Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This Is What A Feminist Looks Like


Friends,  let us discuss the occasionally messy and emotionally-charged topic of feminism.

I consider myself a feminist.  So much so that I almost feel it goes without saying.  Of course I breathe air!  Obviously, I enjoy sunny days with a light breeze!  Yes, I'm a feminist!  Duh.

For me, being a feminist means that I should earn the same amount of money as a man in my field with comparable experience.  If I'm applying for an apartment/loan/job/school and I'm competing against my male doppelganger, I want to have exactly the same chances that he does.  I want to be able to walk through my neighborhood without being followed or harassed.

I like to wear dresses and lip gloss.  I'm not great at reading maps or doing complex math in my head.  Sometimes I get verklempt when I watch videos about animal best friends. I'm also incredibly driven, direct and occasionally too assertive for my own good.  I don't think these traits make me a better/worse woman or a better/worse feminist.

While I think I'm just as awesome as any dude out there, I don't think I'm the same
.  I think that (most) men and women are wired differently - physically, psychologically, emotionally.  I know that I, personally, am better at certain things than the guys in my life.  And that they're better at some things than I am. 

Equally awesome.  Good at different stuff.

What does feminism mean to you?  Do you consider yourself a feminist?  Do you think men and women are different?  How?

41 comments

  1. I love this!Equally awesome. Good at different stuff :)
    I think trying to be the same and achieve the same things in name of feminism just makes women more miserable. We should go after what success means to us not to the society or the wy men have defined it

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  2. "What does feminism mean to you?"

    My definition of feminism has changed (for the better!) over the past several years. Younger me was of the mindset that feminism = bra burning, man hating and generally insisting that both sexes are exactly the same. I was so not into that.

    And you know what? I'm still not into those activities. I wear pretty underthings, appreciate interactions with both sexes and still believe that men and women are different, but that they are also complementary and equal.

    You're right. We ARE wired differently. But that doesn't mean we don't share the same level of intellect, deserve the same amount of respect or hold the same responsibility to work together.

    You've got my brain buzzing and it's barely 7 a.m. Nice :)

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  3. What a delightful post. I sometimes avoid the word "feminist" because so many people misunderstand it, but I know I am a feminist through and through. I think it's important for all of us to recognize our own individual strengths, regardless of gender: for example, I am much, much less sentimental about possessions than my artist husband, and would happily donate something that belonged to a now-deceased grandparent if I have no need for it. My husband, though, felt we needed to keep three silver tea sets. In our very equal marriage, we each work to our strengths and help fill the other's needs.

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  4. Thank you for this post! I have been trying to explain this to my guy friends for ages.

    They think that I'm a hypocrite when I get up on my feminist high horse just because I wear skirts and like to talk about boys.

    It's hard to get the "equal but different" idea through their heads when all they see me as sometimes is a wife, which to them = baby factory, which to them = less successful or important than a man. (I'm not actually a mother, but apparently when you say "I do," all social interaction gets reduced to "So, when are you gonna have a baby?")

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  5. I completely agree! Feminism is the power to choose your destiny, whatever that may look like. The same opportunities with the same chances and compensations as any male.

    I love the idea of equally awesome, good at different stuff. Just like you could compare two women or two men! Do what makes you happy, regardless if you're a woman and it might be viewed as "manish" or the other way around.

    Wonderful, thought provoking bit Sarah!

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  6. For me feminism is being able to choose what you want to do with your life, and have equal opportunities to do it. It doesn't matter if you want to be an engineer or a stay-at-home mom, you should be able to do it with out people judging you at every turn.

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  7. I agree that men and women are wired differently. I think feminism is about embracing those differences but never allowing them to hold us back. Individuals should be allowed to choose their roles in life not have them determined by their gender.

