The “I’m not a feminist, but…” thing

05/19/2009 at 8:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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(To those who have found their way here via FigLeaf – uhh I’m not really sure what the proper netiquette is here but to err on the side of caution – hello. I hope you find something of interest here. Thanks for reading… You’re not here to make fun of me are you? Suddenly I feel a rather self-conscious & sexually inadequate knowing there’s some more people looking.)

If someone had said to me a few years ago, “I’m not a feminist, but…” I probably would have balked.

In my experience, most of the time when I’ve been confronted with “I’m not a feminist, but…” that “But” has been followed up by a statement like, “I believe in equality of the sexes,” “I oppose violence against women,” or “I believe in equal pay for equal work, regardless of whodunit.” These are pretty basic tenets of feminism, especially mainstream US feminism. If I tried hard enough, I probably could have convinced the speaker that they are some kind of feminist, much to their own horror. The word gets a pretty bad reputation in the media. Even when famous conservative speakers are not badmouthing feminism with stereotypes and fearmongering, mainstream media still sends out very mixed signals about it, perhaps reflecting an overall unease of the greater community. (That this example is a cartoon might actually make it be a better example of niche media addressing feminism…)

In my face-to-face interactions, if I then ask, “Why not be feminist then?” often the reason really is because of fear of those misconceptions & stereotypes. Sometimes I don’t even have to ask “Why not be one?” because the person I am talking to is will volunteer their frustration with those bra-burning man-eating home wreckers hell bent on destroying the nuclear family. Once in awhile, whoever I’m speaking with will even say an out-of-context, radical feminist quote made decades ago to illustrate their point.

But sometimes… Especially from what I’ve seen online…
Sometimes things don’t go as expected. This script doesn’t always play out.
Sometimes the reasons for someone not embracing the term, are a lot more complicated than that.
It’s not because of fear of stereotypes. It’s not ingratitude to those women who pushed for the right to vote & for a woman’s right to choose. It’s not because of indifference to the plight of women globally.
Sometimes, it turns out that a lot of thought & anguish goes into making the decision to avoid the feminist movement, or to turn & walk away from feminism.

There’s been some discussion over the last week on other blogs about identifying with the word, the movement(s) & embracing it as a part of who you are. Renee posted once again about how she isn’t feminist; she is Womanist. After reflecting on one of the ex-feminist speakers at the Sex 2.0 Conference, a writer at Punkassblog called out people who do not identify as feminists. Then more comments were had, all about what it means to take on the identity. I’ve actually made two comments about identifying as feminist or not before, so this is the third time I’ve thought about it & the third chance I’ve had to flesh out my ideas a little more.

Feminism is an identity you can “Opt-in” to. It is not like ethnicity or disability (although it can be used to explore these two areas of interest.)  It’s not necessarily something you’re born into (although you can be raised feminist.) Your status as a feminist can change. You may one day find yourself warming up to the term after avoiding it like the plague for years. You might actively decide to become a feminist and start learning more about it and/or start participating in feminist-related events just all at once. Then, you can move from one sub-type of feminism to another, depending on your interests & motivations.
Or, on the opposite side of the coin, you might eventually “Opt-out.”

Why would anybody do this? It looks bad at first glance. Does this person who rejects feminism as part of his or her identity not support equal rights for all? Do they really believe those stereotypes from TV? Do they really not care? Are they genuinely misogynists?

Sometimes the answer is “None of the above.”

Renee explained that she does not identify with feminism since, among other things, its history has not been so kind to women of color. TrinityVA got tired of policing, as she puts it. For Renegade Evolution, actions speak louder than words. These are women of color, disabled women, kinky women, sex workers. I can think of several other noteworthy former feminists who have made comments in some other posts linked to throughout this one here. They live on an edge. Maybe not “The” definitive edge of all edges, whatever that is; what I mean is these are smart women who you don’t often see or hear from very frequently unless maybe you deliberately seek them out (perhaps because they’ve been silenced. They’re secretly around, but have to hide lest they be chased, thus furthering the illusion of their invisibility.)

And they keep having – having to have – the same conversations over and over, having to explain the same not-mainstream principles & concepts to the same people who are not open to reconsidering their opinions. That gets frustrating & exhausting. It leads to burn out.

Yet many of the folks who deliberately reject the label “Feminist,” are still nonetheless associated with the movement. Self-described not-feminists may still say & do things that sound & act just like feminism. Renee won this year’s Canadian F-Word blog contest, and seemed pleased with the nomination. TrinityVA & Dw3t-Hthr (and others) maintain SM-Feminist. Renegade Evolution has hosted the 18th Feminist Sex Carnival post.

