Last week an opinion piece in The Guardian pondered why modern women who believe in gender equality are often unwilling to call themselves feminists.
"...It is feminism which got us where we are today and without action and leadership from unabashed young feminists, we won't get much further. So step out from behind your shield and say it: "I am a feminist." No ifs, ands or buts."Well I have a few qualms with that.
The rub is that past feminists victories don't have much to do with the current agenda of modern feminists.
There's a popular bumper sticker that reads "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." And that was certainly true - a century ago. It's been several generations since the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in America. Laws designed to give women less rights - such as restrictions on property - are gone.
First-wave feminism can now be called a conservative position because everyone agrees with it. There is no debate on it's merits. Even the Klu Klux Klan - hardly a progressive group - accepts female members today.
Second-wave feminism, which targeted our culture instead of our laws, had a lot of merit as well. Modern, third-wave feminism is the idea that a powerful government is needed to correct differences in the lives of men and women.
Granted, the difference between the waves are a little more complex than that, but the distinction is important. The ideas of the early feminists are mainstream and unanimous, while the ideas of modern feminists are not.
A few hundred years ago civilized people used to take delight in cat burnings - where sacks full of helpless felines would be publicly torched for entertainment. Today the act would be met with horror, not humor. There wouldn't be a debate over the appropriateness of animal torture as a form of amusement. Everyone would just agree.
Imagine if PETA tried to gerrymander it's membership by the same logic as feminists. "You're either with us, or you're for cat burnings!"
Opposing cruelty to animals doesn't make me an animal rights activists. It's just normal. Likewise, believing women deserve equal rights is normal.
In that way, modern feminists are playing a shell game. They espouse big-government intervention, but when those views are called into question, they hide behind the mantle of first-wavers. There's nothing irrational about opposing third-wave feminism, and it's dishonest to paint that opposition as an attack on early feminists.