Not shaving my legs is one of the things that has led me to re-think feminism. I don't remember ever calling myself a feminist seriously, although of course I believe women are equal with men in all important ways; I grew up knowing that I was perfectly brilliant enough to do anything I wanted to do, and it never occurred to me that anyone would think my gender had anything to do with that. Although I did encounter people who believed that a woman's place is in the kitchen, this idea was completely foreign to how I viewed myself and the world, and so I never took them very seriously. They were infuriating, but it was so clear to me that they were wrong that I never invested much time in the philosophical objections to their point of view.
Ceasing to shave one's legs, though, is for some reason almost a capital crime in this patriarchy-influenced world, and nevermind that I did it mostly to reduce the amount of pain in my morning routine, the reactions that otherwise rational people have had to my decision to do this have drawn me to feminism. I've started reading a selection of feminist blogs on a daily basis (Echidne of the Snakes, Figleaf, Shakesville, and Feministing among others); I came across this article in the New Statesman, entitled Is feminism dead? via Figleaf, although it was written by one of the contributors to Feministing, Courtney Martin. Martin's description of feminism is one that I can really get behind, particularly this part:
Figleaf's commentary on what feminism means for men has also been great; as a man, he focuses more on how anti-feminist worldviews hurt men. Which maybe reveals something about me, that I think including men in feminism is a big priority, but really his feminism is humanism, concerned with everyone's happiness, which I think is something to strive for. Like he says, "radical authenticity and not some kind of made-up crap about how women are just life-support systems for pussies and men are just wallets with feet" leads to more satisfaction with life for everyone. Changing our cultural story about gender is not a zero-sum game where women gain at the expense of men; we can all gain.
Radical authenticity: This facet of feminism gets talked about far too little in my opinion. A visionary twenty-first century feminism should aim to support both men and women to be their most authentic selves in the world, shedding prescribed gender roles and really getting in touch with their authentic desires, passions, and ethics. Feminist workplaces, for example, would nurture both men and women having present relationships with their children and fulfilling work lives. Men should be empowered to express a complex range of emotions, just as women must learn how to handle conflict healthily and assertively and take care of themselves, not just everyone else.
I'm still not sure I'd call myself a feminist, at least not primarily. Feminism intersects with a lot of things in my life, not just civil rights causes like disabled rights but also my personal search for who and what I am, now, what my life should be and what is most worth doing when the resources I have are so limited. I've always tended to the philosophical, but lately I've been forced to become a little monk, not really able to move and so I do nothing but sit and think. The feminist paradigm is an interesting one, and it rings more true the more I learn about it, but I'd rather have a term that includes feminism as part of a comprehensive human rights worldview. I suppose humanism might the term, but I don't know. Maybe there isn't a term like this yet, but there ought to be.