Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BELIEFNET blows it. Feminism is NOT a dirty word

Seriously, is the F-word offensive? I'm proud to call myself a feminist

Kristine Holmgren

 As a playwright and pastor, I was delighted to be offered a new blog on a faith site – but not at the expense of my beliefs

Let me be clear: I'm a feminist playwright and proud of it. I'm also a Presbyterian pastor. I've built a successful career marrying these peculiar, male-defined vocations.

When the faith and spirituality site Beliefnet invited me to blog for them, I was delighted. In my circles, Beliefnet is a well-known resource. Writing for them would add national scope to my own website and blog.

Blending my unique expertise, I suggested the title: "Notes From a Feminist Pastor". But before the ink was dry on the contract, Beliefnet asked me to delete the word "feminist". A Beliefnet representative wrote to me:
"(We're) concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word. We'll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of … 'Sweet Truths with Kristine Holmgren'?"
I told them to take a hike. I can't work where feminism is not celebrated. I'm proud to call myself a feminist.

And why shouldn't I be? Feminism proclaims all people are created equal, irrespective of our gender. It is the simple belief that women are people, entitled to respect, protection and equity under the law.

I'm old enough to remember pre-feminism, and the bad old days before feminism saved us. I remember when newspapers listed employment opportunities under two categories; "help wanted-male" and "help wanted-female".

"Administrative assistants" were men; "secretaries" were women. "Custodians" were men; "maids" were women. Never mind that they did the same tasks. Equal pay for equal work was never a consideration.

I remember my first job interview: the hiring manager asked if I was married, if I planned to marry, my boyfriend's name, his age, his occupation and when I planned to have children. Every question was legal. Not one was asked of the men interviewed.

And I remember when all girls were expected to find a good guy, marry after high school, take their husbands' names, get pregnant and disappear. But my generation of women had other plans for our futures. We were not about to march, lockstep, into motherhood. Nor would we settle for the dead-end, low-paying jobs our older sisters hated and suffered.

Instead, we raised a royal, riotous ruckus. We marched, we yelled, we shut down businesses. We fought for equal rights in the workplace, equal funding for education, for athletics. We fought for abortion rights, equal pay for equal work, protection against sexual and domestic violence.

We did so because it was the right thing to do. We were feminists. And we still are.

Make no mistake, the work we did to bring about social change was done so at great personal sacrifice. Every time a woman rose to speak for freedom of choice a personal reputation was ruined. Even so, my generation of women thought nothing of defending the rights of other women at the price of our own futures.  We measured the loss and found it worthy of the gain.
Feminism made us sisters. Individually, we were impotent females. Together, we were a social force.
Historians call us the "second wave" of the women's movement. We were born after women gained the voting franchise. In some ways, our call to action was more difficult than our mother's. Once achieved, the vote will never disappear.

Not so with our accomplishments, apparently. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, released in January, found that over the past two decades, the further we get from the ruling on Roe v Wade, the less young people appear to know about it. Among those younger than 30, only 44% polled knew the case was about abortion; 16% thought it had to do with school desegregation.

Beliefnet, and its staffers, do not understand the stake in forgetting our history, and trivializing the sacrifice of previous generations. Here's what they told me:
"I agree with the ideals of feminism. But our readers are offended by feminism. And we can't risk offending our readers."
Consider the many titles that offend: "liberal", "environmentalist", "progressive", "humanist" … It's time, I think, to reclaim them all. Time to start calling ourselves who and what we are, with pride and purpose.

Think of how hopeful the world would be if every progressive was proud of the title, eager to find likeminded folks. Imagine your local city council confronting a room full of people calling themselves liberals, without apology. Do you think our common life would be changed if corporations had to contend with outspoken, strong environmentalists, committed to securing a healthy, prosperous planet?

Imagine a world where men, women and children were proud to say who they are and what they believe. It is time to reclaim freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of self-definition.

And it's time to be proud to be feminist.

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