What is feminism?
The dictionary defines feminism as the movement for social, political, and economic equality between men and women, but there are many, many definitions of feminism – or, feminismS. My personal feminism, however, is different and has little to do with men. I am a feminist because I love being a woman, love women, and strive to make the world a better place for women and girls.
I often hear feminists – mostly those who are relatively new to feminism – talking about how difficult it can be to “keep fighting the good fight.” It’s so exhausting and overwhelming, they say, to be aware of such pervasive misogyny everywhere you turn. How does one keep on fighting?
My response is, don’t. Stop fighting, and start living. My feminism consists not of fighting patriarchy, but of disengaging from it entirely. Back in college, when I was just getting into feminism, I was surprised by how much joy and laughter there was in our feminist meetings and classes and marches and rallies. I loved the sense of community and connection I felt with the women around me, and considered it a wonderful “bonus” or “byproduct” of the serious work we were doing. Sometimes I secretly felt guilty for having such a wonderful time at, say, Take Back the Night (TBTN). After the first Take Back the Night march I participated in, a local feminist folk singer performed, while we participants munched on cookies and snacks, talked, laughed, and danced. People’s energy and moods were high, and the air was buzzing. I found myself giggling wildly as a six-year-old girl I had just met pulled me around the dance floor, resulting in the two of us collapsing in a heap on the rug, laughing and gasping for air.
Part of me was thinking, how dare I be so full of joy and laughter? Take Back the Night is a serious event! It’s about ending sexual violence, for crying out loud – not dancing and laughing!
Then one day I realized that forging those beautiful, strong, wonderful connections with women was not at all a bonus or by product of feminist activism…I had had it all backwards. Connecting with women is now my goal, and my only goal. It is my feminism. When we women connect with each other, we are mutually empowering each other. As Sonia Johnson puts it, “If all people realized the extent of their personal power, no one could control anyone else.”
I reflected upon that TBTN march, and realized that that event of ours probably did not stop rapists from raping. The most we can say for sure is that during those hours when we women were all together, marching, singing, dancing, no men could rape us. And that’s the key. It’s not about us women being loud and angry and commanding enough so that men must wake up and start treating us with respect… it’s about us women bonding together so strongly, loving each other so deeply, creating space together that’s made indestructable and inpenetrable by our devotion to each other’s well-being. It’s not about “them,” “out there,” it’s about us, right here, right now.
I no longer go out of my way to call the White House, sign and circulate petitions, write angry letters to the editor, and so on and so forth. Instead, my feminism consists of bonding with women. If we women put as much energy into loving ourselves and each other as we put into fighting patriarchy, patriarchy could not exist. I highly recommend books by Sonia Johnson, especially Wildfire: Igniting the She/volution. [Note: I don’t agree with/endorse everything she says in it...but as a whole, it’s extremely thought-provoking and inspiring].
Her main point is: “The means are the ends. HOW we do something is WHAT we get,” and “What we resist, persists.” That is, the more energy we direct towards patriarchy – even towards “fighting” it – the stronger it becomes, paradoxically. It’s necessary instead to disengage from it entirely. The more we keep “fighting” for that “better world” that will come “someday,” the less energy we have to live free and happy right NOW. Only by living joyfully, freely, and fearlessly right NOW can we EVER have freedom, joy, and fearlessness, because the present moment, NOW, is all that really exists anyway.
I go to anti-war marches not because I actually expect them to stop the war – I don’t – but because it’s exhilarating to “party in the streets” with thousands of other peace-lovin people. I don’t stand and listen to the stodgy speakers ramble on and on and on…I grab on to the train of loud, giddy teenagers who are banging on pots and pans and singing as they dance through the crowd. I move away from the angry people yelling “peace” chants through bullhorns, and move towards the hippies who are drumming and sharing chocolate cake.
This is my feminism:
I swim naked in the river with my lesbian witch friends, and then we stay up till 3 am cooking yummy food and painting on each other with Nutella and watching happy, woman-positive movies.
I babysit for awesome sisters and we go to the playground when it’s raining so the slides become waterslides and giggle and shriek as we slide down.
I whisper in my baby niece’s ear how strong, intelligent, wise, wonderful, and loved she is and always will be.
I go to Vagina Monologue rehearsals, and join the other cast members in gleefully yelling 36 different names for “vagina” off of the auditorium balcony.
I hug and kiss my mom and tell her I love her every single time I see her.
I am in an airport and see a grandmother with her grandson, struggling to calm his tears and carry all his gear at the same time, and I let him hold my stuffed frog while I carry the diaper bag for her with a friendly smile and ask if there’s anything else I can do to help.
I celebrate Valentine’s Day by going to bell hooks’ book reading and give her a valentine that makes her grin and that makes me grin all day.
I drive around with friends and think up new lyrics for sexist songs on the radio and shout them happily to the sky with all the windows down and the sun-roof open.
I go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival every year, camping in the woods with 6000 amazing womyn.
I take myself out on dinner-and-date movies, all dressed up, and keep a list in my journal about all the things I love about myself. I do self-love rituals, and meditate to send loving energy to my wounded self in various stages of girlhood.
I send my women friends little love notes, telling them why I love them.
I go to women doctors, [m]atronize women-owned businesses, choose women teachers, buy from women-owned stores, read books by women, listen to music created by women, and watch movies written and directed by women.
I sponsor a 7-year-old girl in the Middle East, monetarily, and send her letters to let her know I’m thinking of her and her family, wish her well, and encourage her in school.
I work for mothers, as an in-home childcare provider, under the table – a passive way of being a war-tax resister!
I honor the Goddess, and celebrate the Pagan holidays/do ritual work with a circle of women.
I went through an extensive, 9-month training in the Wise Woman tradition of herbal/natural magic and healing, to learn, honor, and apply the knowledge and wisdom of our foremothers.
This is my feminism. Loving our female selves and each other is the most radical, revolutionary act there is, and if we truly accomplished this – discovered the full extent of our personal power and empowered each other, and loved ourselves and each other wholeheartedly and unconditionally – patriarchy would simply cease to exist.