Several years ago, I was having dinner with a Vice-President of a major financial institution. I was doing design work for the bank, and she and I had spent the day testing a new call center intranet with its users. She was in her late twenties, yet was already highly successful and on her way up.
At one point, the conversation came around to women in the workforce, and she casually confided in me “I am not a feminist.”
I was stunned by the audacity of her statement.
How could she not be a feminist? How could she sit there and act as if, without the feminist movement of the past 100+ years, she would have ever been able to rise in importance in a major bank past teller, receptionist, or coffee girl? If she wasn’t a feminist, who is? It was like hearing a successful African-American say “the Civil-Rights movement really didn’t do anything for me.”
I am a feminist, and have been since childhood. My mother—the first female stockbroker in North Carolina—had raised me at ERA rallies and conventions to know that men and women are equal. That has always seemed perfectly logical to me. So when I encountered men who thought women were inferior to men, or worse, women who thought women were inferior to men, I didn’t seek their friendship.
The problem is that I have heard similar statements from a lot of the successful women: “I am not a feminist.”
I think I finally understand why they say this. It’s because they fundamentally do not understand what the word means. They think of Feminism as akin to a political party that one affiliates oneself with, like being a Republican or a Democrat. The members of these parties have loosely defined common core beliefs that they can adhere to or not, and which evolve greatly over time—just compare the two parties to their counterparts 150 years ago to see what I mean.
If you think that feminism is an organization that you associate yourself with, then you also think that you associate yourself with all of the figures in that party as well, and the excesses of those people. So, many woman (and men) who don’t like the Betty Friedan, bra burning, “womyn need a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” militant, “feminazi,” style of feminists assume that’s all it means. Actually, for the most part, these are all perceptions that were painted on a movement by men who think women are inferior to men.
This lead to the word feminist becoming a “dirty word” to many, stigmatized and distorted.
Unfortunately, that perception persists and is growing steadily. This, I believe, is what led to the unfortunate comment in a recent interview in CBR by David Finch — the new artist on DC Comic’s Wonder Woman — that:
We want [Wonder Woman] to be a strong — I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.
Why don’t you want to say “feminist?” In the sentence before, David says of the Amazon:
…we want to make sure it’s a book that treats her as a human being first and foremost…
That is what a feminist is! Someone who treats women as human beings.
In a recent tweet, Caitlin Moran, the author How to be a Woman and the forthcoming How to Be a Girl, clearly spelled out the simple rules of Feminism:
Rules of Feminism: 1) Women are equal to men 2) Don’t be a dick 3) Er, that’s it.
— Caitlin Moran (@caitlinmoran) June 13, 2014
Do you try to follow these rules? Then you are a feminist. My VP colleague was a feminist. Anyone who believes that all people should be evaluated based on their individual abilities—not by primary and secondary sexual characteristics—is a feminist. You don’t have to hate men, grow leg and armpit hair, or scream about the injustices of the glass ceiling to be a feminist. You just have to try to treat men and women as human beings, follow Wheaton’s Law, and you, my friend, are a feminist.
Q: What is Wheaton’s Law? A: “Don’t be a dick!” — Wil Wheaton (@wilw) November 23, 2009
Wonder Woman is a feminist. She is a feminist (or at least a fictional character who is a feminist), not because she self identifies with that label, but because that it is how she acts and how she thinks. Unfortunately, David, like so many others, is afraid to apply the supposed stigma of feminism, out of, I assume, a fear that he will scare off readers who think they are “not feminists.”
To his credit, David tried to clarify and apologize, saying on Twitter:
I wasn’t saying Wonder Woman is not for being equal, and therefore a feminist. I just want her to be a human being, fallible and real.
— David Finch (@dfinchartist) July 1, 2014
However, this still betrays a fundamental lack of understanding as to what a feminist is. Women are fallible. Men are fallible. Saying Wonder Woman is a feminist does not negate that in any way.
Why is this a problem? After all, he is only the artist, not the writer. However, if you know anything about comics, you know that the artist is as much the story-teller as the writer, and the writer also happens to be his wife. I think they will closely collaborate and they are now the team responsible for the feminist icon. That is a powerful position.
The good news is that I actually believe that David is a feminist. By the rules Ms. Moran so eloquently outlined, he falls within the definition, whether he realizes it or not.
Unfortunately, he also seems to be someone who perpetuates stereotype that feminists are not humans.
I hope that good will come from this uproar, and David will do some introspection and realize that feminist is not a dirty word to run away from, but a beautiful core belief that only serves to make Wonder Woman (and all of us) that much more human.