My 15 year old cousin asked me on the weekend 'How come you knit and sew and cook and stuff even though you're a feminist?'
I would love to live in a world where that was a surprising and naive question. Instead, I've come across the same assumption over and over again: being a feminist means eschewing anything to do with traditional femininity. Someone told me recently: "I'm not a feminist because I enjoy being able to stay at home with my children". I wish I'd been shocked.
I came across a similar assumption today in a new and unexpected place: in Wired.com's critique of Ridiculous Life Lessons From New Girl Games. While I entirely agree with the author's complaints that most of these games teach girls to focus on fashion and adventures, it seems that games can only win approval for teaching girls to engage in "non-stereotypically female activities" or to have "masculine qualities".
For me, feminism is about valuing qualities and activities that have traditionally been associated with both masculinity and femininity. I love having a place in academia, being able to teach and present my research. A hundred years ago, that would have been hard for a woman. I also love being able to make and fix things with my hands, whether it's crocheting a scarf or adjusting my bicycle gears. I want a world in which men and women (and those who don't fit our gender binaries) can choose to engage in 'caring work', where people have the same opportunities in the workplace and in the rest of their lives, no matter what gender they are.
Women in the West have it relatively easy, compared to women (and men) in the rest of the world, but we're not there yet. Women get paid less than men, mothers are less likely to be hired and are paid less, and a myriad of subtle gender structures shape and limit the possibilities that both men and women have available. For me, feminism is about changing this while connecting with and supporting other struggles throughout the world, including those in the Global South.
What does feminism mean for you?
Picture from Cross-stitch ninja.