What does it mean to be a feminist? Does the definition change with time, situation and based on the person? An important question but perhaps not a deep one, the question of feminism and my stance on the debate is something I grapple with often.
Personally, I’ve never considered myself a feminist to avoid the complicated connotation that follows such a claim in today’s society. And perhaps for the quirky respect I thought I might achieve from separating myself from other women in my life. But now, I can categorize my mindset as “Before Reading The Handmaid’s Tale” and “After Reading The Handmaid’s Tale.” Sure, the book was unparalleled to anything I’ve ever read before, but because of how author Margaret Atwood’s introduction shifted my outlook on core features of my life. In this introduction, Atwood mentions the three most common questions she receives about her novel: Is The Handmaid’s Tale anti-religion? Is it a feminist novel? And is it a prediction of the future? All three statements and Atwood’s eloquent responses struck me deeply, but I resonated profoundly with the passage about feminism.
I was curious to read Atwood’s take on such a question given that her unique perspective on life and the world in a state of war was what spurred the creation of her dystopian novel in the first place. Seeing said novel featured in the HW 10th grade English curriculum was even more surprising, it was similar to George Orwell’s 1984 but with a nuanced femininity that I wasn’t sure fit in the traditional HW education narrative.
Atwood rhetorically asks and answers the aforementioned question quite efficiently: “Is The Handmaid’s Tale a ‘feminist’ novel? If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no,” (Atwood, 2017). Though a far extreme example of the misgivings I hold against modern feminism, Atwood rang true in her description. There is a moral line for all questions of politics and government. But for the sake of an argument, modern activists on either side of the line will often diminutize their opponent. The internet and need for larger-than-life slogans in today’s era inflate messages of activists for clicks and views, an example being how modern feminism is often hailed as women seeking male repentance. So much inflation has occurred that it’d be wrong to say such a statement is wholly false anymore. But Atwood also juxtaposes her commentary with the following line of “If you mean a novel in which women are human beings—with all the variety of character and behavior that implies—and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure, and plot of the book, then yes,” (Atwood, 2017). And I’ve never resonated with a statement more. Women, as well as minorities and all those in between, deserve to be the focal points of their own stories, and not an afterthought of someone else’s life. As Atwood remarks, if these are the standards, then “many books are ‘feminist’”.
Women should be valued as people because of their necessity to society and importance in history. Atwood notes that many regressive regimes throughout history have tried – and often succeeded – to silence and exploit women and children, and that made me reconsider my stance on feminism.
I am a feminist, but in moderation.
As a society, maybe we’re at an extreme point because it is a necessity. After all, we’ve been fighting so long to reach equality, why are we not there? This is not a question I think I will ever be able to answer, and maybe it is the secret to life. But I hope to add my mind to the cause, so that maybe someone out in the world will one day crack this code and this systemic wrong will be righted.