You run into feminists in the unlikeliest of places. To wit: The newest pitch for the rebirth of the F-word comes from none other than Louise Court, the editor of Cosmo's UK edition. In an interview with The Guardian, Court talked about the magazine's campaign to ride a new wave of feminism:
"We've had these T-shirts printed: 'I use the F word, do you?' I still think there are some young women who don't particularly like the word "feminism". They obviously believe they should have equal pay and the same freedoms as a man, but that's why we thought it was a really good time to get it on the agenda and girls talking about it.
"A lot of young women were brought up with that whole thing -- you're the girls who can have it all, if you want that job you can have it. A lot of those opportunities were fought for by feminists in the first place. They've worked hard at school and university, done all the things they were meant to do and the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. I think young women are thinking about feminism again."
And hooray for that. I was originally intrigued by the interview -- one of our fans had sent us the link -- because of the have-it-all reference, which is one of the themes of "Undecided," after all. But it was the feminist message, something we write about all the time, that had me hooked. A magazine devoted to hot sex (the Cosmosutra, anyone?) and skimpy clothing is putting feminism front and center? Will this encourage more women to proudly adopt the F-word as their own? Will feminism finally begin to go mainstream?
One can only hope.
A couple of years ago, I was being interviewed by a journalism class when a student asked me if I was a feminist. "Of course," I shot back. "Aren't you?" She looked at me, somewhat quizzically. "Well," she said, "how do you define feminist?" To which I replied, perhaps too glib and maybe even borderline cranky, "A human being." Beat. I continued, something along the lines of: It means you're in favor of equality. Equal rights. Equal pay. Equal opportunity. Blowing up gender stereotypes. My turn to be quizzical: "How can anyone NOT be a feminist?" I asked.
Of course, I knew the answer. A few years earlier, I had interviewed some kick-ass college seniors for a story on feminism for a local magazine. These were edgy, take-no-prisoners young women who were considerably more independent than I was, back in the day, when I was letting my own F-flag fly. But they refused to call themselves feminists.
It's a spectrum issue, they said first. They'd be more likely to call themselves feminists if they could explain where on the scale they fell. "I think a lot of people perceive feminists as being so hard-core -- man-haters, almost masculine," one of them said. They said they'd never experienced gender discrimination, never been told they couldn't do something -- or had to do something -- because of their sex. Never -- yet -- faced discrimination on the job. Battles fought, battles won, they said. "I've grown up and had every opportunity," said another woman, who conceded that without the benefit of privilege this might have been a different conversation. "Therefore, it's hard to identify with the word feminist because, for me, it's the norm. Now it seems radical to say feminist. It's hard to get passionate about a cause when you haven't faced the consequences of what you're fighting for."
You will, I thought. But she had me at "radical." Because what I realized then -- and now -- is that the very word "feminism" has been appropriated by a bunch of nutjobs who tend to fear everything but the status quo. (Go no further than some of the comments posted on this page, and you find that any post that advocates gender equality is likely to unleash a barrage of hate-rants that cast the writers of said posts as angry, bitter and ugly and/or fat.)
And that's actually pretty funny when you think about it: To advocate for equal pay? Equal opportunity? Equal representation in government and the arts? Equal treatment in the workplace? The end of the second shift? If you were to ask me, I'd have to say that the radicals are the ones who fight against the above.
But back to Cosmo: Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the great irony in the fact that a magazine that sells sex is also selling a feminist agenda. But then again, if that's what it takes to get more of us to proudly reclaim the F-word, I'm all in favor.
Back when I was in grad school, I had a classmate who had just moved from Washington D.C. and whose car boasted a tattered bumper sticker that read: "I'm pro-choice and I vote." I can't help wondering if those of us in favor of women's rights (read: all of us?) shouldn't make our own bumper stickers with a similar message:
"I'm a feminist. How about you?"