I run a Facebook group dedicated to discussing feminism, the aptly-titled “Let’s Talk Feminism“. About a month back, I posted this mini-essay on identifying as a feminist, and someone asked me to repost it publicly. So here you go!
The question is basically “Why should you identify as a feminist?”, or to break it down slightly further, “Why put yourself in the same group as people who you think are awful, even if you technically fit the definition/share some of the same core ideals?”
(at least, that’s the question I’ll be answering: if you have a similar/related question you want me to answer, leave a comment and I’ll try to get to it.)
This is a conversation I actually have a lot. I totally get it, too: when some people hear hear “feminist”, they think “bra-burning, man-hating, all-sex-is-rape nutcases.” And yes, that kind of feminist absolutely does exist.
There are three main comparisons I like to use. Two are personal and unlikely to cause offense, and the other is more general and has the potential to make people very angry. I’m going to use all of them.
I, personally, hate being referred to as a “nerd”. When I hear nerd, I think “socially awkward, proud-of-being-into-obscure-things (for the sake of being into obscure things), misogynist recluse.”
That’s not what the word means.
I play board games that 99% of board gamers haven’t even heard of. I make card and board games as a hobby. I’ve spent 8 years working on a fantasy universe, just for the fun of it. I make my living working online. I am a reasonably big name in the community hub of a digital trading card game.
It’s basically impossible to ignore the fact that I’m a nerd.
And so, for the record, I totally GET it. I understand why you hate that you can’t be passionate about certain topics without being landed with a label that you don’t like.
But the fact is, sometimes you’re a thing (even if you don’t want to be) and it’s fruitless to fight it. Not only fruitless, but – in my opinion – actively unhelpful. (And by now, you should all know how much I hate unhelpfulness. :P)
I want to get married, some day.
I’m a polyamorous (more-than-one-love-at-once person) feminist, who’s completely aware of the awful history of marriage.
When I think marriage though, I don’t think “Has origins in women being property”. I think “public declaration of love and commitment.” And so I want to get married, because I want to show the world how awesome marriage can be. I want to show that marriage might have awful connotations to some people, but that isn’t what it has to be – you can take the concept, and work on shaping it into something really cool.
“But why take a pre-existing word and try to change public opinion? Why not just make up a new word, like Soulbinding or Civil Union or something?”
Because, frankly, it’s not going to catch on. I can say “Hey I’m going to get soulbound to my girlfriend” and I have to explain it in full every time, but honestly no one else is ever going to use the word.
Instead, why not say “I’m going to get married” and if people look at me strangely, explain how I’m using the word?
This is an argument I see a LOT in terms of feminism. “It has ‘female’ in the title*! People who I don’t like are using the word! I’m going to call myself an egalitarian/humanist/equalist/genderist/oh my god there’s so many.”
*more on this later.
Firstly, as I said, it’s not going to catch on. Really. Feminism has been around for a very long time, and – like it or not – it’s here to stay. Feminism is THE leading movement that works towards equality of the genders. It has been since it started, and it will be for a very long time. The word means “someone who believes there should be equality between the sexes.”
If you believe that it’s been “taken over” by horrible people, there’s exactly one way to fix that, and it’s not “use a different term”. You’ll end up a confusing array of words that no one understands, you’ll splinter the movement, and – perhaps most importantly – you’re never going to convince EVERY feminist to stop using the term.
If you want to “save” feminism from meaning “people who hate men”, you need to start using the term to describe yourself while being a decent, non-misandrist human being. You need to use the term proudly while being a good guy.
Declaring yourself a genderist instead is going to require you to explain what you mean by that, every single time it comes up. Why not instead call yourself a feminist, and explain what you mean by that only to people who don’t already know what feminism is/use it the way you’re using it?
There are feminist dickheads. There are a LOT of feminist dickheads. But the fact is, if we all started using “genderist” instead, there would almost-immediately be a lot of genderist dickheads. So what do we do then? Make up another term?
If you want to be a part of a movement without dickheads, you’re going to be searching for a while. If you want to be part of a movement where people don’t associate the term with dickheadery, call yourself a feminist and be a good guy.
I am a nerd. I am a social, well-dressed (most of the time), well-spoken, outgoing, feminist nerd.
And the more nerds like me there are, the less ashamed I’m going to be to use the term.
Comparison #3: (WARNING: Possibility of offense ahead!)
I know someone (and if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay with me using you as an example) who doesn’t identify as a Christian.
That’s fine. I don’t identify as a Christian either.
This friend, however, believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, who came down to Earth to save us from our sins. They believe that Jesus is the path to salvation, and that belief in Him is the only way to get into heaven.
They don’t like being called a “Christian”, however, because…you know. Some Christians are crazy.
I sincerely hope you can see how completely ridiculous that sounds. If you believe that there should be equality between the genders and you don’t call yourself a feminist, that is what you sound like. For real.
Other arguments I frequently see:
But feminism has ‘fem’ in the title! As in FEMALE!
Yes. So what?
“Female” has the word “MALE” in it! “Woman” has the word “MAN” in it! Do these words bother you? If you’re going to complain about gendered terms within words, at least make sure you’re consistent about it.
We’re not going to rewrite the English language, because it would simply never catch on. English is not a literal language, and (as a writer) I can honestly say that’s one of its most beautiful strengths.
Feminism started (and is still primarily focussed*) on women’s rights. That’s its origins, and that’s why it has the name it does.
*more on this later
The word “English” is now used in hundreds of countries. But its name has “ENG” in it, as in “ENGLAND”…because that’s the origin of the word. It would be a ridiculous amount of effort and almost completely pointless to change the word just for America and Australia and Canada and etc etc.
Similarly, we’re not going to change “feminism” just for men whose feelings are hurt because they’re not in the title.
But feminism focuses on women! I want to be involved in a movement that REALLY believes in equality, spending just as much time on men’s rights.
Here’s the thing: Feminism absolutely does deal with men’s issues.
Men are encouraged to bottle up their feelings, because talking about emotions is “girly” – that’s something feminism fights against.
Men are denied custody because taking care of children is seen as a woman’s job – that’s something that feminism fights against.
Men are killed in greater numbers than women, because they’re encouraged to be violent (often specifically against women) – you’d better believe that’s something that feminism fights against.
Men are more likely to go to prison, because women aren’t seen as capable of the same sort of criminal behaviour as men – believe it or not, that’s something that feminism fights against.
A lot of feminism is dedicated to the fight that women, just like men, are human. And EVERYONE comes out on top when that fight is won, men and women alike.
I’m not a feminist – I’m a humanist.
Why not be both?
Seriously. There’s nothing stopping you from taking on both labels. “I’m not a nerd, I’m a board game enthusiast.” No…I’m both. You can consider one a subset of the other if you like, but the fact is that both labels describe me.
Anyway! There are a bunch of other reasons you should identify as a feminist – to unite the brand, because of its long and (frankly beautiful) history, and to signal to other decent humans that you too are a decent human – but the above are my personal reasons I strongly argue that you should, as well as some rebuttals to common questions I hear.
The last time I had this conversation, a friend of mine said something that I’ve always loved quoting:
“Basically, the only problem with “Feminism” is that people don’t understand it. We will not need the word when everyone identifies as a feminist.”
If anyone has any questions, or disagrees with me, I’m keen to hear about it. Special thanks to Cherese Sonkkila for helping me draft this post.