Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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« The Telecommuting Mother | Main | Newsletter: Month Fourteen »

You Are A Feminist

I've been thinking about the word feminist a lot lately and what it means to me. The term gets a bad rap. For most people it brings to mind images of angry, loudmouthed, bra-burning, hairy armpitted, pushy women who aren't interested in chivalrous behavior in men. Or not interested in men, period.

That's just not true.

Every single one of us is a feminist. Do you aspire to be a stay-at-home wife? To raise a brood of babies and have a hot meal waiting on the table for your fella when he returns home after a hard day on the job?

You are a feminist. Because you have the choice.

You grew up telling people you wanted to be a doctor, nurse, lawyer, ballerina or a mama. Millions of women have endured hardships unimaginable to us iPhone toting, internet writing modern gals so that we have that choice. A choice you may or may not take for granted.

Feminism is about choice, opportunity and equality. But somewhere in the eighties we lost the plot and the term equality got bastardized and somehow feminism became synonymous with manhater. Yes, equality is something we still need to fight for, particularly for our sisters in other parts of the world, but the word desperately needs defining for this new generation of young women, my daughter included.

Equality of the sexes doesn't mean I don't enjoy being treated well by a man. It doesn't mean I don't appreciate a man opening a door for me, paying for dinner, pampering me and just appreciating the essence that is woman. Equality means I am offered the same opportunities in life as a man and I am given equal pay for equal work which is, sadly, not the case just yet.

Somehow, the meaning of the word equality got all jumbled up and people (yes, maybe even extreme feminists) got all wrapped up in making everything the same. But we can't be the same! Men are from mars. And women are from Earth. Not the same! Maybe the smoke from burning cheap Kmart bras got to their brains, I don't know. I do know that chivalry died a little and men became confused about how women want to be treated.

Equality doesn't mean redefining what is an inherent part of each of our genders. It doesn't mean women need to act like men or relinquish the wonderful privilege of being the recipient of chivalrous behavior. Equality just means allowing for equal choices and providing equal opportunities and letting people do what they will.

If you don't consider yourself a feminist, you should, if only to tip your hat to the millions of women who removed a spoonful of dirt from the massive wall that has imprisoned women from the beginning of time.

If you don't consider yourself a feminist you should, if only to remind yourself of the tortures that women in several parts of the world continue to endure at the hands of man.

If you don't consider yourself a feminist you should, because you can choose to be whatever you want to be.

Women are important to me. They scare me, perhaps because they've always challenged me much more than the men in my life have. I've experienced the best of women and the worse of women. Women have built me up to the heavens and torn me down to hell. But I've learned something crucially important about myself during every single experience. I have an email folder with hundreds and hundreds of encouraging, inspirational, emails, all from women. Beautiful, thoughtful women who had the power to change my attitude and make my day brighter with a few simple sentences of encouragement. THANK YOU.

There are several women I work with every day that have made such a difference in my life. Renai. Whitney. Hope. Meg. Sandy. Nika. Suzanne in New York City. Oh my, but I love Suzanne. I hope to be just like her when I grow up.

How do I express to certain women the impact they've had on my life? And it's not necessarily anything they've done for me or said to me. It's just being afforded the privilege of watching them live their lives that has changed me on a subterranean level.

There are other women, women I've grown up with, who have been pillars of support my entire life. They know who they are. Without them I wouldn't be me.

Then there are the online women. The inspiring women who write about their lives in ways that make me laugh, cry, think and change. They help me realize I'm not the only one who feels this way. Some of them you know, some I've already written about. But maybe, just maybe, I'll have the pleasure of introducing you to someone who could change your life.

Have someone you want to introduce us to? Feel free to add your links.











Reader Comments (36)

Oh my gosh I love you. I've written about this topic a few times, mostly notably here:

Thanks for writing this, it's comforting to know there are others who "get" it.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdoahleigh

That is how I've always seen feminism: it's about choice. When I was an undergrad at the uber liberal University of Montana, I got a lot of shit for saying that I thought there was nothing wrong with a woman choosing to be a housewife or stay at home mom. And I still don't see anything wrong with it. It's not the choice I made and that's okay.

It's a problem when my friends who are SAHM tell me that I'm somehow not a feminist because I don't have kids and have fallen in love with my husband and career to the point that I don't want kids. That's no less fair than me telling them that they've let down our gender because they gave up and stayed at home. We each choose our path and that's the beauty of it all.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjeneria

I agree with what you say, but it is a myth that a bra was ever burned in the name of feminism (or anything else).

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjls

I love this. I have been passionate about the subject since high school. In fact, I'm pretty sure I wrote a similar rant in my own self-published zine back in the day...

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Thanks for this. I especially appreciate your link to CJane, even while completely disagreeing with her recent post on this issue. She seems to be a good woman, even if she is missing the point of feminism entirely.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterzytines

WORD. :)

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

My friends and I burned our bras in college, sometime around 1996, in the name of feminism. It didn't make national news or anything, but you can't say it never happened.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjeneria

agreed. completely.

and now my reader is overflowing with new blogs... thanks all around!

