Happy International Woman’s Day! Here at Evie, we're celebrating the unique power and beauty of womanhood, and we hope you are too! It’s ironic that even on International Woman’s Day, the term “womanhood” itself has become controversial.
As we celebrate the amazing accomplishments of women, I want to address two contrasting visions of womanhood that have splintered the feminist movement: the American and the European. As an American woman who lived in Germany, I want to make the case that the European feminists get feminism right and that the Americans have a lot to learn from across the pond.
Before I make this article even more contentious, let me make one thing clear: both American and European feminists champion the same causes for social reform with genuinely good intentions. Both desire to see true and lasting equality between men and women, both fight against the mistreatment and abuse of women, and both want to see equal opportunity for women. However, their differing concepts of womanhood have resulted in two contrasting movements - one of which is more beneficial to women than the other.
What Is the Difference between American and European Feminism?
This question lies at the heart of the feminist debate: whether womanhood is a malleable idea that we can craft into any image we desire, or whether womanhood is a concrete mode of existence, which, given the proper liberties, can prosper and flourish. The former vision of womanhood is championed by modern American Feminism while the latter is embodied in European Feminism. The American vision assumes that there are no essential properties of womanhood (socially, emotionally, and even sometimes physically and sexually); rather, we can craft womanhood into anything we want it to be. However, European Feminism relies on the belief that there are, in fact, essential and unique properties of womanhood, and if given the freedom to prosper and flourish, the entirety of society will benefit.
Their differing concepts of womanhood have resulted in two contrasting movements - one of which is more beneficial to women than the other.
Having lived in both Europe and America, I can say from first-hand experience that the results of European Feminism have produced astonishing flourishing for women - I would argue even more so than what American Feminism has done. Here are some highlights of European Feminism that I experienced which I believe America can learn from.
You Don’t Have To Become a Man To Have Gender Equality
First, European Feminism is utterly non-conformist: it doesn’t force you to become anyone other than the unique woman you truly are. This is the most contentious, yet most important distinction, between European and American Feminism. While American Feminism attempts to attain gender equality through conforming male and female qualities - sexually, emotionally, and socially - into a new, androgynous category, European Feminism recognizes the fundamental differences between men and women. This might seem counter-intuitive to the notion of feminism, right?
The notion that a woman has to conform to the qualities of a man in order to attain equality with them is utterly anti-woman in the eyes of European feminists.
On the contrary, Europeans celebrate the unique qualities that make women who they are, and they demand that these feminine qualities be treated equally and allowed to flourish as fully as those of a man. The notion that a woman has to conform to the qualities of a man in order to attain equality with them is utterly anti-woman in the eyes of European feminists.
Motherhood Should Not Be Considered Second Class to a Career
Perhaps the most unique - and controversial - quality of womanhood that European feminists celebrate is motherhood. Amid America’s fight for woman’s rights, American Feminism has - intentionally or unintentionally - belittled motherhood. I don’t want at all to dismiss the injustice that American women have experienced in the workplace by feeling obligated to choose between their job and motherhood. This is a great injustice indeed, and a dilemma that men in the workplace don’t often encounter.
However, instead of challenging the social norm in the workplace that has made this injustice commonplace, American Feminism has accepted the terms of this dilemma and has championed the career instead. We have made the choice of career or motherhood even more mutually exclusive. As a result, we have come to believe that forgoing motherhood to pursue a career is a demonstrative act of feminine power while choosing motherhood over a career is limiting a women’s full potential.
We have come to believe that forgoing motherhood to pursue a career is a demonstrative act of feminine power while choosing motherhood over a career is limiting a women’s full potential.
Meanwhile, European feminists never view women as “just a mom,” nor did they allow the work vs. motherhood dilemma to make them choose one or the other. Rather, they fought the social norm that made women chose between the two. Now, in many European countries such as France, Germany, and Sweden, the government not only guarantees up to a year of paid maternity leave, but they also guarantee paid paternity leave! These feminist policies celebrate both motherhood and fatherhood, and they have changed the social fabric that once made women choose between their work and their families.
A Feminism That Respects Masculinity
Finally, European feminists are not anti-masculinity. This goes back to the fundamental belief that men and women have distinct qualities that should be allowed to flourish equally. If feminists demand that men and women are to work together and interact with each other socially on an equal playing field, then this is only possible if everyone encourages the best qualities of men and women as unique individuals. It’s no wonder that many European nations tend to have a higher percentage of women in the workplace and women representation in politics (take Macron’s Cabinet as an example)!
European feminists have more successfully bridged the gender social divide through being pro-man as well as pro-women.
However, the American feminist notion that we can craft womanhood into whatever we desire necessarily entails that we can also craft masculinity into whatever fits our agenda. In forcing men to conform to an androgynous standard of social norms - rather than encouraging them to become the best men that they can be - is it any wonder that there is a social pushback against American Feminism? Ironically, European feminists have more successfully bridged the gender social divide through being pro-man as well as pro-women - through encouraging both men and women to achieve the best versions of themselves.
If I have learned anything from European Feminism, it’s this: that the key to being a feminist is not just about being pro-woman. It is about being pro-human, about seeing the unique potential in every single human person and creating a society in which we can all truly flourish.
International Woman’s Day is about celebrating the unique beauty and power of womanhood. On this International Woman’s Day, challenge yourself to see the unique beauty and power in every human being, for this radical call to love is the foundation for true equality and dignity.