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  8. I love this post. My biggest dream in life is to be a stay-at-home mom and to change my name when I get married and I am a feminist. Those things are not mutually exclusive in my mind but are so much the same - I want to do those things because it's my choice and I can. I don't believe anyone who tells me I shouldn't do those things because it would mean giving up a successful career, etc. really understands what it means to be a feminist.

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  9. I love your definition. The radical feminism gives the women who just want equality a bad name. Thank you.

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  10. Feminism isn't about what you can't do, I think that's important to remember. It's also important to recognize that modern day feminism doesn't apply just to females, but to minority ethnicities as well, at least if you keep up with the National Organization for Women.

    I once had a sociology professor who said that "If you are a woman, you are a feminist." Which may or may not be true. It's worth thinking about...

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  11. The (sadly now closed) blog Fashionable Academics did a great series on this topic and had people submit their photos and definitions. I wish I could link to the whole thing, but here's mine:

    "I am a feminist because I believe in absolute and equal rights for all people of all ages, abilities, cultures, sexual orientations and faiths. And I am a feminist because I believe it is the right of every individual to decide who they will be, how they will behave, and what they will believe. And I will happily agree to disagree with any other person on the smaller points of defining and interpreting feminism as long as we can place our ideas on that foundation of equality."

    http://interrobangsanon.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/katie-daily-style-what-a-feminist-looks-like-old-school/

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  12. Feminism to me means standing on your own two feet and it means that I deserve the same treatment as any man when it comes to employment, pay and civil rights. It also means that the war on women's reproductive rights is inherently near to my heart and that women, no matter what they choose in life, should always have the right to choose.

    Great post Sarah!

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  13. Sarah, I totally agree with you. A lot of people think you can't be Mormon and a feminist, but our practices are exactly as you described, equal, but in different ways. This post is so good.

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  14. I rarely comment on blogs, but this is a topic I always struggle with, so I'm inclined to throw my 2 cents into the ring for a change...

    Sarah, I completely agree with your definition of feminism and it's the one that I, as well as I think most rational women, subscribe to.

    However I'm not so sure about the actual word "feminism". If all we are going for is equality, why does it require a term that focuses solely on the female sex? To me, feminism as I understand it is actually humanism, and the fact that the word focuses so exclusively on women is where I think people get tripped up into believing there is a pro-woman, anti-man agenda.

    I'm interested to know what other people think?

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  15. No, I wouldn't consider myself a feminist. For one, I don't experience any sort of sexism, and I never have. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, I just don't have to deal with it. The same for racism, I've never been called high yellow. Second, I feel feminism, primarily extreme feminism, ignores men's rights. They get just as much discrimination in the work place, home, and society as women. Ignoring that and favoring one sex over the other creates a rift between us.

    Therefore, I'm for EVERYONE being treated equally, and that means advocating for men and women equally. I'm not going to protest just African Americans being discriminated against when there are Mexicans and native Americans being treated the same way, so same applies to sexism.

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  16. We should all be equal but at the same time be allowed to be different.

    Funny you should write this post right now, I just finished reading "How to be a woman" by Caitlin Moran, an informative yet very fun read on the topic of feminism.

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  17. A few years ago when I was an RA at my college I had to put together a program based on Women's History Month. As part of it I taped up sheets with questions on all the floors of my buildings (one was a male building and one was female). One of the questions was what is a feminist. I got many of the typical answers (a short haired dyke), but the conversation that started on the women's sheet blew me away. Many of the women shared your feelings while others didn't see it that way. They saw feminism as a joke and that men "work harder" so they deserve more. As the week went by I was blown away by the responses.
    At the end of the week I hosted a talk on feminism and was asked what I thought one was. To this day this is my answer: a feminist is anyone who loves women. Anyone who can see a person for who they are without their gender being an influence. It isn't about wearing a dress, or if a guy should open a door for a woman, or if people should argue "if you want to be equal don't complain about getting hit. Take it like a man."
    It always hurts to see a man not be a feminist, but it hurts worse when a woman can't see the value in herself to be one.

