There’s a saying that history is herstory, too. Now, during Women’s History Month, I find myself wondering why and how a new generation of women view feminism as a bad thing.
One hundred years ago, writer Rebecca West (who died in 1983), famously said, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute.”
The “F” word is back in today’s headlines in almost every reference to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her new book, Lean In: Women, Work & The Will to Lead. Google her name and “feminism” and you’ll see what I mean. The Guardian in the U.K. may have generated the most accurate header: “Sandberg Never Claimed She Was Writing a Feminist Manifesto, So Why This Chorus of Jeers?” (Leave it to the Brits, eh?)
While encouraging women to start “Lean In” discussion circles, AKA mentoring groups, Ms. Sandberg advises:
- Don’t be a people pleaser. Speak your own mind. Trust your expertise.
- Don’t be afraid of risk. As another saying goes, don’t place a period where God has placed a comma.
- Forget the idea of a career “ladder”; embrace the concept of a jungle gym. Ms. Sandberg writes: “There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”
- If you choose to marry, marry a true partner. Lost in all the media buzz is the fact that Ms. Sandberg was divorced by age 25. She and her current husband, the CEO of SurveyMonkey.com, have been married for 8 years.
- Allow yourself to dream, about your career and about your life. Push through the fear and know your goals.
If those are the ideals of feminism, why the hate? It’s not about “becoming” a man, or replacing them. Feminism is believing in your own power, as a woman, as a human, and at the risk of others labeling you as some sort of demon. Perhaps the better question is, why are some people so threatened by the idea of empowered womanhood?
This week, as the world waited to learn the identity of the new pope, Sr. Florence Deacon, the leader of an organization representing 80% of America’s Catholic nuns, responded to CBS News interviewers with a quote from feminist writer Cheris Kramarae: “Feminism is the radical concept that women are people.” But, when the interview was uploaded to the network’s website, Sr. Florence was bizarrely labeled as a “Rebel Nun.”
History – herstory – often proves rebels to be the good guys.