"Feminism Is a Form of Consciousness": On the True Meaning of Feminism

By Marisa Franco

Feminism has been a stained word, made into an archetype of angry women who shame and emasculate men, which is why many of us who eventually identified as feminists first went through periods of denial: like yeah, I think men and women are equal, but that doesn’t mean I’m a feminist. But feminism, in its most bare bones definition, simply means exactly that: a person who believes that men and women are equal, that one gender is not superior to the other. If people ascribed to the true definition of the word, the number of self-identified feminists would spike.

But, regardless of the consistency of this definition, my relationship to a feminist identity has evolved. What this word means to me has been sculpted by many life experiences. It started with a lack of cognizance about feminism and of the pervasive importance of gender in influencing experiences.

I remember my brother and I had “gendered” chores; I was coerced into washing the dishes and he taking out the garbage, and I would woefully ask why my chores took double the time and if I could take out the garbage. My dad would tell me, “It’s because you’re a woman.” And at the time, I didn’t realize how unsuitable this explanation was: did my womanness make washing dishes any easier? More pleasant? Less cumbersome? More appealing? No, so then why would this be forwarded as a suitable explanation when “being a woman” had nothing to do with my competencies at washing dishes?

What is the connection between being a woman and dishes? Nothing, but I suppose when two things start to occur together because of some sort of social template, people develop superstitions in which they conjecture that this is the natural and inevitable way. Two things occur together, and people start to assume that they should occur together without reflecting on whether this connection is logical or efficient. Gender roles are some sort of unhappy logical fallacy, a dull lack of creativity, a reliance on tradition rather than rationality.

So, my feminism brought me to a point where I decided that I shouldn’t feel compelled to do anything that isn’t my truth because of my gender. What did it serve me to align with gender roles? It sliced off my personality, made aspects of my most natural self unspeakable. It took me to a place that was remote from myself. If you met young Marisa, you would understand the context of my gripes. Growing up, I was gritty, sporty, and vulgar, the most tomboyish tomboy of the bunch: smart, bossy, brassy, fat, insensitive. The message I received was that this wasn’t the way to be—at least for a woman. “You’re a man” they’d say. No, not a man, just a woman whose most accessible self challenges gender roles.

And for a woman, a lot of what it means to be gender aligned means living in a way that elevates the status of men at an expense to women: being submissive, pouring hours over physical appearance, always being happy and accepting and silencing personal needs like a quiet martyr. But even for a man, these allegiances with gender roles are similarly unsavory: being unemotional, being the sole financial provider, being dominant, being aggressive. There comes a moment where you wonder: in our investment in these hollow social compulsions, what the hell are we doing to ourselves?

And now my feminism is a form of consciousness. It takes a continuous process of self-reflection for me to reorient myself from the script provided by my gender. It’s this tool of self-reflection that is the only thing that could free me: on all of the ways my personality has been sculpted and chiseled by the tacit assumptions that go along with being a woman. It’s snide comments like “you women take so long to get ready” or “women need to know how to cook for their man” that provide for continuous subtle shoves to define myself, as a self-identified woman, based on a limiting and often trite set of characteristics. Others tend to argue that these comments are harmless and innocent.

However, it is the accumulation of these subtleties that feeds a larger beast of gender policing. It’s so subtle, which is why it’s so insidious: we don’t even see it happening and it’s so slippery that we have no recourse against it, but it continues to hack away at our perceptions of ourselves.

Photo: Shutterstock

Marisa Franco is a Ph.D. student in psychology who studies the racial identity of mixed race people. She is always aspiring to be a more empathic, authentic, and reflective human being.

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