The Glass Ceiling of “Feminism”

In September 2014, Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson delivered a powerful speech to the UN on gender equality, launching her #heforshe campaign. Within that speech were these three lines:

  • “It’s not the word that’s important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.”
  • “We are still struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is we have a uniting movement.”
  • “How can we expect to change the world, when only half of it is invited, or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?”

The answer to this last question is of course, we can’t. We can’t change the world when only half of it is invited, especially when the uninvited half is the oppressed half.

Gender inequality is different from other equality issues we face as humans. It’s manifestations are intimate, spanning a spectrum from subliminal to overt which is often sexual in nature. Men and women around the globe live in the same homes, sleep in the same beds, and lay claim to the same children. Male dominance exists from bedrooms to boardrooms, and infiltrates all races, religions, and socio-economic classes.

Each day the solution to this problem eludes us is another day the world suffers. Childhoods are stolen, virginities sold, motherhoods forced, voices silenced, bodies broken, and educations denied. These sisters, daughters, and mothers are trapped; emotionally, psychologically, and physically. A female’s innate desire to see her family thrive is routinely and often violently manipulated into the primary device of her servitude. The slightest infraction can lead to death, terrorization, or still more restrictions on her freedom.

It’s easy to assume this degree of brutal male entitlement is relegated to places like Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or the acid-throwing practices of Pakistan, but it is propagated in the US too. When Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP, it contained a hit song about his then-wife, eponymously entitled “Kim.” In this song Eminem can be heard imitating Kim’s screams of protestation, murdering her, dragging her body through leaves, and dumping it into the trunk of his car; but not before he tells Kim how he slit the throat of her four-year-old son. The Marshall Mathers LP won a grammy for “Best Rap Album” in 2001.

According to an article in “Huff Post Women” (not sure what makes these stats unsuitable for male consumption) the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 21012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. Of this staggering number (nearly double the casualties of war) 75% of the women were murdered after leaving or attempting to leave their relationship. This constitutes an epidemic.

Men who exert control over women in their homes, in the workplace, in politics, and in religion first learn these controlling behaviors as children. These men most likely had mothers whose desire for peace, whose love of family (coupled with her lack of legal recourse) was turned into the device of her servitude. This model is what fuels the entitlement they feel to a woman’s service, and sadly, sometimes her life. When protests must occur within a woman’s own home; where will she go to get relief? How will she care for her family? It is not our lives most women fear for most, but our families.

If a woman doesn’t possess the freedom to walk out or lean in, she can only keep railing at her oppressor. In this way the term “feminism” persists as a defense mechanism. She is hoping this will make her father/husband/boss/colleague finally see her, value her. It is this dynamic that feeds oppression.

The most basic history lesson in civil disobedience proves this point further: Oppressors are sustained by the polarity they create. The movement may be uniting, but “feminism” as a term is polarizing. Any retaliation on the part of the oppressed, however just, becomes yet another arrow in the quiver of the oppressor. Worse yet, those on the sidelines waiting for their minds to be made up eventually walk away shaking their heads. They saw only bickering, and concluded that no one was beyond reproach and therefore worthy of back up. And for what? A name? Our adherence to this term costs us valuable allies every day, the same amount of time it takes for three women to be killed from domestic violence in the US alone.

So although the term “feminism” succeeds in recognizing the systemic victimization of women, it does so by employing the conquering male mentality it seeks to cure. Women are predestined to know, inherently and biologically, that life is not about conquering, but coexisting. In the words of one of my adolescent heroes, Ani DiFranco, “As long as you play their game girl, you’re never gonna win.”

Feminism Glass Ceiling

Despite the shocking stats, the fact remains that women in developed nations experience more freedom today than most any other women in history. This advantage must be what the Dalai Lama had in mind ten years ago when he surmised that western women would save the world (no pressure).

On that call-to-action note, what if we simply stopped engaging? What if we all walked away? In 1975, 90% of Icelandic women walked out of their homes and jobs for gender equality. The country shut down. Airports, schools, and hospitals could not function. Icelandic parliament became half women as a result of the strike, and passed an equal pay and paid maternity law the following year. Four years later, Iceland elected the first female president in the world.

