Let’s Talk About Why We Need Feminism

Equal access to power, also, claiming the word.

woman holding small child in lap


I was born in 1956. In 1968, I heard about what was then called “Women’s Liberation” for the first time. I was twelve. Since you like math—despite what Barbie said—you already figured that out.

I remember, we sat under a California pepper tree at my little hippie school, surrounded by the tar scent of field weeds. Our teacher spoke just to the girls. Her voice was hard to hear over the blood pounding in our wrists. I said to myself even then, “This is big.”

However, being twelve in 1968 also meant the era of academic feminism passed me by. What with working, raising children, reading escapist literature before bed, and drinking too much red wine, I never participated in the theoretical discussions apparently common to later generations.

But hit you where you live, shove-the-rock-up-the-hill feminism? That passed no one by. When I hear young women say they “aren’t feminists” I want to curl up and cry. Except girls don’t cry. Kidding. Feminism is not just for smarty-pants, or leftists, or people who cut their hair asymmetrically. It’s required if humans are to merit our privilege at the top of the food chain.

And right now the language of feminism is confused. We need to clarify. Here’s my take.

What Feminism Isn’t

Hating Men

Back in the 90s I used to say, “I don’t hate men. I married one, I gave birth to a baby one. How could I hate them?” I’ve worked in male-abundant industries on and off since 1983, my happiness in my job independent of gender percentages. In all this time, I have seen no evidence of a unified patriarchal conspiracy. Some men like women, some do not. Some want equality, others do not.

We don’t have to assume conspiracy by the dominant to liberate the oppressed.

Being Treated Equally

Men and women aren’t “equal,” as in “the same.” Any attempt to parse out “equal” leads to infinite angels dancing on the heads of infinite pins. Men and women are biologically different, and we can’t disappear that fact unless we develop an infrastructure that allows babies to grow as well in aquarium tubes as they do in women.

Celebrating The Female, Per Se

We can Celebrate The Female, or not, independent of feminism. Cultures celebrate the same women they oppress. Think about it.

What Feminism Is: An Immodest Proposal

Equal Access To Power—Taking Down The Barriers

Let’s clarify. We don’t have the right that power be awarded us just because we’re women. We do have the right to equal access to power. And, if we want to realize that right, we have to take down barriers.

And they’re everywhere, barriers, from institutions—both formal and informal—through public and private spaces, all the way into our deepest feelings.

Institutional & Formal: At the very least, all institutional barriers to power should be eradicated. No public laws or private bylaws should prevent women from access to power. I think we are mostly there in the American legal framework. However, we see immediately that some churches remain the final bastions of denial. They are protected, and any changes will be hard fought.

Private clubs that are secret enclaves of decision-making, watch your backs.

Institutional & Informal: Informal barriers to participation in institutional power should also be blown up. This is much harder.

  • We need accessible high-quality childcare. Twenty-five years ago, when I announced my pregnancy to my sales colleagues, my boss’s boss said to me, “Lisa, I thought you were a career girl.” Um, right. Childcare needs to get better, parental leave needs to be understood as both maternal and paternal options.
  • Eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite the jokes those required online courses inspire, harassment is a real thing.
  • Communication styles, stereotyping, and relationship to expressed emotion. Also known as Don’t Cry At Work. This last is where feminism, and the evolution of consciousness around emotion and authenticity, converge.

What do I mean by that last point? While Brené Brown researches the value of vulnerability, Sandberg encourages Leaning In. We wonder, must we channel square-jawed John Wayne for true access to power? Or is the Healing Goddess a workable role model? In reality, much of the developed economy functions through fighting. Work is a battle against competitors or peers, and in a fight, no one is allowed to show weakness. The degree to which we can change the culture of economic and political institutions—for women—will depend on the rate at which those cultures evolve for everyone.

Individual & Public: What about power experienced in the broader society? Not institutional, but the web of values and behaviors. Here we deal with some bloody social and psychological strongholds.

  • Rape. Until the threat of rape disappears, since it’s much more frequent against women than men, we will be without equal power to walk alone.
  • The appeal of our bodies and their role as sales tools. Nobody should use any breasts but their own as marketing Calls To Action.

Individual & Private: And access to personal power in the private realm? To power in our homes, in our hearts, in our dreams at night? Some of what we face men do too.

  • All humans want recognition. Real personal power comes from supporting the dreams of those you love, vs. grabbing at your share.
  • Definitions of attractiveness. Is makeup a feminist issue? Is weight? Here’s the thing. Men have physical appearance requirements for access to power too. So I’m going to say no. It’d be utopian if humans didn’t care how everybody looked, didn’t make snap judgments, but utopia is highly unlikely in our lifetime.

However, some of women’s issues with private power are rooted in historical patterns of fertility and child sustenance.

  • Our culture doesn’t correctly value the work of raising children. This is also known as Freedom To Get A Haircut whenever you like. My most consuming and irrational moment of rage as a young stay-at-home mother came when my then-husband said on a Saturday, “I think I’ll go get a haircut.” Child raising cannot be defaulted to the mom, and assumed to be free or low-cost.
  • Housework, see also, Who Does It? Answer should be, it depends on skills and bandwidth.
  • Abortion. Ah, so difficult. At least in America. More complicated, beyond the obvious possible sorrows, because it’s both public and private. There’s no pure theoretical model that gives us a good answer, so I answer the question, myself, without reference to feminism per se. I answer pragmatically, looking for the most good for the most people. And if you want my opinion, let’s talk in the comments so as not to blow this post up. It was a lot of work.

So are you a feminist? I don’t know. Let’s see. Do you believe in Equal Access To Power? Yes? Do you then act in accordance with your beliefs? Beliefs you sit on might not count. Acting demands bravery, to face down your father who said you couldn’t be that smart, your minister who counseled you to obey, your boss who told you not to be such a girl about it, and your husband who silenced you at the dinner table. And yes, it takes a deep breath and resolution to have it out with your teenage daughter for disdaining your work as home-sustainer.

So are you a feminist? Let’s not ask that question any more if the answer involves checkboxes. If we treat feminism as a long rolling struggle, rather than dogma, we’re going to have more useful discussions. Useful discussions defined, of course, as those that lead to progress.

First you break the problem down, then you take it on. Bit by bit.

Here’s what I want, after fifty-seven years of being female. Logic, not hatred. Equal access, not guaranteed outcomes. Strength, not succor. We can’t ignore our biology, but civilization’s evolution depends on rising above the biological in so many areas. Feminism isn’t unique.

And if anyone, anywhere, believes that women shouldn’t have equal access to power, they are denying an awful lot of people baseline humanity.

Which brings us to lipstick. I wear this one. It’s the color of my lips, only more saturated. Feel free to derive multiple metaphors. It’s a privilege to talk to you.

Lisa Carnochan

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  • littleone

    I really enjoyed so many things in this post. Particularly, for me, your separation of equality and “sameness” and your musing on institutional, workplace problems: vulnerability and the possible necessity of “fighting” skills.

    I hate to ask this on such an already-beautifully-crafted post, but I can we talk a little bit about what you mean by Power? In an argument centered around ‘equal access to power’, I want to make sure I (and we) have an idea of what that is actually referring to. Is it equal access to public influence? Control over situations (which situations)? Visibility? Being respected (how, and where)?

    If a woman chooses a less visible or influential or public career path/life track, is she not contributing to the search for equal access to power? Or is she just not choosing to access that power? How much do we value power as women, and if we have it, do we still value the ones who either by choice or by force, do not have it?

    • Mira

      I took “equal access to power” to mean equal access to systems which promote autonomy and self-development e.g. education, work/money, pursuing interests, having a recognised place in society of your own right that isn’t framed in relation to a man, the right to drive or safely go out unescorted, a right to shared child-caring responsibilities etc.

    • I meant all those things that Mira mentioned. And also personal power, AKA the right to speak up in relationships, or the right to express your personality no matter where it falls on the traditional male-female histogram of traits.

    • Meryl

      I’m responding to your last paragraph. My take-away from the author was that it’s okay to not be actively pursuing power/visibility/influence, however we should be granted that *access*. We ought to have roads in place to get from point A to point B, but whether we choose to follow that path is up to each individual. I think one of her main points was that it’s great to be a stay-at-home mom, but that doesn’t mean that stay-at-home moms have any less of a chance to be feminists.

