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WE’RE HERE to detonate, once and for all, those pervasive myths about feminism. You know, that it wrecks homes and happiness, that it hates men and sex and anything pretty, that it’s a general drag.
Feminism, even in its most classical form, has never aimed to do any of that, but it makes sense that it got mixed up in such ideas. It’s a huge movement that’s evolved over many decades and split into many factions, although they all have the same aim: equal rights for women. At times, this has meant women leaving their husbands when they realized they wanted more from their lives, demanding equal pay, or telling their spouses to wash their own damn dishes. Sometimes the fight for equality has required flouting beauty standards to make a statement about their silliness —hence the stereotypical feminist who eschews armpit-shaving and makeup-wearing. The basic idea of equality for women has also spawned more radical ideas. Some splinter feminist groups have, for instance, recommended withdrawing from patriarchal society and establishing entirely new female-run subcultures, ruled out any sex with men as inherently fraught with inequality, and declared lesbianism the only logical orientation for a decent feminist.
Feminism is mostly past this by now, but in mainstream society, the movement’s image as a buzzkill lingers, making it a tough sell even for many of the ambitious young women who have benefitted from it. With this book, we hope to dispel those negative ideas about feminism once and for all, but, more important, we hope to give any woman with the slightest desire for female empowerment the tools to bring feminist ideals into her everyday life.
We like Gloria Steinem’s take on the word feminist: “the belief in the full social, economic, and political equality of women and men. I would just add ‘and doing something about it.’ And when you look at the effects of that simple statement, it’s quite a transformation.” We couldn’t agree more. We see it like this. Step 1: Call yourself a proud feminist. Step 2: Live up to the word. Seems like a pretty easy first step, but the F-word has long been a stumbling block for the movement. It was first used in the 1870s in France to describe women agitating for change. By the time it showed up in the English language, in the 1890s, the term had already become derogatory. Or at least it was meant to be when the UK Daily News warned its readers of a dangerous new trend, “what our Paris Correspondent describes as a ‘Feminist’ group.” Even the more benign-sounding movement for “votes for women” got a bad rap when Queen Victoria called it that “mad, wicked folly.” About the same time that feminism officially became a word in the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1894, the women’s suffrage movement, commonly considered the first wave of feminism, was heating up. American women got the vote in 1920, and things died down until the second wave — the women’s lib movement of the ’60s and ’70s, which brought us the Equal Rights Amendment, Roe v. Wade, Ms. magazine, and a barrage of other political, sexual, and social breakthroughs. During that time, the word feminism took on the specific negative connotations that continue to plague it today (see above lesbian separatist movements and unshaven armpits).
The “I’m not a feminist, but .....” problem spread during the 1980s backlash and persists today, and we’d love to see that stop. But feminist is just a word, you might say — why is it so important? Given the choice between living feminist principles and calling ourselves feminists, of course we’d choose the former. But we don’t think there should have to be a choice. To distance yourself from the word is to imply there’s something wrong with feminism and/or feminists, an implication that leads to the continued denigration of the cause itself. Ladies, if we can reclaim words like slut and bitch, using them, Riot Grrrl–style, to denote power instead of degradation, we can reclaim the word feminist.