Ariel Chesler writes a letter to his mother about fourth wave feminism and thanking her for making him into the feminist man he is today.
Thanks, we are all feminists now.
In the final letter of your 1998 book, “Letters to a Young Feminist” — the letter that you addressed to me — you requested that I send you postcards from the future. This is not a postcard but we are in the future and I am writing to you about feminism.
I have always self-identified as a feminist. And that’s because you were one; it was family tradition. Over the years I made a conscious choice to embrace feminist principles.
But, mom, now I truly get it. I understand who you are and how you became a leader of women. It has all come together in your latest book, An American Bride in Kabul, in which you tell us your feminism origin story. Rather than gaining your powers from a radioactive spider or gamma rays, as with other superheroes, you were forced to come face to face with woman hatred. You faced becoming the property of your ex-husband and his family in Afghanistan, a place where, because you were a woman, you had no rights. You faced gender segregation and apartheid. You faced Jew hatred, forced conversion, and woman’s inhumanity to woman, at the hands of your former mother-in-law. You survived violence and rape. And, then you survived death after contracting hepatitis. For all these reasons, too, I am a feminist.
You may not know this but feminism is everywhere. In the so-called feminist blogosphere, which is inhabited by both men and women, feminism and women’s lives are debated by the second. Grassroots feminist social media campaigns against sexism and misogyny have been have successful. Some say this is the Fourth Wave of feminism.
There are debates online about whether to use the term intersectional feminism. Or womanism. Others prefer to consider themselves humanists or egalitarians. There are also debates about whether male decline is a myth, and whether the patriarchy is dead, and whether men can be feminists. Still others are discussing where feminism went wrong, for example, by promising women personal perfection. Or, by failing to include women of color. Or, by failing to include men. Others are discussing why women can’t have it all, whether women need to have it all, or even how we should define “all.”
Whatever people may call themselves, we all care about these issues because of the feminist movement and its teachings. In a poll taken earlier this year, while only 20 percent of respondents considered themselves feminists, 82 percent of respondents believed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Unfortunately, many people who believe in feminist values refuse to call themselves feminists because feminism is still a dirty word. Public figures, celebrities and high-level professionals — from Lady Gaga to Beyonce to Marissa Mayer — have refused to embrace the term. We need to reclaim it. Because, as the singer Ani Difranco has noted, one is either a feminist or a sexist; there is no other choice.
I am a feminist because as a man it is painful to see society devalue my mother, my wife, my daughters, and my female friends. I am a feminist because patriarchal rules limit and dehumanize men too, replacing genuine human emotions with violence and anger.
More recently, I am a feminist because I have daughters. So, I worry about rape and sexual assault and violence and sexual harassment. I worry about whether they will be able to control their bodies. I worry about eating disorders and depression. I worry about the sexualization of young girls. And, I worry that they will be judged by their appearance and not the content of their character. And worse — that they too will judge themselves this way.
The failures of feminism are no reason to resist the label. We should simply be improving on the ideas of our feminist foremothers. The actress Ellen Page said it best: “How could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?” And, as the late Andrea Dworkin explained: “Feminism is hated because women are hated.”
I, for one, do not care if the term “feminism” is palatable for all. It is the only appropriate word for those that believe in the radical notion that women are people who should be equal to men, but also that women are entitled to self-determination in everything from their bodies to their roles in the public and private spheres.
MOM: I thank you for telling your origin story. I thank you for surviving Kabul. I thank you for birthing me and becoming a mother of the women’s movement. And, I thank you for teaching me to love women.
I call myself a feminist too. I accept the role of Amazon Knight, and will carry your words into battle with me, along with a banner bearing a scarlet letter F.
Your son, Ariel
P.S. Happy birthday both to you and “American Bride.” May you both inspire us all to fight for women everywhere.
Learn more about Phyllis Chesler’s book, An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir on Amazon.
Originally appeared at Huffington Post
Photo: Flickr/Women’s eNews