      Not contributing would be to have beliefs and not stand up for them. We can’t fight every battle, but we can fight some. And every battle we do fight, makes the path that much more accessible to the next woman.

      • Meryl, exactly:).

  • Elisabeth

    “We don’t have to assume conspiracy by the dominant to liberate the oppressed.” Shivers, right there.

    • Robin

      That and “strength, not succor” really blew me away! Wonderful.

  • Rosie

    Thank you for such a clear, articulate post. I found a few points particularly helpful: ‘We don’t have the right that power be awarded us just because we’re women’ and ‘I have seen no evidence of a unified patriarchal conspiracy.’ In my experience people are put off by the idea of feminism because they think it champions women without acknowledging that other people – including men! – struggle too, and that feminism demonises all men as hating women. So thank you for including what feminism is not.

  • Kay

    This is it.

  • Ashley

    Thank you SO much for this amazing post! So perfect to read first thing in the morning at work. I too, cringe when I hear women particularly say they aren’t feminists, and I truly think that in most cases it’s this confusion around what the word means. From my personal standpoint, learning about the unfortunately racist history of some enclaves of the Feminist movement in America initially moved me to cast aside the feminist label as well for a time, but for me it’s pretty cut and dry that feminism, in its definition, is a wide concept that spans across the spectrum of identities, political leanings, and individual views/personal choices.

    Off to find that link to those tote bags and mugs that were floating around these parts…

  • This is incredible. I want to exactly this whole post over and over, but especially this bullet point:

    “■Housework, see also, Who Does It? Answer should be, it depends on skills and bandwidth.”

    I so much agree with this. I think it is important that all parties within an household should know how to do all the housework tasks, but I do think that it is OKAY once everyone knows how to do it all to divide it up along the lines of skills and bandwidth. I give more mental space to dishes than my husband does, so I do them more frequently. It doesn’t mean he never does them, it just means that I see them, I do them, without really thinking about it. He does the laundry and the litter boxes, and we both can do what the other does most of the time with ease.

    • Brittany

      If my husband didn’t do the dishes, we would live in a house filled to the top with dishes, but if I didn’t cook he would eat ice cream, popcorn and string cheese three meals a day. And yet, I have an otherwise lovely friend who constantly harps on me constantly for being a 50’s housewife stereotype because I do our cooking and enjoy it. It’s nice to be in a place where the discussion is framed in balance. I like balance!

      • Paranoid Libra

        I cook because well my husband has terrible skills (he has gotten much better though) and because I like it when what I cook tastes delicious. It then makes me care more about dishes as I want clean stuff to cook with. I wanted him to do dishes but it just seems easier if I do it since when the sink is overflowing it makes me feel like the house will never get clean. It’s the cleaning shut off switch to me that there is too much to do. At least now I know I will have my pots clean and ready when I need them and then my anxiety to clean up other areas of the house is quieted. This still sometimes scares me into being a 50’s housewife though.

        However if it wasn’t for the fact I cook for 2, I would probably be eating the same exact meals as your husband. When my husband would work at varying times, the days he worked during dinner were often met with a whole bag of popcorn lazy meals.

        • YES! I do the majority of the cooking in our house because I like it, and I clean after I cook because, well, sometimes when I cook it looks like what happened when I was a toddler and found the costco-sized container of baby powder. In cases when there’s a lot, I ask for help, and the vast majority of the time, he’s helping me with the dishes by putting away what needs put away, or when there’s nothing to be put away, he’s clearing the dining table, wiping down the countertops, and sweeping the kitchen so we can get to catching up on Boardwalk Empire sooner.

        • Brittany

          Oh, man- that was college and my first two years teaching food-wise, if you add fried egg sandwiches. Cooking for one is crazy hard and always left me feeling wasteful when I got sick of the food 2-3 leftover lunches in. And I agree, cooking and cleaning at home are about strengths and interests(and the fact that I’m a hella picky eater, and no one should have to cater to that.). Except laundry, which we do together because we hate it so very much, but prefer hating things as a team.

      • I just wanted to pop in to say that ice cream, popcorn, and string cheese was EXACTLY my diet when I lived alone. Like, exactly. I’m a bit creeped out someone else out there shares my specific lazy-person choices.

        • Robin

          Swap out that string cheese for cheddar and there are more of us!

  • Mira

    Excellent post! I especially empathise with your frustration on the “Freedom to Get a Haircut” issue!

  • Kat R

    I have been trying to figure out which part of this post made me the happiest and I cannot choose! It is so SO well written. Thank you so much for your clear, strong and passionate case for feminism!

  • april

    ::slow clap::

    This is one of the most articulate and nuanced explanations of feminism I have ever read. Thank you!

  • The only thing lacking from this that I can think off of the top of my head is unfortunately pretty big: intersectionality. Feminism is not (or should not) be all about binary relationships. “Men” and “women” are not inherently biologically different. Males and females are defined by the biological differences, but they are still only definitions. One is a social construction, the other is assigned by science to make distinctions because yes, a penis is not a vagina. This post does not touch on issues that fall under any LGBTQA arch, which I do think is important in feminism. Let’s also not forget how race plays into feminism.

    • I did leave out any intersections, wanting to get very clear on feminism before I’d address feminism + anything else. I would be very interested to hear how/if you could expand my particular analytic structured (which kicked my butt to write:)), to include LBGTQA and race issues.

      • Jaya

        Interesting choice. I love a lot of what you say, but I don’t think intersectionality exists as a “+” to feminism. I think seeing it that way is why there have been such issues with it. The needs of women of color, LGBTQA, etc. need to be an integral part of any definition of feminism, not something to tack on later.

        • Class of 1980

          LOL. I don’t think Lisa meant it that way. You’re kind of looking a gift horse in the mouth.

          I think she meant that it was such a taxing job just getting her thoughts on feminism in general down, that there wasn’t the time or energy for anything more.

          No one post can cover everything, and Lisa said she was interested in what others had to add.

          • Jaya


            I mean, she took the time to make a thorough taxonomy of what she believes feminism is and isn’t. Seems like more than “getting her thoughts down.” I definitely think there’s room in this definition for “ensuring all women, regardless of wealth, color, sexual orientation, etc. have access to power” in the part about breaking down barriers. And understanding that for many women, it’s impossible to separate a fight for gender equality with a fight for racial/sexual/class equality.

          • KC

            I don’t know. I think acknowledging that this is incomplete but the best whack that this person can take at this at the moment seems reasonable. (partly ’cause if no one is allowed to define anything unless they include every aspect of everything, we’re not going to get readable articles like this, but only first-person experience stories, which are also valuable but not in the same way)

            I’m not sure if tacking on “regardless of wealth, color, sexual orientation, etc.” to that sentence would be including intersectionality in a helpful or unhelpful way (really, I’m not sure whether people would go “you’re just calling it in! if you’re going to include it, include it properly!” or would go “thanks for at least noting that!”). I mean, it would bring it the existence of other issues, but not do anything more with them?

            Whether leaving out intersectionality reduces all feminism to “assume a spherical cow” levels of utility or whether feminism that does not explicitly include intersectionality is making progress but not getting all the way there is probably a matter for legitimate disagreement among intelligent people?

          • meg

            I think KC nails it. If Lisa were being exclusionary here, that would be a problem. But she’s not. She’s talking about feminism from her particular perspective. It’s generally unfair for us to expect anyone to speak to all things at all times, or to speak outside of their perspective. And I don’t mean this on feminism alone. I mean this about writing in general. Anything we run on APW comes from the specific perspective of the specific writer (trying to write in a bigger more general way just ends up with vagueness that means very little to anyone.) So if a piece of writing doesn’t speak to your perspective, I think the answer is to add to the cannon.

            Lisa happens to be a straight white woman in her 50s, who was raised with privilege, which is something she’s very up front about. That’s her perspective. It’s limited (all of us have limited perspective), but that doesn’t mean it’s not valid.

            We have LGBTQ writers and non-white writers (on staff, and not on staff) speaking to their experiences, but I’d urge anyone who wants to contribute to add their voice to the chorus.

          • In this post I have assumed ” all women,” to mean “all women.” In fact I originally included some words to be more explicitly inclusive of sexual orientation, but without time to explore fully the mention felt too cursory. Maybe even distracting.

            If I in any way left the impression that I think issues of class, poverty, race don’t matter, my profound apologies.