Online, this leaves me feeling kind of awkward, because I have links to such people listed under labels like of “Feminism” or “Feminism & sexuality.” It looked like feminism to me… but I may have to re-think those categories out of consideration of their wishes not to be labeled feminist. It is not my place to go around applying and denying identities. It looks to me like once you put on that mantle, it’s actually hard to take it off. The label sticks around for awhile.

As for myself, I remain self-identifying as feminist. I wanted to be one when I was a child, even if children are foolish and screw up the meaning of the words. When I got older and wiser and learned more about it, and all the conflicts & yes, even problems that happen inside this one little word, I still wanted it. “Still the road keeps on telling me to go on…”

But it’s a vulnerable, precarious identity. I still struggle with it. So many different ways to practice it… and I have a lot to learn.

After all, how can I find myself identifying the same blanket movement that Dr. Leonore Teifer rallies for and markets herself as being a part of? We have very different different ideas & goals about feminism as it relates to FSD, to put it politely.

Maybe it’s normal to struggle with feminism. But some people just seem so self-assured in it, and that’s difficult for me to emulate. Am I supposed to be able to do that? Am I supposed to just, go with the flow?

Maybe some day, after being nagged & pushed enough, I, too, will have to put feminist down & be, just another woman with lots of other interests. I’ve seen it happen enough so that I should not be so surprised if it happens to me, too. But then maybe I’ll take some time off and come back around to it again later, older & wiser…
I don’t know if there’s any way to avoid that happening to me.

Alas, even if I put feminism down, I’ll probably still live with at least some residual FSD. That’s not something I can opt-out of. I would like very much to opt-out of vulvodynia & vaginismus but it’s not that easy.
And without feminism, I will have one less coping mechanism to address the FSD with. One less shield to defend myself with from the slings & arrows thrown at me daily by the TV & movies that tell me how sex “Should” be. One less lens to examine sex & sexuality from. One less way of looking at the pain and the treatments available for it.

So nowadays…
When someone says to me, “I’m not a feminist, but…”
I am not so quick to balk anymore.
I might. I might still balk.
But not so fast. Slowly. After listening. There may be something going on there that I hadn’t thought about before.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Putting ourselves in boxes is hard in general since we never make those boxes — other people or society as a whole make them for us. I can’t identify with feminism because justice for women isn’t a more pressing issue for me than justice in general. Everyone’s well-being is an equal concern. I don’t get the mindset of focusing on women’s issues when it’s all humans’ issues that we need to focus on.

    As I wrote on my blog, I also don’t understand blaming the patriarchy. Not all feminists stress that, I know, but that is a huge turn-off for me. Blame in general does little more than maintain the present level of pain and acrimony. I’d rather take today as it is and move forward from it.

    That said, whatever works works. Feminism doesn’t work for me, but some find it useful. I think overall the best thing we can do is let people address these issues as they will without guilting them about it. Ultimately we all want the same peaceful world — I hope 🙂

    • The good thing is, there are some kinds of feminism that recognize that it’s not just about promoting women… There’s a need to recognize this since, when you say “Feminism,” if you’re living in the US particularly, you’re probably thinking of a mainstream feminism that pays the most attention to white, cis, middle class women. Folks like you and I who already have at quite a bit of privilage, relatively speaking.

      There are, unfortunately, some problems with focusing on women only, which you seem to be aware of. Focusing on only one group can silence, erase & otherize groups of people who, probably don’t need more erasing than they already deal with. In practice, having such a focus on women only can make it hard to take advantage of programs & charities that are meant to help those who are most likely to need it.

      To address this shortcoming, some kinds of feminism (and not-feminism) actively try to recognize Intersectionality – that you can be more than one oppressed group at a time. A woman AND disabled. Disabled AND black. It also acknowledges that patriarchy binds & hurts men too.

      Personally I think that type of feminism is pretty advanced – it’s not something I encountered in Women’s Studies in college. Learning about intersectionality was something I encountered online. Indeed, some of the women’s studies classes I took really did focus on women like me, to the exclusion of all others. Doing it like that can make it hard to accept that there’ll be times where you (plural) need to be quiet & listen and that no you (plural again) really don’t know what’s best for everyone. Looking back, I think that some of the case studies we used as examples in class were kind of patronizing too.

      The thing is since I cannot know what is best for everyone at the same time,
      The world I would strive for in the end,
      May wind up not looking exactly the same as the world that other feminists strive for… it might not work out that way. Peaceful, surely. Similar, sure. But I have a sneaking suspicion that each ideal world is going to have idiosyncratities that not everyone will be okay with…
      Hmmm…
      I’ll have to think about it some more.


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