”
“Feminism is simply believing in gender equality, more specifically acknowledging the equality of women from social, political, and economical perspectives (in comparison to men.) I do think unfortunately that maybe feminism is not the best word to choose for something that is suppose to convey such a pure and important meaning, since society has been associating it with a negative mindset over such a long period of time”
“Feminism just means you believe that women should be equal to men and be responsible for the same activities like working and on the flip side men should be responsible for housework and family duties too. To be a feminist basically means you think women are equal and should be recognized as such, but a lot of people don’t like the word and think it’s synonymous with man-hating or weirdo (cool) girls who don’t shave their legs or armpits”
“Feminism means equality. It’s as simple as that”
“To me, feminism is the rejection of systemic orthodoxy by denying those inherently privileged the right to uncritically maintain, facilitate, and utilize a birthright to limit the life of others”
“Feminism is when a girl can start dancing with a guy at the club without any thoughts of seeming too desperate or too drunk”
“To me, feminism means so much because I see it as representing hope. Hope that one day I won’t have to worry about being sexually assaulted, discriminated against, or used as a punchline. Unfortunately though, we live in a world built for men. Men constantly tell us that we are being treated equally, but we know we aren’t and whenever we try and explain our hardships we are cast off as ‘hysterical’, ‘menstrual’ or ‘hormonal’. And with the ongoing war against feminism, I find it absolutely disgusting and deplorable. When I hear women complaining about feminists being ‘annoying’ and ‘whiny’, I get into such a rage. It’s appalling how men have been able to alienate the term ‘feminism’ into meaning something so unappealing to women who lack the knowledge of what feminism really means. Everything that women before us have fought for, such as the right to vote, is completely forsaken by some women, and forgotten”
“Feminism, to me, is about equality. It’s not about me hating men, or favouring women; it is about justice, equality, and dignity that one deserves regardless of their gender. I mean, hell, I’d love to pay for a dinner on a date without my boyfriend saying ‘Oh god, don’t go all feminist on me now’.”
“Girls just wanna have fun(damental human rights)”
“To me, feminism is the statement that men should get equal paternity rights and that women should be equally represented in high-level positions in all fields. It’s a statement that trans and genderqueer people shouldn’t face discrimination because, not only is it not a choice, but not neatly fitting in to ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories is subversive if men and women aren’t equal. It’s the statement that women aren’t divisible into Madonna and Whore- and especially not on the basis of skin colour, class, or clothing style- while men are not either gentlemen or brutes”
Through collecting these responses, I learned a couple things. First, that I have some very interesting and very insightful friends. Second, that maybe the reason that people can’t come to a collective understanding and appreciation of feminism as an ideology is because everyone assigns their own meaning and interpretation to feminism. There is no one size fits all, clear-cut way of defining feminism. Feminism means something different to every single one of us, whether it be good or bad. Is it bad to not have a clear consensus on this issue? I would argue that it’s actually a good thing. We’ve seen so many different waves and evolutions of feminism throughout history and each have their own take on the issue and what can and can’t be included. The only way to develop these kinds of ideologies is to talk about them, and be able to identify what works and what doesn’t. Maybe we will come to some kind of agreement one day, but that can only be reached if people keep sharing their viewpoints and keep the discussion going.
Recently, I stumbled across a site called Know Your Value, which contained videos and articles that appeared to empower women and promote gender equality. As I scrolled down, I was having very positive thoughts about everything the site was promoting, until I came across a particular post entitled “Study: Men looking for independent women”.
I was a bit confused. Here is a site that is promoting women and empowering them to know their worth, posting an article that is almost counterintuitive to the message they are attempting to promote. A woman’s value is something that she should learn about and develop herself. A woman’s value is completely separate from how a man sees her. The idea that men prefer independent women has nothing to do with being an independent women, and should have no effect on a woman’s perception of herself as independent. While this was a little frustrating for me to brood over, it actually helped me to come up with what I interpret feminism as:
“To me, feminism is the upholding of mutual acknowledgement and respect of the value and worth of every single person, regardless of any facet of their identity. It is also the understanding that a person’s worth is an independent entity, and that no one should be able to undermine the value of anyone else”
In the end, however, I definitely expect that my interpretation, along with many other people’s, will change and evolve along with the movement. I am more than excited to see it do so.
