First, feminism has always been about equality. It has not traditionally been about sameness. Feminism did not start with Eve. There was no need for feminism with Eve. She didn't have a husband who thought he owned her and was superior to her. That came later.
Here are a few definitions I grabbed through a google search that "speak" to me.
The view, articulated in the 19th century, that women are inherently equal to men and deserve equal rights and opportunities. More recently, a social and political movement that took hold in the United States in the late 1960s, soon spreading globally.
The belief that women and men should have equal social, economic, sexual, and political rights.It annoys me as a historian and a woman that anti-feminists forget so quickly the things that their 1960s foremothers fought for that benefit us so greatly:
- the right to be educated
- the right to not be sexually harrassed in the workplace
- the right to obtain a divorce (and save your lectures and watch Crazy in Alabama, divorce is not as evil as an abusive relationship)
- the right to not have your children automatically given to the father in the case of divorce
- the right to be paid an equal amount for equal work
- the right to limit family size (again, not evil--my body can barely handle one baby every two years; my gratitude for birth control is unending)
- the right to own property (watch The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio)
I could go on and on. We were subclass citizens. We no longer are (mostly). That is progress. That makes me want to cheer and write hymns of praise to the early feminists.
The downside, of course, is the late 1980s feminists who shifted into anti-men, lesbian, anti-family mode. That wasn't what feminism was or is about. That was a case of a few loud radicals shifting public perception of a movement. The majority of the feminists did not espouse the philosophies of the radicals. Despite that, the movement lost its vitality and momentum because it was seen as detrimental to a more important concept--the nuclear family. And thus the birth of the anti-feminists.
I don't care if people call themselves feminist or not, but I am seriously bugged when people, especially women, do not give credit to early feminists for their contributions that we largely take for granted. And no, I don't expect everyone to say thank you every time they take their pill (though I might sometimes--but I'm like that), but a little historical awareness might be nice.
To make feminism into a debate of woman vs. family is a new construct and it bothers me. To give rights and opportunities to women does not automatically devalue the family. That's fallacious and simple-minded.
Stepping off soap-box now, to go take my birth control and thank my feminist mothers for my masters degree and the security that allows me to be an equal partner with my husband and not a child-like dependent.
PS And another thing that drives me bonkers is the misguided idea that Mormon women shouldn't be feminists. Guess what--Emmeline B. Wells (one of our more prominent Mormon feminists, who spoke at numerous national feminist conventions when we were still fighting over the vote--and no, my husband can't just vote for me, thank you very much) and other LDS feminists started a feminist newspaper in Utah that Brigham Young repeatedly told women, over the pulpit, to subscribe to and read. Brigham himself is our most well-known feminist. He advocated that women get an education so they could better raise their children. He sent men and women to Europe to learn to be artists. He encouraged numerous women to become doctors, midwives, vets, and all sorts of other things. He did not want women's talents to be wasted or hid under a bushel. And guess what--he was a radical feminist. So, feminist is not a dirty word.