When you say, “I’m not a feminist but…” I hear, “I’m a terrible person.”
That was the opening salvo by feminist blogger Anisha Ahuja of Feminspire. She describes an incident at a fundraiser involving a male friend who refused to identify as a feminist. Ahuja writes:
I was at a fundraiser at my university this weekend talking to one of my good friends about feminism when he took a moment to make a clear distinction that he’s not a feminist but he believes in equal rights. Oh really? Tell me more, please. So he did, of course. He went on to tell me that there is a difference between feminism and equal rights. Okay. Good to know. Let’s take a second. I’m pulling up the dictionary (on my laptop because this is 2013). Merriam-Webster online (credible) defines “feminism” as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Wait, is that different than equal rights?
Technically, no. However, feminists do not fight for equal rights. They fight for rights for women, and that does not necessarily promote equality. Creating a government council to address the needs of women and girls without creating one for men and boys does not promote equal rights. Creating programs to improve girls’ educational and economic opportunities without creating similar programs for boys does not promote equal rights. Creating support services for female victims of violence without creating similar services for males does not promote equal rights.
Yet these are all initiatives that feminists support. One glance at the side-bar on Feminspire gives an excellent view into the topics feminists focus on, and none of them appear to be remotely about promoting equal rights for everyone.
My friend started trying to talk to me about how this girl he knew in high school was a really intense feminist and burning bras blah blah hating men blah blah blah. Of course, being the “crazy feminist” that I am, I tried to explain to him that unless he’s a terrible person, he’s a feminist. He walked away.
Here is a tip: if you tell your alleged friend that he is a terrible person because he does not share your ideological views, you are a terrible person.
Let me explain why. People are allowed to have different opinions. People can often reach the same conclusion via different methods. The notion that one ideology has a monopoly on certain concerns is silly. The notion that an ideology’s adherent cannot say one thing and do another is also silly. So too is the notion that if one holds a certain view one must be part of a movement one disavows, or as Ahuja puts it:
So this is me, trying to tell the world that if you’re a decent person, you’re a feminist. Feminism isn’t me refusing to wear a bra, or dresses, or makeup, or heels. Feminism isn’t me saying that all men are reinforcing patriarchy and hegemony simply by being men. Feminism is me saying that I work just as hard as you and that I deserve to get the same amount of pay. Feminism is protesting against violence toward women, not partaking in it, or even worse, blaming them for it. Feminism is not judging my credibility and ability based on my weight or appearance. Feminism is believing that the ~50% of the population that helps drive this world toward being a better, more functioning place, deserves to be treated fairly and equally.
The modern feminist movement is over 50 years old, so allow me to ask a basic question: why, after 50 years, do feminists still need to remind people their movement is not about hating men and rebelling against modern fashion? Could it have anything to do with feminists making statements like:
A world of people like Katy Perry presents itself on my college campus. A place where there is so much potential for young activists, a generation of people attacked by slut-shaming politicians, a world of women at war with misogyny and patriarchy, and a population of human beings still treated differently because they speak “too loudly” about gender discrimination and discrimination in many forms.
Bringing up topics like rape, the pay gap, body image and sex positivity is apparently too taboo or serious. Why are you talking about that? We’re just trying to have a good time? Yeah, well, so were we. And then you went and said that you don’t believe in my rights and I wasn’t having a fun time anymore. And then you went and remained silent in the constant struggle for me to be taken seriously with my body, passion, and opinions because I’m inappropriately labeled as “crazy” for being a feminist.
And why is the world of feminism being consistently torn down by men who think we are waging war against them, or by strong women who don’t want to align themselves with passion and opinionated humans?
Ahuja is right on one count: she is not crazy. There is no amount of mental disorder that makes someone writes things as sophomoric and asinine as her statements. No, one must be taught to write something that stupid.
If you need to ask why bringing up rape at a fundraiser not at all about rape might put people off, you might be a feminist.
If you need to ask why men think you are at war with them after claiming that women live in “a world of women at war with misogyny and patriarchy,” you might be a feminist.
If you need to ask why strong women (because apparently only non-feminist women are strong) do not want to align with people who say they “don’t have time for [those women’s] apathy,” you might be a feminist.
In all seriousness, no feminist should need to ask why people do not support their movement or want their label. Not only does the movement and label come with a host of baggage, but the people within the movement are often hostile to anyone who dares to question them. The moment someone refuses the label, instead of agreeing that they at least share the same ideals if not the same method of reaching them, feminist choose to attack the person as anti-feminist and “terrible” and then label the person a feminist anyway, as if in spite.
That is not a way to build a movement. One does not look impressive or intelligent, only petty and pathetic. You cannot get people to support your movement and call themselves one of you, so you throw a temper tantrum as if that would make them change their minds?
Instead of complaining that people do not call themselves feminists, spend your time giving them a reason to want to call themselves feminists.