Hi. First off, let me get the fandom part out of the way. I love your work in film. I love your advocacy in life. I think you are a real honest-to-goodness, bona fide role model.
When I saw an article in The Daily Beast, with the provocative title “Susan Sarandon Says She’s Not a Feminist: Why She Dumped the Label,” of course, I rushed to open it. I’d always considered you one of the foremost feminist voices, so I wondered what could have prompted the departure.
The article, however, seemed less about the tenets of feminism than the semantics of the word. I get that. Feminism as a term carries with it a lot of baggage. It conjures bra burning and short hair (Full disclosure: I have short hair, but I rock it).
I’m a political writer, focusing on some lefty liberal social justice topics: racism, gun control issues, gay rights. I’ve touched on some “feminist” topics like sexual assault in the military and reproductive rights, but they aren’t my main focus. I’ve never identified as a feminist. Although I’m not quite as young as your daughter, I’ve always considered myself within the human structure in this country, not limited to women’s issues.
Truth be told, I live a pretty traditionally female life. My husband pulls in the bulk of our income. I write from home, raising our two children. He works, I clean. He mows the lawn, I cook. We share the dishes.
I’ve always liked the idea of going against the grain. My parents raised us to rebel: against a boss, a teacher, themselves. My family stood out – the ones who didn’t go to church, who spoke our minds, who were loud when it was quiet, who laughed at funerals and wept when no one was looking. Individuals. Unboxed. But the freedom for a girl to do that? Feminism.
From the outside, I might look to the world like a 1950′s housewife. The reason I could choose that path? Feminism.
I write novels and articles for a local women’s magazine. I share a blog with one of the foremost voices in smart, edgy, local political voices on Long Island. Because of feminism.
Feminism has broken from its box of stereotype, where militant women who hate men battle for equal treatment. It has exploded into myriad ways that it affects every single person in this country. The rivulets have unspooled into every facet of our collective human experience here in the United States.
The great strides in women’s equality have been tarred and feathered by some of our fellow men (and sometimes women) in an effort to keep us in our place. It seems to come down to limiting choice, to make decisions for us, to refuse our autonomy. The rebel in me? Isn’t cool with that. At all. And so: feminists.
But the word. It sounds outdated. Ugly, even. But let’s consider why this connotation has overtaken the word. Why does the word feminist sound so harsh that even you, Susan Sarandon, would flinch at the sound of it?
Sheila Luecht, writer, advocate, and administrator of the group “Feminism on Facebook” (founded by Cristina Page, author of How the Pro Choice Movement Saved America) believes that, “Our foes are out there and will do what they will to whatever name we might choose. If we change it, it makes us in a way seem weak. We can only change if we see that the name somehow limits us or somehow no longer defines us.”
So maybe the title “Feminist” seems ugly because the ideas behind it seem ugly to some. Would that change under a new title? Rebecca Cohen thinks not.
“If the word ‘feminist’ has negative connotations, running away from the word won’t fix that. Whatever new word you come up with will eventually take on the same negative connotations. Because the problem isn’t with feminists; it’s with those who demonize feminism. Sometimes we like to complain about how the word “feminism” has become associated with negative stereotypes; well that’s been true since the beginning. Look at any literature or political cartoons or propaganda from anti-suffragists, for example — you’ll see many of the same stereotypes you do today. It wasn’t because those women called themselves feminists; they were attacked for what they fought for, not what they called themselves. It’s the same today.”
Does the term “humanist” as you suggested, cover the ground that we want addressed in more palatable terminology? Jeannie Ludlow disagrees.
“Humanism is *not* feminism-for-everyone. It is a separate, long-established philosophy of doing good in the world without religious incentives. But humanism is about valuing the individual and individual rights over social rights. Feminism is about working together to make the world a better place for myself *and others.* I’m so sorry to read this. We need to stand together and show the world how amazingly great feminists are–not retreat from the word because we fear someone will think us bitchy.”
Ms. Sarandon, I respect your views, your voice, and your humanity. If you’d care to join our discussion, you can find us on “Feminism on Facebook”, a forum about the free exchange of ideas and issues that affect us all. You know, feminism.
Jaime is a freelance writer living in New York. Her work can be found in the New York Times, Salon, Punchnel’s, Fictionique, The Broad Side, Milieu Magazine and on JedMorey.com, where she is a regular contributor. Follow her on Twitter at @JaimimiMama. Her site is www.JaimeFranchi.com.