Why is feminism a radical notion?

This past weekend I attended the NOW (National Organization for Women) national conference in Tampa, FL, where I presented on a panel with two other Vermont women, Kate Paine and Markey Read. Before I went I was curious about what it would be like to be together with hundreds of women who identify as feminists. I found out on the first morning of the conference when we all marched across the street to stand in front of Senator Rubio’s office and chanted slogans, in hopes that he would end his war on women. I’m not so sure he was swayed by our instructive chants:

Show me what a feminist looks like! This is what a feminist looks like!

However, the rally got good press coverage, and I am sure it helped with other senators who may be on the fence over critical health care funding for women. I was glad to be there and to act in solidarity with my Floridian sisters.

It did get me thinking, though. What does a feminist look like? I have identified as a feminist for pretty much all of my adult life. It is the one ist I will claim.

The theme of the NOW conference was, “Daring to Dream: Building our Feminist Future.” The conference organizers did a good job of ensuring that all of the speakers kept this theme in mind for their remarks, and yet, I still wonder, why is it still considered so radical to be a feminist?

According to my Merriam-Webster app, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” which is what I’ve always understood the word to mean as well. So, feminism is the belief that regardless of your gender, you should have the same rights and chances in your life as someone with any other gender. Radical notion, that?

It doesn’t seem so far-fetched until you start breaking it down. It basically boils down to choice, or I should say, choices. Unfortunately, those who do not believe in equality have done a great job of making it about a single choice – the one about whether or not to have an abortion. The inequality supporters have also done a great job of removing the woman from that discussion and making it about “life.” I find this dehumanizing and offensive.

For me, equality means that I have choices about every aspect of my life, and especially about what happens to my own body. It means that I can express myself in a way that feels true and that I can be safe in the world, no matter what form that expression takes. It means that when I need health care, I can get it, from providers who treat me as a human with choices. It means that I can be generous because I don’t have to worry about a scarcity of opportunities. Although I have seen glimpses of this world in my lifetime, we are not there yet, and that is why I am a feminist.

The women changemakers who came before us made great strides, bringing us legal rights and challenging societal beliefs about women. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t even be writing this commentary, much less living the life I live today. However, we have a long way to go before we see true gender equality – for all genders.

One of my favorite panels at the NOW conference was called “Not Your Mama’s Reproductive Justice,” and it was led by four young women, who pointed out that the issues facing us today are many, and they are all related. We cannot achieve equality for women if we are not fighting for equality for all. I agree.

While the debate rages on about whether abortion should be legal, ask yourself what is really behind that question. Ask yourself why we don’t trust women to make choices about their lives, but we rarely question men about their choices. Ask yourself why, in fact, we can’t even talk about the woman in that situation, but instead we talk about some vague idea of “life.” Ask yourself why our tax code still favors married people.

Ask yourself what would happen if everyone really did have an equal chance in life. Ask yourself what you can do to make that happen. Then, do it. Your granddaughters might thank you, but hopefully, they won’t. Hopefully, they will have no concept of the world being any other way. That’s the dream I dare to dream, and the future I want to build.