By Sophie Afdhal || Sports Editor
Feminism. For some it has become a way of life, a soapbox to stand on, and for others it has become a dirty word. I have had two very different experiences with feminism lately that had me thinking about what exactly it is to be a feminist. The first was in the wake of the Oscars and Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. Having played a struggling single mother in the film Boyhood, Arquette took the opportunity to draw attention to the issue of wage gap disparity saying, “it is our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
While watching, I thought how nice it was that she take a moment to point out such a prevalent issue during her speech. However, the Internet did not agree with me. Arquette’s comments were met with articles and Facebook statuses disparaging her for not being more inclusive in her comments of ethnic groups. Upon further research, I learned Arquette continued her comments in a backstage interview and said “It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
To me, this statement identifies other groups that have had to and are still fighting for equal recognition in this country, while encouraging them to return the support for women in their attempts to secure equal wages. This comment instead received backlash, as it was interpreted as dividing white women and those of other ethnicities. I do not believe this was Arquette’s intention. I believe she simply wished to draw attention to a relevant issue. I did not share the harsh views of the critics and instead wondered why her attempt to bring feminism into the Oscars wasn’t celebrated for its small step and instead criticized for not making the perfect one. I mean, she gets three minutes and then the music plays, so weaving a nuanced narrative would be a little tough.
The second experience I had was far more positive and far less high-profile. On a recent job interview, I was speaking with a female neurological researcher about a public engagement she had recently attended. She mentioned she had appeared on a panel at a congressional hearing, saying she was the only woman on the panel but “that’s not unusual and never bothers me.” She said it so offhandedly, and it was far from the main point. The focus of the conversation never shifted from the academic topic, with her neither boasting about her relevance in Congress nor using the opportunity to bemoan her status as the singular female panelist.
In that moment, I was struck by how admirable I found her. She is not waving the flag of feminism over head but rather quietly and determinedly holding her own in a room full of men. I am not saying that she is better than Patricia Arquette, or anyone who stands up and speaks out, but I do think we forget how equally admirable this is. It’s hard to be a professional woman in America, especially in male-dominated fields, but those women who are paving the way for those of who want to be like them are doing just as much as those on the podium.
There is no such thing as the “perfect feminist.” Maybe we all want there to be, or maybe some people think other women should be doing more, but the bottom line is that every woman who gets up in the morning and goes out into the world with the intention of doing her best is a feminist. There is no right or wrong way to do this. You can pick one issue to stand up for, and shouldn’t be made to feel bad for not including all of them. Feminism isn’t cutting other women down for not doing things the same way as you. In fact, this judgement is against the point.
I went to the F&M Council for Women’s luncheon for the leaders of the class of 2015 this past weekend, and was inspired by many of the things that were said there. Many alumni came back to share their experiences as F&M women leaders. They were all doing different things but shared the same F&M foundation that set them on their course. In a Q&A portion of a speech, the concept of “having it all” was discussed, and the strong consensus was that “having it all” is a balancing act that changes daily and you have to work to keep that balance. To me, feminism — since most of us won’t go into making legislation for women’s rights — is the constant act of trying your best and showing how uniquely qualified you can be. But the whole point is: feminism can be different for all of us, but feminism is for all women.