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  18. @anonymous Feminism *is* about men's rights. Every bit as much as it is about women's. As Margaret Mead said, "Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man." Though there are several subcategories within the main frame, "feminism" is about equality, plain and simple.

    To nearly everybody else:
    To say one is "wired" regarding gender is highly offensive, highly ignorant, highly sexist (against men AND women), and highly transphobic, to start. It denies the role of socialization and culture. It suggests we might be born into a vacuum, which we most undoubtedly are not. Further, and more importantly, it denies an identity to those who reject the norms you are championing as facts. If one goes against what some have deemed "normal" is s/he less of a person? This way of thinking suggests so. I'm sure nobody meant it that way, but it's so important to consider language and phrasing. Language is how we perpetuate culture, and culture includes discrimination. Instead of perpetuating this form of discrimination, mightn't we put our efforts into championing those on the fringes?

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  19. I'm so glad to see this mostly positive response to feminism, but I have to agree with sebasquiat about people being "wired." And Sarah, I think I might be reading this wrong, but I hope what you said in your comment about not being good at complex math and maps was meant to reflect your personal skills and ability and not included as an example of traditional female traits. Please don't reinforce the stereotype being bad at math and mapreading is a "girl thing.' Again, I don't think that was your intention, but I had to do a double-take when I saw that listed between makeup and cute animal videos.

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  20. I truly support feminism. Empowering women is what we need in our society today. They're much stronger and also capable of what men can do.

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  21. I am a feminist. I used to struggle with that fact, as if it were something to be ashamed of... but I'm not ashamed. I don't think that being a feminist makes me anti-man... to me, feminism is about equalising. in a perfect world, it would already be equal, yes. but it's not. feminism to me is about working to bridge that gap.
    sometimes I do aim to prove myself to men as a woman, as much as that frustrates me.

    I hate the double standards that society has imposed and that the men I have encountered in my life have consolidated - for example, why is it socially exceptable for a man to look at porn or go to a strip club, while it's socially unexceptable to BE that stripper or porn star? (not that I, personally support strip clubs or porn as I believe them to be disgusting and demeaning... but each to their own.)

    obviously these are based on my own experiences and views and mean no offence to any men or women who do not subscribe to those double standards. :)

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  22. I don't really identify with the label "feminist." So michelle, I understand where you're coming from on that. However I think the term goes back to the days of suffrage and establishing that women should be granted the same rights that men already had. So I believe that is the root of the term and it isn't going to change anytime soon.

    What started out as trying to create equality for women on par with what men enjoyed, somehow morphed at some point into a mindset that women are better than men, and that's where feminism lost me.

    But what should it be about? For me, it's about choices and opportunities. It's NOT about equality, as I don't think women and men are EQUAL, but each person has their own strengths and weaknesses and each person has worth. For this reason, all people should be offered the same rights and opportunities - with a caveat: it's up to each person to make the most of an opportunity, and if they don't take the best advantage of that, then that's not a problem that can be blamed on feminism. We need to take personal responsibility for our own destinies as well.

    What do I mean by that? Well, I want the opportunity to stay at home with my kids as a housewife, or to be self-employed, or to be an employee in the field of my choosing, or to ascend the ranks to partner or CEO. That means that I'm still taking advantage of one of my choices if I choose to be a housewife. It also means that if I work hard and put in the hours like any man, I should be able to ascend the ranks to CEO, but if I choose not to because I'm putting my family first, I have to live with the consequences that may have for my career and not blame it on a glass ceiling. And it means that if I'm up against a man with an equal resume to my own for a job, we would have the same pay available to us, but if he does a better job negotiating a higher salary than me, it means he deserves a higher salary than me.

    I think it's important to note those caveats. There is a lot of research pointing to the fact that a higher proportion of men than women are willing to ask and negotiate for raises and promotions, and work longer hours. That is at least part of the reason why men on average make more money than women, and if that's the case, well, I think women need to put in the hours and ask for what they want before complaining that they're not getting it.

