Feminism has many faces, identities and stories.
Sarah Dorchak/the Gauntlet

The many faces of Feminism

Publication YearIssue Date 

Welcome to the Gauntlet’s two-part feature on gender issues. Below are articles written by a variety of people responding to the question, “What are your views on feminism?”

Elizabeth Scott, first-year English:

Feminist thinking and behaviour has become so prevalent in the past few decades that it is impossible to ignore. There are increasingly more female CEOs and breadwinners in families, but for some reason it is difficult for many people to accept the idea of a woman supporting a man on a much smaller scale, for example when a couple goes out to dinner. While couples may split the cost of a meal, it would not be unusual for a man to offer to pay for the entire thing. If a woman were to do this, however, it would be unexpected.

In this scenario it would not be surprising for a man to provide for a woman, but much more unusual to see a woman do the same for a man.

I once dated someone who was so controlling of my finances that I would rarely be able to pay for my share of things. He insisted he was spoiling me, even after I told him I wanted to contribute and not being able to do so made me very uncomfortable. Not being able to make my own choices or have control over such a personal aspect of my life made me feel as if my voice was insignificant in the relationship. I can understand treating your date to a movie from time to time, but the idea that women need or desire complete support is archaic.

Michelle Heumann, second-year English:

As a child in the ’80s, I grew up hearing stories of second-wave feminism. Proto- and first-wave feminism fought for women to have human rights, such as the right to vote, and the right to leave an abusive husband. Second-wave feminism appears to have promoted women’s rights at the expense of men’s and I believe it tells women lies, like teaching that women can have sex with no consequences, and that, if there are consequences, an abortion is simply the removal of useless tissue.

Second-wave feminism wanted some rights that seem important, but I think they had some negative consequences. For example, the fight to have women equal in the workplace created an economy where a middle-class household needs two incomes, preventing a parent from staying home. My stay-at-home mother was once told by a woman at a bank that women shouldn’t be allowed to list ‘mother’ as a career. Not all women are the same, but feminism seems to want to fit all women into a feminist-approved identity.

There are a range of ideas and many negative connotations connected with the term ‘feminist,’ which is why I do not identify as one. ‘A Vindication on the Rights of the Human Race’ would be a more positive ideal than a cross-gender struggle that pits North Americans against one another, when we could focus on helping women and men in non-democratic cultures, caring for the needs of others above our ‘first-world problems.’

Nicole Foussekis-Stewart, fourth-year English:

To determine my ‘views’ on feminism, I have to somehow extricate myself from myself; to become a frame of the frame of the frame (in infinite sequence) of the object and attempt to (and then subsequently fail to) form an objective judgment. My views on feminism are therefore of feminism. 

The concept of feminism has negative connotations because it appears to privilege a certain idea — the femme, the woman — which is directly threatening to the latent, masculine structure that underlies significant portions of our social existence. Surely, it’s not acceptable for someone to admit or proclaim that they’re a ‘masculinist!’ or that they believe in ‘masculinism!’ — so how can we allow and use feminism, which claims to be a comprehensive term for equality, over a more inclusive concept? 

Simply, any other term would fail. Any other term would dissolve into complacency, into a rhetorical euphemism, into the conglomerate of words that currently sustain the very system that feminism affronts — that of the privileged, masculinized centre. We need the word because it speaks, it addresses and it challenges. It must privilege the reclaimed ‘other’ in order to counteract the unbalance that is upheld by a discourse that does not label itself as ‘masculinist’ but essentially is. Today, feminism is the informed voice of post-modern hyperawareness. It is the voice of challenge, of absolute refusal, of negation — and in that negation, the possibility for total, uninhibited creation. It is the place, the platform, from which the voice of the ‘subaltern’ can arrive, declare and be. It is a word that we refuse to relinquish. 

Some of these voices can be found through the ‘Who Needs Feminism?’ campaign. Google it! It’s amazing. 

Boaz Schuman, final year philosophy and English:

One brilliant innovation of feminism is the decoupling of sex and gender: the words man and masculine are no longer synonymous; rather, masculinity — and femininity — are actions performed in and determined by social surroundings. Femininity, then, is a category of socially determined actions, rather than an inborn state or quality of being. One is not born masculine or feminine.

The effect of this insight on the still ongoing emancipation of other groups from discrimination is manifest. The LGBTQIA (for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or ally — someone sympathetic to the cause) community has largely followed a 
parallel, if structurally opposite road: sexual orientation is not what one does, but what one is. Hence the emphasis on being born this or that way.

