I originally shared this post in 2011. Here we are, nearly 5 years later and I while I don’t think a great deal has changed, some things have. Many may not agree with my avid support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid; nonetheless I think it is clear that Clinton is focused on running a women’s centered campaign, and that is something I find very hopeful.
Hillary Clinton announced her campaign online, but her first meatspace speech was held Thursday at the Women in the World Summit in New York City, an annual feminist shindig that’s all about improving women’s fortunes around the world. The choice of the location in itself sends a strong signal, and if there was any doubt that Clinton intends to run a woman-centric campaign, her speech erased it. “When women are held back, our country is held back. When women get ahead, everyone gets ahead,” she declared.
While I still have not heard Clinton refer to herself as a feminist – please correct me if I am wrong – her focus on gendered issues is much more prominent. She has also acknowledged that while we should not vote for her just because she is a woman (there are many female politicians who would not get my vote) – her abilities to serve as president are critical – gender is an important factor in this race.
Joan Wages, President of the National Women’s History Museum has pointed out time and time again, you cannot be what you cannot see. If we want to raise our children – especially our daughters – to know they can be whatever they want when they grow up – they must have the opportunity to see a woman serve in office.
In Clinton I believe we have a candidate that is committed to working towards positive social change that will impact our children’s lives – my daughter’s life. A woman in office will finally shatter the ultimate glass ceiling.
My point here is not meant to be a political ad for Hillary Clinton, but rather acknowledgment that while change is slow – it is happening. And so, my post from 2011 on the ways women are strategic in upholding their feminist values.
July 11, 2011
Last week Cynthia Garrity-Bond shared a post about Michele Bachmann and the misuse of the word feminism to describe her. Commenter Kate Barkernoted that Bachmann does not self-identify as a feminist, a very important point I think. It led me to wonder whether there are any women in politics who self-identify as feminist, and while there may certainly be some or even many, I cannot think of any who do so publicly.
During the Democratic National Convention in 2008, Hillary Clinton spoke of working towards women’s rights around the world, putting 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, and being a member of the “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits,” but did not directly identify herself as a feminist. I found Clinton’s membership to this “sisterhood” an interesting method of feminist self-identifying without employing the label.
It seems to me, to call oneself a “feminist” in the world of politics today would be to commit career suicide. This term has joined the likes of “communist” or “socialist” and is utilized to create fear. “Feminism” has become the new “F-word” and to self-identify as such, in politics, in religion, and in other spheres, often leads to marginalization.
Although we have been having conversations about feminism for quite sometime, entering the 21st century, we – society in general – continue to struggle with the meaning of the word. Does it only acknowledge women? Does it exclude men? Is it a Western term supporting a Western agenda?
Rosemary Radford Ruether’s definition (“What is Feminism and Why Should we do it?”) addresses these questions stating that feminism is “the affirmation of the full humanity of women… a critique of patriarchy as a system that distorts the humanity of both women and men…[and] is relevant cross culturally because all known cultures presently existing have been shaped in one way or another by patriarchy.” This is why her article has become such a central piece to this blog.
All this being said, we continue to struggle with feminism as an ugly word and thus women and men look for creative ways to identify with feminist values, like Clinton’s reference to the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits.” While teaching a theology course this past semester I had several students comment that they felt the word “feminism” should be trashed in favor of a new term that doesn’t have such baggage. An interesting idea, but wouldn’t we simply be throwing in the towel and allowing a patriarchal system to define a term meant to support women’s full humanity?
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and most recently co-edited the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website ginamessinadysert.com.