Monday, September 15, 2008

What is a reclamation feminist?

To reclaim means to revert something to productive uses which is what I'd like to do with the word “feminism” and the idea of feminist activism. In the 19th century, feminism became synonymous with women's suffrage. Though that association wasn't entirely accurate, it worked. Suffrage is a worthy cause, even if identifying feminism with suffrage meant missing out on other relevant issues.

The second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s was a bit more complex. The most obvious single contribution to which to point is Roe v. Wade, which granted women (in theory, anyway) unfettered access to abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy. Women also gained entry to all forms of higher education and (again theoretical) into all professions. Women earned the right to make decisions about what would happen with their lives.

Somewhere along the way, though, feminism became associated with a sort of mainstream armchair liberal ideology that ultimately meant a refusal to examine data about various gender-based issues. This watered-down feminism also meant elevating all forms of oppression to the same field with a fear of discussing one over another.

Should feminists concern themselves with the rights of immigrants?

Absolutely they should.

They just shouldn't pretend that to care about women's issues primarily is bad or wrong.

Upper middle-class straight white women who pretend to understand the plight of lower-class Latinas living with the threat of deportation do feminism no good. They're not genuine.

By extension, the acknowledgement that some things are just wrong and unfair about the lives of upper middle-class straight white women isn't bad either. These women still face pay discrimination - a wage gap that in many cases exceeds that of their lower-class sisters. These women face sexual harassment, the dreaded "second shift" of domestic work, and seemingly immovable obstacles for juggling careers and families.

These issues are important, too.

After coming to feminism 15 years ago as a teenager, I've cycled from being timidly pro-woman to being a raging, man-hating, hairy-legged feminist to exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships as a show of solidarity with my sisters, and then to a retreat into the nightmare that is middle-class America.

Now I come to a new awakening.

I'm staking again my claim that sex is the most deep-seated category of oppression and that we, as women and men, must rise up to fight for equality and justice. I'm reclaiming feminism as my own and rebranding it to suit the needs of the twenty-first century without equivocation, apology, or fear of retribution.

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