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The F-Word

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May. 13, 2008
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  In June 1998, a Time Magazine article tried to convince readers that feminism was dead. After withstanding decades of being misrepresented by the media (and possibly misrepresented by itself), the boisterous lyrics of the Spice Girls and Ally McBeal’s persistently nonplussed visage had simply proven too much for it. Feminism had finally come to a most undignified demise. Or had it?

  One of the best things to come from the article is the fact that it galvanized the fractured feminist movement into a unified reprisal. “Is Feminism Dead?” became the headline for a proliferation of impassioned polemics arguing that feminism was alive and kicking. Another positive is that it jump-started a process whereby the nuances of modern-day feminism have been subjected to closer study. A more probing examination is being made of why many women today are hesitant to proclaim themselves outright as feminists. Are they trying to distance themselves from the stigma attached to the term or is it because feminism is no longer considered the cause of one group of militant women but of society as a whole. Women’s equality is no longer a pipe dream; it’s a goal that society as a whole is expected to work toward—in theory at least.

  Others believe the term “feminism” itself is partly at fault. Among them is Debbie Rasmussen, the publisher of Bitch magazine. “It’s a word that I think is so misunderstood,” she says. “I’m wondering if we can find a term that has more common understanding and that people on margins feel represents their lives and struggles.”

  Rasmussen says she’s one of many who feel that feminism has been an exclusionary movement for far too long, giving primacy to the experience of white, middle-class women and alienating those of other races, classes and even genders. She feels its scope needs to be both wider and more penetrating. “What I see as a real failure of feminism is to look deeper and critique the economic structure we’re living in—capitalism—and look at the deeper roots of the problems we’re facing,” she says.

  One might not expect these opinions to stem from the director of a magazine devoted to critiquing culture through the lens of feminism. But even though she states that these are her personal views, Rasmussen says Bitch is the best place to start for further discussion. “I feel that we at Bitch have an obligation to use our power and privilege, as a fairly large and well-respected organization with the word feminist in it, to make a space to have this dialogue,” she says.

  To this end, Rasmussen is traveling to different communities to carry out participatory discussions about the issues of feminism. She comes to Bay View’s Broad Vocabulary (2241 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) on Sunday, May 18, from 3 to 5 p.m., to lead a discussion titled “Feminism In/Action.”


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