I want to get one thing clear before we start. I am one of "those" feminists. You know, the yelling, screaming, ugly, hairy, vegetarian, lesbian, pro-choice, women's studies, tampon-burning, pacifist, leftist, radical, communist-Nazi kind of feminist. The kind that isn't worth listening to. The kind that is incapable of rational debate. If I had any shame I would skulk home with my tail between my legs, instead of brazening it out (as usual) in a fruitless attempt to defend myself.
The feminism I know and love -- recently dubbed gender feminism -- is based on the premise that no one is a perfect man or a perfect woman, and that these stereotyped ideals restrict everyone; that sorting people into these two and only two separate categories, treating them differently, and making sweeping generalizations about them is needlessly divisive. This sort of feminism benefits everyone since even the most normal people are teased for gender-inappropriate behavior from time to time. The point of gender feminism is to stop referring to men and women as if they were different species and just let people be themselves. Unfortunately this movement has its work cut out for it, since most people believe in gender to the point that they think it's relevant to argue whether or not men and women are fundamentally different, or whether they can actually be friends.
First and second wave feminism were largely about getting women the civil rights they were denied -- voting, property, inheritance, divorce, child custody, employment and education. For the most part, these goals were accomplished. Then in the 1990s people realized that the original empowering message of feminism had degenerated into a matriarchal "women are great, men are scum" attitude. This was only replacing one set of stereotypes with another, and restricting the feminist movement as solely by and for women. Third wave feminism was an attempt to end all of this by asserting that gender is arbitrary and useless.
Everyone is confined by their gender roles in different ways. You can't win. Masculine men and feminine women are stereotyped as Neanderthals who wouldn't know feminism if it bit them on the nose. Masculine women are stereotyped as overbearing, career-driven, unattractive bitches-on-wheels. Feminine men are stereotyped as grotesque, flighty and probably gay (as if there could be nothing worse than being gay). And there is no room in our minds, language or public restrooms for anyone who is neither a man nor a woman.
This last one has got to be the biggest problem, because transgender people do exist even right here at Dartmouth. It's hard to believe, isn't it? Why don't they ever say anything? Well, if you were what others would call a woman, but you considered yourself a man and hoped that someday everyone else would agree with you, would you attempt to explain this to someone writing articles saying men and women are different? Wouldn't you just assume such a person is saying that not only can you never be really recognized by society as a man because you are a "woman," but that you really don't even feel like one on the inside either, you're just kidding yourself. Would you expect such a person to help you along all the stepping stones you want to take from being a "woman" to being a man, or would you expect them to understand if you decided along the way that you really liked the stepping stone you were on -- somewhere outside of being a man or a woman -- and you felt no need to hop along the rest of them anymore?
Gender feminism is coming from a different place, but the goal is the same as always: everyone should be able to do what they want. Ideally, the feminism I know and love wants to crash the gender system. This doesn't mean all people will become androgynous cardboard cut-outs. People would still do what they want, but it would just be seen as self-expression and personality traits, instead of gender behavior. A quiet person would be shy and not feminine. An aggressive person would be competitive and not masculine. No one would be degraded for wearing a dress.
The feminism I know and love has learned from the Jim Crow laws that we will never be equal as long as we're separate.