May 28 2014

Hymowitz: Letter from a Confused Feminist

Charlotte Hays

We from time to time discuss the meaning of the word “feminism” here at IWF.  Do we call ourselves feminists? Or is it a label from which we run? Or perhaps it is part of our mission to reclaim this word?

Kay Hymowitz has a must-read essay entitled “A Letter from a Confused Feminist” over at The Federalist. In it, Ms. Hymowitz explores what feminism has become and how hard it is now to know what that f-word means nowadays.

It is an epistolary essay addressed to feminist author Jennifer Weiner. “Dear Jennifer Weiner,” Kay writes:

When Shailene Woodley told Time last week that she’s not a feminist because she likes men, you tweeted: “Dear Young Actresses: [Hope you don’t mind my stealing the epistolary idea, btw]: Before you sound off on feminists and how you’re not one, please figure out what feminism is.”  So true! We should all know our isms: feminism, absolutism, skepticism for instance.

Thing is, what happens if Shailene does her due diligence and she‘s still confused about what feminism is.  I know I am, and I was hoping you, with your nine bestselling novels on women, “families and feelings” and this smart take on the gender politics of the literary scene, could help me out.

I know feminism is supposed to be about equal rights for women.  I’m pretty sure that would mean that men have no right to rape their wives or threaten female bloggers, and thatwomen who want to should have the opportunity to become astronauts or the CEO of General Motors. If that’s what it is, then I say “Yay feminism!”  In fact, with that definition you could probably enlist Shailene, Pope Francis and Pinch Sulzberger to boot.

But I get the sense – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that feminists mean something more than that.  Like maybe not just equality but precise, numerical equivalence: the same number of men and women CEO’s, fork operators, nannies, and systems analysts, the same number of diapers changed and dishes washed, the same pay for professional basketball players, the same number of bylines in the New York Times whether in the style section or the financial pages, the same price charged for a hair cut or a dry-cleaned shirt.

So, I’m wondering, Jen (is it ok if I call you Jen?):  Can someone be a feminist and believe there are reasons other than patriarchal social conditioning for some of these gender gaps?  Like, to take one example, maybe women aren’t as interested in following pro basketball as men are?

I have to force myself to stop quoting. This is a really important—and also witty!—essay. Kay deals with #YesAllWomen, the bizarre feminist hashtag. It is devoted to tweets from women who believe that the tragic killing spree in Isla Vista was just one more example of sexism.

I urge you to read the entire essay.

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