Over this past break, a few of my friends from home returned from their respective colleges, eager to share the things they’d learned in their “Intro to Feminism and Gender Studies” classes. The resulting debate was, and still is, fiery to say the least, rivaled in magnitude only by a large disagreement over the correct pronunciation of the word “mac-n-cheese” that threatened the very fabric of our relationships a few years ago.
As it turns out, whenever the word “feminist” is brought up in conversation, you’re guaranteed to receive an impassioned response from almost anyone in your general vicinity. And this is understandable; after all, there are few topics that carry so much emotional investment as the fight for equality. It’s also hard to find a topic that encompasses so many varying, and at times conflicting, viewpoints.
Feminism can be loosely defined as the collection of all philosophies and movements urging for equal rights for women. The complication lies in that almost every person carries his or her own beliefs of what a woman’s role should be. Just within my group of friends, there were some that stated that feminism was no longer a pertinent social issue and others that claimed that it was the largest concern facing our society. One friend described feminism as the sudden awareness that everything, and everyone, sucks a little bit. People use the word to tag anything that presents women in any certain way: “The Mindy Project” is a feminist show because the main character is a woman who is also a doctor, and Nicki Minaj is a feminist musician because she bluntly references female sex organs in her music.
While it’s great that the topic has gotten such widespread attention, I believe that there are times when the practice of labeling a person’s actions as feminist or otherwise can actually hinder progression toward a more equal society. I hate to bring this up again, but just recently, one of the largest debates arising from Miley Cyrus’ controversial VMA performance was over the feminist implications of the piece and the reactions that followed. Some people maintained that Miley was a hero for her open presentation of sexuality, while others berated her for exploiting herself, and consequently, the entire female gender. Of course, there were many other fairly offensive aspects of Miley’s performance, but it nevertheless brought up an important point: When we get caught up in this process of labeling women in terms of their actions, we essentially detract from the ultimate goal of allowing women the freedom to conduct their lives in whatever manner they choose.
We need to forget about the things that are up for interpretation. There are women earning less pay than their male counterparts in the workplace simply because they are women, and there is a severe underrepresentation of women in many math and science fields. There are women whose lives are influenced every day by the decisions of a predominantly male Congress. These are cold hard facts, and these are things that we all must join together to rectify. In many ways, feminism can mean something different to everyone. One woman may feel that a true feminist must reject all traditional female roles, while another woman might see feminism as an attempt to shed a more positive light on conventional femininity.
“I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar,” Zooey Deschanel (my personal idol) said in an interview with Glamour magazine. “So fucking what?”
The job of any person who considers hirself a feminist is to strive toward achieving the same opportunities for both female- and male-identifying groups in whatever path of life ze chooses. All of the other things, the way a person chooses to dress or the manner in which a person conducts hirself, is really of no one else’s concern and doesn’t need to be discussed or labeled.
Cummings is a member of the Class of 2016.