Skeptics about our recent freedoms with respect to gender and sexual orientation — I know you’re out there — should bear in mind that these freedoms are shared by everyone: no longer do any of us have to be constrained to such tight (and arbitrary) rules of normative behavior, which limited and rendered cliché so many aspects of the lives of people throughout much of history. 

Sarah Dorchak, fifth-year English and communications studies:

One of the toughest things about current-day feminism is that no one can define what it means. No one wants to be labeled as the ‘femi-nazi’ who burns bras and hates men. Our culture is constantly telling women to be silent, sexy yet untouchable, confident with no strong opinions.

The biggest problem is when women turn on each other for being too much or too little into feminism.

It’s a crazy story about how I became confident in myself and in feminism. Due to the relationships I had been in, and the way I was raised and bullied, I was afraid to be myself. The only way I felt comfortable to finally come into myself happened to be through a relationship with one of my best friends. He helped me create a space where I could express myself without fear, where I could try on different identities like friend, lover, intellectual — without worry of what he would think.

Unfortunately because I was only able to come to terms with myself through a relationship with a man, my journey is often deemed inauthentic by other feminists. This is not fair, especially because it was the patriarchal culture that made me feel unable to find myself on my own in the first place. I am extremely lucky and fortunate to have found someone who allows me to grow in myself as well as in the relationship and I don’t see how that makes my feminism less authentic than a woman on her own.

Feminism to me isn’t about standing up to someone else. It’s about being the best Sarah I can be; being the best woman, individual, scholar, lover and friend I can be. I do this not for other people but for myself. As soon as you start second-guessing yourself with other people’s reactions, thinking, “Will they think I’m a bitch? Will they think I’m a pushover?” you’ve lost your chance to live for yourself. This isn’t an excuse to be a jerk. It’s a way to make the decisions that are best for you.

I’m Sarah Dorchak, and I can do anything. Not because I’m a woman, not because I’m a feminist, but because I am myself.

Victoria Parent, first-year science:

The word ‘feminist’ unleashes a rampage of negative connotations. First thought: a power-tripping girl sitting on a hill setting her bra on fire while stating that the government should make female hygiene products free for it is a female necessity. The debates surrounding feminism or masculinity have never been a ‘battle of the sexes’ but a conflict of genders, an interminable power struggle where there is no winner. 

Gender is shaped by culture and is ultimately an optional performance; in effect, men can take on ‘female’ roles and women can take on ‘male’ roles. Men and women are equal — yet different. 

None of these are set in stone, but unfortunately the 1950s way of thinking of gender roles is still relevant to some — a woman’s ‘job’ is to bake you pies, fix you sandwiches, pop out babies and lie your clothes out for you like you’re a four-year-old child. A man’s ‘job’ is to wear the suit and set up the tent when you go camping. Hopefully the case for egalitarianism soon becomes accepted by all.

Erin Shumlich, fourth-year psychology and English:

Societal barriers that determine the way a woman should act define femininity: shave everything below the neck, put on makeup, wait an appropriate amount of time before having sex.

One aspect of feminism is being able to break those barriers — if one so wishes — without reproach from others. Feminism isn’t pitting men and women against each other — it is a break down of a dichotomous male-female world so that people of all sexes and genders can live together in harmony without having to perform their roles in society appropriately. 

When Katy Perry was named Billboard’s Woman Of The Year and said “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women,” she was further proliferating the negative connotation of feminism — one that shouldn’t exist, because feminism means different things to different people and goes beyond the academic first-wave, third-wave distinction.

Malala Yousafzai’s feminism is for women to have the right of education. We need feminism because it doesn’t exist in many places around the world or is bashed as a bra-burning sensational movement. We need feminism because Marrissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, was reprimanded because she was pregnant and reprimanded again because she came back to work two weeks after giving birth. 

We have a long way to go in the fight for equality and in breaking down gender barriers, which can only be achieved if everyone steps on board and defines their own feminism.

Annurn Shah, second-year communications studies:

Feminism isn’t a movement that should be clouded in negativity, nor should you have to label yourself as one to speak up against discrimination. The movement has plenty of negative stereotypes, which often become the reason why many shy away from calling themselves ‘feminist.’ Sensationalized negative stereotypes include whiny, butch, man-hating, razor-destroying women looking to destroy the very structures that hold up society. 

