Am I a feminist?
The conversation usually runs like the last thirty seconds of this video:
To identify a feminist, the person in question is usually asked, “Do you think women should have the same rights as men? Yes? Then you’re a feminist!” Another variation is “Do you believe women are lesser beings than men? No? Then you’re a feminist!” By both those counts, I am a feminist.
So why does my eye twitch a bit at this answer?
I have a nitpick with that approach to identifying feminists. It is a bit of a cornering statement for one. The question emotionally registers as “Are you a scumbag?” Sure, some people will outright own their bigotry, but many others will be pressured into leaving their fine print thoughts unmentioned and give the answer that brings less hostility. You will have many people categorized as feminists who are not really on the same page as you, and in the end you might not want to call them a feminist.
“Not a sexist bigot” is too broad a definition for a set of ideas. Many people would say that women and men should have the same rights, but you might find some people are thinking only about a specific set of rights, like legal rights. Some people might be including or negating female-specific rights in their answer, like reproductive rights. Many people will say that neither gender is lesser, and yet a very good percentage of those will not say the genders are equal (perspectives where men are always seen as providers and women as nurturers is an example of this).
So what do these questions really suss out? Merely a label, and labels are fickle things. Feminism, like all worldviews, comes in many strains. The media favorite is the uber-feminist strain. Those are the ones who spell “women” as “wymyn” because the idea that the word is derived from “men” is seen as insulting. It can get petty, it can get hostile, and like any form of misdirected passion and ideas it can get a lot of attention and take over a label by sheer spectacle. (Note: I will not call uber-feminism “extremism” because it is not a case of over-applied ideas, but rather supplemented ideas and misapplied focuses.) This type of feminism is rather like the “Star Wars: A New Hope” poster.
It catches the attention but is generally embarrassing to the feminist community I know.
There are feminists who fight for the respect and freedom of women, but believe that women have roles to fill. There are feminists who will not allow the words “woman’s role” to pass without criticism. Some feminists want abortion, others do not. Another big topic that keeps appearing in feminism is gender-fluidity, and you can find lots of division over that. The questions at the top do in fact give the basic definition of feminism, but when it comes to the little qualifiers you’ll find that the broad feminist community is as united as the fans at a comicon…comiccon…comic con…comic-con….
So I won’t label myself as a Feminist because I really don’t want to be associated with all that history and complexity. There are lots of ideas that I don’t agree with and don’t want brought to mind when I identify myself. I know that to my mother, “Feminism” immediately conjures up bra-burnings and irresponsible sex. The spectrum is diverse enough that the label “a feminist” does not always bring up the accurate checklist of qualities to your own definition. Also, there is an interesting argument about whether it is accurate to call the ideas of gender equality by such a gender-specific name: “Feminism.” I’ll comment on that conversation in another post, so as not to lose topic here.
Not calling myself a feminist is not to say I don’t like feminism, or even that I don’t qualify for the label. For one thing, I find the conversations interesting to listen to. Good arguing is always interesting, and I think Anita Sarkeesian is very good at making her arguments. Within the self-identifying feminist community I find lots of compatriots on a crusade against something I am particularly passionate against: gender coding. Gender coding is that set of stigmas that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” “boys have adventures out there in the world, but girls stay in the community and have relationships” “girls are gentle and emotional, boys must be strong and intellectual.” Gender coding changes with the times, but in all its forms I see it as very detrimental. So far it really is the feminist community that I see making the best arguments and fights against it.
So while I don’t want to be a feminist, I wouldn’t shy away from being described as feminist. Adjectives aren’t as heavy as labels; they don’t suggest a checklist of qualities. It might seem like semantics, but adjectives don’t have the same weight as nouns. If someone points at me and says “she’s a blonde” it’s like there’s an absolute definition for what “a blonde” is (not to mention the baggage that comes with that noun) even though the definition itself is vague. The same person saying “she is blonde” about me is equally vague when you get down to the nit-pick, but at least it doesn’t pretend to have an absolute definition. It has room to allow me to be blonde to a degree.
I have an affinity for feminism. To my own degree I qualify for the feminist community. Yes, I am feminist.