Why Aren’t You a #Feminist?

y-u-no-guyI 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.

/rk

(originally posted at http://medium.com/why-arent-you-a-feminist/67d620304204)

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You Keep Using That Word

We asked for this, you know.  When they changed dictionaries to include ‘figuratively’ as an alternate meaning for literally we were basically asking for trouble.  Literally, even.

thatwordIt turns out religious conservatives were right all along:  It is a slippery slope.  And they’re leading the charge.

The number of words and phrases that are being twisted and misused lately would be humorous, if it weren’t also insidiously shaping our consciousness.  Listed below are a few of my personal (un)favourites (feel free to add yours in the comments):

Intolerance:  Accusing liberals of being ‘intolerant of your intolerance towards homosexuals’, besides making very little common sense, is simply inaccurate.  I am not intolerant of your intolerance; I am outright telling you that you’re a bigot.  People are under no obligation to accept or ignore you being shitty to another human being, whether it’s for religious reasons or just because your’e a jerk.

Fascism:  (commonly coined ‘Liberal Fascism’)  This one goes along with ‘intolerance of my intolerance’.  It gets thrown around a lot when conservatives say things that aren’t politically correct* (e.g. homophobic, racist, misogynist) and there is public outcry.  If you got to say your shitty thing and no one killed you, put you in prison, or overthrew your government by force, and ultimately all you got was your feelings hurt, that’s not fascism.  (Oh — if it got you fired, see freedom of speech**.)

*Politically Correct:  Here’s the thing:  You want to make this sound like a thing that is only correct because people are too ashamed to admit they don’t believe in its correctness.  But you know what?  Most of us just think of those things as ‘correct’.  Also decent and reasonable.  If you don’t really think they are, that’s just you.

**Freedom of Speech:  You are totally free to say any old nasty thing you want.  Free, free, free.  But stop acting all surprised when there are consequences to saying those things.  It’s disingenuous.  Freedom of speech laws like the U.S.’s 1st Amendment protect against repercussions from the government.  That’s it.  It doesn’t mean people can’t tell you you’re wrong (hey look — they have free speech too!) or that your employer can’t fire you.  I mean, when it comes down to it, you’re free to do a lot of things.  You’re free to kill people, for example, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to try to stop you or that there won’t be consequences for those actions.  And if your strongest argument for what you have to say is “I’m allowed!” then you’re mostly going to sound like a petulant five-year-old.

Reverse Racism:  First of all, um, that would just be… racism.  Secondly, unless you are part of a group that has been systematically and historically marginalized, then no.  You can convince me that someone was prejudiced against you and was a total jerk, but you are not being subjected to racism.

Bullying:  That one time that person was a jerk to you — not bullying.  Show me a pattern of behaviour and we’ll talk.  The latest take on this involves the new same-sex discrimination law in Mississippi, with accusations that stores that display pro-LGBT shopper stickers are bullying Christians.  Presumably because it will draw a stark contrast to those shops who don’t display them.  But here’s the thing, not having stickers isn’t what will single you out.  How you treat your LGBT patrons will.  If your real goal was to preserve your own rights, you wouldn’t care that people knew where it was safe for them to shop.  Unless maybe your goal was to institute a law that created an environment of intimidation and uneasiness where people were afraid to show their true selves and instead have to conform to your idea of appropriate behaviour lest they suffer the consequences.  You know, unless that.

Words do, it turns out, matter.  They have power.  And while you can’t restrict people’s use of them (nor should you), I think you really have to have your mind open to how they are used to manipulate.  There are very clear patterns here:  One is to co-opt words that have been used against the transgressor and to twist them around and hurl them back at the accuser.  The other is to purposefully use inflammatory words in mundane circumstances.  For example, I refuse to take you seriously if you accuse someone of being a Nazi (e.g. feminazi).  Are they guilty of the genocide of your people?  No.  Then stop using that word.

The problem with this sort of nonsense is that it tends to eliminate any possibility of reasonable discourse or argument. And I know, religious conservatives, you’re probably saying:  But all those other people aren’t being reasonable because they’re saying I’m wrong!  I’m being persecuted!  Here is my basic problem with that assertion:  You are trying to restrict the rights and freedoms of other people.  The only right or freedom that you are being restricted on is your ability to restrict rights and freedoms.  This isn’t a live and let live situation.  You want to impose your beliefs on everyone, legally and institutionally, whether they share those beliefs or not — which sounds a lot more like fascism to me.

But I wouldn’t use that word.

/rk