Last week, in an interview in the New York Times Magazine, Sandra Day O’Connor refused to be a labeled a feminist. Which, I have to tell you, I thought was kind of weird, considering that she was, um, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Plus, she said that she cares “very much about women and their progress.” Which to me, ya’ know, sounds kind of like feminism.
According to Wikipedia, feminism is “the belief that women should have equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights to men.” I have to say, it sounds pretty benign. I mean, with the exception of some members of fundamentalist Christian sects, what woman doesn’t hold that belief? So why, then, the reluctance of O’Connor to be labeled?
I spent a good part of this week discussing this with some of my very smart friends, and the consensus seems to be that you can’t call yourself a feminist if you also call yourself a conservative, because, apparently, the word “feminist” is owned by liberals. It’s something to do with bra burning back in those crazy ‘60s, when all of the feminists were hippies who spent their free time having sex and staging protests. So if you’re a Democrat and you care very much about women and their progress, then you’re a feminist. But if you’re a Republican and you care very much about women and their progress, then you’re not. I think my very smart friends might be right about this, in part.
For women of a certain age (O’Connor is 76), the association between feminism and hippie liberalism may be, perhaps, simply too great to overcome. And for the women were the hippies (or chose not to be), the concept of feminism may just be too raw, still, for them to ever consider it in anything but political terms. But what about for younger women, who weren’t hippies, and who weren’t even born yet when the hippie feminists were setting their undergarments on fire in 1960’s?
Isn’t it time to stop looking at the word “feminist” through baby-boomer tinted glasses? I hope so. I hope that in the future, the first female Supreme Court justice of Generation X will be able to call herself a feminist, regardless of her political point of view.