            One more point to consider. There may be value in occasionally stripping out everything EXCEPT the over-arching category of women, if only for clear discussion. Those who fear/resent/disdain feminism often do so because they want to protect the old ways, and it can be easier to make progress in a reasoned, point-by-point discussion, in which we don’t appear to be saying And Everybody Is Good But You Old Guys.

            Also lots of Old Guys have daughters.

            But once again, race, poverty, sexual orientation, no rights should be abrogated, ever.

          • Class of 1980


            You know, I just took Lisa at her word when she said trying to get her thoughts organized on paper “kicked her butt”.

            It kicked my butt when I put together the 60s/70s playlist. Took me HOURS to edit my list down to 37 songs, which involved re-listening to the whole thing and also writing the post. Yet, I still got a complaint from someone for not including Motown. It’s a bit disheartening when someone dismisses your effort.

            Those who think a subject hasn’t been covered well enough ought to take a crack at it themselves. Why don’t you write about intersectionality in feminism? I would love to read it and discuss. I think we ALL are concerned about it.

          • Robin

            Sheeeeeeeeeee-oot, I hit report when I was looking for reply! MY BAD

            You wrote:

            “It’s a bit disheartening when someone dismisses your effort. Those who think a subject hasn’t been covered well enough ought to take a crack at it themselves. Why don’t you write about intersectionality in feminism? I would love to read it and discuss. I think we ALL are concerned about it.”

            and I want to point out that a) Jaya’s comment didn’t seem *dismissive* at all to me, and I was surprised you would paint it as such!

            and b) Jaya *has* done a lot of intersectional and feminist writing. Jaya Saxena writes fabulously all over teh interwebs. I particularly like “The Stages of Being Biracial (if you’re me)” at the-toast, which you might give a googling to if you have a moment :)

          • Class of 1980


            Clearly, as evidenced by the comments, there is some level of disatisfaction with Lisa’s post.

            I was talking about writing on APW. If someone isn’t satisfied with the scope of what someone else has written for APW, they can submit something on the subject themselves.

          • Robin

            Aw, man, I really like this article! I tend to read the comments with the carefree shrug of “heyo the mods have this down,” so I was reading all the comments on this article as in-good-faith applause or in-good-faith constructive criticism. Not as dissatisfaction or as discontent.

            “I like this and!” and “I like this but!” both have awesome contributions to feminist conversations, yeah?

            Guess it’s a tone thing, then. For the record, I liked this article a lot! and appreciated the comments pointing out growth areas for further discussion.

            (and I know Jaya hasn’t written on APW, but I still recommend givin’ that other piece a googlin’, since I personally loved it!)

        • Marina

          Clicking “exactly” wasn’t enough. My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit. (http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/ is angry, and it should be angry, and you should read it anyway.) There are some huge, huge problems with definitions of feminism that only apply to some women, while other women can maybe be included in feminism later, if they’re nice and not too angry about it.

          • I’d love to hear your perspective. I don’t disinclude anyone, only fail to point out the specific issues in the further logical branches of my argument. I do put “all women” at the top of this particular tree.

            We could have another logical tree that put sexual orientation at the top, and women’s issues would be lower down, or one that put social class at the top, and so on.

            I confess to being logical above all in this discussion, precisely because I actually feel so damn strongly.

          • Marina

            Thanks for responding. I do admit I hesitated to comment, because in general I do really appreciate this post–I think you articulated a lot of points about feminism that should absolutely be talked about more, and I really don’t want to silence that conversation.

            But I also wasn’t willing to link to this on Facebook (my usual way of talking about cool stuff on the internet with friends). Specifically, this was the part where I sighed and took my finger off the “share” button: “Men and women are biologically different, and we can’t disappear that fact unless we develop an infrastructure that allows babies to grow as well in aquarium tubes as they do in women.” I know a lot of women whose bodies will never grow babies, either because they’re past menopause, or they’ve had ovaries removed, or they have hormonal imbalances, or they were born with male genitalia. I also know men with female genitalia who could theoretically grow babies. While it’s true that many women are distinctly biologically different from many men, it’s by no means a universal truth.

            What feels more valuable to me, and is my interpretation of where you were going with that, is talking about how traditionally masculine ways of interaction are not better than traditionally feminine ways of interaction. That you shouldn’t have to be “strong” or emotionless to succeed at work, that you can be collaborative or cry easily or place a higher value on connection than the bottom line and still succeed in our society. And, of course, that people who do choose to grow babies shouldn’t be punished for it. But treating people equitably shouldn’t require me to ask if I can look at their genitalia or their chromosomes before I decide what to expect of them.

          • Marina

            What I consider “intersectionality” to be is that there’s no way to define what’s only a “women’s issue” and what’s “racial issues” and what’s “class issues” and what’s “orientation issues”. If feminism includes all women, it includes women dealing with racism and classism and homophobia and transphobia and ableism.

            I don’t think every bit of feminism should apply to every feminist. But when we’re talking about What Feminism Is, I don’t think there’s any way to say that, for instance, trans issues don’t need to be considered because they’re too low down the logical tree, without also saying that feminism does not include those women.

      • SarahG

        I really enjoyed reading this piece! My thoughts about intersectionality are that one thing feminists should do (in my opinion, anyway) is recognize the ways in which sexism intersects with other types of oppression, and work together on dismantling those intersecting oppressions (right now on my bookshelf is Suzanne Pharr’s Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, which I keep meaning to read… this is inspiring me to put down the murder mysteries and do it). There are particular ways in which, for example, racism and sexism work together to oppress women of color (what springs to mind: images of the “mammy” and the hypersexualized black woman in popular culture) and if feminism doesn’t acknowledge those, it makes itself less relevant to all women. Oh also, the film Watermelon Woman is awesome and everyone should watch it; sweet and funny and does a good job beginning to talk about these intersections.

      • Rachel

        Lisa, I understand that you were writing this post from a personal perspective, but that’s not exactly how I read it…it gives many examples that may or may not apply to you personally (hard for me to say without knowing you, of course), and, to me, that would have been an opportunity to mention intersectional issues. For example, when talking about fertility and child sustenance, you could have mentioned the black maternal death rate. I think more organic inclusion of intersectional issues when talking about feminist issues vs. “obligatory comment for all the non straight-white-cis women in the room” is what I would have liked to see here.

        A lot of people have commented that no one should be expected to speak outside their realm of experience, and while I agree with that on one level, to me, talking about the issues facing black women, gay women, trans women, etc shouldn’t be difficult if all one has to do is say that these issues exist. For example, even people who have never been raped can talk about rape culture because it’s just something you inherently know a lot about if you follow a lot of feminist blogs. I don’t have kids, maternity leave is literally not an issue to me at all, and yet I can easily include that in a list of things that feminist should probably care about because I hear about it a lot and I know it’s important to a lot of women. I’m not trans, but I know about more trans issues now than I used to because I follow trans activists and bloggers on Twitter and so their feminist issues have entered my paradigm as feminist issues. No, I shouldn’t speak to them from personal experience, but I can (and should) speak to them when I’m listing feminist issues.

        So I guess my question is…what is preventing these issues from coming to the forefront of everyone’s mind when they think about examples of feminist issues? I don’t think personal experience is enough of a reason, because, as I said, plenty of feminists are vocal about things that do not affect them personally, but things that they know are important to the big picture of women’s rights? What do we need to do to get these issues on everyone’s list of feminist issues?

        • Jaya

          Yes! This is such a great summation! I think perhaps what threw me was that it was structured less like a personal view of what feminism is like for the author and more like an Official Definition of Feminism. Of course everyone should speak to their personal experiences, but when you frame something as What Feminism Is and What Feminism Isn’t, it makes it more problematic if something many think is important is missing.

          • meg

            Possibly part of the issue her is Lisa’s writing style. I asked her to write a personal piece, and she wrote a personal piece. This is how Lisa writes (and talks) personally. And yes, if you’re reading it as What Feminism Is and What Feminism Isn’t, then it’s going to have gaping holes. I know for a fact it wasn’t written that way, however.

          • Robin

            I think the use of a lot of “you” and “we” language, plus “an immodest proposal,” made this feel more like a prescriptive advicey outreach thing than a personal reflective thing. TO ME. I am not every reader. But that’s how I read it.

          • So funny, in a weird way, since I said “we” to try to be inclusive:). Guys, with difficult stuff, someone’s always going to feel discontent. Not to say we shouldn’t all try to be inclusive and sensitive.

