Introduction: This is the first installment in a series of blog posts entitled “Equivalism not Feminism,” in which I intend to make a case for changing the name of the feminist movement in order to further the cause of gender equality.
“Equivalism” is derived from the Latin, equ meaning “even or level” and valere meaning “be of value, be worth.”
The following is an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s speech to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society, delivered in 1842:
“I say, when they were told all this, and in this way, it is not wonderful that they were slow, very slow, to acknowledge the truth of such denunciations, and to join the ranks of their denouncers in a hue and cry against themselves.
To have expected them to do otherwise than they did – to have expected them not to meet denunciation with denunciation, crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema, was to expect a reversal of human nature, which is God’s decree, and never can be reversed. When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, that a ‘drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.”
Though it has taken me a long time to realize it, I believe there is no cause more just than that of gender equality. As a middle child in a large family, and a decidedly feminine woman in the world, I evolved to privately consider issues at length before coalescing my thoughts into opinion, with interest usually waning before those opinions could fully form. Uncomfortable as I am with the confrontation that often ensues from expressing one’s opinion, in the case of gender equality; diligent observation has given way to moral obligation, sewing a deep concern where fear once lived. At times this realization has woken me in the middle of the night to find my heart in my throat.
In order that we might aid our sisters in countries where their education is punishable by death, and on any given morning their childhoods may be forced into motherhoods; and our brothers whose lives were not considered sacred, but recklessly spent in a real-life game of Risk, we must proceed here, in our free nation, with the utmost clarity of vision. I believe we can revive the vision of gender equality in the hearts of men and women by identifying with the term equivalism rather than feminism. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree,” Lincoln wrote, “and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The power of preparation before a mighty task is not to be underestimated.
“Women suffrage,” said US Speaker of the House, Champ Clark to his delegates in 1914, “is as inevitable as the rising of the morning sun.” Widely credited with the first political statement which led to the passage of the 19th amendment (women’s suffrage) in 1920, Clark adored and publicly supported his suffragist daughter, Genevieve Clark (pictured below).
Clark’s sun metaphor is applicable still: How are we to change the future if we do not view every day as a chance to begin anew? When we use the term “feminism,” we are referring to the past oppression of women (be it yesterday, 100, or 1,000 years ago) in order to further gender equality. “Feminism” is looking back in time, and therefore can never offer us a vision of the future upon which to place our dreams.
The term feminism was first coined in 1895. Admittedly, my mind formed a somewhat jaded theory as to it’s origin. Oh yeah, women stuff, let the category fit the audience. Here ladies, let’s call your little side project “feminism.” How quaint to have your own political cause! However, my younger sister offered a fresher perspective. “It must have been like a phoenix rising from the ash,” she said, and I believe her. In a time when femininity’s public influence had been buried for so long, “feminism” felt like the balm of recognition that it was. Axiomatically, since women would not be granted the right to vote for another 25 years, many men, including those in political office, had by this time taken up the cry.
While a young Lincoln served his first and only term as congressman for Illinois, the newly formed Liberty Party (comprised of staunch slavery abolitionists) added women’s suffrage to their presidential campaign. At the Liberty Party’s helm was Gerrit Smith (pictured below) first cousin of, and frequent debater with suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who would later form the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) with Susan B. Anthony. The following excerpt was taken from Smith’s speech at the 1848 Liberty Party National Convention in New York:
“Neither here, nor in any other part of the world, is the right of suffrage allowed to extend beyond one of the sexes. This universal exclusion of woman… argues, conclusively, that, not as yet, is there one nation so far emerged from barbarism, and so far practically Christian, as to permit woman to rise up to the one level of the human family.”
The Liberty Party would not go on to gain much political ground on account of it’s radical platform, but an unprecedented achievement was established. Following Smith’s speech, five delegate votes were submitted for Lucretia Mott, the first woman in the United States to be nominated for federal executive office, to be Smith’s vice president. It would be another 72 years before women were allowed to vote.
While men and women alike have faced scorn, scrutiny, and seemingly endless defeat on behalf of gender equality, as hard as it is to believe, women have also played a role in undermining the movement. In this 1914 article detailing Champ Clark’s support of women’s suffrage, Vice President Thomas Marshall’s wife came out against it, causing her husband to claim, “I can’t get away from my wife, and I don’t want to,” when withholding his public support. This set back undoubtedly contributed to the six year interim before women’s suffrage was actually granted.
