Opinion: Redefining a traditional feminist

A mother and a child. (tung256/Pixabay)

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There is a lot of debate in our nation today over what a true feminist is. As a woman growing up in the early 2000s, you are bombarded with this term throughout your life. We can thank feminists for giving us the right to vote, work and do anything we want with our lives. But ironically, with this be-whoever-you-want, do-anything-you-want ideology we saw a standard emerge for what a woman can be and what is no longer socially acceptable.

We saw in the early years of feminism a push for women to have a job and not to conform to the standards of the traditional housewife. This push has since shifted society’s idea of what a feminist is, making women feel like the only way they can be a feminist is to have the desire to work and have a career.

According to Nancy Folbre, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “It’s hard to find a balance between not romanticizing and not stigmatizing housewives. Even though a number of women still stay at home, a cultural shift has put them on the defensive.”

It is important to recognize that there are still women in society who want to stay home instead of pursuing a career. According to the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of women in 2012 didn’t work outside the home. Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t make you any less of a strong feminist woman than a woman who pursues a career.

As a woman raised by a stay-at-home mom, I know there is a preconceived notion surrounding stay-at-home moms: they didn’t pursue a career and they don’t support the women who do. Even though my mother stayed home, she never assumed I would follow her path. She told me I can do or be whatever I want, including be a working mother. She, along with hundreds of other women who chose to stay home, feel judgment from society in comments like “Do you want to get a real job?” or “I wish I could stay home but someone has to pay the bills.”

Questions like these are reflective of society’s lack of validation of women who are staying at home. Society has defined feminism as a woman having equal opportunity as a man — changing the idea of a feminist into a woman who talks, acts and dresses like a man. You do not have to want to work like a man to be a feminist, you can stay home, raise children and still believe men and women are equal.

Through the history of feminism, there have been three clearly defined time frames called the Waves of Feminism. Within each wave of feminism, there has been goals that the women of these times hoped to accomplish.

The first wave began in the early 20th century.

“The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage,” according to Martha Rampton, a professor of history and director of the Center for Gender Equity at Pacific University.

In the second wave, sexuality and reproductive rights were at the forefront. The addition of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed social equality regardless of sex, was one of the main objectives of the wave.

The third wave’s goal, which began in the early 1900s, deeply impacted the idea of feminism.

“In this phase, many constructs were destabilized, including the notions of ‘universal womanhood,’ body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity,” Rampton said. “The ‘girls’ of the third wave stepped onto the stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves as subjects.”

What this push from past feminists should achieve is the ability for a woman to choose to stay at home and raise children without shame. But this is not the case, as illustrated by a 2012 Pew Research study, Breadwinner Moms. The study found that 79 percent of Americans reject the idea that women should go back to their traditional roles.

Societal norms have changed people’s perspective of what women should do with their lives, pushing women to pursue a job and shaming women who are content with raising children. This, however, does not decide if a women is or isn’t a feminist.

Feminism is a theory of equality in which men and women are meant to have equal rights and opportunities.

This definition means that no matter what you do with your life, whether that is pursuing a career or staying at home, as long as you support a woman’s right to be equal to a man and do whatever they want with life, you are a feminist. It is important to recognize in our society today that women who stay home are still contributing to the ideas feminism put in place during its founding.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Emma Shanahan at emsh1064@colorado.edu.

Emma Shanahan


Emma Shanahan is a Freshman here at CU, She grew up in Kansas and moved to Colorado in 2013. Currently is pursuing an English major, her goal is to be a criminal justice lawyer. Emma worked on her High School paper The View for two years and was Content editor her Senior year.

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