The Modern Feminist


Note: You can always follow my journey in real-time on my blog, So about what I said...

Feminism – or at least its definition – seems to be taking quite the beating lately. Feminists must be this. Feminists can’t be that. Feminists must always have their “sexist” radar on high-alert and be ready to recite the Feminist Manifesto at the first signs of trouble, because, after all, they are representing all women, all the time.

I saw a few glimpses of a feminist shift recently when I met my friend Claire for lunch. We’d always been feminists: independent, feisty, opinionated, strong-willed, in-charge women.

Yet during our lunch, we somehow found ourselves on the topic of men: what type we usually go for, how hot they are and how a couple guys’ mixed signals was (frustratingly) throwing off our love radar.

If you listen to some people (read: staunch, old-school feminists), we were bad girls. We’d committed the ultimate feminist faux pas, something that flew in the face of everything the generation of women had fought so hard for during the Women’s Liberation Movement.

What exactly had we betrayed? Leave it to this anonymous poster, who left this note on my blog:

"I also know quite a few feminists who would have a problem with quite a bit in this blog, and not just Man Candy Monday."

It’s true. Every Monday on my blog, I profile a famous guy who is perfect eye candy. I should be punished or stoned in the town square for my horrible crime. Ooops, looks like I noticed the opposite sex a bit too much. There was the answer in black-and-white: I had (gasp!) acknowledged the male species as something other than a chauvinist, sexist, dictator.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Women should take control of their sexuality, just not be the least bit vocal about it? A submissive feminist, maybe?

It looks like Ms. Anonymous (and the Ms. is just a shot in the dark here) missed the breaking news on the rise of the Modern Feminist.

Feminism has always been about self-control, about women claiming their supreme control over their lives. It’s about women controlling their own lives, their own behavior, and their own bodies, their own everything.

I don’t have a problem with fruitful discussions of feminism. I really don’t. What I do have a problem with is using the word feminism as if it were a bolded phrase in the back of a high-school textbook: static, never-changing, the definition as relevant today as it was when the textbook was copyrighted in 1956.

I don’t buy that. Feminism, by its very nature, has never been prone to static-cling. It’s changed with the times – by the very women who wanted to change the times. In the 1920s, feminism meant fighting for the right to vote. In the 1970s and 1980s, it meant securing a rightful position in the workforce, demanding equal pay and shattering the ubiquitous glass ceiling.

But that’s not what some people, like said anonymous poster, will have you believe. They’ll say that we must watch (read: censor) ourselves: everything we say and everything we do is not simply a reflection of us, but a reflection of the entire female population. How dare we separate ourselves from those stronger women who can refrain from the guy-gawking and are able to live in their own little feminist bubble, forever shielding their eyes and refraining from even stealing glimpses of the opposite sex? Newsflash: This isn’t your mother’s feminism anymore. Yes, it’s still about women. Yes, it’s still about equality. But I don’t see it as such a group, staging-sit-ins cause anymore as much as an individual declaration.

Did someone forget to send me the memo that my brazen guy-gawking is a declaration I make on behalf of all women? I’d never presume to speak for other women, because as a feminist myself, I know they can speak for themselves. You know, I had no idea that in addition to shedding – and burning – my bra, feminism also demands that I shed any ounce of sexuality with said bra. I once stood in amazement as I admired Michelangelo’s David at The Art Institute of Chicago, so does that make me a bad example?

Bad, Melissa. Don’t you know that’s guy-gawking too? It. Must. Be. Resisted. I mustn’t give in to my biological instincts; after all, aren’t feminists stronger than anything little old biology could throw our way?

Honestly, though, by doing some harmless guy-gawking, I’m in no way demeaning or diminishing the self-worth of women the world over. I’m not “giving in to the man” and letting him take control. Really, it’s not even about men having any sort of control at all.

Feminism is about empowerment, too, whether it’s in the form of taking care of yourself, challenging your male boss on a hiring decision or simply admiring a nice piece of eye candy as he slides past your peripheral vision.

What’s wrong with wanting that connection with men? Not in a the-man-defines-my-life sort of way. Not because your life will be empty without it and you won’t be happy and you won’t be able to balance your check book and you’ll end up on the streets, but because maybe, just maybe, quite possibly, you might enjoy the companionship in an equal partnership.

But maybe Ms. Anonymous and those other staunch feminists are right. I guess the next time I see a gorgeous guy, I’d better shield my eyes. And above all, I must not look him in the eyes.

Yeah, right.