"Writing is my passion. It is a way to experience the ecstatic. The root understanding of the word ecstasy—“to stand outside”—comes to me in those moments when I am immersed so deeply in the act of thinking and writing that everything else, even flesh, falls away."
-bell hooks

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What is feminism? Who is feminist?

One thing is for sure, there is no membership card or pledge of allegiance to the cause, there is no litmus test or any sort test actually. Perhaps we might answer to be feminist one merely had to claim it as an identity. But identity is itself a troubling word. If I say I am feminist does that mean that everything I do will be as a feminist? Does that mean that I have to dress, act, and speak like others who also that they are feminists? Do I have to follow a feminist dogma? And what about this notion of an individual claiming an identity? What could that mean and do all individuals have the freedom and power to do such claiming? For that matter, why would we want to say being a feminist is merely a choice for an individual? Clearly, there is a lot to think about regarding these terms feminism and feminist.

The most common and perhaps most general understanding of feminism is that feminism is about equal rights for women. Feminism is more about equal rights for women but what that means is much more complicated than it appears at first blush. Moreover, feminism isn’t just about equal rights for women. Feminism is a critical project. It looks at all aspects of life to identify those elements that might be oppressive and suggest alternatives. By critical I do not mean that feminism rejects anything that it does not like. Rather critical means that there is an inquiry into the message and values of something. Criticism is an activity that seeks to analyze and understand something- a practice, a custom, a language and a social role. In seeking to understand, however, criticism also asks what values and presuppositions are being implied by the thing. A critical look at the world would dissect it into various parts- language, laws, social roles, practices, for instance- and seek to uncover what else is being suggested beyond the facts. A feminist reading, as a critical project, would look especially at what is being said about women; what social roles are they expected to take, what are their liberties or privileges in relation to men, and similar sorts of inquiries. In addition, if the feminist has specific interests or concerns, then she or he might emphasize particular aspects of the critical project. Feminist glimpse the world through a different lens and what they see usually requires a response. Feminism in other words follows the critical project with action to bring about to social change.

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