The word: “Feminist”

Two weeks ago my sister asked, “So, what exactly is a Mormon Feminist?”  Last weekend, Laurel Ulrich was asked a similar question in an interview, “What does it mean to be a Mormon Feminist?”  This has me thinking about the word, “Feminist”.

When I was a teenager in the 1980’s, the word made me uncomfortable.  To me, “Feminist” meant something bad or someone in trouble or too close to the edge.   Since that time, I’ve heard the word many (many, many) times and today, the word does not make me uncomfortable at all.  It is actually a positive word … one that I self-identify with.  I wonder if  I,  personally,  have just gotten used to hearing “Feminist” and thinking about it in a positive way?  Or whether the word itself has softened in the mind of the the mainstream?

Suzette

Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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17 Responses

  1. LovelyLauren says:

    Nothing frustrates me more than women and men who have feminist sentiments but refuse to use the word “feminist” because of the way it has been demonized. The way to make the word feminist into a positive thing again is to embrace it.

    The “I’m not a feminist, but….” phenomenon has got to be put to rest.

    • CatherineWO says:

      Amen.

    • BethSmash says:

      I actually had a conversation with a good friend about this last night. She is a feminist, but won’t claim the word, because she views it so negatively. And that FRUSTRATES me to no end. I said, we need to take the word back. But she didn’t agree with me. sigh.

    • Naismith says:

      I guess I don’t understand the frustration. Isn’t it a good thing when there are others who support the same causes? The town I live in has a Women’s Equality Day Celebration that involves a lot of women’s groups, some feminist and some not. We also get together for other common concerns (anti-rape, international women’s issues, etc.) and I think it is even more powerful when groups with different agendas come together.

      I am not a feminist because my views are not aligned with most of the feminists where I live, and I’ve flat-out been told that I am not a feminist by some, either because of my pro-life stance, or because I think being a mother is work, or because I don’t put what is best for the movement above what is best for my family. Not to mention that people who have said that I “must not be a feminist” when I was a full-time mom for a season, and the president of our local NOW called me out personally in a newspaper letter to the editor.

      So basically I do not call myself a feminist because other feminists have told me that I am not. I am not going to pick a fight with them over it. Sorry if that causes anyone frustration.

      And they are correct that there are differences between us. I don’t want “the same constitutional guarantees and protections as men,” I want equitable guarantees and protections that take into account how men and women are different, and support women in their role as mothers.

      But of course I share a lot of the same concerns that feminists do. I have a paid career and encourage my girls to get a good education. I support women in their careers by seeking a woman first whenever I need a service. I speak up whenever I smell sexism at church.

      I do get tired when some people try to make out that everything about feminism is good and one would be ignorant to oppose ERA or not be a feminist. I don’t find it that simple. Back in 1978 when the Pregnancy Disability Act passed (which I totally support), some legal scholars observed that it might not be considered constitutional if ERA was enacted. And it was a pro-ERA feminist who proposed that Congress get rid of the spousal benefit for Social Security, because modern women could support themselves (I think that benefit has been great for women, and helped moms a lot). And I could go on.

      But the point is that there are lots of good reasons why thoughtful people would consider the issues and decide that they are not feminists, even though they share many concerns and are happy to work with you on specific topics.

      I don’t view feminism as negative or positive. Of course it has done some good. And a lot of bad has been done in the name of feminism as well.

      • deila says:

        Naismith — I so agree with you. I was a college student in the 70s, and I tried on the feminist label for awhile, but as you say, when you disagree with what the main body decides, you are out. The word is very negative in my view and very dated. I would like to think we can come together as women without the name of feminist.

  2. TopHat says:

    My answers depend on the word “mainstream.” In mainstream America and among my peers, “feminist” isn’t a word anyone balks at, it seems to be tge more mainstream Mormons that don’t like the ward.

    But among the people I went to high school with? “Feminist” is not a bad word. And I can go to a park and tell a random stranger, “I’m a feminist” and get nothing but support. Of course, I take my kids to parks in Berkeley, so there might be some bias there. 🙂

  3. Diane says:

    I don’t believe its the word”feminist” that bothers people. Its’ the attitude and meaning behind the word, such as either you are, or you aren’t. Then the bashing begins(on both sides). And outside the church I really don’t think people much care either way, but, inside the church its’ a lightening rod

  4. EmilyCC says:

    I wonder if there is a regional difference when I read TopHat’s comment and think of my own experience. When I lived in Boston, I would have said “feminist” was neutral or positive. I imagine that’s a similar environment to Berkeley, but in many parts of Arizona, it’s still viewed quite negatively. Sigh…

    • Kirsten says:

      I think region has something to do with how people view the word feminist. I think feminists have been portrayed as “angry, bra-burners” in the past and many Mormons still see it that way. I think in the LDS culture, feminists get a negative connotation because of Boyd K. Packer’s talk about feminists being a danger to the church…

  5. Rachel says:

    In college a very sweet and also conservative member of the ward asked me, “Rachel, do you consider yourself a feminist?” I was hesitant to say yes or no, so I asked her how she defined “feminist”. I explained my views in relation to that, and it seemed to go over better; I’ve used it as a model in other such conversations. Everyone has different ideas of what feminism implies, especially in the church, contributing to the problem.

  6. Wonderdog says:

    I heard an interview of Joanna Brooks. She described a feminist as a strong (assertive) female that isn’t afraid to ask questions. I realized that I am raising a house full of feminists. Sounds like the quintesential (sp) Mormon woman.

  7. Jenessa says:

    It’s a confusing word to some. After all, it’s a bad thing to be (a) racist or (a) sexist, but a good thing to be feminist.

  8. Janna says:

    Cailtlin Moran, a British writer and columnist, has said that you are a feminist, if, “One, you have a vagina. And, two, you want to be in charge of it.” She also adds, “you want to vote” and “you want to own property.” Basically, if you want the same rights that men have – not more – you are a feminist.

    That’s a definition I can get behind.

    • Diane says:

      I would agree with you except that leaves out the other half of the population who don’t have a vagina, but, who consider themselves feminist. Cailtlins’ definition is a bit sexist, because she eliminates the possibility of men being feminist.

  9. Left Field says:

    It’s hard to answer the poll without knowing the intended context of “mainstream.” Mainstream of American society? Mainstream of Mormons? American Mormons? Worldwide Mormons? Humans in general?

    As for me, I don’t recall encountering negative connotations to the word among Mormons. Maybe it just hasn’t come up much. Maybe it’s a matter of who you hang out with. When I was a teenager in the ’70s, my best friend identified himself as a feminist and came from a family full of strong faithful Mormon women of similar mindset. When I went to BYU, I guess I mostly hung out with people who would have had positive associations with feminism. At church, I don’t really remember it ever coming up, or if it did, I must have regarded it as an anomaly, and shrugged it off. I’ve heard tell on the internet of Mormons and others for whom “feminist” has negative connotations, but I’ve just not encountered it much in real life.

  1. January 6, 2013

    […] TopHat, commenting on Suzette’s post “The word: ‘Feminist’” at the Exponent: I can go to a park and tell a random stranger, “I’m a feminist” and get nothing but support. Of course, I take my kids to parks in Berkeley, so there might be some bias there. […]

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