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  23. I hope no one takes great offense to this, but I'm not a feminist.

    To me, feminism is about raising women up and I'm just not for that. I'm both BOTH genders being given a equal chance and equal treatment. I'm an equalist. I believe in everyone being treated the same until a legitimate reason is given not to. I want to see a world in which gender is never a factor except when it comes to how your doctor is going to examine you.

    I think the reason feminism bothers me is that it assumes only women feel discrimination, but that just isn't the case. Maybe not always in the exact same ways, but men are so often discriminated against and ignored because... well, you're a dude, suck it up!

    No, I'd much rather be call an equalist

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  24. Adding to my post above: Kelsey sums it up perfectly. Someone else said it does include men, but funnily enough, men don't feel included. You can change the definition of feminism all you like, but that's not going to help the general idea until female is removed from the word.

    I asked friends to give me their definitions last night, and only two responded. One joked until I berated him, and the other thought it was a war against our boobs and vags being considered a piece of meat. She was genuinely angry over... The stereotype that men are sex crazed beasts. THAT irritated me.

    Equalist is a great word for this, and it doesn't exclude anyone. Let's use that instead.

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  25. Tiffany Chow8/25/11, 7:18 AM

    Adding my 2 cents.

    Yes I know women need to be empowered, yes, more can be done for women's rights, but I'm at a point where I'm comfortable being a woman and maybe it's time to move on from feminism to something else. Maybe post-feminism or equalism would be a better term.

    There is so much muck in the language of feminism and who cares which wave of feminism we're in? No one, except the feminists who believe in equality, is going to know what today's feminism stands for. It's no longer the logical assumption that feminism = equality and I think that's the problem here.

    The saddest part, is the rape of African men during civil wars and how the UN can't help them because there isn't any avenue for them. They are men, subordinated by other men and in the language of feminism, there is no space for them. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jul/17/the-rape-of-men

    Feminism might be all about equality, but the language it is embedded in, is not doing justice in reality.

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  26. Such great comments - I love that we can discuss such sticky topics in a respectful manner.

    Sebasquiat,
    I appreciate where you're coming from and (if you've been reading Yes and Yes for a while) you might remember my post about different cultures and gender as a social construct.

    I'm interested to hear about your thoughts on estrogen and testosterone and their affects on behavior. I think we can all agree that society plays a huge part in defining gender roles but hasn't science proven that different levels of hormones encourage different types of behavior - nesting, aggression, nurturing, emotional response?

    Again, society reinforces these behaviors in certain people, but the studies I've read seem to indicate that someone with a high level of testosterone (whether that's a man or a woman who's been taking steroids) is significantly more likely to engage in certain behaviors because those hormones affect brain chemistry.
    Thoughts?

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  27. Amen, Sarah von.

    Feminism to me is all about choice: I can choose to have a career (where my opportunities should be equal to those of my male colleagues), or I can choose to not work (where my work as a mom/housewife/whatever is not devalued because I don't have an income), whichever suits me and my partner best for our situation. I can choose to wear a skirt because it's pretty, or pants because I like pants too, and not have assumptions made about what I must be like, or how intelligent I am, or what position I deserve, based on how "femme-y" I dress.

    It should also mean that assumptions aren't made about me based on my gender: I would not make a good teacher, or a bad physicist, just because I'm a woman, even if those two happen to be true in any given case.

    I don't think the world is totally there yet, but hopefully it's what we're approaching.

    And while I understand that men can be subjugated by gender expectations/roles and can be discriminated against based on their gender, and while the word equalism in theory is fine with me, I think that there are so many more assumptions in the way of women that we need to keep dealing with those first.

