We thought that to celebrate the half year mark we would talk a bit more about ourselves and about what feminism is to us – expect to see a post where we answer a question for the next four Fridays. We will share our thoughts and we are hoping that you will chime in with your answers either on your own blog or in the comments.
Last week we asked why do you identify as a feminist? This week we are following that up with: Why do you think it is important that others identify as feminists as well?
First of all, because I think that establishing that this, all of this, is what feminism really is about avoids derailing: it keeps the conversation focused on what’s important – putting an end to gender inequality – rather than on definitions or semantics. Secondly, because I think that the more people openly identify as feminists, the more obvious it will become that feminism is for everyone: not just for women, not just for academics, not just for those who are well off, not just for westerners, not just for straight people, not just for cisgendered people, not just for white folks, and so on. The fact that feminism is often perceived as insular does of course have very valid historical roots, but the more people make the term their own, the more that notion will be dispelled.
There is power in numbers and the more we pool our voices together, the more chance we have of being heard. Feminism is for everyone. All of us (even the most privileged) suffer from the consequences of the system in which we live where being a woman is considered ‘other’ and ‘less-than’ and anyone outside the gender binary is even more so. While most people would agree that discrimination is bad, many are willing to overlook anything that doesn’t affect them personally. Many people identify with the facts of feminism but by refusing the label the discussion becomes fragmented and is more easily dismissed and ignored, and so we remain in the same situation or even move backwards when we should be moving forward. Unless we all pool our voices, we won’t be loud enough to be heard.
As I said in my previous answer, I was once one of those who said: “I am not a feminist, but..” Why do I think it is important that others identify as a feminist? It is because only through showing that feminist need not be all that stereotypes will have them be, can the word and thus its message become respected again. If stereotypes manage to prevail, it is as if letting inequality win. By showing the diversity within the common denominator feminism, we show that no one need be ashamed to support the message of gender equality.
I think it’s important for people who oppose sex and gender based discrimination to call themselves feminists because doing so ensures the continuation of a discussion that is a difficult but important one to have; one that too many people feel is unnecessary because they wrongly believe that “equality” has been achieved and that problems disappear when ignored. I also think that part of the stigma against feminism comes from many people thinking that they don’t know any feminists personally, when in all likelihood they do, only they don’t call themselves feminists because they have internalized the negative stereotypes about feminism and no one wants to be ostracized on account of their beliefs. But the more clearly that someone’s parents, friends, teachers, and loved ones identify their feminism, the more palatable feminist action and understanding becomes to those around them. Sure, feminist actions and beliefs are more important to depart than the word itself, but words are powerful and we should use them, not fear them. There are reasons for criticizing or disowning the word feminist as a personal descriptor that I am sensitive to, including the desire to distance oneself from the racist, trans-phobic, imperialist, and other oppressive facets of feminist history (and, too often, the feminist present) or in attempts to ensure that feminism remains centered around activism and doesn’t become apolitical life-style branding. However, let’s not throw out the good with the bad, I say. There are still too many people who fear feminism for the RIGHT reasons (i.e. because they are sexist) but are not terrible people; people who could be persuaded into re-thinking some of their comfortable, messed up assumptions if surprised by the proud declaration of someone they know and respect that they are a feminist. There’s still too much good within feminism to give it up completely, so if “feminist” describes your ideas, then own it! It’s yours to shape and improve. Finally, I think it’s important for feminists to call themselves such as a gesture of appreciation for the work of all the feminists who have come before us and whose achievements are of great personal benefit to us all.