I’ll be a Post-Feminist in the Post-Patriarchy
The topic of feminism comes up quite often in conversation, both on and off-line. I am frequently put on the spot as to why I call myself a feminist and not an “equalist” or some similar term that does not evoke sex and gender. I understand why some people, who believe much as I do, opt not to identify themselves with the politically-charged title “feminist,” but I think that this political charge is a good thing, not a bad. Or not necessarily bad, anyway. So, to address my questioners, as well as work through this stuff myself, here are lists of pros and cons for using and identifying with the word “feminist.” Just to be absolutely clear, I don’t need reasons for the fact that I believe women are equal to men, on the contrary I think you need to explain yourself if you don’t! These are my pros/cons for applying the label “feminist” to my beliefs rather than some other label.
- Excludes men.
- Feminist, referring to female, does seem to exclude males. Feminists are often accused of trying to subjugate men to women’s evil desires and motivations, and having name that implies interest only in the one sex/gender doesn’t help. A term like “equalist” or “egalitarian” more correctly identifies the feminist agenda of promoting equal rights.
- Men’s rights activists identify areas where men are disadvantaged, such as their likeliness to be victims of physical violence and stereotypes which demasculinize men who care for their children. Many question whether a movement called “feminism” can deal with masculine issues as well.
- Ignores other factors of discrimination
- Second wave feminists were criticized, and rightly so, for focusing so much on sexual discrimination that they were race-blind and ability-blind. Sex is not the only (or most important) thing used to unfairly discriminate against people, as the title “feminist” suggests to many people, and many women who are also visible minorities or are physically or mentally challenged face a double or triple-bind.
- Has negative connotations
- Feminists are bra-burning, man-hating, flannel-wearing, unfeminine, dykes, aren’t they? Why would anyone want to be associated with that image? I have blogged before about my dislike of reclaiming “bad” words like bitch and nigger, why should the bad image of “feminist” be different?
- The work of feminism is not yet done
- Disidentifying with the movement divorces us from our history
- Much of what we have today is due to past generations of feminists. Women can vote, be political representatives, be professors (even in science!), be homemakers, control their own reproduction (in Canada, at least), love and marry other women if they so choose (again, at least in Canada), and do many other things that would have been completely unthinkable a hundred, or even fifty years ago. We have feminists partly to thank for this. Disidentifying with them both dishonours them and the work that they have done, and takes away from us a hundred years of experience, strategies, and role models. We can’t afford to lose that.
On the balance, it looks as though I have more cons than pros, but this isn’t necessarily true. Before I come down on that side, though, and start calling myself an equalist, let me address those cons. Yes, feminism does seem to exclude men, and early feminism most certainly did, but there are good reasons for this. How far would the civil rights movement in the US have gotten if they only spent half their time championing for visible minority rights and devoted the other half to white rights? Not far, let me tell you. The reason civil rights workers didn’t advocate for white rights is the same reason feminists have in the past not advocated for men’s rights: everyone else is! Consciously or not, when institutions primarily made up of white men (such as the legal system) reproduce themselves, they are reproducing their inequality.
With that said, there has been a lot of progress in Canadian society, and feminists are now free to address more subtle issues of sex and gender discrimination. Feminists recognize that what hurts women also hurts men. The assumption that women are great with kids and “natural” caregivers has as it’s flip-side the assumption than men make poor caregivers and are instead “natural” wage-earners. Neither of these issues can be dealt with without the other also being addressed. I would go so far as to say that the current wave of feminism by necessity also addresses men’s concerns. The criticism that feminism is race- and ability-blind likewise may apply to second-wave feminism, but was addressed in the third wave and is now an important part of feminist work.
What about the negative image of feminists? Feminists come in all flavours, from fat, thin, homo, het, bi, queer, male, female, both, neither, angry, sad, hopeful, atheist, Christian, pagan, Jewish, Muslim, white, black, both, neither, and many more. If we cave to the pressure and call ourselves something other than feminist, we are admitting (wrongly) that the critics are right – that you have to be of one particular type to be a feminist, and that feminism can then be discounted because it doesn’t apply to everyone. I openly call myself a feminist so that people can see that anyone can be a feminist.
So, in sum, I understand why many people decide not to call themselves feminist, and I respect their choice. For myself, though, I would rather take on the label and work at the internal issues than eschew the label, thereby giving in to the critics who say that feminism is neither appropriate nor necessary, and abandoning my predecessors and my history in the process.