A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Category Archives: Personal

Why is Reading Classic Feminist Texts so Important?

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.

On July 1st we asked why do you identify as a feminist? We followed up on July 8th asking why do you think it is important that others identify as feminists as well? Last week on July 15th we asked why do you think there is a stigma attached to the feminist label? Today we are finishing up by relating these questions back to this project and asking Why do you think reading these classic feminist texts are so important?

Iris:

Because I think that if you are going to call yourself a feminist, it is good to know at least a little about the history of the term. Especially because of the controversy around the term, it seems like a good way to get to know the ins and outs, to know where some of the “stigmas” have come from, to see with your own eyes how some early feminist were racist for example is to learn to reflect on that and change your own position. By reading a selection of classics on the subject you offer yourself an opportunity to engage with the different notions of feminism that have existed and to decide what forms and arguments you agree and disagree with. Since I believe every identification like “I am a feminist” or “I am a vegetarian” is a matter of growth, no one ever is and everyone becomes – to throw in a cliché, to keep reading this texts is to keep learning and positioning yourself. Something about that just sounds so attractive to me. And, I believe that by reading these texts together with a group of people, you learn even more, especially since we’re all from different backgrounds, in a different stage of life and thus reflect on these texts differently, it has opened my eyes to so many issues I would not have considered otherwise

Emily:

It is entirely possible for people to be feminists and do important feminist work without ever having read a “classic feminist book”, taken a course on feminism, or, yes, even used the word “feminist”. However, reading historically important feminist texts is a really great way to contextualize our feminist convictions. It’s a way of grounding these convictions and challenging them against others so that they continue to evolve, and so that we are better able to articulate and communicate them to each other. It’s a way to better understand the current position of women and feminism in our world, to gain inspiration, and to locate problem areas in feminist movement that need to be improved upon. They can help serve as starting points for conversations between feminists and those who aren’t sure yet whether they’re feminists or not, but are curious about feminism. Regardless of where one is in their individual development in relation to feminism, reading and talking about feminist texts is a good way to focus conversation and get us talking about what’s important to us. Which is, of course, the aim of this blog 🙂

Ana:

History has a way of repeating itself, and the past is very often not as different from the present as we’d like to believe. This is not to deny the incredible progress that was made in the last century or so when it comes to gender equality, of course. But nevertheless, the issues women deal with now are in fact similar to issues women have faced in the past. And even if not, reading about the way other obstacles were conceptualised and overcome can give us useful ideas with very real and practical applications. It can also shed light on the blind spots of previous generations of feminists – which are of course not negligible, as anyone who’s read our selections so far will have noticed – and hopefully open our eyes to present ones. Last but not least, these classics are fun, interesting, and great conversation starters.

Amy:

While I don’t think that reading feminist classics is required to call oneself a feminist, I think that it is important for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, reading these texts reminds us of how far we really have come. We can see where we used to be and how much progress has been made and how important the movement really has been. The second reason is that we can learn the truth behind many of the false claims that anti-feminists made because we know our true history. The third reason is that we can learn both the similarities that exist between past and present and some ideas on how to move forward. Even though we’ve come so far, when we read many of these classic texts there are a scary amount of similarities that perhaps aren’t the exact same issue but the parallels are there. This teaches us how far we still have to go as well as how we might get there. Lastly, it is a way to solidify ones own beliefs by discussing these ideas with others and both learning to grow and accept other perspectives and by learning why and how these issues are important.

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Why is there a Stigma Attached to the Feminist Label?

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.

On July 1st we asked why do you identify as a feminist? We followed up on July 8th asking why do you think it is important that others identify as feminists as well? This week we want to know, Why do you think there is a stigma attached to the feminist label?

Amy:

Think about it, the only way to get real action is to work together, and those in power are the ones who keep reinforcing the anti-feminism message. Did you know that women never actually burned their bras? Did you know that many (most) early feminists were happily married with children? Did you know that even those feminists who are lesbian or queer usually don’t hate men? Did you know that there are many men who are feminists? Despite the fact that none of it is true, we have this cultural stereotype of the feminist as a bra-burning, man hating, ugly woman who is just bitter because she can’t get a man. It is frustrating to know that the lies and rhetoric actually work. The stigma is there because we are lied to, the stigma is there because those with power like having power and like abusing power.