So how do you interpret or define feminism?
Next time you’re wondering about the cutting edge technology of women’s heath care procedures, just ask Vito Barbieri.
The Idaho State Representative seemed to be under the impression that women can swallow a tiny camera as part of a gynaecological exam. Imagine his surprise when it was pointed out to him by Dr. Julie Madsen that, in fact, swallowed items do not end up in the vagina.
I’ll admit that, in the boredom of writing two midterm papers, this piece of unintentional humour gave me a good chuckle. A great many thoughts filled my head, including ones such as “I wonder if he has a wife…if he does then I feel pretty bad for her, as he clearly doesn’t know anything about a vagina” and “#lol #virgin”.
What’s no laughing matter is the fact that Barbieri is a known opponent of abortion, and the banter that took place was during a hearing on a bill that would “ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine”. In layman’s terms, it is a bill that works to restrict abortion rights, being supported by a man who obviously has no conception of the female autonomy (Barbieri later said that the question was, in fact, rhetorical, and intended to make a point…if the point was that you have no idea what you’re doing, then it was very well made).
Barbieri isn’t the only politician who is unacquainted with the female anatomy. I’m sure many people remember in 2012, when Senate candidate Todd Akin made the claim that women couldn’t get pregnant after a “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try and shut the whole thing down”. Texas Representative Jodie Laubenberg was also under the impression that having access to a legal abortion was unnecessary in cases of rape because women could use rape kits, which were apparently able to “clean out” a woman (Laubenberg sponsored a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks in Texas, because apparently rape kits are able to get the job done instead).
What’s horrifying about all these cases is that the people who are attempting to regulate women’s bodies are people who don’t have the first clue as to how they actually work. And what’s even more horrifying is that there is no reason why they shouldn’t, especially Texas Rep Laubenberg.
Laubenberg is a woman.
For men to not fully understand how a woman’s body works is one thing, but for a woman to not understand is another. This is an issue that is completely separate from the abortion debate. This has now become an issue of sex education. If we have reached a point where women can’t even conceptualize how their own bodies work, then something within our sex education system is awry.
Now I know for a lot of people, sex education was one of the more uncomfortable parts of an already awkward adolescence. However, it is something that is becoming increasingly necessary and important for kids to learn and understand. At a very basic level, it’s important for all genders to understand what genitalia is and how it works. This will lead to an understanding of safe and healthy sexual practises, which become engrained and create habits that will stay with kids as they develop. What’s unfortunate is that not everyone recognizes the value of a healthy sexual education. Over half of the states do not require sex education to be taught in schools, and many of these states also don’t provide information about HIV. In some states, if this kind of education is provided, there are no regulations that measure the accuracy of the curriculum being taught, and worse still, some states are required to include information about abstinence, but not about contraception. Perhaps the saddest statistic of all is that there are 3 states where, if education is provided, it must include only negative information on same-sex relationships. It’s also not too hard to imagine that these schools would ignore the issue of gender vs sex and what it means to be transgender. With such a rocky foundation to base their understanding upon, it’s no wonder so many people fall victim to negative facets of sexuality, or grow up with such grossly misconstrued views.
In Ontario, my home province, the sexual education curriculum has undergone an overhaul, and has been transformed for all students attending school from 2015 onwards. While parents seem to have rather mixed reviews as to the early age (Grade 1) that the program is set to start at, this facelift to a nearly 20-year old curriculum represents a step in the right direction. It is working to keep topics about sexuality current with greater emphasis on the online aspects of sexuality, as well as around the topic of consent. This curriculum also extends the sexual education process right through until grade 12.
Yes, it’s going to be awkward at first. Yes, people get uncomfortable when talking about anything to do with sex education. However I’m sure we can agree that spending a few hours every year in discomfort is slightly more appealing than having to swallow a camera to determine whether you can qualify for an abortion. As long as it’s done properly, sex education offers tremendous benefits, and can provide a foundation of knowledge, understanding, and (stemming from this) respect for all genders and people of all sexualities.