          • Robin

            Lisa, I really enjoy this article! I can say also “for a fact” that my comments aren’t written here as “discontent” or “dissatisfaction” :)

            I’m just holding up and valuing both the strengths and insights of this article, and the comments illuminating where our conversation might go next.

            And I adore the Swift reference, too!

          • Vera

            I agree, if the post had been called “Why I Need Feminism” I would have liked it better. But because it’s called “Why We Need Feminism” it feels like it should address people of color, LGBTQA people, lower-class people etc. It makes it feel like “Why White Straight Cis Women Need Feminism”.
            Everyone needs feminism for different personal reasons. These addressed Lisa’s, however the title didn’t, making it feel exclusionary.

        • SarahG

          Love this! You said it so well.

          • An Immodest Proposal was an indirect reference to Jonathan Swift, and as such, a little shout out to my dad.

        • Here I can only speak for myself. That’s not always the right outcome, globally, but there you go. The issues that come to the forefront in feminism, for me, are those I’ve lived through. I might not, and in fact, don’t, think those are the most important issues of our society. I’d vote for remediating poverty first. But if I’m asked to write about feminism, this is the deepest and most immediate reaction I have.

          I wanted to make things very clear, very logical. vs. comprehensive. Comprehensive should follow. Comprehensive BEFORE clear, to me, is painful.

    • Alison O

      And class.

      • Class of 1980

        Hear, hear. Class has been swept under the rug in feminism.

      • meg

        I’d love for someone to write about that. I think, however, we can’t fault Lisa for not writing about something outside of her perspective. IE, Lisa grew up with privilege (hence the name of her blog), and she knows better than to try to put words in other people’s mouths.

        • Thanks. I am OK with the criticism. My privilege is exactly why I started writing the blog, back when, and the reaction to my posts has been a real education. I appreciate the chance to be heard here.

        • SarahG

          I guess my feeling is I don’t *fault* her for not being all things to all people. I like what she wrote, and I think there’s room for expanding the critique she begins. But speaking from my own position (white person from working class background; queer; not disabled) I think it’s important to acknowledge explicitly our limitations and what we do not feel educated to speak about but know exists; that there are in fact other stories than ours, particularly if aspects of our story reflect dominant/privileged narratives.

          Also, everyone has a race and a class and a sexual orientation and a level of ability/disability. And we can all speak from that. I am white, I can’t speak about what it means to be Latina, but I can speak about what white privilege is like, and I can try to make sure there is room for other voices besides mine.

          And again, I liked it a lot! I think this is a productive dialogue, but I would hate to see a situation where people with intersectional identities feel like an add-on in this conversation.

          • meg

            If this were the primary or only conversation about feminism on APW, I’d really worry about that (honestly, truly). But it’s just one aspect in an ongoing discussion (last week we had a post from a pro-life feminist, this week I really wanted a post from a 50 something feminist, two weeks we have a post from a feminist of color), so I hope it’s just part of the conversation.

            And also, to be fair to Lisa, I edited out all the parts where she disclaimed her writing and her limitations. Because I edit that out in everyone’s work, because it’s one of my editorial pet peeves (particularly for women writers). I want us to say what we have to say without disclaiming. So. Please don’t blame her lack of disclaiming/ acknowledging her limitations on her, blame them on me. I take that out of everyone’s writing, equally.

        • Alison O

          I’m actually agnostic on the question of what Lisa should have included. My feeling about any perspective I hear from anyone is that I can do with the information what I choose. If I want to read or think about something else I can go do that.

          My point (if you can call it that) was in response to Tasha, not Lisa. She mentioned lgbtqa and race as intersectional issues and I thought it was worth highlighting class, too.

        • Class of 1980

          Definitely not faulting Lisa on the class issue.

          Faulting feminism in general for that. Hope that’s clear.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          I don’t know if I agree with this. I expect feminists to be intersectional in their feminism. I have issues with this post but I’m not going to bother getting into why. But yes, I think women who are claiming to be feminists need to be intersectional in their feminism and at this point, there’s really no justification not to. The criticism of this piece for its lack of perspectives is valid.

          • Marisa, I will have to disagree with you on this: “I think women who are claiming to be feminists need to be intersectional in their feminism.” Of course I believe in the rights of all, but I don’t think feminism needs to be the umbrella construct. In fact I think umbrella enforcement is often counter-productive.

            Just my opinion.

            However, your comments here, and those of the others who feel as you do, have given me the word for what I thought was confusion. “Intersectional.” I now understand that it’s intentional. Good to know. As I said, I’ve been slogging away in the trenches, but have read very little theory.

    • Jess

      If I had to write about feminism, and how I define it or why it is needed to this day, I would probably end up doing so from my current perspective. I don’t have experience with LGBTQA or race or class and how it causes some differences in a definition or perception of feminism. I agree that those angles should be included – I just couldn’t write about it knowledgeably.

      This being said, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to know more about other perspectives and how they vary from what was stated by Lisa. Because I want to understand the other women I share this world with, and I want to help the ones I know become the women they want to be.

      Anybody have any resources I can use?

      • meg

        Exactly this. I think the more perspectives brought to the table, the richer the discussion will be. But that doesn’t mean that any one person can (or should) bring all perspectives to the table. We can only bring our own, and leave space for others.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          Except, Meg, what you’re suggesting is exactly why mainstream feminism utterly fails at intersectionality and being a good representative for women of color, queer women, trans women and poor women in the struggle to dismantle patriarchy, kyriarchy and heternomativity. This is what has been happening in mainstream feminism for the last century. People have to go further than just their personal perspectives.

          • Ah, yes, clearly you and I have very different perspectives. I will reiterate that I also believe in and act towards equal access to power for people of color, people of all types of sexual orientation and gender experience, and people from economic disadvantage, but I am OK for those discussions and those efforts to be separate. Particularly if separation of the discussions leads to more progress in all areas.

            But I’ll do the reading suggested. In my first draft I wrote, “I could always be wrong.”

          • Emily

            You know, I think it can be super powerful for people to acknowledge that they do not speak for all people, because what comes after that is listening. If I acknowledge that as a staright, cisgendered, white, middle class, woman my experience is particular to me, then I know that when other people speak or write about their own different experiences, I have to listen.

            The people who truly damage intersectionality are the people who write and speak from their own perspective and then attribute it to all everyone

            Being a lesbian is not being a woman + being attracted to women or X being attracted to women, it is different. So I can’t listen to a woman and a gay man and then add together those experiences minus the man part and then have “the lesbian experience”. No, I have to actually listen to lesbians, a lot, and still not get it.

      • Marina

        Anything by bell hooks is a great place to start. Googling “feminism intersectionality” will also get you a lot of great resources and starting points. There’s a lot of great info on the internet these days. It’s a big topic, and one well worth diving into! :)

        • Jess

          Thanks Marina! I will definitely check some of her writing out.

          I’m interested in understanding and being able to speak from a point of (as much as I can get without living it) knowledge about the subject of intersectionality. Right now I can’t, so I feel rather useless mentioning that it needs to be considered (similar to how KC touched on making it sound like an afterthought by just including a quick blurb) without having anything further to say.

          That turned way more “woe is me” than I intended. I really appreciate having a place to start!

          • Athena

            If you haven’t already, read bell hook’s article on Sandberg’s Lean In…fantastic analysis.

      • L

        I just wanted to point out that yes, you do have experience with race and class and you definitely have some form of sexual and gender orientation identification. I am guessing that what you mean to say is that you are white (European-American), middle/upper class, and straight. Those classifications exist, even if they are presumed to be the normal – the water of the swimming pool, so to speak.

        It is troubling how easily people forget themselves when they are in a place of privilege.

        • I didn’t forget. In my case, the privilege disclaimer takes up a whole lot of space, and I never know whether to write it all out or leave it unspoken and hope that my self speaks for itself. Maybe I need an icon to follow me around the internets, indicating class privilege, race privilege, geographical good fortune, etc. And the indicators of why I’m not just a product of my privilege are personal, and belong to my family members who do not share my race, or my sexual orientation, or my geographical origin, but whose details I don’t want to proffer as a credit card of validation.

    • Liz

      Sorry – I meant to “exactly,” not report. Really important point!

  • YES. This. Thank you for writing such an articulate and sane post.

  • Pingback: LPC Is At A Practical Wedding Today | Privilege()

    • Katherine

      Ack! Stupid smartphone. I assure you that I did not mean to report this comment.

