I am not a bra-burning feminist: first, because I think bras are a rather nifty invention, and second, because this is a bad time of the year to be burning anything. Check out those Utah wildfires, yes? That being said, I do consider myself a feminist–sort of a worried-about-stereotypes-and-rigid-roles, hate-being-penalized-or-pedestal-ized-just-because-I’m-a-woman, and fairly-sensitive-to-gender-issues type of feminist.
True story: Two years ago I taught my BYU freshman writing students a standard lesson on “critical analysis.” One group of four young women was randomly assigned a Time Botox ad and told to analyze the ad’s target audience. As the group presented their findings, the spokeswoman explained the target audience was a woman (the class and I nodded), probably in her 40s or 50s (we all nodded), someone who was well-educated, concerned about her appearance, and had disposable income (nodding again), someone who was—in short (and I quote)—a “liberal feminist” (my head halted mid-nod, while the rest of the class continued nodding).
I was totally confused. I replayed their presentation in my mind and stared at the ad for an hour after class: the caption, “I did it for me!” was supposedly spoken by the 50-ish-year-old, stylish and well-groomed woman in the photo, looking fresh, happy, and young from her Botox treatments. I think her words, more than anything else, helped me figure out what was going on: this woman was doing something for herself—clearly not focusing her efforts on her family or friends. Moreover, she was doing something that could be construed as shallow (cosmetic) rather than heartfelt or “deep.” It seems to me that my students were equating concerns for self with feminism. To “do it for me” rather than being focused on others is, apparently, a “liberal feminist” thing to do, at least according to 18-year-olds. Hmmm.
No doubt, a semester in a woman’s studies class would enlighten my students about their hasty generalizations and leaps in logic. But I can’t help wondering if the 20-year-olds in the upcoming generation equate feminism with selfishness. If so, why? What is the thought process? Plus, most of my freshman during most semesters are Latter-day Saints. Selfishness is more than a character flaw, right? Isn’t it the opposite of charity? And the lack of charity just might keep us out of heaven, which is something I take rather seriously. My students are making more than a philosophical statement in calling someone a feminist; they are judging someone’s righteousness, apparently.
So, is it selfish to think women are equal to men and should be treated as such? I say “no.” Of course, what does “equal” mean?
If someone is treating women unequally, is it selfish to bring it to their attention? I say “no,” but I try to do it nicely–usually.
Is it selfish to “do” something for yourself? Surely not one thing. But what about doing one “shallow” thing? How far can we go in “doing things” for ourselves? Where’s the selfish line? And how does being a feminist make you cross it? And why would being a feminist make you selfish? or shallow? or concerned about appearance?
Because I still consider myself a feminist. I’m just not sure we all agree on what that means.