Why I’m a Feminist (and Hope My Daughter Will Be One, Too)

Stitched across the front of the onesie was the slogan: Daddy’s Little Feminist. “Okay, that’s pretty awesome,” my husband said. We were about to have a baby girl, and we had been inundated with pink, pink, pink, and with princesses. Here was the antidote, available in sensible black or white. We didn’t buy it—we had too many onesies already—but the phrase resonated.

I have many hopes for my daughter. I hope she will be happy and kind and creative. I hope that she’ll not only know how to paddle a kayak and pitch a tent, but that she’ll also be a good steward of the earth. I hope she’ll read books,[1] bake piirakkaa,[2] and play basketball. I hope she’ll be passionate about social justice and about living the Beatitudes. And I hope she’ll be both an Adventist and a feminist, no apologies.

I didn’t grow up hearing the word feminism, though looking back, I can see that all the women in my family—and most of the men, too—were, in fact, feminists. The women were strong and the men expected them to be. There was no talk of submission in our missionary household. I was taught to be competent and to think for myself. As a teen, I attended the 1990 General Conference in Indianapolis and for the first time thought about women’s ordination. I was in favor of it and was discouraged when it didn’t pass. Later, I wrote research papers on pay inequality and how the media portrays women. That I didn’t call myself a feminist then was only due to a lack of information.

Today, I happily identify myself as a feminist. I also am passionate about social justice and civil rights. Equality is a big tent. But unlike the other two, feminism comes with more apologies. Oh, I’m not one of those feminists, women will say, as if feminists can’t also represent a wide range of personalities and experiences. A feminist is not one type of person. A feminist, quite simply, is a man or woman who believes in feminism. And feminism is the belief that men and women are equal and should have equal rights and opportunities.

Since the word feminism first appeared in 1894, women have made major strides. We can now vote in most nations, and women are represented in nearly every field of employment. In the United States, more women than men graduate from college. It might even seem that feminism has outgrown its usefulness. While I’m hopeful that will someday be true, women’s rights have a long way to go. Here is why I’m a feminist and why I hope my daughter will be one too.

1. Globally, girls don’t have equal access to education. In 2010, UNESCO reported that only 40% of countries educate boys and girls equally.[3] Educating girls benefits society as a whole. Women who are educated get married later, have fewer children, and are more likely to send those children to school.[4]

2. Women are underrepresented in top leadership positions. Women account for only 4.4% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.[5] Closer to home, of the thirteen Adventist colleges and universities in North America, only Pacific Union College has a female president. I don’t doubt the skills and qualifications each male president brings to the job; it’s the statistics themselves that are disheartening, both historically and currently. When any segment of the population is underrepresented, you can be certain a person of talent has been overlooked.[6] Moreover, a female president would bring a different perspective and would serve as a role model to the women attending that university.

3. Women in the United States are still paid less than men. For a complex stew of reasons, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.[7] Part of the disparity rests in chosen careers and hours worked. Women are also more likely to take an extended leave to have children, thus impacting their long-term earnings. But when researchers tried to separate out those variables, men were still paid more than women. In 2009, one year after college, men holding business degrees earned $45,143 while women with the same degree earned $38,034.[8] One way the United States could combat income disparity would be to join other nations and pass a law providing paid family leave after a baby is born.[9] New parents need time to care for their infants, and mothers and fathers need job security while they are gone.

4. Casual sexism is prevalent in the English language. The words woman andespeciallygirl are used pejoratively by both genders (i.e., To throw like a girl, cry like a little girl, drive like a woman, etc.) while the words boy and especially man are used to denote strength or skill (She throws like a boy, drives a stick shift like a man, you need to man-up, take it like a man, etc.).[10] Language teaches boys and girls who they are and what their limits are. What are we telling children when we use gender as an insult or a compliment? How many boys won’t wear pink, don’t want to become babysitters, or avoid sports such as figure skating because they don’t want to be called girly?

5. Stereotypes limit both genders: Women love to buy shoes. Men can’t change a diaper or won’t ask for directions. Sweeping generalizations diminish each gender to lazy catchphrases. Advertisers use stereotypes to sell products and in doing so perpetuate them. We can’t change advertisers, but we can be mindful of our own use of language. Most men, of course, are just as capable as women around the house, and most women are not mindless consumers.

6. Women and girls are more likely to be judged by their appearance. In his essay, “A Shiner Like a Diamond,” David Sedaris writes about the importance his father placed on his daughters’ appearances, while David and his brother “were free to grow as plump and ugly as we liked.”[11] While Sedaris sharpens the situation for humor, there is, unfortunately, universal truth to his essay. Google searches reveal that parents are over twice as likely to type in the question “Is my son gifted?” as they are “Is my daughter gifted?” In turn, parents are twice as likely to ask Google “Is my daughter overweight?” as they are “Is my son overweight?” and three times as likely to ask, “Is my daughter ugly?”[12]

7. While the Bible was a radical, progressive document for its time, it is often used now to hold women to an archaic culture. Despite the prohibition stated in Deuteronomy 19:19, Christians wear mixed fabrics. Despite Deuteronomy 15, Christians don’t obsess about bodily discharges or what can or cannot be touched. Despite Genesis 3:18, Christian farmers use tractors and other innovations to minimize their toils in the field. We accept that some Biblical passages are of their time and others are descriptive, not prescriptive—yet when it comes to women, we fail to see how radically liberating the Biblical view of women was for the time period.[13] In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If that’s not a feminist creed, I’m not sure what is.

Sari Fordham teaches creative writing at La Sierra University. She lives in Riverside, CA with her husband Bryan Bradford and her daughter Kai.

[1] Some of the books I’m looking forward to introducing her to are: Sam Campbell’s Too Much Salt and Pepper, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and George Saunders’ The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip.

[2]A traditional Finnish rice pie.

[10] The pejorative use of girl is particularly troublesome when you consider how often middle-age women are referred to as girls.

[11] From Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (p. 133).

[13] I’m reminded of the passage in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.” (NLT).


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5790

Great article. Thanks. My outlook as a father was a little different. It may not have been as "good and balanced " as portrayed above but that was what I was comfortable with. I aimed for not more than two children, and told my wife that I did not care what gender they turned out to be as the basics would be the same. My wife saw to it that the child(we had only one) got colostrum from the first milk. When I saw the navel i secretly panicked , and offered her a car for herself if she would take care of the navel by herself and change diapers and bathe etc. She joyfully agreed. I weighed in on intellectual development , from building blocks stage to reading books etc by five years old. She played games , raced with boys and girls, whoever wanted a race; she swam competitively and she had spiritual training. I took her to piano and organ concerts, and even gospel concerts. She had a huge stuffed green cat to sleep with and a transistor radio to amuse herself. She had to go the sabbath school classes for spiritual training, and she also had morals training. We watched boxing championships together and athletics and so on.By the timer she went to college she was ready on all fronts. She shared a room with an Asian girl who she let use her 'fridge . One night she came to her room late after doing extra work in the lab. Clearly, her roommate was inside, but did not open the door. After some minutes the girl opened the door and let her boyfriend out. My daughter flew into a rage and dumped the girl’s things in her fridge on her bed.She also told her no more rides in her car. Next morning she went to admin to demand a new roommate hahahah. I don’t believe in mollycoddling girls. The reality may well be that women are still second class citizens , but things are looking brighter by the day. My daughter once dropped in at an SDA church . According to her report the church was white populated and the usher by-passed her when offering time came. She walked out and has never been into an SDA church since. I am trying to persuade her to send at least one of her four kids to the church of her youth. I’ll see how that works out.

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