January 28, 2003

Feminism on the left and right

Recent polls have indicated a steady decline in the number of women who feel comfortable using the feminist label to describe themselves. This decline is most marked in the 18-29 age group, where only about one woman in five calls herself a feminist. The feminist establishment attempts to explain this phenomenon: why would the women who have most benefited from the feminist movement be the women least willing to identify themselves with feminism? Some older feminists suggest ingratitude as the cause; young women forget the battles won by their foremothers. However, the same polls that show women reluctant to take on the feminist label also show women as appreciative of the opportunities that feminism opened up. Women today support the traditional goals of feminism. Feminism itself has moved further away from the average American woman, not the other way around.

Today, women use a variety of arrangements to stay at home with their young children, but the feminist movement continues to demand universal child care. While young women are drinking in order to make hooking up a tolerable activity, feminists celebrate young women's new sexual freedom. While obesity's a growing health concern, feminists urge all women to love their bodies.

Anyone who criticizes the National Organization for Women and other feminist organizations can count on being labeled as "anti-woman." Today, the feminist movement is not a powerful force at the forefront of the fight for equality, but a small group of women who decide which opinions women should have. If you dare to use the brains that women of yesterday fought to liberate, and decide you support a war in Iraq, a different dating culture, or welfare reform, the feminist elite will declare you "anti-woman," as they do to many women already-Priscilla Owen, Camille Paglia, and Christina Hoff Sommers, just to name three. An unpleasant reality of feminism today is its unwillingness to allow ideological diversity among women, its distrust in women to make their own judgments about important issues of the day.

Despite this, I am one woman in five who proudly wears the feminist label. I don't agree with NOW on all issues, but as a young woman, I must take responsibility for the movement that claims to speak for me. It's time for women my age to take up and reshape, not discard, the feminist label. We aren't entirely comfortable with current feminism, but that doesn't mean feminism itself has outlived its usefulness. If we could open up feminism to greater discussion and recognize that women disagree on issues without one of them being pro-woman and the other anti-women, if we were to refocus feminism on the issues that are important to us and make the women's movement truly our own, young women might be proud to call themselves feminists again.