Ten years ago a friend had a startling reaction to my casual reference to “we feminists.”
“I’m not a feminist,” my 20-something friend responded indignantly, much to my surprise. I knew her to be someone who thought clearly about women’s issues.
A few questions from me followed. “Do you believe in equal pay for equal work? Should women’s opinions be as important as men’s when it comes to decision making? Is a woman competent to govern our state?” The answers were positive.
Why then the denial of being a feminist?
As the song from “South Pacific”* goes, she had been taught. Oh, probably not directly but subtly, by references at the dinner table and in conversation. She had been taught as a young child and teenager that feminists were angry bra burners, that feminists hated men, that feminists were not admirable in any way.
By the time she was born, second wave feminism (Betty Friedan’s seminal book The Feminist Mystique) had been around for 19 years. Roe v. Wade was passed 9 years before. And Kansas had ratified the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, ten years before she was born. (The required number of states ratifying the ERA was never met.)
Today my friend’s definition of feminism is short and workable. “A feminist is one who expects equality.”
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear” in the musical referred to race, but is universal in application. Turn that on its head and think about teaching love and acceptance, embodied in Unitarian Universalism’s First Principle: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
A question for myself. How do I refer to those who are “not like me”? In conversations with children, with teenagers, with adults? With friends and acquaintances? In the presence of strangers? There are numerous others who are “not like me”: men, conservatives, obese, young, wealthy, Black, Brown, of another gender identification, Christians….the list goes on. What am I teaching by that everyday tool: language?
*You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
(South Pacific, Rogers and Hammerstein)