Am I a Feminist? Depends on Your Definition


Credit: flickr / Chesi - Fotos CC

There are certain things I am, but don’t necessarily talk about that much. I’m atheist, but I don’t feel the need to argue about it anymore. I’m a feminist, but I’m not screaming it from the rooftops.

In the circles in which I move, I tend to assume the programmers are atheist or at least agnostic. Most of them are, as one friend pointed out, “you can’t debug code all day and fail to notice flaws in that logic”. I assume women are feminist (by which I mean, believe in equality between the sexes) and that men are at least not misogynistic.

However I don’t really talk about what I mean by feminist because 1) it doesn’t come up and 2) it’s not really something I think about a lot. When it does, what often seems to come up is the unfairness of women being penalized for motherhood, and as someone who doesn’t want to have children, I’m not always sure I agree. If a woman chooses to take a year off work and I don’t, it seems fair that I should be a year ahead in my career. If I’m willing to travel, and relocate for my job, and have fewer other aspects of my life to prioritize, it’s clearly easier for me to advance.

Obviously, some people don’t see it as a choice. My ex certainly didn’t see the logic of my suggestion that if should he want a child he could get it from China like everything else. But to me this seems like a biological unfairness rather than a societal one. So until we can grow babies in test-tubes and raise them on farms I’m pretty cynical about this situation. I look at the unpleasantness of contraception and the degradation of childbirth itself and I think – “that’s a sign that men have too much power”. I mean, we have viagra but no male contraceptive – oh hai, priorities.

Then there’s the whole issue of the burka. The best I have is, as a feminist, I respect a woman’s right to wear whatever they choose. Equally though, as someone who is grateful for the work (and suffering) of the suffragettes, and continually grateful for the work of other people that make it possible for me to succeed (and thrive) in a male dominated profession, I find it offensive when a woman voluntarily subjugates herself. I also dislike the implication that all men are sex-crazed fiends.

So I definitely see myself as a feminist, even if I don’t always agree with what other feminists are saying. However today a friend told me that pole dancing classes (for fitness) enable the stripping profession. I was pretty shocked by this, because going to an (all women) class with a (female) instructor and having fun spinning around in exercise clothes didn’t seem like a complete betrayal of my sex at the time. It no more made me a sex object than my kickboxing skills make me Uma Thurman!

In response I said, “no more than sex enables prostitution”, and then proceeded to be bothered by the comment for the rest of the day. I’m not completely sure why I was so annoyed. Probably the passing of judgement on something I do for fun, when I spend so much time and energy trying to help women in CompSci and Science and Engineering.

And really, I don’t know what feminism is, but I’m don’t think it’s about passing judgement – on fitness classes, short skirts, burkas or otherwise. For me, it’s about what am I doing to positively impact women. And so I’ll keep making loans on Kiva, keep working on CompSci Woman, wear whatever the hell I want, and damnit if my goal is to spin around a pole upside down… I’m gonna make that happen.

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