Iris:

The stigma attached to the feminist label frankly baffles me. It was only when I first started to question my aversion to the term that I realised how ridiculous the stigma is. What I was trying to say, back when my favourite line used to be “I’m not a feminist, but..”, was really: I don’t want you to associate me with all the prejudices surrounding this term, but yet, I am for gender equality. But when I think about it, it is hard to give even a proper description of this vague notion of the stigma attached to feminism. What is it really? Is it the fact that I don’t want to be a bra-burning person, like the movies we had to watch when we very shortly dealt with feminism in high school? Why do I even mind that people who called themselves feminist burned their bras? Or is it the notion that as a feminist gender equality is your only focus, forgetting other social injustices in the process? But back in high school, I am not sure I even considered that part of the prejudice. I guess for academics, that is one reason they turned to the term gender instead of feminist studies: wanting to take away the idea that other inequalities did not count, as well as the idea that masculinity could not be studied as part of a feminist agenda. But I wonder if the change of term wasn’t a matter of ascending to this dominant “stigma” (whatever it entails, really). I am hesitant to say that this very vague notion of a stigma that so many conjure up as soon as the word feminism is used, that I so often felt the need to defend myself against, is really a way of “structures” in “society” resisting gender equality? Hesitant because structures and society are such vague terms too. But part of the reason that this stigma is still attached to the term must be because it is an easy way to minimize the “threat” feminism poses? And part of it, I think, is part of the history of feminism itself. But that does not mean that the stigma is relevant today – it just means that feminism took different forms in different situations and where we allow for that kind of change in other terms for groups, apparently it is hard to let go of them in this context. See, I have no answers, just questions.

Emily:

I think the stigma against feminism comes from the misunderstanding that elimination of male privilege means the elimination of men or, less dramatically, that since we live in a gender-binary society, feminism is a zero-sum game which must empower women at the expense of men. This is false. Because we live in a society that understand sex and gender as binary, sexism is a double-sided coin. Feminism doesn’t flip the coin, though: it simply gets rid of it. Feminism liberates both men and women from sexism, not by creating some sex or gender-free imaginary landscape, or post-feminist gender-blind society, or whatever, but by opening up more space in terms of what is deemed socially acceptable so that everyone is presented with more options for self-expression, behavior, and opportunity, regardless of their sex or gender. The process of liberation does take work, however, and people who are privileged by the current system are loath to see it crumble. This is why all outbursts of feminist action are followed by extreme backlash and, unfortunately, anti-feminists have been really effective at negatively branding what they see, rightly, as a serious threat to their positions of privilege. By demonizing feminists on account of their real or perceived looks, career choices, family status, or any number of silly judgmental things, they focus attention away from what feminism is actually about; the dismantling of unfair systems of privilege.

Ana:

I think it’s a mix of ignorance and fear: some people genuinely fear everything feminism stands for due to their attachment to what is to them a very comfortable status quo; others actually do believe in some if not all the core principles of feminism, but they’re not clear on what the term actually means. There are many myths surrounding the word “feminism” – that it’s about hating men, that it means you have to give up or actually shun anything associated with traditional femininity, that feminists are all humourless, etc. – but perhaps the most insidious and bizarre is the notion that to draw attention to gender inequality is to reinforce it. People often make arguments that mirror the notion of “colour blindness” is discussions about race: they seem to think that if you truly believe in equality and reject gender stereotypes, then you should never focus on issues that affect women, or in any way acknowledge the very real ways in which the construct of gender constrains people’s lives. I look forward to a world where this is possible, but that world, my friends, is not the one in which we currently live.

Why Should Others Identify as Feminists?

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?

Ana:

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.

Amy:

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.

Iris:

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.

Emily:

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.

Why Do You Identify as a Feminist?

At this, the half-year mark, we want to send a huge THANK YOU out to all participants and readers!

We thought that to celebrate this milestone 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.

Why do you identify as a feminist?