  • Ruth

    Thank you for articulating things I have struggled how to articulate for a long time.

  • Phoebe

    “We can’t ignore our biology, but civilization’s evolution depends on rising above the biological in so many areas. Feminism isn’t unique.”

    I LOVE this! I don’t have anything else to add to the conversation right now, but THANK YOU!!!

  • Itsy Bitsy

    ” If we treat feminism as a long rolling struggle, rather than dogma, we’re going to have more useful discussions.”

    Also, everything you wrote.


  • Class of 1980

    “Institutional & Formal: At the very least, all institutional barriers to power should be eradicated. No public laws or private bylaws should prevent women from access to power. I think we are mostly there in the American legal framework. However, we see immediately that some churches remain the final bastions of denial. They are protected, and any changes will be hard fought.”

    This jumped out at me.

    I’m thinking that any fight within the churches belongs to the members alone. It should not be a legal issue, because they’re dealing with theology and it’s personal to each religion.

    Lisa, is that what you think?

    • meg

      That’s what I think. I also think progress is being made, slowly, slowly.

      • Class of 1980

        Yes, members of a religion have to hash out their theological views before any change can happen. It’s a very slow process if it happens at all.

        Change will never happen from outside influence.

    • Fights within churches belongs to the members alone, to an extent. We don’t let churches murder people. Or kidnap them. So clearly at some point law does apply. As an atheist myself, I have not even begun to think about where that line should be drawn.

      • Class of 1980

        I’m not Christian. I’m agnostic, though I do think there’s an afterlife. I have to. My dead cat came back to visit several times. ;)

        I asked about churches because I came from a very religious family. I understand how it works in religious life.

        Let me give you an example. I know a Christian who wouldn’t dream of persecuting anyone – very loving person. This person recently said to me that they hoped the U.S. wouldn’t follow Canada’s example regarding what a religion can and can’t say.

        They said that Canada made it against the law for a church to say anything anti-gay, calling it “hate speech”. That actually means that if the church says homosexuality is a sin, it’s hate speech.

        Now, this person does not partake in any anti-gay causes and their church doesn’t really talk about gays. They don’t discriminate against gays outside of church. It’s just somewhere in the background – their interpretation of the Bible is that having relations with the same-sex is a sin.

        I believe a lot of Christians struggle with interpretations about feminism and gay issues. On one hand, they feel some sympathy for these subjects, but on the other hand, they want to follow a religion that means a great deal to them. They’re between a rock and a hard place.

        Since religion is a private matter and no one forces anyone to become a member, I don’t think the law should get involved down to the level of their beliefs. The law can prevent them from discrimination in greater public life, but it can’t dictate private beliefs.

        Ultimately, the church itself is responsible for navigating it’s theology and changing it’s beliefs over time. Some denominations are in the throes of this constantly and some fight change tooth and nail. That’s the main difference between fundamentalists and liberal religious groups.

        • Carvaka

          “no one forces anyone to become a member”

          I think there is a grey area here because most people are born into a religion and don’t truly have a choice until they are nearly adults. So, for example, if you’re gay and born into a religious family, you will be going to church for very many years and the church’s right to say or not say something directly affects your life and access to power. All change ideally comes from inside but I think part of the question is, in the meantime, do we place any protection for those affected until the change happens? I don’t know the answers but I agree with Lisa when she says that at some point, the law has to apply.

          • Alison O

            In response to your point that people are frequently born into religion, I think it’s important to point out that we are all born into something. Everyone’s worldview is shaped involuntarily by our family of origin and its dynamics and myths, our peers, our culture, its history, etc. The tricky thing about world views is, they feel RIGHT to us. It feels (deeeeeply) like how we experience and interpret the world is just The Way Things Are, when actually, it’s only the way things are for us, individually.

            That’s all to say, I think it goes both ways. There is an “inside” to secular culture (or any culture/group), as much as there is in religious culture. Religious individuals may just as reasonably question whether they should intervene in nonreligious cultures whose practices contradict their moral code (abortion, anyone?), as much as people outside that religion should question and consider intervening in the religious group’s practices which contradict their secular values and beliefs. (And, of course, the two groups are part of the same culture if you’re defining it by parameters other than religion.)

            It’s generally easier to other (verb) people than to accept that really it’s all a mystery, the grayest of the gray. I don’t think people shouldn’t act on their beliefs, but I am always reassured when people do so with real acknowledgment of their limitations as people, not God. (Whom, for the record, I don’t believe in, at least not in the way that I’ve heard 98% people describe it.)

          • Carvaka

            Ah yes, I agree that we are all born into something and conditioned by something. My point is not so much that the worldview of people in church is conditioned and hence less valid/ more deserving of interference. My concern is about those who are born into religion, so don’t really have a choice in being part of it (until they’re older) and then bear the brunt of discrimination within these institutions. Like gay kids. Sure, adults can choose not to go where they aren’t welcome, but you often don’t have that choice until you are nearly an adult (responding to the original comment that no one is forced to be a member). Should we not provide any legal protection because the discrimination comes from the church?

            I was thinking of the example above about Canada classifying the church making anti-gay speech as ‘hate speech’. You can look at this as protecting the right of the gay kid to go to church without being persecuted. It’s difficult to draw the line on where the individual’s rights end and the institution’s begin. People can personally believe what they like while still being restricted from expressing it or acting on it (if it amounts to discrimination). Many anti-discrimination laws work on this premise.

        • Emily

          I am a christian, and as a christian I disagree very strongly with people in my congregation who hold homophobic and misogynistic opinions (though to be fair there aren’t very many.) I think they are reading the bible wrong. In fact, I think that to get hate from the bible you have to twist it pretty hard.

          Religious bigots are entitled to their first amendment rights but they are not entitled to deference. These people twist the bible to their own hateful conclusions and then hide behind religion. “I am christian” is not an excuse to be homophobic, racist, or chauvinistic.

      • Kat R

        It’s a hard line to draw. For instance, churches DEFINITELY need to start cooperating with authorities better in abuse cases. (Many already do, but it is still a big problem.) As far as legislating feminist values within religious communities – for instance, requiring the ordination of women – it would probably do more harm than good. The perception within conservative religious communities would be that it’s an attack on their religious liberty, and I guarantee they will respond by reacting even more strongly against feminism.

        The good news is that these battles ARE being fought (and won, more and more) internally. Just as one of many examples, this is happening: https://www.facebook.com/JesusFeminist

        I think that non-religious feminists could probably support these movements within the church through solidarity. A good bit of the problem is that conservative Christians often find feminism to be something unwelcoming or even hostile to their religion. It is a lot harder to work for equality when you don’t feel included or supported by the larger movement.

        • Rachel Held Evans is doing good work within the evangelical church for equality for women.


          And Justin Lee, the head of Gay Christian Network, has written a book called Torn about being a gay Christian, coming to affirm same-sex marriage, and all the battles he had to fight to get there — while still being compassionate toward people who aren’t there yet.


          • Kat R

            LOVE both of them!

          • CJ

            Yes! I read both those blogs!

    • One More Sara

      I took it really similarly to you, those battles need to be fought, but it needs to be done from within. It’s a delicate balance for expansion of equality (be it for women, or LGBT people or other currently marginalized groups) in the church because people need to push the envelope to make change happen, but not to push the envelope to hard for risk of being kicked out of the community and no longer in a position to make changes at all. Having those allies within churches is super important for progress, and I think a lot more exist than we might think!

    • Alyssa

      I would agree if churches weren’t subject to special protections and tax benefits not afforded to other organizations. The moment you accept public help, your institutionalized discrimination needs to end.

      • Class of 1980

        Churches don’t pay taxes, but I don’t think they receive public help either. All their finances are donated by members who’ve already paid taxes on that money.

        • KC

          Not a lawyer/accountant here, but I think donations are tax-exemption-able if they’re recorded and all that. (I mean, yes, if people give anonymous cash to a church they’ve paid applicable taxes on that cash, just the same as if they give an anonymous cash donation to any other applicable non-profit)

          (I also think that organizations should be allowed to hire according to the organization’s central religious/ethical beliefs in general, though, despite disagreeing with many beliefs.)

        • Alison O

          In my mind the tax exemption is equivalent to public help because the end result is the same as if the church did have to pay taxes but the gov’t gave them that amount of money.