The fight for gender equality is a giant chess game, and it’s our move. Maybe we shock the world, especially the ones who fail to grasp that their rabid hatred of “feminism” is actually disgust for their own domineering mindsets in disguise, and we walk away from this word. What will happen when we switch out our banner from the red herring that is “feminism,” and replace it with a name that more accurately represents our movement’s unalienable, unifying truth? When equality exists, everybody wins.

My bid is equivalism. It is pronounced like equivalent, and means equal value. It’s important that the word easily absorb the -ist suffix (i.e., Because I’m an equivalist, Bob! Aren’t you?). Do you have a suggested replacement for the term “feminism?” Or do you disagree with the name change? I welcome your comments.

What have we got to lose? As Emma Watson said, “It’s not the word that’s important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.” Let’s invite our brothers to the conversation. We need them, and they need us.


Mission: Inequality

What percentage of movies have you seen that meet the following criteria?

  1. contains at least two named male characters
  2. who speak to each other
  3. about something other than a woman

Unless you’ve recently watched Little Women, or Barbie: The Pearl Princess, seems close to 100% right?

We’re approaching the 30th birthday of the Bechdel Test (pronounced bek-dle) which, for those of you who don’t know, is exactly like the test above with a slight variation. In order for a movie (or novel) to pass the Bechdel Test, it must:

  1. contain at least two named female characters
  2. who speak to each other
  3. about something other than a man

The Bechdel Test first appeared in a 1985 comic strip entitled Dykes to Watch Out For by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. According to Wikipedia, “on average, films that pass the test have been found to have a lower budget than others, but have comparable or better financial performance.”


The Origin of the Bechdel Test

Last night I sat down to watch a movie. As Edge of Tomorrow‘s opening scenes unfolded, and Tom Cruise put on his ready-to-flex-some-serious-male-badassery face, I found my mind wandering to the Bechdel Test… just before I found my body wandering away from the screen.

This morning found me entering every one of Tom Cruise’s 43 movies into the Bechdel Test search engine.

Why Tom Cruise, you ask? Well, for starters, I have it on good authority (the highly controversial “Trapped in the Closet” South Park episode) that he suffers from homophobia, which is especially problematic given that he is most likely homosexual; an assumption I surmised from the aforementioned reference, a stylist at Nordstrom who will remain anonymous, and Planet Unicorn.

What we know of him beyond the big screen: three head-scratching marriages, unsolicited medical advice to Brooke Shields, couch jumping, Scientology, etc. depicts a highly motivated, well-intentioned individual with some serious [insert badass face] self-awareness/actualization issues.

I think we both know what this means.

I think we both know what this means.

Basically, the man is a perpetual actor. On and off-screen Tom Cruise pretends to be an American heterosexual male, which could account for the fact that, of the 23 Tom Cruise movies listed in the Bechdel database, only six pass the test.

That’s right folks, only six of Tom Cruise’s movies contain two named females speaking to each other about something other than a man.  Below are some, including Cruise’s top four highest grossing films, which fell short of this litmus test:

  • Top Gun
  • Rain Man
  • A Few Good Men
  • Interview with the Vampire
  • Magnolia
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Minority Report
  • Collateral
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Valkyrie
  • Jack Reacher
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • All four (4) Mission: Impossible films

To be fair, there are several notes on the Bechdel Test website under Edge of Tomorrow defending it’s content. One viewer writes: “May not pass the Bechdel Test, but it really gets a strong female character RIGHT. Rita never loses her agency like so many others do.” Several additional commenters agree with this assessment.

To be fair again, here are the Bechdel Test comments from three of Tom’s six passing movies.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.05.46 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.15.57 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.17.30 PM









Although it’s never bothered me much that there aren’t more females in the military or running oil companies (will these institutions exist in the same capacity once female intellect is tapped as faithfully as the female body?) the one thing that really frosts my vagipper (pronounced vah-jipp-er) is their lack of representation in the arts. Quick! Name a female classical composer.

As far as I know, in any given geographical area you will find a somewhat equal number of males and females. That said, is there any reason on the planet why art galleries, radio stations, entertainment and book publishing industries shouldn’t offer an equal roster of male and female work?

