Feminism: Bringing the Outside In

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Feminism: Bringing the Outside In

Marissa Chickara

There has been a great deal of discussion over the Feminist & Gender Studies Program changing its name to Gender & Sexuality. The basis of this debate is over the exclusion of the word "feminist" from the title. It is important to question how this modification will affect the direction of the program and the feminist movement as a whole. The categorization of this area of study must be sensitive to the complex social issues it represents. Bringing the term "gender" to the fore-front, and focusing less on women, is a necessary "part of the attempt by contemporary feminists to stake claim to a certain definitional ground, to insist on the inadequacies of existing bodies of men" (Scott, 166). This new spotlight on gender and sexuality does not detract from feminism at all; rather it represents the next step in the evolution of the feminist movement.

As Lacqueur stated, categorization "is an inescapable consequence of our biological makeup" (Lacqueur, 18). This is especially true in any college, where categories are institutionalized in order to help guide students along their academic path. It is hard to imagine academics as "a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience" (Lacqueur, 19). However, categories have a way of excluding some people, since people are diverse and do not fit into neat containers.

This holds especially true with the Feminist & Gender Studies Program. The term "feminist" is a category that many students do not identify with because of its history of race, class, and sex. Some female students are not comfortable with its overtly confrontational ideas and do not want to be associated with the "man-hating" stereotype that is portrayed in society. African-American students can feel alienated by this term, since past the waves of feminism did not include the plight of minority women for the most part. Men may not want to be identified as a feminist, and students who question their own gender may not think this movement really relates to their lives. This leaves a large population of the student body feeling outside the borders of the feminism, which directly relates to their lack of participation of the movement outside of the classroom.

On the surface, the exclusion of the term from the department's name is an effort to invite a more diverse group of students into the program. This change in the title also represents a change in feminism, one that seeks to focus less on women and more broadly on gender.

The history of feminists challenging the constructed norm for women has pushed the movement itself to the outside of society. It is crucial for the movement to retreat from the outside by being more inclusive of all the players in society, including men. Fuss asked the important question, "does one compromise oneself by working on the inside, or does one shortchange oneself by holding tenaciously to the outside?" (Fuss, 237) It is evident by where women stand in society today that feminists are only shortchanging the movement by excluding the rest of society by focusing on women and pushing everyone else "outside."

Women do not exist alone in society, and in order to change it there must be more factors included into the equation than just women. The retreat of women back into the home after "feminism" started shows that the role of women cannot change for the long-term unless society changes along with them at the same pace. Their new-found identity was not enough to stand up to the crushing pressures of what both men and the rest of society expected from them. Our history proves that re-defining women is not enough, and making real progress is dependant on re-defining gender.

Both sexes need to be explored and deconstructed, since "women and men are defined in terms of one another, and no understanding of either could be achieved by entirely separate study" (Scott, 153). The question we need to ask is not exclusively what our nation should expect from women, but also what our nation should expect from men, and what men and women should expect from each other.

The emphasis on "gender" instead of "feminist" "rejects the interpretive utility of the idea of separate spheres, maintaining that to study women in isolation perpetuates the fiction that one sphere, the experiences of one sex, has little or nothing to do with the other" (Scott, 156). True equality of the sexes can only be achieved when both of these spheres are examined and the rigid borders that exist between them are broken down. The collapse of this border is essential, since the existence of these separate spheres is what "hierarchal structures rely on," the "generalized understandings of the so-called natural relationships between male and female" (Scott, 173).

As long as men and women are regarded to be different in relation to one another, by the existence of gender roles, this binary opposition will always leave society to value men over women. The historical excuses men have made to suppress women's freedom, such as "we are just naturally better to handle the workplace and they are just naturally better tending to children," will continue to repress women's involvement outside of the home. These myths can only be abolished by discrediting the "natural tendencies" they are based on.

Feminism needs to rescue itself from this "stalled revolution." The fact is that while women have forged ahead, men have not been able-nor willing-to catch up. This phenomenon is clearly a problem for women who try to juggle work and family. There are numerous consequences for women, since they are not getting the support needed at home or in the workplace. Women are abandoning careers at their peak, because they cannot handle the lack of leniency from a male employer who does not understand the demands of a family along with "the second shift" their husbands conveniently delegate to them.

There is too much stress on modern women, because they are finding obstacles at every turn. Then, in turn, working women are blamed for every negative trend in society that relates to children, since they are "neglecting" their primary role as mothers.
Focusing on gender in the feminist movement is not only important so men can re-define their roles, but it will also change the definition of power as we know it in our society. This is because "changes in the organization of social relationships always correspond to changes in representations of power" (Scott, 167). The central inequality that exists today between the sexes is the monopoly men have over power.

Power, success, and money are interchangeable words that presently define goals in life. Feminist theory cannot just tell women to go out in the world and be as successful as men. The definition of success, which is recognized by our society, is based only on what men have constructed it to be. Since the man's historical role has been the "breadwinner," success is customarily measured by income and wealth. This is the basis why society devalues women who stay at home, since they are not achieving this masculine notion of success. Furthermore, women who do not conform to this ideal are rendered powerless and pushed into the private sphere-the home.

It was not a coincidence that just when women were flying up the corporate ladder in the 1980s, the fashion for the women in the workplace included shoulder pads and ties. Not only must women emulate men's goals, but the very essence of their femininity stands in their way. "Women started this conversation about life and work- a conversation that is slowly coming to include men. Sanity, balance and a new definition of success, it seems, just might be contagious. And instead of women being forced to act like men, men are being freed to act like women" (Belkin, 13). This freedom from traditional gender ideologies should now be the main objective, since what is needed to resurrect this revolution is "a radical break, a change in orientation, objectives, and vocabulary" (Fuss, 238).

When entering college, I never would have imagined I would be part of this program, because the only example of feminism I ever had was the one society provided for me. I felt on the outside of feminism, because I thought my interests in boys, marriage, and motherhood was not included in its definition. After learning what feminism really was during my sophomore year, I discovered I was not on the outside after all.

I have to admit that, at first, I was disappointed by the omission of the word "feminist" from the title of the program. At the time, I was just feeling at ease with my personal realization that I was feminist. I found myself feeling, once again, on the outside. I know after taking this class, that defining myself by any category is a wasted effort. The focus should be on who I am and not how well I fit into any category. I now understand why the only required course, one which concentrates on de-constructing gender, and the new focus of the program is the only thing that will save us all.

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