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercourt

Yes yes yes. Feminism is what you make it because feminism has ALLOWED us (as individuals) to define the term--and to define ourselves--in whatever way we want. It allows us to be US, which is one of the most basic of human rights.

(And thanks for including me on such an esteemed list! Wow!)

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteragirlandaboy

I should also leave a link to one of my faves, Kate, who wrote wonderfully about feminism not too long ago:

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteragirlandaboy

I loved every word of your post.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAna

What a great post.

I have been outed! CrummyMummy has a real name!

I think the thing I struggle most with is the fact that in my industry (TV) here in the UK (and I am sure in many many others) men always seem to rise up the ranks and women languish or fall behind as they tend to be the ones to compromise as soon as they have children.

Two weeks ago I watched a 41 year old single Mother have a panic attack in my office due to the stress of a new male boss who wasn't symapthetic to her child care issues. It made me cry with anger and frustration. Because there is such inadequate support for women to choose to return to work post kids (some want to, others need that paycheck); once you have a child I know execs/bosses tend to see women as less 'employable.' Makes my blood boil.

We fought to 'have it all.' Yes, I am grateful for the choice - but sometimes I feel we have barely moved on at all - and that 'having it all' is a complete Myth.

Thanks for the shout out Monica - chuffed to be on such a great list.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCrummyMummy

Yikes! I didn't realize I outed you! I always think of you as Suzanne and forgot you don't use your name on your blog. Want me to change it?

March 31, 2010 | Registered CommenterMonica

No - it's cool. I'm just stoked to be on such a list. Just been reading all the other great blogs. I love how you generously keep linking us all up - with The Great Experiment etc. Shame you lot aren't down London way - how good would it to be able to sink a few corona sundowners/lethal cocktails together on a Fri night?

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCrummyMummy




March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermrs. smith

Thanks for sharing a provocative point of view. I respectfully disagree that I am a feminist because I have a choice. I also disagree that the collective "you" is a feminist. Maybe it's just semantics, but I don't believe I (or anyone else) is a feminist, simply because a choice exists. Rather, I personally think I am a feminist, because I support a woman's right to choose ... as well as their right to equality and their right to dignity. I am also a humanist, and in some ways a socialist, occasionally a pianist and quite likely a myriad of other -ists.

In my point of view, none of these are concrete terms with tidy precise meanings. To me this begs the question of the relevance of labels at all when they take on such a broad range of possible meanings and applications.

I am a feminist, just not for the reasons you state.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNJ

I tend to agree with NJ and consider myself a FEMINIST (sometimes calling myself a femi-nazi, with regards to Voldemort, ahem, Rush Limbaugh) simply because I believe that women are not second-class-citizens. Yes, that means having equality when it comes to salaries, but also that they not be reduced to simply sexualized bodies full stop.

The entitlement that I witness from men simply because they were brought up to prance about with their value is a far cry from the soft spoken strength in so many women. Girls seem to get the fact that they're not worthy from a very young age.... I can't even get to the idea of 'feminism' being a 'bad word'.... I'm busy steeling myself against the male bias.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

"Girls seem to get the fact that they're not worthy from a very young age". Karen, I'm curious to know how old you are. Because I don't get that at all from my perspective. I am 54, fortunate to have participated actively in the early feminist 'movement', and proud mother of a very confident, self-assured 18 year old woman. She and her friends are strong, happy, and eagerly exploring just whatever the hell they want to explore. I feel this is due in part to the work I and many many others did in raising the consciousness of a neanderthal nation 30-40 years ago.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjls

Janet, have you seen what young girls have to deal with these days? If it's not some silly celebrity posing in bikini pics two weeks after giving birth it's these ridiculous reality shows where all girls do is behave badly and are treated like pieces of meat. Maybe your daughter is doing great and that's a credit to you but I substitute at junior high and high schools and I must say, all I see is girls acting out, likely due to self esteem issues creating by this vapid Paris Hilton worshiping culture.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Hey JLS... I'm, ahem, 43. I can't make a general statement that gender equality has gone to hell, but here's an example. When I worked in a hotel, and transferred to a hotel in San Francisco, the only position available was bellperson. I had done that job before in another city, so I took the job. My co-workers couldn't not wrap their heads around the fact that I could do that job, and also run the crazy driveway. I had one guest (a woman) tell me that I should not be doing the job. Women are not strong enough to do it. No, really.

