I have beside me my favourite book. Bound in sturdy dark navy blue leather with fine paper pages, it has not left me since handed down to me from my Dad. It is well-worn and a bit the worse for wear, but it knows its English, and some ancillary foreign phrases, which suits me perfectly. It is my 1953 Edition of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Except for my now ancient dictionary from the late 19th century, it is the most personally valued book I own. Not to mention the Ancient One has to be placed on a book pedestal to use, it is so heavy. The reason I mention these revered books is they are a reminder of how little really changes, from one century to another. Let us look at the word feminism as an example:
Webster’s New International Dictionary, 1890: Female characteristic
attributed to women; being womanly. Med: Female characteristics present in males.
Webster’s 1953, First definition is the same, here follows definition (2) which is relevant to this article: “The theory, cult, or practise of those who advocate such legal and social changes as will establish political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” also Feminist.
The word “feminist” has always set my jaw askew and my head to pounding. Why, I wonder, is this the case? I believe in the feminist ideology just as I believe in all manner of causes that fight for human dignity, the ownership of ones body, and freedom of thought and action. After reading a very well written article on the Feminist movement on Twitter, I decided, with jaw once again askew, to seek why this happens each time I encounter the word. As I do, rather than go to the Wiki, or to online modern dictionaries, I decided to seek the word in my old Webster’s first.
As noted above, my 61 year old version of Webster’s acknowledges the word “Feminist”. Definition (2) is interesting in its structure. It seems a bit nebulous; theory? CULT (oh, dear)? practise (a bit tame for a movement)? Yet, as I sat back to ponder this, I wonder just how inaccurate is it? Certainly, the modern dictionaries do define feminism with more active nouns and verbs, that’s good. No mention of it being a cult, even better, but here is where I hit a sticking point for me. Practise.
Ah, practise. No, 61 years later, feminism is not practised. It is not practised by the governments of many nations, it is not practised by voters, politicians, religious leaders, and most of all it is not practised by those who say they are feminists. What seems forgotten in all the rhetoric of young feminism is the shoulders they stand upon. You think women’s rights are disrespected now? Well you’re welcome, because it was worse back in the centuries preceding you. You have the bravery, tenacity, solidarity, and formidable strength of a legion of women to thank for what you’ve gained. A legion who, like the famous 300 of movie fame, stood against an army more relentless than the one you face now. All the women who broke barriers that you can’t even imagine to get where we are today. Is “where we are” good enough, hell no, but action is what is needed, not arguing with each other about how to define feminism in the 21st Century. You’re even arguing over the use of the word vagina? You can’t be serious.
Where’s the solidarity? All the women professors, who by the way were even fewer and far between than now, worked against high odds to succeed and stood up to curriculum committees and fought for womens studies. Difficult to believe there were no such thing as women’s studies programs not so long ago. Homemakers, students, professionals, all the women who stood against the Vietnam War, you do remember that don’t you, or have at least heard of it? Women who withstood gunfire at Ohio State, and some who died in a pool of blood in the arms of their friends. Women who walked up to soldiers guarding the Pentagon from protestors and sticking flowers in their gun barrels. Women worldwide who fought in harms way to save lives in WWI, WWII, Korea, the Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq I & II. And no it wasn’t television’s MASH, it was bloody awful war. All the wars and all the women who gave up their lives and/or way of life for a greater good, never received equal recognition, pay, or promotions.
Intellectual feminism has its place. I’m very much in favour of being intellectual. But I’m sorry to say, it won’t get you the results you want. What is required is that you get up and go to the ballot boxes and vote for every candidate that embraces the cause of women’s rights. If every woman 18-100+ years in age went to vote, it would be a landslide. Where have you been?
Blogging, tweeting, Facebook posting and E-mailing will not, I repeat NOT, get you the results you want and deserve. Certainly discussion is important, exchanging ideas on how to effect change is important too. To accomplish many of your goals, you have to shove out the old white bastards who’ve forgotten what a vagina is, and get your friends, family, co-workers, fellow students out to vote for more women candidates and for men who support your rights. Go door to door recruiting women to help you get others out to vote. Human to human, not computer to computer. Not that social media aren’t valuable, but they don’t replace the arm-in-arm solidarity of people ready to speak out for what they know is right, out in the open for the world to see.
“Young” versus “old” feminism is ludicrous. Its in-fighting that is all rhetoric and no action. Take inspiration from Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Camille Paglia, Germaine Greer, and don’t forget Susan B. Anthony. Women from all walks of life who walked together. No one cared who was privileged and who wasn’t, or if someone was rude “online.” They knew what they wanted and stayed cemented in each other’s strength. You wouldn’t have the voice you have today if it weren’t for the will of these magnificent women.
Get out and get loud. And VOTE.
After you’ve done all that, we can discuss vaginas.