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3 leading female thinkers define that other 'F-word': Feminism

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How should feminism be defined today? Is it a concept that we still even need? Where are we these days in the battle for equal rights for women?

When you think of the 'F-word,' what comes to mind? No...not that 'F-word.' Another one that stirs up a tremendous amount of debate — Feminism.

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said recently, "A feminist is anyone who chooses the life she lives." But, she also called for a new definition of the term. "I think it's time to take that word back, for all women," Fiorina told MSNBC.
How should feminism be defined today? Is it a concept that we still even need? Where are we these days in the battle for equal rights for women?

Take Two host Alex Cohen recently sat down with three leading thinkers about women's issues to explore these questions.

Madeline Di Nonno is the CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in MediaHanna Rosin is the author of "The End of Men" and editor of Slate's Double X section; and Ange-Marie Hancock, is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California.

Using Fiorina's comments as a jumping off point, Alex Cohen asked each guest how they define feminism. 

To hear an extended version of the conversation that aired on Take Two, please click on the audio player above.


On Carly Fiorina’s definition of feminism

Ange-Marie Hancock: The idea that we can have multiple types of feminism underneath this broader definition has pretty much been the history of feminism.

We always think of that Gloria Steinem tradition and women so-called ‘burning their bras’ in the 1960s and 70s, and Betty Fernand, and that’s our history. But, in fact, over the past two centuries of our nation, there have always been multiple types of feminism.

What Carly Fiorina is expressing — ‘choice feminism’ — is actually something that is more contemporary, it is more 1980s and 1990s; but more, not just Conservatives, but also Libertarian and Independent women, also support this version of feminism.

The Millennials I teach everyday at USC — this is what they want. They want the choice. And, so that debate about having it all is really about, ‘I want to be able to choose.’

One of the things that they often miss is this notion that not everyone has a full compliment of choices to actually make.

Watch Carly Fiorina's full interview with MSNBC:

On how feminism is portrayed in the media

Madeline Di Nonno: It’s not [portrayed in the media] in many cases, and particularly in the media that we’re showing our youngest children. In our research that has looked at family films, primetime television and children’s shows, has shown that there are very few female characters, approximately 2 ½-3 to 1, in terms of male characters.

And when we do have a female character, more often than not, her sole purpose is to be objectified or to be used as eye candy.

Clearly when we start to think about occupations and how media can depict a window to the world in terms of employment for our girls, and also how our boys view them, we’re not really showing these female characters with any type of career at all. 

On the ‘Women Against Feminism’ movement

Hanna Rosin: I am always suspicious of movements like where young women wear a shirt called ‘Menism,’ or where they think feminism is anti-man. It just seems like a weird straw man. That kind of feminism hasn’t existed for a really, really long time — of women, kind of, male bashing.

Feminism these days is not incompatible with, say, feeling sympathy with men who are out of work…are for men who are struggling these days.

On implicit-biases

Ange-Marie Hancock: We learn these before we can walk or talk. We learn them from places like the media. We learn them from places like what our parents say when we’re listening to them in the back seat of the car while they’re driving. So things that [parents] don’t think we’re listening to are how those implicit biases are communicated.

Implicit biases can persist across decades, and so, no matter how educated you are, you can still go back to that thing that you learned when you were 18 months or two years old, before you had a filter, about where women belong, and where women don’t belong. 

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