Regardless of whether or not it was initially sound to draw further attention to gender equality issues with a female-derived term, it’s since defined the movement, dividing and thus diluting the powers that would engineer lasting solutions. We have become unwitting collaborators in the systemic and categorical limitation of the feminine, like a university’s “Women’s Studies” major, or female American novelists getting ousted from the “American Novelists” category on Wikipedia. Like my older sister accidentally sewing her homemade skirt-in-progress to the jeans she was wearing when we were kids; we have hemmed ourselves in with the name of our movement.
“Feminism” is supposed to mean: The belief that men and women should have equal rights, opportunities, and influence.
Doesn’t this sacrifice of linguistic precision rob us, especially our children, of the chance to form our own opinions of equality based on observations that aren’t shackled to the past? Doesn’t it obscure the fact that oppression of femininity negatively impacts all human beings?Doesn’t it “meet denunciation with denunciation”?
Masculinity : Strength :: Femininity : Sensitivity
Humanity is made up of these two forces, which together create the most polarized system in the known universe. If we can improve the global cooperation of these two fundamental bodies, not unlike the effect of a happy marriage on a household or community; what potential exists to improve all other power struggles; be they racially, religiously, politically, or geographically derived?
If Pluto can be taken off the list of planets, we can change this term. We need not dwell in the pitfalls of the past, but are in fact capable of renewing life, and as such are architects of the future. I do not want to be called a “feminist” any more than I want to be guilty of emphasizing the importance of one gender’s influence over the other. Perhaps the movement will continue under the feminist heading in the US, but what about the rest of the world? What hope do we have of every earthly male, or female for that matter, identifying with the tenets of feminism as long as we employ a name that separates us?
Feminine sensitivity, which has been forged by the combined ability to literally and figuratively conceive new life, despite injustices, must be realized for the nascent potential that lies within. Woman must not spurn her sensitivity as an impediment; she must embrace it as if it were her child. Which it is. To honor it will lead humanity, inevitably, to the desperately-needed embrace of sensitivity within strength.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” -Arundhati Roy
7 thoughts on “Equivalism not Feminism: Part I Historical Conviction”
well written. and i agree that equivalism is a worthy goal, notwithstanding the incredible contribution from feminism.
Amazingly insightful offering and masterfully defended. Well done.
Hat’s off to you Conner (did you see what I just did there?) for following your heart (even when it’s in your throat) in this endeavor. Excellent research and background development and as always, superbly well written. I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with this. I must say you hit a soft spot in my heart when you said you weren’t looking forward to the confrontation that comes with boldly proclaiming your opinion (paraphrased) – being a lifelong introvert – I can certainly relate and admire your determination to speak despite your reservation.
So do you really believe changing the language will change the movement or is that your way of using “a drop of honey” to win friends first and subsequently win their reasoning?
Thank you, Chris. I very much appreciate the critical and self-reflective thought you bring to reading and commenting.
To answer your question, in short, yes I do. By virtue of several factors, not the least of which is the “drop of honey” proxy. If language is how we communicate, and if communication is the most pivotal element in resolving any given conflict, I believe we have reached a point at which the terminology of the movement is hindering it’s progress. MLK and Ghandi have showed us the difference between reacting (victimhood) and responding (truth-seeking). They employed vision-oriented names such as “civil rights.”
“Feminism” was termed in response to male-perpetrated oppression, and as such is still tied in clandestine ways to what masculinity will or will not allow femininity to do. I would like to see femininity-minded individuals taking the reigns to create their own headline which is dependent on nothing but self-evident truth and justice. This is not to say that women aren’t still victimized in alarming numbers, they are. But every day there are more examples, Malala for instance, who’s singular goal is truth-seeking.
This opinion is largely derived from my music work with young children. Right now, few have heard of the word “feminism.” If I were to try to explain it, what would I say? As of now, they all dance, sing, and share their creative spirits with equal gusto. They feed off of and encourage one another.
But I know too well how this will change, how they will grow up to see that virtually every public field (art, business, politics) showcases primarily male talent, and I want to do what I can to prevent this insidious current of division. At what point does the river split? The division must be, somewhere along the line, perpetuated in their own minds. If they didn’t somehow believe masculinity had more value/control/power than femininity, would it still happen?
As noted, this blog post is the first in a series. I plan to extrapolate on these ideas and others in future posts.
