Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Repost: Why are women scared to call themselves feminists?

Salon recently ran an article asking "Why are women scared to call themselves feminists?" If you'd asked me a few years ago whether I thought "Why are women afraid to identify as feminists?" was an important conversation to have, I would have called you crazy. Completely immersed in university culture, most of the people I associated with were openly (and actively) feminists. It got to the point where I mentally resituated feminism to the default politics I assumed in people. After all, who doesn't believe in female equality? If someone legitimately didn't then I would find that surprising and repugnant, and that became something I actively did not expect in people.

But things don't stay the way they are in undergrad. A few years out, I've had more conversations than I care to recall that pretty much go something like this:
Them: "No, I'm not a feminist."
Me: "Oh? Why not? Do you believe in gender equality?"
Them: "Yes, of cours, but feminism just... I don't know, it just seems like something for lesbians."
Me: ...

Yep. I shit you not, that's a conversation I've been a part of. More than once. I'm now at the point where, upon seeing Salon's headline pop up on my newsfeed, I immediately thought, "That is a damn good message that more people should be exposed to!" Hence this repost.

It's not that people don't believe in equality for women, generally I've found that most people still believe in that (or at least claim to). What I've found startling in recent years is the sheer number of people I've met, men and women alike, who claim not to be feminists as though that identifier is a dirty word. I've had numerous conversations with people who actively don't want to be associated with feminism because they see it as some sort of radical ideology. Sure, there are radical feminists, just like there are radical anythings. Radical liberals, radical atheists, radical [insert noun]. That doesn't mean that the underlying assumption of feminism is inherently associated with such radicalism. More than that, I still believe it should be shocking for someone in this day and age to say they are not a feminist given that doing so equates to not believing in gender equality. Is that really a message that is still mainstream acceptable in any way?

I think the major issue is that people don't understand the difference between feminism and the abstract notion of radical politics, and that's a very serious problem. I'm certain there are very good arguments that such misunderstandings are the result of misogynist attempts to undermine the goals of feminism, and while I don't think it's my place to make those arguments, I will say that if people (women or men) in positions of power continue to say that they are not feminists then that is straight up evidence of and a victory for the patriarchy. It literally means you don't believe in gender equality, and when people say it what I think they're actually trying to convey is that they want to be successful so they don't want to be associated with a political ideology that has been cast as radical and therefore repugnant. Is gender equality a radical notion? That's for you to decide, me I'm a feminist so I'll let you guess what I think.

I'll leave you with what I think is the best paragraph from the article, it really hits the nail on the head:
Let me just point out that if you believe in the strength of women, Ms. Perry, or their equality, Ms. Mayer, you’re soaking in feminism. If you’re like Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy and want to explain that “I imagine I am if feminism means claiming one’s freedom. But I am not if it means being committed in an active way to the fight that some women are still leading today I admire their bravery a lot, but I have chosen to commit myself elsewhere,” you should know that “the fight” is just being an autonomous person in the world. And if you’re like Ms. Fenton and think feminism means being treated like “anyone else,” remember that there aren’t a whole lot of “anyone else” options out there. You’re basically admitting that masculinity is the norm and that all we can do is aspire toward some kind of equitable footing in a man’s world. This sounds like a job for … feminism!
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'Reposts' are inspired by other articles or blog posts around the Internet. They are used here with accreditation as the basis for short bursts of Max's interests.


  1. It's exam time so I guess that means I'm going to comment on stuff, because it's more fun than studying. I just want to trouble the binary you draw between feminism and radical politics. I know you may not mean to suggest that radical politics are a negative thing, and that this is just a widely held societal opinion, but it's not entirely clear. I would take issue with the suggestion that radical feminism, or radical politics, are inherently bad. I identify as a feminist, and I define my feminism as the recognition that within our society there are multiple layers of oppression (sexism, heterosexism, racism, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism, homophobia ... blah blah blah), and that these are interlocking oppressions which function to privilege particular people over others (often in violent ways). Feminism is both a theoretical and practical tool to identify and address these oppressions. Whether the word "feminism" is still an appropriate word is a big question that I grapple with, but I continue to use it because it has a history and I think it's important to recognize and reflect on that history. Anyways, I think that everything I just wrote is quite radical, in mainstream culture. Acknowledging that racism exists, and that we are all individually racist (implicitly) is something that most people are unwilling to do, and would be considered a radical notion. I think, rather than drawing a distinction between feminism and "radical" politics in an effort to justify being a feminist, it is a better question to challenge why these ideas are apparently radical. I think that "radical", and the negative connotations that it has been given, is a way to justify particular political ideas as appropriate and others inappropriate because they are too "radical" (for example, gay marrige = ok, because it upholds and maintains the conservative, capitalist nuclear family, but reorganizing benefits so that everyone receives the social support that they need regardless of family status = too radical). Anyways, my class is ending so I'll end my rant there!

  2. Johanna, I absolutely agree with your point and completely did not mean to negatively portray radical feminism (or any form of radical politics for that matter). My intent was simply to show that feminism is not an inherently radical politic given that I've sensed that perception and a resultant hesitancy towards it. I think your argument regarding the very identification of something as "radical" or not is sound, but it's also going a bit further than I was attempting to with my piece. My point was not about challenging mainstream political narrative structures so much as it was to critique the very notion that gender equality is (apparently) not yet a part of such mainstream ideological canon. That isn't to disagree with your comments, I just wasn't trying to make as widespread a critique as the one you're getting at.