These are the words my professor uttered a few semesters ago after a classmate stated, Well I don’t personally identify as feminist.
I don’t know if my professor meant we as social workers, or we as women, or we as liberal minded individuals, or we as in every single person ever (I personally lean towards the last option). And I know that professors “should” remain objective but I sure am glad she said it! I know I am not alone either.A lot of my friends in the class breathed a visible sigh of relief when the professor spoke up.
Every time I hear someone, specifically women, renounce feminism I feel myself hold my breath. Suddenly I don’t feel safe because if you are telling me that you do not identify as a feminist it makes me wonder if there is an aspect of equality that does not speak to you? And if that is the case then yeah, back to what I said, I kinda don’t feel completely safe around you.
This exchange led to a really awesome conversation. This professor is a huge feminist and very open about it. We discussed why some people do not choose to identify as feminist, some people in class spoke up to share their reasons.
The reasons ranged from: I don’t know enough about it, to my dad would kill me, to but I don’t hate men, to feminism is not inclusive, to I am not political, to I just don’t believe in it, to feminists are always so angry and I am not an angry person, to I’m not much of an activist.
My professor and some of the rest of us helped illuminate the discussion by explaining some misconceptions and answering questions.
So I wanted to share a little bit of the discussion for anyone else that may still think feminism is a dirty word.. Let’s brush some of that dirt off.
- Feminism is not about hating men. That is a totally different thing called misandry. Some Feminists may personally identify as misandrists but that is like some may identify as lesbian or Christian or Latina or male. You can be all of these things and be feminist but they are not the same. So to be clear: Misandry = dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men. Feminism = the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. NOT THE SAME THING.
- Feminism is all inclusive. Malala Yousafzai defined feminism as a synonym for equality and I personally agree with that definition. Now, this misconception is a fair one, but I would like to clear it up all the same. There are different branches of the feminist tree and some are less inclusive. For example, radical feminism has a history of discriminating against trans folks. Some radical feminists do not believe that trans folks belong in the movement. That is not the feeling of the majority however and feminism as it exists currently is very clear about its commitment to intersectionality and inclusion. Feminism has multiple branches, Liberal, Social, Radical, Womanism.. etc.. If you would be more comfortable getting super specific then I recommend doing the research and pick which one feels right to you. Or define it for yourself, that is a totally acceptable alternative as well.
- “I’m not political/ I am not an activist”. Cool, me either, but I am still a feminist. There are no rules to being a feminist, you get to define it for yourself. Let me repeat: THERE ARE NO RULES, YOU DEFINE WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU. I would not typically attend a protest personally because that it not usually the energy I want to put out into the world, that does not make me care any less about equality and women’s rights. I am also not super political. I think our political system is a joke and have very little faith in our elected officials. That does not make me any less a feminist.
- Not all feminists are angry. That is like saying all social workers work for DCF (my social work friends will get why that is such a cringe worthy statement), or all Christians are anti-gay, or all white people are racist. Those are pretty heavy accusations to make and THEY ARE NOT TRUE. Sure, some feminists are angry, and they have a right to be, consider what we are talking about here; protecting the rights of a group of people who have historically had their rights infringed upon based on their sex/gender. We have a right to be angry. And yes, some feminists bring that masculine energy into the movement, especially at protests. That does not mean all feminists are angry. Personally my brand of feminism comes from more of a earth-mother- nurturing place and I lead with a much more feminine energy. Again, there are no rules, you get to define it. Feminism belongs to you, and to me, and to everyone. We make the decisions about what it means to us. And I would like to make the statement one more time before moving on that there is nothing wrong with being angry. To focus on the emotion in a negative light like that serves to minimize the experience of the individual. People have the right to be angry, we all have the right to feel our feelings. There is nothing wrong or bad about that.
- My family/friends/significant other/social circle/kid/employer/grocer/dog/bus driver wouldn’t understand. THAT IS OKAY. This is not for THEM, it is FOR YOU. The things we believe in BELONG TO US. They are personal, they are sacred. No one is required to understand them and WE DO NOT OWE ANYONE AN EXPLANATION.
I am going to end my list there and address the last reason separately, I just don’t believe in it. To me that is a cop-out. That is shutting down the conversation because for some reason you are scared. It is like when I used to identify as atheist because I knew if I said that when someone tried to talk to me about spirituality the conversation would die and I wanted it to die because spirituality was a scary place for me for a long time. My question is WHY? What stops you from believing it? What is holding you back? What are you unsure of?
If you do not believe in equal rights then say that, say I do not believe in equal rights that way we know where you stand. But to say I don’t believe in feminism without a reason is just putting the movement back and that is not doing gender minorities any favors I can tell you that. Saying I don’t believe in feminism is like saying I don’t believe that Black Lives Matter. Saying I don’t identify with the feminist movement is like saying I don’t identify with the civil rights movement, or the LGBTQ+ movement, or any other social justice movement.
Understand this: Being feminist is not about being better than anyone else, it is not about excluding anyone, it is not about hating anyone. It is about equality and the very fact that feminism is still considered a bad/dirty/scary/negative word to some people proves that the patriarchy is alive and well.
Now more than ever it is IMPERATIVE that you stand up for what you believe. That you openly identify with those beliefs. WE NEED YOUR HELP. If nothing else, please do me this favor, do the movement this favor.. If you can’t get past the label for whatever your reason maybe 1. Please reconsider and 2. Please do not renounce feminism. We are trying to change the world and make it safe for all people, every time you renounce us you are setting back time. Please,please, please if you can’t get past the label at least find it in your heart to be our ally. And as our ally please do not do or say anything that would negatively impact the positive work we are striving towards.
If my passionate advocating has not convinced you, give me one last chance: here are a bunch or celebrity feminists who get it, maybe they will change your mind. I mean who doesn’t love Will Smith?