Here are some stats about female artist representation from Seattle and beyond:

  • What Music Matters most to KEXP? At Seattle’s favorite local, independent radio station… apparently male music. Of KEXP’s top 25 bands played in 2013, 86 musicians were male, and 6 were female. That amounts to .07% (rounding up) female representation. One band out of 25 was female-fronted (Neko Case at #21).
  • According to this 2012 article in City Arts Magazine, “only 5% of the art on display in U.S. museums is made by women, although 51% of U.S. visual artists today are women. In the current edition of H.W. Janson’s textbook, History of Art, only 27 women are represented—that’s up from zero in the 1980s.”
  • This week old article from Slate laments the 9:1 (male to female) ratio of authors nominated for the National Book Foundation‘s 2014 non-fiction award.
  • In the Hollywood film industry, women make up 5% of directors, 14% of writers, 18% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 20% of editors, and 4% of cinematographers, based on a 2014 study published in Screen Daily.

As a music and art teacher, I make it a point to introduce my students to an equal ratio of male to female artists. It takes extra time to seek out female artists who illustrate a given concept, but I do it because I have an equal number of male and female kids in my classes, and I want them all to succeed.

In no way does the quality of the music or art suffer, but my students’ confidence might, should I deny them a proper frame of reference for their dreams.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to treat Tom Cruise as America’s gender equality weathervane. Much like a Hollywood robot; the world’s on-demand, archetypal hetero hero has much to show us about ourselves if we examine his career beyond the immediate entertainment value.

Perhaps the day will come when women in Tom Cruise films are given a psychological and emotional depth equal to and independent of men, then we will know the winds are changing.


Equivalism not Feminism: Part III Privilege and Responsibility

Does word choice matter?  The recent rash of “I don’t need Feminism” articles such as this one, with over 1.5 million views, answers with a resounding YES.


Courtesy of Women Against Feminism

Imagine those placards with the word “Equivalism” (meaning “equal value”) replacing “Feminism.” They would look absurd.  To anyone who understands Feminism, the signs look absurd as is, but here’s the rub: We don’t need to reach those who get Feminism.  We need to reach, and reason with, the ones who don’t.

Let me back up and say a few words about my courageous, battle-tested old friend Feminism.  Feminism fought for me to vote, has my back when I disagree with my husband, sits next to me as I devour a book, and helps me choose what clothes I want to wear.  Feminism has opened the doors of universities and office buildings for me.  Feminism has empowered me to have control over whether or not I reproduce and how I give birth.

And with this image in mind, I know Feminism swims beside me whenever I choose to forgo the buoyant accessory of a full length dress.



"It's still 1922 in many parts of the world," reads my favorite comment of this photo.

“It’s still 1922 in many parts of the world,” reads my favorite comment of this photo.


Feminism is our matriarch, whom I will forever honor, and to whom I am forever indebted.  Changing a name doesn’t mean changing a movement. Sometimes changing a name is necessary for growth and refocus.  MLK Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement are no less valuable because he employed the now-outdated term “Negro,” as in this poignant line:

The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.

Similarly, should we change the name of the gender equality movement, any and all previous uses of the term “Feminism” would carry the heft of historical as well as present-day significance.  Our mothers and grandmothers fought in the battle of Feminism.  They put women on the map.  Now that we are on the map, the new front to defend is Equivalism.  

I recently listened to This American Life‘s podcast entitled “Got Your Back” in which an Afghan woman, Hamida Gulistani, relayed the story of how she was unwittingly thrust to the forefront of women’s rights advocacy in Afghanistan.  Formerly a nurse at a clinic in Ghazni City, where “patients arrived all the time, in burkas, with bruises and broken bones,” Gulistani recounts (via interpreter) the fateful exchange which occurred during the height of US presence there in 2005:

As she lay down, I noticed that she had these brown dark spots around her eyes. And then also, as she lifted up her arm, I could see she had all these scars. And I asked her what happened. She wouldn’t tell me at the beginning. She said, oh, I fell.

Well, I just joke with her. I said, oh, I fell once too, and I was also hurt. And then she all of a sudden starts crying. She had guests over, and somehow she had messed up the food. And the husband had beaten her up. And she lost her baby when she was two months pregnant because of the beating.

