Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Bottom Line on Feminism

I began studying French when I was 12, it was one of my majors in college, and I spent a year living in France after receiving my degree. Languages can be tricky to master. In a high school French class, I remember writing an essay en fran├žais to describe my summer exchange experience with a family outside Paris. The French cheek kissing custom was mentioned at one point in the essay. To find the right word, at home I looked up the verb “to kiss” in my thick French-English dictionary. After receiving our graded essays, I was mortified when our teacher later explained to the class that the word “baiser” (which my dictionary had indicated was the correct verb) had at one time meant “to kiss” but in modern usage it now was a very crude word meaning to f*&$. My trusty dictionary had given me no clue to this modern usage. This alternate meaning had introduced a bizarre and unintentionally comical twist to my narrative about my dear French family giving me good night kisses before I went upstairs to go to bed. Several of my friends had made similar faux pas in their essays. We were dismayed that our dictionaries could have led us astray to make such an embarrassing mistake. How could a dictionary be so wrong? We were incredulous.

As I’ve pondered the words “feminist” and “feminism” lately, I’ve been reminded of that awkward mistake in high school French class. Again, the dictionary seems to provide one definition, but usage is giving a very different, quite negative definition. After my high school lesson, I could have insisted on using the dictionary-provided word “baiser” when speaking French to express the concept of kissing, but I did not. What would have been the point? No one would have understood what I was intending to convey. Instead, they would have been shocked and repulsed by my vulgarity. They would have not been receptive to whatever I was trying to convey.

Similarly, I don’t ultimately feel comfortable embracing the term “feminist.” I would likely embrace the term if the dictionary definition were the one in popular usage. But it is not. Many people in our country understand a very different meaning when the term “feminist” is used. In my opinion, it is not helpful to the cause of women’s equality to continue to use a term that triggers such a negative, even hostile reaction in so many.

I appreciate that some people want to reclaim the label “feminist” from its current negative connotation. To me, however, I don’t see the point. It seems like a wasted effort. It reminds me of the quixotic fight of the Academie Fran├žaise to eliminate franglais terms like “le hot-dog” from the lexicon of people in France.

Moreover, even the dictionary definition of “feminist” does not completely sit well with me. I think it is outdated and misguided to try to isolate the cause of women’s equality. The treatment of women is inextricably intertwined with the treatment of men. I don’t just favor the advancement of women’s rights. I believe more globally in gender equality and would like to see the abolition of all gender-based stereotypes and limitations.



Mark 4:22

For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.

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