I once had an English professor who made his thoughts on feminism abundantly clear: “if you’re not a feminist, you’re an idiot,” or something to that effect was to be expected from him on an almost daily basis. Clearly, he was an outspoken yet entertaining professor. While he had a habit of ruffling more than a few feathers in class, he was usually right; his views were not only well articulated but also well supported. It is thanks to this professor that I became confident in identifying myself as a feminist. For me, the word “feminist” has evolved and transformed from the days of bra-burnings into a label for a movement that has perennial relevance. However, some of my peers (male and female alike) are uncomfortable in calling themselves feminists because of some of the radical connotations it may or may not have. I am interested in what the “f-word” means to the readers of this blog as well as the experiences that have led them to their perspectives.
As made clear in Jessica Valenti’s recent Washington Post article entitled “Slut Walks and the Future of Feminism,” the term “feminist” allows for a wide spectrum of meanings. While there is most certainly a place for relatively reserved feminists, recent years have seen a revival of the more extreme demonstration tactics reminiscent of the bra-burnings of the 1960’s. “Slut Walks” are an example of such demonstrations. As Valenti explains, the protests have been some of the most successful “feminist actions of the past 20 years” and “began after a police officer told students at Toronto’s York University in January that if women want to avoid rape, they shouldn’t dress like “sluts.’’ Participants have made efforts in over 75 cities (including Kansas City) to take back the term “slut” and to combat the notion that victims of rape and sexual assault are more often than not “asking for it” by dressing in a suggestive manner.
While I fully support the objectives of “slut walks” and similar demonstrations, I cannot help but think that these sorts of somewhat radical protest tactics have isolated some of the mainstream from identifying as feminists. I think that many males and females are weary of being labeled a feminist because they do not want to be perceived as some sort of outlier or fringe member of society. To me, feminism is a movement that has been fundamental to the advancement of not only women’s rights but also civil rights as a whole. It is important that modern day feminists embrace not only the activists in the streets (i.e. the participants of the “slut walks” across the country) but also individuals who truly believe in the ideals of the feminist movement whether they realize it or not.
So I ask, readers, what does feminism mean to you? Where does it fit in society today? What is the future of it? What relevance does it still have? I would argue that its relevance is enormous and that if we are going to continue to advance in terms of civil rights then we must maintain a population of feminists motivated enough to organize and participate in “slut walks” as well as those feminists inspired to make more low-profile impressions on those they are closest to.
By Ryan Derry