With US presence came US news media outlets.  Sensing a new source of support, Gulistani encouraged and somehow convinced this young woman to speak out in an impromptu press conference at the clinic about what happened to her.  Can you imagine the desperation and courage involved in the leap between hiding domestic abuse details from a female healthcare provider, to sharing them with the world?

What women in the US don’t understand is that it is far too costly for us to quibble over issues of nostalgia and bravado where the gender equality movement is concerned.

From what I gather, Feminists are not willing to change the name because they see it as an accommodation, and women have done quite enough of that, thankyouverymuch.  Anti-feminists (see above article) don’t want to change the name because it’s essential to their assumed male bravado, or they are completely ignorant of the worldwide plight of women, or those two things are actually the same.

The tenacity of the term “Feminism” gives me the defeatist notion that privileged people actually feed off the conflict more than the solution.

The ability to empathize is strong in women.  If we could transmute our internal quibbling into empathy for these women in Afghanistan, still not permitted to vote, read, autonomously dress, disagree, or make mistakes without fear of physical harm; wouldn’t we make significantly stronger, longer-lasting progress? Honestly, how on Earth are these women supposed to take up the mantel of something called “Feminism”?

Women need safety, women need education, women need equality, women need influence.  Not more than men, but the same.  Not just here, but everywhere.  If we are privileged enough to live in a country where we can make these statements, let’s make sure we are making them clearly.  

Equivalism not Feminism.  It’s time.

Equivalism not Feminism: Part II A Sterling Reputation

[Equivalism is the word I am using to describe the tenets of Feminism.  The name change is etymologically based (from the latin roots for “equal” and “value”) on the belief that the world would be better if women had equal influence.  It was chosen for reasons outlined in this post as well as posts forthcoming.  It was chosen because I’m a musician, and the sound of a word matters to me (say the word “equivalent,” then change the ending to “ism” or “ist” as needed).]

Although I do not own cable or watch TV, I have been fully inundated by reports of the Donald Sterling scandal via Facebook friends and community conversation.  My favorite op-ed piece was penned by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and contains the following:  “So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.”

Donald Sterling is (finally) beginning to reap his just reward, racism will not be tolerated.  The last line of Jabbar’s words, however, continue to haunt me.  He’s absolutely right:  The praise and celebrity that will undoubtedly be lavished on “girlfriend” V. Stiviano is the sexist equivalent of the NAACP taking money from Donald Sterling while turning a blind eye to his racism.  If Stiviano actually does appear on one of the few female-influenced shows (Ellen, the View, Hoda and Kathie Lee, etc) then I will know how doomed we all really are.  Here is a woman who abused her power, just like Sterling.  Here is a woman, of mixed race herself, who carried on an inappropriate relationship with a married man, a known racist, and received four cars (including not one but two Bentleys) and a 1.2 million dollar LA duplex in the process.  Here is a woman with five aliases, who used illegal means to create a scandal by breaking news that had already been broken many times.

Why is this abuse of power acceptable when Sterling’s isn’t?  Is it because Stiviano is an attractive woman, providing what appears for all the world to be some sort of sexual satisfaction to an elderly man?  Is it because, after three and a half years together, she decided to “uncover” his racism for her own personal gain, even though that racism was available for all the world to see in the form of multiple, public, court-settled discrimination charges?  Though Sterling got what he deserved, Stiviano won’t.  She will be praised.

I ask you, what does that praise communicate to young girls right now?  As long as you stay attractive and available for the taking, you can amass wealth and fame, adulation even, through dishonesty and deceit.

Stiviano and Sterling: birds of a feather

Stiviano and Sterling: birds of a feather

I dare you to listen to the tape again, and this time focus on Stiviano.  Tell me you are not listening to the yogic voice of a practiced sociopath.  Jabbar nails it again: “Man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. She was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo.” She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.”

Is there any reason, besides corruption, that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would accept money from a known racist and in turn bestow him with humanitarian awards?  (Confidential to all non-profits: if there are strings attached to a donation, it’s not charity, it’s money in exchange for your morals.)