          The larger question is above my pay grade tho… At least after a day of air travel aha

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Churches, like secular charities such as the Red Cross or Harvard University, don’t pay property taxes or corporate income taxes where a for-profit business would pay those taxes. In addition, donations to churches, like donations to the Red Cross or Harvard, are tax-deductible for those people and businesses that itemize deductions.

        [Harvard of course used to be a religious institution, but isn’t any more. I just wanted an example of both a secular charity that almost everyone likes, and one that brings up issues of privilege and other tough issues.]

  • But feminism has become dogma for a great many women, and therein lies the problem. It has largely stopped embracing things that made women different from men; in fact has become ashamed of them (hide that baby), tried to make other women ashamed of them (hide that baby) and is pretty much aimed at making us feel that women really ought to be honorary men (or pseudo men, or something scary, in their power suits and power careers).

    I like to think some balance is returning, though I worry about the well-known pressure to have it all – bake the cookies, change the diapers and field emails on the Blackberry (simultaneously, if at all possible). Feminism ought to mean that you can choose the Blackberry or prefer to play “This Little Piggy.” Or both if you happen to be Superwoman. But each choice should have equal value.

    • Lauren

      I tend to think that the version of “feminism” that you describe is not feminism, was never feminism, and certainly was not created by feminists. Instead it was created by others in an effort to distract from and undermine feminism.

      • KC

        I’m not sure about the label “feminist”, but the “don’t be ‘pretty’; get aggressive; and whatever you do, don’t cry” has been an observed response by women-in-my-field to the “there are too few women holding positions in this field”. Is that feminist? Not sure. It’s trying to solve a “feminist” problem (barriers to entry) by first tackling the ratio, possibly in hopes that attitudes will change once people realize that hey, women have brains too! But it’s starting by being potentially “non-feminist” – but what else would you do to change peoples’ minds, when they can’t go from 0-60 that fast?

        Also, “Lean In”.

        I guess: there are a lot of weird and highly suboptimal states you can get into on the way from “problem” to “solution”. I would categorize power suits (worn by people who do not want to wear power suits but who see it as the only way to get where they want to go) as one of those hopefully-temporary eras, like forced bussing. (in an ideal world, would there be forced bussing? Pretty sure, no. Is it the only way that a particular set of people could start to change a Bad State of Affairs using the only tools available to them? Probably, yes.)

        • As one who wore power suits (meaning just like the boys even to the tie but with a skirt), back in the 80s, I think exactly yes they were a necessary and temporary evil.

          “It’s trying to solve a “feminist” problem (barriers to entry) by first tackling the ratio, possibly in hopes that attitudes will change once people realize that hey, women have brains too!”

          This is a tricky one. There is a gray area between hiring for gender as helpful tool, and hiring for gender as Sets The Whole Project back. I do not have a bright line answer. Equal access does require some foundational changes, but where and how to make them is the issue. I think I prefer that support beyond taking down barriers happen in schools, rather than the work force.

          Just more practical, given how people think.

          You guys are smart.

          • KC

            Yeah, I was thinking tackling-the-ratio in terms of making females more “palatable” to hire (via power suits and “masculine” behavior) rather than instituting hiring quotas.

            Hiring quotas may sometimes be necessary in certain situations, but often do set general attitudes back by a *lot* and so probably shouldn’t be used except when absolutely necessary, in my opinion?

          • KC

            (and also, hooray that I’ve never had to wear a real power suit and thank you for living through that uncomfortable phase.)

      • There are those – including women – who would disagree with you on that.


        Warning: Read at your own risk. And take your blood pressure medication prior, if you require it.

        • *steam coming out of ears*

          Should have heeded your warning and not read that.

        • meg

          Sure. But I think we get in to dangerous territory when we let other people define our feminism. That’s what I’ve learned from feminism month, at least.

    • Class of 1980

      I constantly feel everything you just said.

      I was reading a blog where the blogger mentioned a conversation she had at work. One of her coworkers was very successful and wanted a promotion. However, she was currently pregnant and said she was going to wait until her baby was born to broach the subject. She said she wanted to approach her boss “from a position of strength.”

      The blogger’s mind was rightfully boggled by this. How is it that a woman can kick ass at work WHILE being pregnant, yet feel she’s in a weak position because of pregnancy?

      Think about that for a minute. She’s doing the same job as the men, with the additional physical challenges of pregnancy, and she’s the weak one??? You have got to be kidding me.

      It’s like female biological functioning is supposed to be out of sight and out of mind. It’s ridiculous. We should be in awe of these women; not counting their starring role in reproduction as a weakness.

      • KC

        I’ve had a few friends do this, and part of the “position of strength” may be “and see, I haven’t quit now that the baby is born” (which: friends who were planning to keep working have also decided not to post-birth, so this isn’t totally irrational) and another part of the “position of strength” may be “while I am pregnant, my hormones are so insane that fabric softener commercials can make me cry, so maybe I shouldn’t talk to my boss about Important Things right now.”

        But yes, if you can do the job *while growing a human being inside you* who is sucking up a lot of your resources, then that’s a pretty strong argument that you can do the job. :-)

  • Meigh McPants

    Ugh, Lisa, I just want to hug you and high five you and bake you cookies. Thank you for articulating your views with so much thoughtfulness. This is totally getting sent to a LOT of people today.

    • I love cookies:). Also hugs and high fives<3

  • GSL

    I very seldom read anything by self-described “Feminists” as their arguments often collapse under their own weightlessness, is nearly always politically partisan, and the equal pay for equal work fight was rightfully won long ago. The Private Club issue is among the most well-known and absurd. I don’t feel anyone should be able to demand or dictate the terms of access to a venue where Bill Gates & Warren Buffet might discuss IBM, hot blonds, & the yips on the 3rd tee, a women’s dining club that meets every other Thursday for lunch, or the Congressional Black Caucus. Sexual harassment is already unlawful nor should it ever be tolerated even if it’s by somebody named Clinton or Kennedy. Disparaging sexist language should not be fit for public discourse even if it’s directed at Sarah Palin.
    The Feminist war drums will soon sound over their latest heroine- Janet Yellen the supposed soothsayer who warned us against the housing bubble who is about to become Fed Chairman (oops I meant Chairhuman). Before too much Feminist emotional investment is made, please check out “Janet Yellen Exposed” on youtube where Peter Schiff uncovers a most inconvenient paper trail of her 2005-2006 speeches.

  • Carvaka

    Loved reading this, thank you for writing something so concise and straightforward.

    One tiny detail that caught my eye was the point about housework. It should really be an exercise of division of labour (like everything in a marriage), coming down to skill and bandwidth. However, living in the gendered world that we do,’skill’ can be deceptive. The biggest reason I hear for husbands not doing their share of housework or childcare is that he ‘doesn’t have the skills/ can’t do it well enough’. That’s down to never having been taught skills, probably for gendered reasons, but can be addressed. Like the recent post about teaching your partner how to cook. So yeah, skill and bandwidth with the caveat that skill can be addressed if bandwidth is present. It seems so insignificant but if there is no equality in housework and childcare in the home, then women with partners and children are not playing on a level field at work.

    • KC

      Yeah, skill can be, um, interestingly gendered that way.

      I’d also include “standards” in the list of challenges to overcome (ever lived with a roommate who had a waaay higher or waaay lower tolerance for mess than you? That stuff takes some serious work) that tend to be somewhat gendered, since many women are taught to “spot” difference maintenance tasks than many men.

      • Carvaka

        Yes also standards. Between one gender not being taught home-making skills and another being taught higher standards, we’re stuck in vicious cycle.

    • Brittany

      I totally agree, and I’m very lucky to have a neat-freak husband who grew up with a mom that almost never cleans (meaning he’s been doing household chores forever), but we’re really starting to confront this reality as we get ready for our baby’s birth in the spring. As an older sibling of several and someone who grew up around tiny kids because my mom runs a daycare at home, and someone who paid for college working as a nanny, I have a huge amount of child care experience for a as-yet childless woman. My husband, on the other hand, has never even changed a diaper. I know it’s going to be tempting just to do a lot of stuff myself because I came in with many of the skills, but I know I’m going to have to find a way to exercise patience and balance my desire to get it done with wanting my husband to learn so we can be equal partners. I think it’s a tough balance, but worthwhile so our kid grows up in a more equal environment where the work doesn’t look like it belongs to one or the other of us on the basis of gender.

