On Feminism, part 2

Back in the 70s, when we talked about feminism or “women’s liberation,” we talked about very basic issues:  equal pay for equal work, equal rights to own property and to mange our own financial affairs, the right to make our own reproductive decisions. We also talked about respect, that women are just as capable as men are to serve as elected officials, business executives, authors, artists, and professors.  We talked about safety, about laws and policies that made it nearly impossible for a woman to report rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment.  I’m sure most of us will agree that we’ve come a long way in the past thirty-five years, but that we still have a ways to go.

As a young writer back then, I wanted to define my philosophy, to put it into words.  I asked my sister-feminists, “What is a feminist?”  My question most often was met with a list of adjectives:  courageous, thoughtful, kind, assertive, dedicated to the group, etc.  But I wanted something more.  After all, you can be courageous and kind and not be a feminist. You could be a boy scout, for crying out loud.

After a lot of reading and thinking and writing and praying, I did manage to define feminism for myself.  It’s a bit winding, but here goes.

Any definition must begin with advocacy of the belief that women must not be denied any right, privilege or protection because of her gender.  But let’s take it further.

In an archetypal and/or stereotypical sense, our culture often ascribes certain traits and characteristics as gender related, for example:  men are analytical, women are intuitive; men are active, women are passive; men are protectors, women are nurturers.  This belief in a dichotomy between the essential nature of masculine and feminine led our culture to funnel boys and girls into varying career paths:  boys into business, engineering and science; girls into teaching, nursing and social work.

Of course a lot has changed in recent decades.  Plenty of men now choose to be elementary school teachers and nurses, and there are lots of women scientists, engineers and business execs.  However professions that have traditionally been considered feminine are still valued less than those traditionally masculine.  Just look at the salaries.

I believe it is a common misconception that feminists think women should behave like men.  I’m sure there are many women who feel they must put on a type of masculine demeanor to make it in “a man’s world.”  I wish this wasn’t the case.  For the sake of our mental health, I think it’s a good idea for each of us to strive to integrate the best qualities of both the feminine and the masculine.  But as a feminist, I believe our culture severely undervalues all things feminine.  As a feminist, I am not simply an advocate for women, I am an advocate for the feminine.


I think a gentle, cooperative, intuitive approach is just as valuable as an assertive, analytical one.  And most definitely I believe the concerns of our nurturing professions—children, the elderly, the poor and disabled—are just as important as the concerns of business and law.

As a feminist I am proud to be concerned, not simply with a narrow set of issues that concern American women, but with nurturing the health and creativity of all people everywhere.  This is the role women have joyfully accepted since before written history.  It’s time for our culture to welcome this work as vital, important, and necessary.

9 thoughts on “On Feminism, part 2

  1. Great Post Nancy..
    I remember those days. The bra burning, the protests of the Vietnam War, Gloria Steinam. The demands for equality. I too am a feminist and love your quote ” As a feminist, I am not simply an advocate for women, I am an advocate for the feminine.” We’ve come a long way but the journey is far from over.

  2. “I believe it is a common misconception that feminists think women should behave like men.”
    “As a feminist, I am not simply an advocate for women, I am an advocate for the feminine.”
    These 2 lines a perfect. The first is what is being pushed and promoted to the detriment of men, who need to get their balls back and be REAL men, the second is what is being stripped away by advocacy of the first. Gah!

    True feminism (from what I understand) should be about declaring what women can do, and thus being legally and financially regonised for it, and is not about squishing and diminishing men. It’s such a tangled mess :-S

    But thank you for those 2 lines, they are a perfect summary of where we are as a culture and what’s going wrong.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The role of masculinity/femininity is such a touchy subject that needs clauses and extra material to bear in mind that it’s almost preferable to leave it alone and play it safe with vague spirituality and polite nicities, but that isn’t my style so I plan to continue in my quest to fully explore what I think the Bible says about this knowing that there may be casualties along the way.

      Thank you for clarifying your position, I think how people disagree says far more than how they agree, and I think true tolerance and maturity is able to seperate ideas from those who think them. I have a feeling I’ll be coming back here.

  3. A few clarifications: each of us is unique. Some of us–regardless of whether we are male or female–are just naturally more feminine and some are naturally more masculine. I celebrate and embrace this diversity. I don’t believe in “shoulds,” i.e. men should be masculine, women should be feminine. I think we would each be wise to to strive to integrate the masculine and feminine dichotomy within ourselves, but that is my opinion. I leave that to each individual to find his/her own path.

    When I was a young feminist in the 70s, my dream was that feminism would change our culture. I have yet to see this manifest. Instead what I see is the presupposition that the women who want to hold positions of power in business, law and government must behave like men. In other words, men have held the power for millennia, so if we women want some of that power for ourselves we must take on the masculine role. Let me be clear: this is not an idea that feminists are preaching. On the contrary, I believe this is an idea that is used to discredit feminism.

    What I’m saying is that we must question the idea of power. what does it mean to exercise power in a feminine way? What would it look like if our governments and our schools and our businesses operated in a way that integrated both the feminine and the masculine? I don’t know, but I think we need to look at this. I think this is how we will evolve and grow as a culture.

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