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  28. I love the way you've said this. I struggle with this all the time. I can echo the women who say they don't like the term feminist, but would prefer "equalist" but I think if we all go back and look at the origins of the term and the movement, it was about raising women up to the equal point of a man. Yes, the term itself might be outdated since now many people don't want to deal with the "down with men" connotation, but if we look at the origin I think we'll see there's not much to be offended by there (and I think someone else pointed that out much more eloquently than me, kudos to them).
    Of course, my husband doesn't like the term because he thinks of man-haters... but if you probe him, he's a feminist in most regards too. It's hard to say, words and labels and language are certainly important, but I also don't want to be ruled by them.

    Really, I just want to be a feminist without having to explain it, to be honest with you. Tina Fey said it best in her acceptance speech of the Mark Twain award for American humor, she was the third woman to receive it, but she said something like "I want to live in a world where I'm not the third woman to receive an award... I'm just the twelfth recipient of the award. period." She is much paraphrased there, but you get the idea.

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  29. I love the way you've said this. I struggle with this all the time. I can echo the women who say they don't like the term feminist, but would prefer "equalist" but I think if we all go back and look at the origins of the term and the movement, it was about raising women up to the equal point of a man. Yes, the term itself might be outdated since now many people don't want to deal with the "down with men" connotation, but if we look at the origin I think we'll see there's not much to be offended by there (and I think someone else pointed that out much more eloquently than me, kudos to them).
    Of course, my husband doesn't like the term because he thinks of man-haters... but if you probe him, he's a feminist in most regards too. It's hard to say, words and labels and language are certainly important, but I also don't want to be ruled by them.

    Really, I just want to be a feminist without having to explain it, to be honest with you. Tina Fey said it best in her acceptance speech of the Mark Twain award for American humor, she was the third woman to receive it, but she said something like "I want to live in a world where I'm not the third woman to receive an award... I'm just the twelfth recipient of the award. period." She is much paraphrased there, but you get the idea.

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  30. "I like to wear dresses and lip gloss. I'm not great at reading maps or doing complex math in my head. Sometimes I get verklempt when I watch videos about animal best friends. I'm also incredibly driven, direct and occasionally too assertive for my own good."

    Not only do these things not make you a "better/worse woman or a better/worse feminist" they don't make you a woman or feminist, period. Men can like lip gloss. Men can be terrible at reading maps. And if you are a woman and you like lip gloss and can't read a map it's because you are (flawed) human being, not because you're a woman.

    Also, this: "I want to be able to walk through my neighborhood without being followed or harassed." This is like my feminism litmus test: if you mock this idea or downplay it or ignore it, I have a hard time respecting you.

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  31. The other thing I'd like to mention: every time someone says that men aren't included in feminism, I'm just inclined to think that person hasn't thought seriously about feminism. Feminism is working against a patriarchal culture, one that has strictly enforced gender roles. Men are strong, men are leaders, men are warriors. And women are helpers, homemakers, caregivers. That means that every man who is feminine in any way is pretty harshly punished. Men who are gay or queer, especially. But feminism also works to make space for men in traditionally feminine roles. Feminists support stay at home dads, feminists believe men are not defined by liking sports or being tough. Feminists don't believe power is associated with gender. Period. The ONLY people that "hurts" are those people (often men) who are invested in a system that give them an advantage simply for being men.

    Kelsey, Feminism IS "equalism", it IS the belief that our choices should not be limited (legally or culturally) by the gender we associate with (or don't associate with). Calling yourself something else doesn't change what feminism is and ignores the feminist history that has created the space for you to call yourself a "equalist".

    Sarah, Sebasquiat, I think the term "wired" is misleading. As it implies that every woman and every man has the same amount of hormones (estrogen, testosterone, etc..) when that's not the case. Gender is a spectrum, and it's impossible to look at someone and know what's happening inside their bodies. So yeah, men typically have more testosterone, just as men are typically taller. But that isn't true across the board, so assigning every testosterone-linked behavior to men is insulting and sexist. (And also because even men with high testosterone levels can sometimes choose to control associated behavior.)