As always, I thank you for your time and expertise, Chris. Keep it comin’. And oh yeah, I appreciated your opening chivalrous gesture 🙂
i just came across this passage in the book i’m rereading and felt it was worthy of sharing in honor of equivalism 🙂
“A Woman cannot make the culture more aware by saying “Change.” But she can change her own attitude toward herself, thereby causing devaluing projections to glance off. She does this by taking back her body. By not forsaking the joy of her natural body, by not purchasing the popular illusion that happiness is only bestowed on those of a certain configuration or age, by not waiting or holding back to do anything, and by taking back her real life, and living it full bore, all stops out. This dynamic self-acceptance and self-esteem are what begins to change attitudes in the culture.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estés
it reminds me of one of the main reasons i wanted to go into midwifery – destroying a woman’s affiliation with her natural body robs her of confidence and encourages the belief that her body is not capable of giving birth without medical intervention. by taking birth out of the realm of “natural” we disempower women and rob her of a deeper and finer relationship to her given form – the very form that brings her much power in its ability to carry new life. this in turn fosters more angst about our bodies, which in some large share, I agree with Estés, also cheats a woman of her creative life and her attention to other things.
Estés goes on to write:
“This encouragement to begin trying to carve her body is remarkably similar to the carving, burning, peeling off layers, stripping down to the bones the flesh of the earth itself. Where there is a wound on the psyches and bodies of women, there is a corresponding wound at the same site in the culture itself, and finally on Nature herself.
… Although a woman may not be able to stop the dissection of culture and lands overnight, she can stop doing so to her own body.”
boom. how amazing is that?! she can also stop allowing the culture itself to project onto her the idea that her body is not good enough or strong enough to birth vaginally or to judge her about her inherited physicality. because to do so is to make generation after generation of more disempowered women.
i instinctively feel like the rise in c-sections in the US since the 1960s correlates to a pushback against the women’s movement. in my opinion, it’s one reason why gender equality is not progressing at a rate that feels sufficient. we have such a low priority in our maternity care system to enhance women’s own abilities to give birth and this is one of our most amazingly unique strengths. it’s keeping women hungry for a basic regard from the culture around them.
Thanks so much for your thoughts, Ayns! Every one of them feels in line with what I am trying to express.
I agree that women cannot make the culture more aware by saying “change,” which is exactly what I feel like the word “feminism” is doing. To me it says, we’re women, YOU change to include us more. It’s putting the power back into the hands of the oppressors, rather than taking it for ourselves, as half of the universe.
I appreciate the inherent wisdom and simplicity in Estes’ assertion that this change begins with women’s bodies. Of course it does. The oppression started (continues) with their bodies, too.
I’d love to see further development of your C-section/anti-equality correlation. Makes perfect sense to me.
Wow- this kind of dialogue is very exciting. I’m all about it, as you know. Ayns, that’s a really fascinating theory you put forth, and it does make a lot of sense. Another piece of evidence in support of that idea is the fact that midwifery is often viewed as subversive. Why is that, if it didn’t represent a threat on some fundamental level?
In Durham I came across a postcard for a photography exhibit by an African-American female photographer, the title of which- “My White Friends”- caught my eye. In her brief artist statement, she went on to explain that she’d had a conversation with a white friend one day wherein the friend stated that she never really spent much time contemplating her whiteness. This was shocking to the artist. The notion that there were people out there who were not utterly preoccupied with their race, weren’t aware of it every second of the day, was astonishing.
What she’s getting at I think is basically the invisibility of privilege. As whites living in a predominately white society, we enjoy the luxury of never having to think about our race- as it is generally not a source of angst in our lives (though Mo would probably assert that my white guilt causes all sorts of angst :). This holds true for any group of minority/oppressed people- whatever the source of their ‘otherness’ (sexuality, race, gender etc…) becomes obsessively focused on (i.e. women and their bodies). I will admit that while the fact of my whiteness is really only something I choose to consider in a deliberate, intellectual sense, my body and all of it’s perceived flaws parade involuntarily through my mind all day long. I am shackled to those thoughts. So in this way, I can relate the photographer and her fixation.
When you are neither a minority nor oppressed (hetero white men- I’m looking at you!)- it is probably very difficult to fully understand what it feels like to be otherwise. It is the absence of something- hence its invisibility.
I love these discussions because the more you unravel, the more you begin to see how deeply interconnected it all is….