I Am a Feminist But…

The feminist-sphere is so wide and varied, it is understandable that there are some differences among us.  While I appreciate feminism for bringing my attention to issues of gender discrimination (I focus this blog on discrimination against women in films and entertainment), there are a lot of viewpoints I find on various blogs and opinion articles which I disagree with, which I decided to list here.  I want to see where others in the community stand on some of these points.

1.  The ‘You are either with us or against us mentality‘ of some self-proclaimed feminists.

Because feminism largely works to equalize different gender and sexual identities and reduce discrimination, many feminists argue that anyone who believes in equal rights should openly label themselves as feminists.  In fact, they insist that both men and women should call themselves feminists if they really care about equality and justice between humans.  Gloria Steinem is quoted as saying that women are “either feminists or masochists.”  Many agree with her and constantly write that they don’t understand why women/people in general don’t call themselves feminists.

While I know these women mean well, I feel this language is too strong.  A movement that is largely about autonomy and individual freedom should not be verbally patronizing people into calling themselves feminists.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for the rights feminists have fought for us (as well as other civil rights movements.)  I also do not appreciate the bigots who completely demonize feminists as “feminazis” or “fascists” and deny that women have control over their bodies.  However, forcing people to call themselves feminists does not help us in anyway.

With the exception of this blog, I actually am no longer open about being a feminist to my peers.  This is because I know a lot of people, without even bothering to know the reasons why I call myself a feminist, will use this against me.  I know guys who escalate sexist jokes degrading women in front of girls they know to be feminists, just to upset them.  I have previously been cyberbullied on Facebook and harassed with jokes about rape and physical abuse (and have since deleted/blocked those contacts.)  However, while I still have not changed my opinions, I prefer to keep on the down-low.  I prefer to be on the defensive, so please do not make me do something I am not comfortable with.

Also, while we should expect all men and women to treat people with respect and not discriminate, it is not necessary for men to call themselves feminists.  Men, even when they mean well, generally do not understand the issues a lot of girls face, simply because they haven’t experienced them and never will (unless they went through a sex change, but even then they missed out on the childhood aspect of it.)  No guy will understand why I find Hollywood stereotypes of women offensive, why I am uncomfortable with certain song lyrics, or what it is like to constantly get sexually harassed in public.  Likewise, men might be negatively affected by stereotypes in other ways, but I haven’t perceived them since I am not a man.  I agree feminism is about gender equality but don’t expect men to understand what this means for us women.

Lastly, feminism has many different areas: political, social, cultural, economic, etc.  While I definitely fall in the cultural realm, since I focus on gender in films and entertainment, I am definitely not schooled in feminism as a political or social ideology, and cannot align myself with that.  Many feminists are “ivory tower feminists”, meaning they studied actual feminist literature in higher education.  My major is in Biology, and I definitely cannot call myself a social scientist or academic.  Sometimes, calling myself a feminist misleads people into thinking that I am a feminist in all its intellectual aspects.

2.  Equating female empowerment with mainly political power and business leadership.

It is definitely important to have female representation in these areas, but when addressing professional gender equality, I feel that many feminists focus too much on equating power with holding political office or being a CEO.  These are very obvious – and to some extent superficial – power positions, and we forget that women can be empowered on much smaller scales as well.  I don’t just mean other fields such as writing, technology, or science.  Everyday I see women being told by popular media, fashion magazines, and peer pressure what to wear, how to act, how to behave, how they should look, how to constantly please others, etc.  To me, empowerment fundamentally begins with the woman herself.  Encourage women to respect themselves first and foremost – not to constantly prove themselves.  A woman who unconditionally loves and respects herself will be empowered to lead a healthy lifestyle in which she is not afraid to follow her goals and pursuits.

3.  Individually attacking every no-name misogynist that appears on the Internet.

I see a lot of blogposts that respond to rude comments about women posted by other bloggers.  Why is this necessary?  We can’t eliminate every hater/bigot on the Internet.  After all, free speech is a thing and that means even they have to exist, if they must.

4.  Not pointing out the positives enough.

What about our friends, family members, and co-workers who do respect women?  Who don’t even think twice about our gender when giving us a compliment about something besides our looks.  In spite of some of the crap, we have come a long way and should celebrate that.  After all, it is difficult to empower women when constantly painting them as victims of discrimination.  In a truly equal world, no one would have to be called a feminist.

These are just some concerns I had about our community.  What do you think?  Is it possible to find a balance between being aware of discrimination issues and celebrating the positives?  What are some of your concerns?

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2 thoughts on “I Am a Feminist But…

  1. I feel like in the west, everyone should be feminist regardless of their gender, simply because surely with everything we’ve already seen and learnt, gender equality is something that concerns everyone. I agree with your concerns and I feel as though this is the reason why so many people that I know (from both genders) view feminists in such a negative light.

    Rather than fighting each other on the exact meaning of feminism, and quibbling about who is allowed in the club, we should be trying to convince everyone around us that gender equality is an important issue.

  2. Two thumbs up on this one! I’d give it more but I only have two thumbs (damn you evolution!) I’ve been wanting to write a post like this for ages, but you pretty much summed up everything I wanted to say. I’ve identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember, and have always believed that feminism is about gender equality (i.e. promoting equality for both genders). But I’m coming to realise that many people, including many feminists, believe that feminism is and should be primarily about promoting the rights of women. This is something I don’t really agree with, as I think there are a number of ways that men face discrimination in our society, some of them different to the challenges women face, and if we don’t address them then we can’t really promote equality for both genders.

    Like you, I no longer identify myself as a feminist in conversation. In fact I don’t think I’m an anything-ist. Or maybe I’m a feminist and a men’s rights activist, or a gender transitionist, or whatever. The point is, I believe what I believe and I’m happy to explain or discuss my views with anyone who’s interested in them. As you pointed out, labelling yourself as something can just reinforce a “with us or against us” mentality; and I find it also conveys to others that all your beliefs about an issue are summed up by the beliefs of that ideology. I know that people will make assumptions about my beliefs based on what their own understanding of feminism is, and not what my interpretation means. Which is only natural, I don’t expect anyone to read my mind. But that’s the main reason why I don’t call myself a feminist; I’d rather have people not know what my beliefs are and want to find out, than have them make assumptions and write me off based on a label.

    One thing I’ve found interesting since I started blogging is that many people assume that I’m a feminist because of my profile picture. For myself, I’ve always believed that destroying patriarchy was mostly about undoing the restrictive traditional gender roles placed on both men and women, which I assume would be to the benefit of almost everyone regardless of gender. It’s curious how many people automatically equate being anti-patriarchy with being anti-men. I actually think it makes one “pro-men” (even though that’s a stupid term) because it encourages the creation of a system where all men are accepted and valued, not just those who fulfil the requirements of traditional masculinity.

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