Less Feminism, More Humanism

So, I’m in L.A. at the BlogHer annual conference right now (#blogher16), and as you can imagine — there is a lot of estrogen flying around here. Which, I must say, is really awesome. A roomful of kickass women is a powerful thing and I’m on a major high from it.

BUT, there’s one buzz word that has been circulating a bit around here and its bringing up some feelings for me: FEMINISM.

Honestly, that word has been gently gnawing at me ever since I received one of the first reviews for my book, I’d Rather Wear Pajamas, last fall. You see, my story is all about finding my own version of strong after discovering that stumbling around trying to fit into other people’s ideals for me just doesn’t work. This reviewer started off by giving my book glowing praise, but then ultimately bashed it because at one teensy tiny point, I mention in a single sentence that I don’t consider myself to be a stand-on-the-rooftop-and-declare-female-rights feminist. The reviewer made the argument that feminism is all about giving women the right to do anything a man can do. Fair enough. Could a man go off to find his own version of strong after discovering that he doesn’t fit into other people’s ideals of him? Sure. So, by this definition, Yes I am a feminist. I cowered and apologized to her directly, saying it was an ignorant oversight on my part (probably a very UNfeminist thing to do) and went about my life. But, it really got me thinking about what it means to be a feminist. I mean, isn’t hoping for equality for yourself as well as everyone around you more than feminism? Isn’t it humanism?

That was months ago. I’ve since received dozens more reviews, mostly great, and some not so great. But none of them have stuck with me as much as that one feminist comment. I’ve lost sleep over contemplating what it would look like to re-release my book just to get rid of that one word. Would that make a difference? Would it make more people happy? Would it be authentic to me​? Do I fully embrace ALL the aspects of feminism?

Let me stop here and just say that I am 100% in support of feminism and I FULLY agree with the notion that women should be allowed all the same rights as men. Completely onboard with that. Sign, seal, deliver. And by that definition alone, I am a proud feminist. But, there’s a darker side of feminism that I see creeping here and there, which makes me cringe. The little section of feminism (and I’m well aware that it’s a small percentage of the movement) that pushes men down in order to let women rise up. I mean, in having all the same rights as men, shouldn’t that mean we don’t put ourselves above men?

As the mother of three young girls, I want nothing more than for them to grow up knowing that they could be an architect or an engineer or the freaking president of the United States. I tell them that day in and day out and will be there as their biggest fan in anything they choose to do. BUT, I don’t want to encourage them to belittle men to get there. I mean, isn’t that just separating out the sexes again?

My daughter has a shirt that says Strong Like a Girl, which I thought was a fun, empowering little phrase. But, my daughter — six years old and forever wiser than me — asked me what it meant. I explained that girls can be strong, just like boys. To which she responded, “So, why doesn’t it just say strong like a person?” And I was speechless.

Part of our “homework” for this conference was to watch a handful of feminist tv ads and to vote for the ones we thought best captured the movement, or whatever. Some of the ads were legitimately awesome. Some of them even made me cry (cough, cough — anything featuring a dad and his daughter). A++ to these kinds of messages that simply and strongly say: Girls and women are amazing. That statement can genuinely stand on its own.

But, some of the ads actually made me feel uncomfortable in the way they either belittled men in order to boost up women, or the way they hyper-focused on how great it is that women can do the same things men can. I mean, isn’t that teaching my daughters that we have to really put a lot of effort into saying girls are just as good as boys? Or, even worse, teaching them that they need to beat out boys in order to be better?

So, I guess what I’m saying is, I’m choosing humanism​ instead of feminism. I’m choosing an -ism that respects every human, regardless of sex. I’m choosing to teach my daughters not to strive to be better, or get more, than boys, but to strive to be the best humans they can be. And to help the people around them — men and women — to do the same.

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Chelsea Walker Flagg

Mama, author, singer, and lover of all things random. Not afraid to drink pickle juice straight out of the jar