By Jessica Huseman
I’m a feminist. I am also 22 years old and married.
Hold. The. Phone. What?
There is a funny trend going on in feminism these days. Blogs (like this one, this one and this one) are throwing up posts right and left about how women are scared to call themselves feminists and about how bad that is. They toss around pop-culture examples of celebrities that seem to espouse the ideas of the feminist movement but reject the label, and type out checklists and make quizzes about how you can tell if you might be a feminist so that you, too, can rightfully hold the title.
I find the idea that you can decide if you are a feminist via an online quiz a little off-putting, but a common thread I find most disturbing among many of these online pieces (as in this one from PolicyMic) is that one of the “signs” of feminism is as follows: “The idea of getting married and having children in your 20s is not desirable.”
Well, guys, I guess I have to give back my “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt.
Somehow, according to these posts, I gave up my feminist card when I willingly walked down the aisle and said “yes” to the love of my life — even though my husband said this bit to me as part of his vows and meant it: “I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.”
Damn. Having my husband respect me and support me in my goals is really anti-feminist, isn’t it?
I see no reason why marrying young and being feminist should be mutually exclusive. That reasoning wrongly assumes that people who marry young must have a traditional view of marital gender roles, and that – because I got married right after college – I must now pop out children by age 23 and learn to bake homemade bread so I can make my husband a proper sandwich when he walks in the door after a long day at the office.
Instead, I actually see modern marriages with more evenly divided gender roles as proof of the power of feminism and the influence it has had on modern society.
When I chose to marry my husband, I didn’t have to worry that one day he would expect me to have children I didn’t want to have, or be upset if I wanted to work full time, or assume I would do all of the household chores while he brought home the bacon. None of that crossed my mind because I knew he didn’t want that for me as much as I didn’t want that for myself.
My husband was and is totally OK with the fact that I’ll never be a traditional wife, and functionally said so in his vows. I maintain that it’s one of the reasons he was ever attracted to me in the first place. And isn’t that what real progress looks like?
I think so.
But the stereotype (even perpetuated by people within the movement) of feminists is still that of “unmarried, hardworking, young females who vote Democratic and picket in front of political conventions.”
In my opinion, such clear-cut definitions for what a feminist is and is not make the movement seem flimsy and exclusive — as though feminism should define only people and not how people behave. And wasn’t the whole point of feminism to change social conventions?
All this is not to say the movement is in danger — in fact, feminism has already worked. The job is not done, but feminists need to realize what battles they have won so they can be more inclusive and so more women will willingly carry the flag.
Sure, I agree that social conventions and outdated laws are still problematic for women who choose to marry – but let’s deal with those, and not the idea of marriage itself. It is simply no longer true that getting married automatically means giving up your independence, because quite a few men have gotten the picture.
So, at risk of sounding hypocritical, here is my checklist for feminism:
And the great thing about that checklist, is that you can be a man or woman; single or married; gay or straight; young or old; and even Republican or Democrat and still answer “yes” to all of those questions.
Feminism isn’t defined by who you are or what life decisions you’ve made – it is defined by how you believe women should be treated and how you integrate that into your life. As long as such narrow definitions exist for what a feminist is or is not, I won’t be surprised the next time a well-known celebrity says they won’t call themselves a feminist.