  • Okay, so I prepared this long reply to a post which said that feminist arguments are without validity and that claims that equal pay and workplace sexual harassment are old news and that most other claims feminists make are ludicrous. I know I am not imagining this, maybe it was taken down when I was typing? I’m going to post my reply anyway, because I think it will also be useful to add some breadth to this conversation and it took me a long time to type:

    Maybe, but even if one accepts the argument that all these mainstream and class-specific feminist battles have been won, which is doubtful, there are so many others: dearth of accessible and quality child care, parental leave, domestic and sexual violence, the current battles in Congress to reduce access to birth control (really, in 2013 we want to restrict birth control?), high rates of homicide of women by intimate partners, what it means to live in a nation that holds itself up as a beacon of equality while imprisoning more women than any other country in the world, disproportionate access of poor women and women of color to health and reproductive care, underrepresentation of women in leadership positions and STEM fields and studies that prove that many of these divergences happen in early childhood education, overrepresentation of women, particularly of color in low-paid service industries, the masculinization of social memory of people of color’s social justice movements which reduce the role of women’s labor and encourage the premising of sexual restraint and heteronormativity as an appropriate response to structural racism, the murders of unarmed women and LGBT youth of color which don’t seem to get nationwide mourning and rallies, the various barriers to tenure for women faculty, particularly women faculty of color (studies which show that women and faculty of color are consistently evaluated lower than white males no matter their teaching proficiency, prejudice against women who have babies, assignment of departmental “caretaking labor” on top of the duties expected of everyone), the still gross imbalance between men and women’s household and family labor, the ways in which professions have historically and continue to be de-professionalized and underpaid as women become dominant in the fields, the unavailability of public bathroom facilities for genderqueer and transgender people and parents with small children of the opposite sex, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

    • KC

      (not your imagination; the by-all-appearances-this-person-did-not-read-this-article comment full of factual errors and vague ranting vanished. Which makes sense?)

    • meg

      I think there was a troll seeming comment that got taken down (I wasn’t moderating this morning). BUT. I’m so glad you wrote this anyway, because it’s all so important.

  • mimi

    On reading this post, I realized that I’m a feminist, but haven’t had any reason to act on that yet, which I think is why I hadn’t yet realized that I was a feminist. I grew up in a house where my mom was the boss. This was partly based on my parents’ temperaments, but I think they also both grew up in houses where their mom was the boss. I have 3 brothers and 1 sister, and we were all treated equally growing up. We all played sports, had chores, and were expected to do well in school. I grew up in an affluent community where everyone was expected to go to college. I attended a top public university and then law school and succeeded in my classes. I now work for my dad in a small law firm. My husband and I share the chores at home. I expect that my feminist action days may be ahead of me, in having and raising kids.

    While I was reading this post this morning, I was sitting in the midst of societal inequality in action. I was in court waiting for the judge to hear my motion. The judge is a woman in her 40’s, and her staff is mostly female. The attorney on the other side of my case is a woman in her 40’s. However, the rest of the courtroom was filled with men. When I was in law school, my class was about 50/50 f/m. Law practice is significantly different, I think mostly due to the childcare responsibility issue. This is still a battle that needs fighting.

    • Alison O

      Interesting. Made me think about: can feminism describe state of mind or lifestyle, or does it have to be clearly action-oriented, political? I guess actions are on a spectrum from private to public and insignificant to consequential, but I think they all matter.

    • meg

      And a high five to you, this morning.

  • Improvised Bride

    Love this post! Thank you! And also love the smart comments and the reminder that our lives are intersectional and all the pieces inform each other.

  • LBD

    I don’t want to get into the abortion thing really either, but I tend to feel bothered that too often in feminist is/isn’t debates it doesn’t get acknowledged the larger issue that for some abortion is considered a part of: the right as women to have power over our own bodies and get the needs of living in a female body taken care of and make those decisions for ourselves (bodily autonomy). I think too often this just gets talked about in context of abortion, but I think most importantly this also includes things like rape/rape culture and the power to access all kinds of healthcare women specifically need: regular GYN exams, birth control, prenatal and postnatal care, etc.

    I’m pregnant now, and OMG, the feeling like my body is public property / health choice decisions are open for public debate. I mentioned I was worried I was coming down with something on Facebook, and suddenly everyone and their mother feels free to comment about what is and is not safe for me to do to care for myself! All I wanted was a little empathy, I did not ask for advice. I did not ask for a bunch of people to lecture me about checking with my midwife before taking anything, like I’m an idiot. I’m starting to get a noticeable belly. If anyone tries to touch it without permission, they are liable to hear ALL THE WORDS.

    • UGH I just got so annoyed reading that! I’m not pregnant, but I am very, very sensitive to unsolicited advice, and I wholeheartedly believe I get a ton of it due to implicit sexism. I don’t see many people telling my boyfriend how to handle his finances or that he’s looking too thin or that he’ll never keep me around if he doesn’t know how to cook a good steak (yes, someone has said this to me in the last month). I’ve survived for 20-something years now, I think I know a thing or two. BUT THANKS.

      ETA: And I completely agree with you on your larger point on bodily autonomy!

    • Jennie

      I was a little bothered that abortion wasn’t discussed (that much) for the same reason. To me, the abortion debate is really about treating women’s bodies like public property and removing autonomy/humanity from a pregnant person.

    • I’m not pregnant (and likely won’t be for quite a number of years, sorry mom) but my husband and I really look forward to having strangers touch my belly without my permission so that we can grab their bellies right back, and be like, “oh, you don’t like strangers touching you? HOW QUAINT!”

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Re: Don’t Cry At Work?

    Could someone flesh out for me the relationship between changing communication styles in the professional context and gender issues?

    I’ve seen how this works in practice. My favorite example was my 70-year-old male boss writing letters to female opposing counsel, that would go before a female judge, with such “vitriol” in the letters that the judge sanctioned him. I knew as the letters were going out that it was rhetorically ineffective to talk (or write) to a woman that way, but it’s not clear to me why the profession should adapt to women’s communication styles, instead of women in the profession adapting to the profession’s communication styles. The letters, in my opinion, would have been fine 20 years ago.

    • copper

      Probably each side should adapt a bit, I would say. Yes, certain professions have a level of aggression inherent in them because they are at their core about arguing (as you mention, lawyers). On the other hand, I’d ask us to examine this a little closer—are women rewarded for being argumentative in the same way that men are within the same profession, or is it considered “professional” when one does it, and “emotional” when the other does it? Also, were those professional standards formed so entirely by men in the first place that women conforming to the “profession” = women conforming to the way men do things? I don’t know enough about the law in particular to answer those questions completely, but that’s the next place I’d investigate to try and parse out the answer to your question.

      • KC

        I would add that politics/law/everywhere-else-where-you-get-somewhere-by-arguing would be better and more fair if “below the belt” tactics were not used by anyone. Mudslinging, ad hominem, strawmen, etc. are effective from a sheer “winning *my* side” point of view, but aren’t useful in building a clear, logical case/argument/point.

        (In addition to free-for-all vitriolic aggression tactics, I also think that tear-jerker tactics shouldn’t be used. I mean, yes, accurately represent how things affect real people, but there’s a lot that goes waaay past that line. If everyone played without cheap tricks, then we could all just tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and while we might not all agree, at least we’d get accurate political representation and a fairer legal system.)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        On “professional” v. “emotional” – After 4 years as a lawyer, it’s still really hard for me to display anger in a professionally effective way, which I chalk up to my being a petite woman and forever coming across as “cute.” And displaying anger is part of the job.

    • Marina

      Well, if there’s a reason for the profession’s current communication style beyond “this is how we’ve always done it” I don’t see why not. But is there really a rational reason for including “vitriol” in professional letters? What’s the purpose?

      In general, I think in most professions more diversity in communication style tends to help everyone do their job better. Innovation and progress frequently come from outsiders who aren’t entrenched in that profession’s habits. Getting good at collaborative communication styles (and not automatically relying on confrontational communication styles) could open up previously unavailable options in the legal profession, I imagine.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        So it doesn’t have to be a gender thing. It just so happens that the addition of worthwhile communication styles is coming into the profession mostly from women.

        I personally believe that communication styles are a matter of conditioning from childhood, both in how we communicate and how we’re perceived. But I’m also curious about current neurological research that suggests the differences between males and females are more than just reproductive organs and hormones – They could deeply influence how we think and communicate.