Is there any reason, besides corruption, that women (and men) would seek to empower and further the field of influence for V. Stiviano, rather than bring her to justice?

On May 15th, the NAACP planned to bestow Donald Sterling with another humanitarian award, this one for “Lifetime Achievement.”  Following the tape release, LA’s NAACP chapter president Leon Jenkins cancelled the upcoming ceremony and issued the following statements to CNN: “The mission of the NAACP is to eradicate discrimination and racial hatred in all its forms, and each year our executive board votes on who we decide that we are going to honor.”  Jenkins continued, “Mr. Sterling has given out a tremendous amount of scholarships, he has invited numerous African American kids to summer camps, and his donations are bigger than other sports franchises.”

“That is something that shows that there is a consciousness of the plight of African Americans in this country,” Jenkins concludes.

Unless Jenkins lives under a rock, I’m sure he was aware of the high profile discrimination charges filed against Sterling, for which he was found guilty, repeatedly demonstrating the exact opposite of “a consciousness of the plight of African Americans.”  I’m sure the NAACP is also aware of the media construct known as a “PR stunt.”  Perhaps Sterling’s money sent some deserving kids to camp, but what about the determination of his former tenants and their families, who persevered for justice to the point of taking a powerful mogul to court, only to watch hopelessly thereafter as he was continually honored by the very institution entrusted with the task of advancing them?  That degree of injustice smacks of a Kafka novel, it reads like fiction.

Who will hold the NBA and the NAACP accountable for essentially harboring Sterling, in effect protecting him as well as his bigotry?

Similarly, what can be done to stop the glorification of V. Stiviano?   How can we ensure that no more of this blood gets on our hands?  How can we expect to get a woman into presidential office if we are still playing against our own values?  Maybe women have permeated more and more male dominated realms, but what good does that do us if, once there, we keep snapping to the attention of the old rules of engagement?

We are not bound by those rules.  I am reminded of a scene in Anchorman 2, where Ron Burgandy cuts to a live feed of a car chase in order to subvert rival Veronica Corningstone’s interview with Yasser Arafat.  When the car is finally pulled over, the driver is revealed to be an elderly, senile man.  In the movie, this calculated move is directly credited with the downfall of modern media.

Must we all continue to suckle the teat of this train-wreck?  Where is it getting us?  Who can change it?

What would it communicate to the international female community, especially those without free speech, if all female anchors in free nations refused to interview V. Stiviano on account of her abuse of freedom and power?   What if they instead spent that time talking about the importance of rooting out individuals who would undermine the cause of equality, as everyone is now wishing the NAACP and NBA had done with Sterling.  That is influence.  That is news.  That is power.

What the hell, in the spirit of equivalism, why doesn’t everyone snub Stiviano?  How about, instead of Bill O’Reilly ogling her décolleté, he declines the interview and comes tearfully clean about his mommy issues.  Between sobs he will tell us, that it’s women like her (“a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo””) that make him scared shitless to consider a female president.

In these tumultuous times, when hair-trigger reaction seems to be the norm, I am grateful to Doris Kearns Goodwin for her comprehensive look at Lincoln in Team of Rivals, in which she is careful to include male and female influences.

When Lincoln spoke to a crowd of fifteen hundred at Cooper Union in 1860, shortly before receiving the Republican nomination, he was greeted with palpable tension between pro and anti-slavery factions.  Putting his previously-delivered temperance speech to the test (a quotation from which begins my last post) he refused to meet denunciation with denunciation.

“Let us do nothing through passion and ill temper,” he implored the anti-slavery northerners, “Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can.”

Inspired by Lincoln’s wisdom, MLK Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln memorial.

Both men sensitively and consistently nurtured, rather than aggressively demanded, the progress of a nation.  It is the dream, not the anger, that needs feeding.  This is why I am in favor of employing “equivalism” over “feminism.”


Sadly this approach could not prevent war, but I’ll bet it had something to do with winning.

Equivalism not Feminism: Part I Historical Conviction

 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).

Suffragist Genevieve Clark c. 1914

Suffragist Genevieve Clark c. 1914

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.”
Liberty Party Presidential Nominee Gerrit Smith c. 1840

Liberty Party Presidential Nominee Gerrit Smith c. 1840

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