Emily:

My favorite definition of feminism comes from bell hooks, who says that feminism is the struggle against sexist oppression. Globally, women suffer disproportionately from poverty, little or no access to healthcare, illiteracy, and various forms of domestic and sexual violence. I call myself a feminist because I think this is wrong, that it’s not inevitable, and that it’s my personal responsibility as a compassionate human being to combat this state of affairs in my daily life in all the small but meaningful ways I can. Because women and children are often the most vulnerable members of their communities, raising their standards of living raises the living standards of whole communities. Feminism is not enough: a coherent, effective approach toward social justice, or becoming the person I envision as my best, most fulfilled self, must also include the struggle against other forms of oppression which inevitably intersect with those of sex and gender based discrimination including, but not limited to, sexual, religious, racial, and economic systems of devaluation. So, feminism is not an end-point: it is, however, a crucial part of both my social justice worldview and my personal understanding of myself, the world, and what I want to accomplish within it, regardless of barriers imposed by sexist social structures. It gives me the tools for understanding my place in the world in relation to others, and for realizing most fully my own potential while encouraging others to do the same.

Ana:

Because, as Cheris Kramarae put it, “feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” This may seem obvious, but we live in a world that still treats women as second class citizens – be it through the gender pay gap, the unfair division of domestic labour or the reality of sexual assault in the developed world; or the incredible poverty, illness and violence that disproportionately afflict women in the developing world. Gender is of course not the sole cause of inequality in the world, but feminism is nevertheless a crucial part of any social justice movement. It all comes down to the fact that the world does not give women a fair deal, but there’s something we all can do about that.

Amy:

Simply being a woman affects me in so many ways: if I am sexually assaulted or am abused by my partner, I don’t have recourse to justice because I am disbelieved and my character is questioned; as a woman if I decide to take time off to raise my children, it will count against me if I try to rejoin the job market; as a woman I am less likely to have the same autonomy over my body and my health, because other people restrict my health care access and choices; as a woman I have to put up with sexual discrimination and sexual harassment on the job and in the streets on a regular basis. The list is endless, horrifying when put together, and also upsetting. If, as a society, we refuse to give fully equal rights to (and are actively decreasing the rights of) roughly half of the members in the society, what does that really tell us about our values and our future? I want to live in a world where women can live safely and securely and have the same rights as men. I want to live in a world where my gender (be it female or male) dictates such a large part of what I can do, what I can want, and what I can become. I want to live in a world where we are all safe and free to be ourselves. It is unacceptable that we aren’t already there, and we can all do something about it. Hence, I identify (loudly, and proudly) a feminist.

Iris:

Compared to the answers of the others, I feel a little ashamed to admit that I must have been fairly late to identify as a feminist. Yes, I hail from the generation that likes to use the words “I’m not a feminist, but..” and even when my interest in university started to go in the direction of gender studies, I would have endless discussions with male friends in which – apparently – the argument “I’m not a feminist” is considered necessary to be taken seriously. However, since I started using gender as a category of analysis in university (which was at about the same time that I started blogging and found the wonderful Women Unbound Challenge), I have realised how necessary it is to identify as a feminist. Most of us are well aware of the visible gender gap across the world, but what made me truly identify as a feminist are the more ‘hidden’ inequalities. Ever since I started looking at historical sources – and consequently at everyday things like commercials, movies, books and TV shows – through the eyes of discourse analysis and the implicit ways in which women so often are subjected, I have truly become a feminist. Silly as it may sound that I needed these implicit things to hit home before I could come to terms with identifying myself as a feminist, I think it does say a lot. So, I identify as a feminist because all too often, explicitly and implicitly, women are still considered unequal to men, because sometimes, they are not even considered human. As a fellow human being, I don’t want to accept these things at face value. I want to at the very least be aware of them. Moreover I would like to draw attention to these issues so that other girls who once said that they are not feminists – almost as a defence mechanism? – will realise that asking for equality is nothing to be ashamed of, that it is, actually, necessary. As such, like Emily, Amy and Ana, feminism is not an endpoint, it is but one part of the awareness of inequality in the world. However, to me it is one of the basic things to be aware about – and an important one at that.

What about you – do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not?