Some Thoughts on Feminism

When we talk about feminism, we talk about a solution for everyone. But with the common misconception of what feminism is as a whole, some things need to be cleared up. So, let's explore what feminism stood for, stands up to, and how it differentiates itself from other forms of feminism (since there are many).

So, do I have your attention? Awesome.

For point of reference, let's define feminism as the dictionary does. Oxford Dictionary states that it's the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. On the other hand, Britannica explains it as the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Even though these definitions differ a little, the main idea is there: equality of the sexes. Meaning that feminism is for the benefit of men, too. And maybe it didn't start with these intentions, but feminism changes through time to fit the necessities of equality.

Feminism is not meant to be a tool to hate, be intolerant of, or exclude men from anything. That's what misandry is. Feminism strives for the benefit of humanity, not just the female population. Degrading men - degrading people - doesn't help anyone, especially if it's done “in the name of feminism” (and the actions don't reflect the values and purposes of current feminism).

Feminism is present in works of art as far back as the Renaissance and it was mostly brought to us by the hands of men. For example, there’s a novella called The Decameron or Decamerone written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century. The novella has a series of short framed stories, some of satirical nature (Ciappelletto’s story is really worth checking out), but more importantly it brings forth one of the first manifestations of “proto feminism”. This particular story takes place as the bubonic plague ravaged Florence, Italy and it centers around seven women that came up with the idea of leaving said place to escape the plague. They are accompanied by three young men that agree in getting them out of the city and once they do so they name a leader, Pampinea (who would now be acting as queen). And so the story goes on…

Only later do we see women speaking for themselves even if it was through noms de plume. And then writers like Kate Chopin and Virginia Woolf popped up and wrote amazing stories that scandalized audiences and spoke out their truths.

With stories like Orlando and The Awakening, women finally saw themselves in works of fiction. And that's how we began: silent, but loud; subtle, but present.

Feminists (before they referred to themselves this way) worked hard at achieving that, and a great example is a woman from the town of Vega Baja, right here in Puerto Rico. Her name was Brigida Álvarez y Rodríguez de Enríquez (1868-1938). Her father taught her how to read and write, and she wrote for the magazines he owned. They had to move around a lot because of political and religious beliefs that were persecuted at the time. From Ponce she ended up in Vega Baja, and there she stayed. She married a man through the state instead of the church, which was a big no-no at the time and for that she was referred to as a concubine. This man was of high political importance (so high that when he died it made the front page) and, as a  consequence, he was away from home a lot. Meaning that he wasn't particularly helpful with the many children he had with her (maybe because he was busy with the many affairs he had).

But Brigida didn't let any of this bother her; she raised her children and pursued bigger things. She advocated for the right for women to vote and ended up being one of the first female political figures in the assembly of Vega Baja (through extreme hardships, including the unjust act of having one of her sons locked up in a mental institute). But she did it and she became a very powerful force. The underdog no one - no one - expected.

And just as feminism works in favor of women, it does so with men as well, which is something many still don’t realize. Of course, it manifest itself in a very different way, because it's different problems and dilemmas.

To set an easy example: men aren't expected to stop working when a newborn enters their household; women, for obvious reasons, are socially expected to (that is, if they gave birth to the child). Instead of focusing on the duration period of maternity leave, let's focus on why Dad doesn't get to stay at home as long. The reason why was set at the beginning of the example, but the things is that some new fathers would rather stay home with the infant instead of going back to work so soon. It is an unfair double standard to expect a new father to head back to work as fast as they do.

And speaking of double standards, let's talk about it on a military aspect. The Selective Service System requires “male persons” to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. This is in case a war or conflict pops up and they need backup. The age range or potential risk period is from 18 to 25 years of age. Women are not required to do so. Men are. Because of this, men who register get a compensation in their studies and, to be honest, it's only fair. Just to be clear, I'm not saying it's fair for men to be obligated to register; for this to be fair, women would have to be obligated to register, as well (or for registration not to be mandatory). And for that to happen, laws would need to be amended.

Another situation is the matter of who gets custody of a child when a divorce takes place. The court tends to favor the mother, regardless of her mental state or capabilities of actually taking care of the child, when in some situations the father is better equipped to take care of said child.

There’s also the issue of men speaking up when they are sexually assaulted and abused.  The thing is that when they do, they get shot down, their masculinity is put into question, and they are ridiculed. Now, I’m not dismissing the women who speak out (they more than should), but there is a populace of the movement that is being ignored.

These are just a few of countless other examples where the patriarchy failed the population it supposedly benefits. That's where feminism comes to the rescue. The truth is that the fight for equality of the sexes, better yet equity of the sexes, is not one that women are fighting on their own. Today it has become a people issue, not just a women's issue. Of course, nowadays, feminism has evolved as well, and it’s s largely focused on gender relations.

It's interesting to see the changes feminism has gone through, and with social media in the picture the dynamic has changed drastically. Now there are different outlets and platforms in which feminism can manifest itself. But like any other message, the way it’s expressed is just as important as the message itself. It’s a matter of knowing your audience and how the message can get to them in an effective manner. Pulling stunts that can be considered odd or unorthodox to an unexpecting passerby may be confusing; the context and message get lost in the execution, leaving the audience mostly befuddled.

Of course, there is no right way to be a feminist; some want to be loud and heard and present, while others prefer to be quiet and let their actions and stances speak for themselves, and that’s perfectly fine. The important thing is understanding what feminism is and honoring it’s true intentions with our day to day actions. And, yeah, it can be frustrating at times, but patience, perseverance, and a will to see change happen is key.

The women before us managed to get us thus far, with both hands tied behind their backs. Imagine how far we could go now that we have a wider range of freedom.

We need to be careful though, especially in today's climate. People misunderstand what feminism is and what it isn't, confusing them and mixing them up in a convoluted definition that is misleading. We need to clarify who's who in this situation with our words and actions. Until then, feminism will remain the F word to those who don't have a clear grasp on what it is and what it stands for.

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