        • Marina

          About the only biological difference I know of for sure is that estrogen makes it easier to cry, and testosterone makes it more difficult. Probably dealing with that from birth (or puberty?) affects your general style and personality in the long run as well. I don’t know of any studies showing neurological differences in infants, and it’s difficult to separate learned vs innate changes after that point. For instance, adults tend to talk to female babies far more often and use far more words than when they talk to male babies, which may be one reason why female babies tend to talk earlier.

  • Laura

    “Beliefs you sit on might not count.”

    THIS. Chills.

  • KC

    Not totally related, but a piece I just read on class, race, gender, and status symbols (that made my jaw drop in a good way, so maybe it’s a good intersectionality “item”?): http://tressiemc.com/2013/10/29/the-logic-of-stupid-poor-people/

    • KC

      (don’t let the title scare you off; she’s explaining how some financial choices look “stupid” at first glance, but actually can pay back massive dividends in terms of getting past gatekeepers, etc.)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      That was super-interesting. Thank you.

    • L

      Thanks for that link. It was an excellent read.

    • That was a really interesting article, thanks!

  • copper

    The one thing I have to disagree with here is saying that definitions of attractiveness are not a feminist issue. Yes each sex has a definition of attractiveness, but in my experience men who do not meet anyone’s definition of attractive are still valued as professionals and as human beings, whereas women who do not meet definitions of attractiveness tend to get devalued to a disgusting degree. Additionally, I find the attractiveness measures for men to be far more reasonable than for women—the time and effort required to conform is nowhere near equivalent. If women are expected to put in more effort to meet the minimal standard of attractiveness, then that is a clear signal that their un-improved state is considered inferior, which makes it a feminist issue.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I don’t know if it’s more effort. It’s certainly a different kind of effort. I can not shave at all and still look professional; my husband has to shave daily. I get 2 haircuts a year; my husband needs 1 every 6 weeks.

      I can’t wear the same thing to a wedding I wear to a job interview; my husband can. I think I look sufficiently professional in a suit from Macy’s that costs less than $100; I’d be very wary of buying my husband a suit at that price point, and I don’t think Macy’s has them. I find “the rules” for women’s professional dress easier than men’s – things like what color shoes go with what, what colors and prints are acceptable, how pants should be hemmed, etc. But that can go either way, depending on personality. (and KC’s link right above suggests there are rules I don’t know about)

      But I do shudder every time I read about a new cosmetic treatment because I fear that if it’s available, it’s acceptable, and if acceptable, it’s required. Meg’s posted about how not coloring her hair would be a kind of fashion statement, whereas I know it wouldn’t be for men. I have a job interview tomorrow and acne, and I’m glad I have the option to wear makeup to cover it up, as it makes me look younger and therefore less qualified. I’m not glad I’d be wearing makeup anyway because women who wear makeup are thought more friendly and competent (according to a study I read about in a magazine).

      tldr: I’m not sure I agree, based on my family’s experiences.

      • Look at the studies on height for men, and the impact on careers, and maybe it’s less clear that women’s physical presence is more of an issue for us than the way men look is for them.

        • KC

          I would say it’s a different set of issues. Visually filling a gender ideal pays off in certain ways (financially, socially, etc., although there are also negatives such as jealousy) for both men and women, and “failing” to achieve the minimum carries penalties for both men and women, but what that gender ideal entails is both very different and has different “lowest standard” levels for men and for women, at least in certain fields.

          I would say that non-white, non-asian men have significantly more severe consequences for wearing certain attire (more likely to be shot, arrested, or frisked, hello, not part of my daily life-as-a-white-female); ditto for not-quite-passing transgender folks (again, society is hazardous). But as long as the most common lowest-accepted-professional-attire for women includes all that it currently does in most areas of this country, I think female appearance is still a feminist issue, since *these requirements are silly and unfair*, even though being of certain ethnicities and male and wearing “the wrong clothes” being considered reasonable cause for police harassment is even more unfair. The fact that someone else’s ankle is broken does not negate you having bronchitis – there’s some healing to do in both cases, the treatments will be different, but there’s a Problem in both cases.

          One might also argue that if feminist efforts can get personal appearance and fitting into restrictive gender norms to be less strongly correlated with success, then men won’t be penalized for height as much either, in which case that would be a feminist issue, too. ;-)

        • Winny the Elephant

          As a woman married to a short man, you are absolutely correct. Although perhaps this isn’t linked so much to standards of beauty for men as it is linked to assumptions about masculinity (ie not seeming as ‘in charge’ or capable because they are shorter.

      • KC

        I find the “rules” for basic professional dress for men way easier to understand than for women, actually; I didn’t learn much of either growing up, since my mom wore “mom” clothes and I wasn’t interested in current fashion, so the whole “what shoes you can wear with what office clothing” thing for women was kind of terrifying and complex ground when I initially hit it, as opposed to the “if your pants are not navy, you can probably wear your black dress shoes” for him. (we’ve been recently both learning the rules for interviewing for a “new” class station, which is… also interesting.) Suits for men are indeed a scary creature, though.

        I agree on the facial-hair-maintenance, although many women consider perpetually-shaved-legs a requirement, which is, um, more area to cover, shaving-wise. And yes, hair upkeep depends on your hair and how cooperative it is and how much maintenance your particular style requires, but a *lot* of popular female styles require frequent stylist visits and a longer time making it look socially acceptable in the morning (see: straightening, curling, waving, teasing, “product”, and color/highlights/weaves), and I don’t think this is entirely accidental. I guess, average time a male spends getting “outwardly” ready in the morning is, I suspect, significantly, significantly less than the average time a female spends, although there are definitely exceptions/variations.

        (my hair is *easy* and I love it, but among my friends, according to conversation and observation, I’m definitely among the exceptions, not the rule. And, what’s more, I often have people benevolently pushing me to change my style, since it’s been the same for so long and aren’t I ready for a change? Which: what I currently do works well enough and is easy to maintain and is neither in fashion nor “out” of fashion, and hair is not my preferred area of artistic self-expression, so I’d rather just go with what I have, thanks, even if everyone else is getting a “new summer ‘do!” that requires a half-hour or more to tame every morning.)

        • You’re right. Also so smart. All I can say is, pants and braids, baby, pants and braids:).

          • KC

            I love this, especially since, in my head, you are the Queen of Knowing What Shoes to Wear With Things and hence revered as some sort of special genius. :-) (I just clicked over to your blog and realized that you were you)

  • Lisa W.

    I believe that “power” in the context of feminism (or for that matter, in any context) means the ability to make decisions. Decisions for one’s self, for starters, but also decisions that affect and bind others. Decisions that are not automatically second-guessed or countermanded. And it means not being belittled, ridiculed, fired, or beaten about the head and ears for having the temerity to decide. It’s not about our voices being heard, but being listened to, and acted on. By people who currently make our decisions for us, and want to continue to do so. “Access to power” means, to me, the opportunity to decide. The freedom to choose. I think Lisa is spot-on.

    • Winny the Elephant

      I totally agree. I believe that the ultimate power is freedom to choose.

  • Flo

    This is so beautifully said, so beautifully true. To be taken seriously at one’s word, how did it get to be such a privilege and not a simple given. And what are the steps in the process, how can we make this fundamental in girls’ lives. Everyone knows the obvious, that parents/family set it up, by encouraging decision making, apple juice or orange juice? water or lemonade? honoring each one over the years, amplifying the whys when things go astray. Higher education makes the results even more…educated. But lacking that, girls who grow up expecting to be taken seriously at their word, validated for it through formative years, will walk away from situations where their word, their decisions are not taken seriously. We hope.

  • Belinda Gomez

    I don’t want child are provided by anyone I can’t hire or fire. No state, federal or municipal unionized employees, thanks. I’ll take a tax break or a reimbursement, but high-quality and government-supplied are contradictions in terms.

    • Winny the Elephant

      If you have the resources to hire and fire then you’re not the one who needs the government to help with childcare.

    • Alyssa M

      The unaffordability of quality childcare is one of the greatest barriers for most low income women. It’s a SERIOUS feminist issue whether you like government or not.

  • Anna

    I want to commend you for writing this article and let you know that as I was reading it was one of the first times that I was able to significantly identify with feminism. I think that so often, so many different things get lumped together in the word, some of which I support, and some I don’t, that it has been hard for me to relate to, and the way you broke it down to the essentials really helped me identify with it.