From a different vein... sometimes the most serious conversation around me is.. 'she cut her hair'.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

PS Sorry, but this just popped to mind. My sister is a Lt Col in the US Army, and most times when she is with her husband (also in the Army) she is referred to as Mrs. Not considered as an officer. Once when driving through the post gate, she gave her ID to the MP and he looked at her rank and said, 'thank you sir... OH... you're a Mamm! We laughed and laughed.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Karen - I am an officer in the Canadian Army. Just the other day a former soldier from my troop ran into me and said "Oh hey Ma'am" - and the friend that was with me thought that was really funny on its own, but I do get called Sir more often than you would ever expect. I also still get "for a girl" as a qualifier when praised on occasion, and at my last job was routinely called out for approaching issues "like a woman".

It is part culture and I do the best I can to do the best job I can do. I am thankful that the option to be in uniform in every capacity (including combat) is open to Canadian women and am amazed by the number of incredibly talented women I meet.

Life is so much better when we can laugh off some of the ripples.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNJ

NJ: I love it! (saluting)

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I have never understood some of the practices "feminist" ( I understand that there wide range that use this title) take. It seems that some want to abandon everything that is feminine in order to become equal to men. Isn't that just becoming a man?

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjon

" I have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."

Rebecca West (1913)

One of my favorite quotes of all times; it's been hanging in my office for the past ten years.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErica

Jon, I have literally never, not once, encountered any of these man-imitating feminists of which you speak, having spent a huge amount of my time working in a feminist capacity (both paid and unpaid) for years. Are you perhaps referring to butch lesbians? Because that's a different thing altogether.

Otherwise, Monica: nice post, I wish more people got this. Feminism is absolutely nothing to do with not liking the door being held open for you and all that shit. And I see someone already cleared up the bra-burning myth.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterL

P.S. She has a really cute room, too! Love it!

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Liz

This is my favorite post you've ever written! It is absolutely brilliantly said and you could (or myself) not have put it any better! I have been a proud feminist for many years and ain't changing that for no one! It IS about CHOICE, EQUALITY and the ability to recognize the strength and greatness that lies in all women! We totally rock! I don't think we're better than men, at all, and we certainly have our flaws. Like you, I DO want to be treated like a lady, but yes, I AM a FEMINIST because I have a choice in life--marriage, motherhood, working, education, all of it--I have MANY choices! Thank God! And I have them because of the millions and millions of women who came before me who paved the way for me and made my life today, a little easier! So yes, I am a feminist and I am proud to be one! Men are cool and we couldn't get a long with out them, but feminism is just as okay for men as it is women! Thank you for this most terriffically wonderful post! This absolutely rocks! Your daughter is going to be one well adjusted, kick-ass female! You should be very proud!

Many Blessings,
-Sarah Liz :)

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Liz

This isn't related to this post, but I think your hair color (seen in Violet's newsletter) is absolute perfection on you.

You look great!


April 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

I guess I feel like male "chivalry" is antiquated much in the way of the notion that women should always be housewives. Of course I want to be treated well by a man (a person), like I hope to be treated well by anybody. I guess I find it irritating when seeing some of my female friends date and thinking that the guy is less worthy if he doesn't have a "good" job (according to them) and is therefore unable to spring for nice dinners all the time and they expect flowers and the nine yards, which I feel is entitlement based solely on the fact that you are female. Say, for example, if I, because of the feminist movement, am able to become a doctor if I so choose and I go out with say, a teacher, it seems silly for him to pay just because he is the man and I'm the woman, even though I make a much higher income. It goes both ways, men and women should act chivalrous towards each other.

Anywho, I know that is only one part of your point, and you don't mean it to an extreme as you obviously don't or ever did expect Serge to be gifting you with fine jewels and taking you out for lobster and steak three times a week, but just wanted to throw in my two cents on that issue. I mean, I know what you mean, it's good to expect to be treated well (like a lady or what have you) by a man, especially when women have such a history of being "the weaker sex" and abused and controlled by men, but some women seem to expect it to be their right to be constantly doted upon because of their gender, and I think those type of women do undermine feminism.

April 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShawna

I completely agree with what you say. I just meant that women shouldn't feel like they need to give up their femininity or put the kibosh on men holding doors and so forth to be feminists. The type of gold digging, greedy woman you describe definitely undermines feminism.

April 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterMonica

Monica NEVER takes me out on the town except to Five Guys Burgers sometimes.

April 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSerge

Serge NEVER opens the door for me except when we're walking into Cabelas sometimes.

April 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterMonica

Haha!, you two are funny.

Gotcha, figured that's what you meant. You are so obviously not a gold digging or greedy, you married a musician for chrissakes.

I agree a dude opening a door or acting a bit old-fashioned like that is nothing to get up in arms about, or feel like as a feminist that that I've given up the cause if a guy treats me to dinner.

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShawna

I think you might enjoy Teresa Strasser's point of view. Honest, smart, inspiring.

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershane

The Ladies have come a long way, yo--- but parents who ~fool~ themselves (not you or Serge) into thinking that the attitude toward girls/women is just dandy.... uh, no. Column from NYT today. It sickens me, but I'm not surprised:

June 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

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