    Whew! I've gone on long enough. Excellent post and thoughtful comments. Thanks for letting me go on a bit!

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  32. margosita, I completely agree. "feminists don't believe power is associated with gender". yes.

    I believe that feminism IS about equalling the playing field... it's not about man-hating or about proving a "better" gender, it's about taking away any discrimination or bias towards one gender.

    that's what feminism means to me.

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  33. This is a great post.

    I consider myself a feminist. When I was at a sociology class in uni for a course that focused on women in the media the lecturer asked who considered themselves a feminist. Only myself and another girl put our hands up, out of about 15 women. I found that phenomenal, and when we discussed it further most of the women didn't want to be associated with the term because it brought up connotations of man-hating, bra burning extremists etc. So the term itself is a very loaded one.

    I will still call myself a feminist becuase we are not equal to men - for instance the pay gap has widened here in Australia. But even though I'm a feminist, what do I do about it? What does anyone do to address it? If it weren't for the feminists who did fight for our rights back in the day we wouldn't necessarily have the luxury to be having this debate now. Without the people fighting for women's rights today what does this mean for the future?

    Having said all of that, I like the idea of equalism immensely.

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  34. Love this discussion.

    I totally get the people who don't self identify as feminists because of the images the word invokes. I also once believed it was all bra burning and man hating. That'd because there are some feminists out there that make it seem that way. Just like any cause out there, a few bad apples...you know the rest.

    I am a feminist, but I generally wouldn't say it unless asked directly. I will however tell anyone who will listen that I believe every woman and man should have the same rights, choices and opportunities as everyone else. Period. Which is my definition of what feminism is all about.

    I understand those that want to call it equalism so it's more inclusive. And I totally get keeping the term because of the history that comes with it. But, as long as we all want the same things, who cares what it's called?

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  35. Fabulous post. I'm getting married and sometimes I find it difficult to make my married self and feminist self meet. I feel like I have to explain myself because it's not right for me to be a feminist. But isn't part of feminism the ability to choose if I would like to get married or not and the ability to choose who I want to marry?

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  36. Sarah, Margosita:
    I think it's dangerous to rely on science, since largely it has occurred in this system (this patriarchal, capitalist, hegemonic, heteronormative society), and is no doubt affected by this. There are plenty of accounts in which persons question and challenge the world of scientific study, calling out instances wherein experiments were manipulated in order to back up one's own personal bias. There are plenty of examples of scientific racism, for instance. At a perhaps slower rate, there is beginning to be evidence that many sex (and gender) experiments of the past and present exhibit what we could call scientific sexism. The problem with much of science is the level of variance within it, and with that the possibility for manipulation. Just because I'm suspect of any science that supports or proposes a strictly dichotomous network doesn't mean everyone need or should be. However, it's useful to examine the sources of the studies you've read. The findings might surprise you. :)
    Also, re: what Margosita said: I agree with your thoughts on gender. Careful speaking for all feminists, though. Feminists of color, lower class feminists, DREAMer feminists, lesbian feminists, Marxist feminists, transgender feminists, Third World feminists...the list goes on, all are fighting for important rights and privileges previously withheld from them. But this does not guarantee equal interests across the board.

    To me, the most important part of feminism is the fight for equality. As I see it, it is a fight against oppression, against privilege. Unfortunately what strikes me the most about this discussion is the stunning disregard for our own privilege. What are we fighting for--what is the point of anything--if we are content to maintain our own privilege, reluctant even to identify it? Being hypocritical about this won't get us anywhere.

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  37. Sarah, I love this! According to your definition I'm a feminist too!

    "While I think I'm just as awesome as any dude out there, I don't think I'm the same." Amen!

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  41. I wrote a long post about why i'm a feminist a few months ago, I'll link to it in case anyone wants to read it! http://pineforcedars.tumblr.com/post/3729403382/why-im-a-feminist-hint-youre-probably-one-too

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