Looking past these clichés, however, the core values of feminism are quite simple: equality for women. All that feminism is really looking for is a removal of discrimination and sexism. Why, then, has a movement that has fought for the basic rights we know today — suffrage, equality in the workplace, rights to property — earn the reputation that it does? It’s easy to blame the media for choosing to focus on a small demographic of extremism, but perhaps the common feminist isn’t doing enough to change the image either. 

Equality shouldn’t have to be a movement, especially not one that is satirized as feminism often is — it should be a given. Equality is a simple right that should be guaranteed for not only women, but also every marginalized group in society today.

Gabriel Gana, first-year philosophy:

Femininity. It is a simple word that describes what it means to be a woman, separate from the biological definition. It pertains to the behaviour, the attributes and even the expectations that women have traditionally. Whenever I hear the word, I always picture someone gentle and kind, with grace and poise, whose actions have the finesse of an opera conductor. This contrasts with the rash, coarse machismo that a man is supposed to display, being the protector and provider, as was the case a long time ago. 

But ours is a continually changing society that has blurred this line between being masculine and being feminine. A woman can work jobs traditionally held by men — be it trucking, policing or construction — and be as skilled, if not more skilled, than their male counterparts. No one would think them any less feminine, prejudice notwithstanding — and roles alone won’t change what they are.

If deep down a woman feels a certain way, whether they act girly or tomboyish, it is still femininity, albeit their own unique brand that expresses femininity in varying degrees. Their attitude won’t make them any less feminine than their peers. Femininity is what women want to make of it.

Emily Leedham, second-year English:

Before I explain why I am a feminist, let’s first define what exactly feminism is — just so we’re all on the same page. I’m going to use bell hooks’s popular definition: “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” That’s it, really. 

But I didn’t become a feminist because of a definition, because it sounded like a good idea, because of Girl Power! or the Spice Girls. It wasn’t because of any books I read or classes I took. I became a feminist out of necessity, as a survival tactic, because feminism provided a way to cope with living in the world as a woman.

Virgina Woolf once said, “A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.” For me, feminism provides a means to tell that truth, a language to describe and validate my experiences as a woman in the world — experiences such as sexual harassment, inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health and education, gender-based emotional abuse, harmful body-image and self-esteem issues, to name a few. 

In fact, feminism as a political movement is founded on the personal issues women encounter in their everyday lives. Just look at blogs like ‘Who Needs Feminism?’ and you’ll see a plethora of personal accounts from women — no theory, no rhetoric. These women are simply telling the truth about their lives and demanding to be heard.

And, finally, feminism gives me a voice to demand change, to not accept the status quo or politely endure ‘the way things are.’

Feminism is more than a political movement, more than a charity group to make me feel good about myself. It’s a survival tactic, a coping mechanism and simply part of who I am now.

Erin Foreman, third-year drama and English:

In downtown Calgary, my two roommates, our friends and I are walking to the bar for a birthday party. We’ve taken quite a bit of time earlier in the night to find the right dress, pick the right shoes. 

What I’m not thinking as I walk down the street at 11 p.m. in downtown is, “I look and feel good! I did such a good job with this outfit.” Instead, I’m thinking, “Thank God I’m with three other girls who are athletic, because I can see that guy at the train station looking us up and down, and over there, I can also see three drunk guys laughing and whistling at us.” 

By no means do all guys make me feel that uncomfortable, and not all men are like that. In fact, I appreciate the ones who aren’t. However, I can almost guarantee guys will say no to these questions: Have you ever not put in earphones while walking home at night because you needed to be on total alert of who was around you? Have you ever walked to your car with your keys pushed through your knuckles? Have you ever had someone compliment you on your ass — not once in the night, but about 11 times — all in a creatively new and repulsive approach?

You might know you mean us no harm — “so what, you get a lot of attention” — but do we? No. When we get harassed on the street, at the bar or walking home from work, we just think, “Will I get home safely? Am I going to walk away from this? I wish I had pepper spray. Will people hear me?”

My point is not that men are evil, but that the fight for equal rights is not over — and shouldn’t be. 

Walking home from the bar and being safe is only the beginning — women still have a long way to go, from derogatory ‘jokes’ to who gets hired in which jobs, and until women feel completely safe and respected, we aren’t finished. We need to continue the journey of attaining equal rights for women in the world, and we are the generation that can make positive change.

Want to respond? Comment below.

Next week we feature responses to the question, "What are your views on masculinity?"