I tend to make judgements about people who refuse to identify themselves as feminists. Because as a feminist, it’s hard not to take offense to that, right? I mean, how dare you not believe in equal rights for women?
But that’s where things get tricky.
“I do believe in equal rights for men and women. I’m a Humanist.”
What? No! What you’re describing is feminism. You’re a feminist. This quickly turns into a pretty circular argument, with each of us feeling pretty sure that if we say it enough times, the other person will come around to our respective points of view.
But is this the battle I really want to waste all my energy on? Part of me says ‘yes, absolutely’, because resistance to the use of the words feminist and feminism tend to stem from a misunderstanding of the movement, and to deny the word is tantamount to erasure. At the same time though, this person agrees in principle to the same things that I do: That women deserve the same treatment, respect and rights as men have.
Now if it turns out upon further discussion that they think that we’re already there and that there is no need for the feminist movement because
“…women have jobs and money and there are women politicians for Christ’s sake and oh my God would you let it go, already…”
then we’ve got a problem.
But this is more a question of semantics. And yes, when it comes to semantics I lean towards pedantry, because I think words do matter. Feminism is calledfeminism for a reason: Not to exclude men or to place women on a pedestal above them; but it is to place the needs of women at the forefront of the discussion. Because the only way to change the status quo is to acknowledge where it is failing.
So, getting back to the source of our disagreement: Does it matter what you label yourself? I think it does. But focusing on that fact ignores another salient point:
Do I have the right to tell you how to label yourself?
Saying yes to this is going to be pretty hard for me to do with any conviction. I spend a lot of time fighting on other fronts for the individual’s right to self-identify. I respect people’s choice of personal pronouns and self-identification of gender, for instance. So much of our identity is thrust upon us by labels: They can be damaging when imposed by others, yet liberating when we choose them for ourselves. So I acknowledge that there is a certain hypocrisy in trying to bend you to my will for the sake of a word.
You do, at a fundamental level, have the right to self-identify however you choose.
That doesn’t mean I can’t delve into your motivations, or wonder if perhaps you’ve come to your decision to reject the word feminist based on some stigma you associate with it.
I also want to know if you’re afraid — afraid of what people will think of you if you call yourself a feminist. That’s important to me too; because if you are a feminist and you are afraid of people knowing, that reinforces to me why the label is so important. Because it’s not a dirty word, and women (and men) speaking up for the rights of women shouldn’t be a source of shame. If you fear repercussions for that holding those beliefs, I really want you to consider how important it is to fight that fear.
But if you can’t, I can’t make you. And I won’t make you, because you get to define your identity and how the world perceives you.
Instead I will wear that label for you, for myself, and for all of us.
(originally posted at http://medium.com/why-arent-you-a-feminist/67d620304204)