I remember where I was when it happened.
I was sitting in my floor fellow’s room with my other floormates after our weekly floor tea (which actually just turned into floor cookies…also should I say floor one more time, just for fun?) At 9:14 pm, I got a text from my mom. All that was in the text was a link. From that link I discerned a few key words: “jon stewart” “leaving” “daily” “show” “quits”. Anxiously, I ran back to my room, sat on my bed, and opened up the article. Headline: Jon Stewart leaving “The Daily Show”. I was only able to read the first few sentences: “Jon Stewart will step down as host of The Daily Show, he announced during Tuesday night’s taping”.
“NO” i texted my mom, sending her a plethora of emojis, that represented my feelings of shock, confusion, and sadness. “I cannot deal…taking the night off…I can’t go on”.
My mom responded: “R u ok”.
“No” I replied. “How could I ever be okay after this. I am devastated”
My mom quickly changed the subject, clearly indicating her knowledge that I was exaggerating. But I was not exaggerating. Not in the least.
I remember the first time I watched Jon Stewart. I was 9, and sleeping over at my friend’s house. We had just finished watching (and dancing along to) Ella Enchanted, and were too hyper to go to sleep, so we decided to watch tv. An episode of the Daily Show was about halfway over, so naturally, as any average 9 year old would, we decided to watch it. Obviously I didn’t get a lot of the humour, but I did understand some of the bigger themes it was relating to as I had heard them in them news (this was during the time when new regulations were being put on liquids in airplanes). By no means did that one episode convert me into a fan, but it did spark my interest. A few years down the road I kept seeing more and more references to Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, and as I really got into understanding politics and international events, I got into appreciating what Jon Stewart had to say.
I started following Jon Stewart more closely around 2011. My favourite segments were surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden and the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal (to this day, my absolute favourite bit of Jon Stewart’s was the one on June 6th, 2011, when he enlisted a soul singer to perform a song about the entire ‘Weinergate’ scandal…I can’t even tell you how many times my mom and I replayed that segment in tears while my dad hid upstairs in his office, fearing for his life).
Jon Stewart is the undisputed king of satire news, yes, but he is also an incredibly intelligent man. His sarcastic barbs often times exposed the truths about the western world that we were all too scared to confront.
His famous feud with Bill O'Reilly left everything on the table and nothing to be desired.
One of his most famous moments was his takedown of the CNN show Crossfire (arguably one of the many bad decisions CNN has made). But above all that, Jon Stewart’s greatest talent was making political and social issues both relevant and accessible for all kinds of people. With news networks becoming increasingly more bias and partisan, it can be hard to discern fact from opinion. While Jon Stewart was yes, a bit more left-leaning and sprinkled his opinion throughout his segments, they are on the whole, nothing if not both informative as well as highly entertaining. Not to mention that his guidance led to so many of his correspondents going on to lead successful lives in the comedic world. This list includes people such as Steve Carrell, Ed Helms, Olivia Munn, Lewis Black, my personal favourite, John Oliver (who now hosts my new favourite satirical news show, Last Week Tonight), and of course, Stephen Colbert.
There are so many people who owe something to Jon Stewart. I know I certainly do. The Daily Show was one of the ways my mom and I found common ground during my prolonged period of teenage angst. He was- and still is- one of my biggest journalistic inspirations as well as role models. And although I didn’t really end up using it to get myself anywhere, I ended up getting a near-perfect writing score on my SAT with an essay I wrote about him.
You never know how chance encounters are going to change you. I don’t know if I would be any different of a person had I not watched that last half hour of The Daily Show as a 9 year old. But one thing’s for sure- that half hour sparked something in me. I don’t know if I can picture my life without the Daily Show being a part of it. Even as I write this, I feel a hole boring through my insides.
I only have one other friend who shares the same interest in The Daily Show as I do. When I texted him, he replied saying “What has the world come to?!” As I was in a state of distress, I couldn’t come up with an answer- all I could say was “I’m in distress”. If there is one wish I could be granted in this time of need, it would be for Comedy Central to make all of the Daily Show episodes accessible to watch in Canada. Otherwise, they can expect a great number of strongly worded letters coming their way.