Sunday, February 10, 2008

The "Women are afraid of the feminist label" meme

A little bit of a pet peeve of mine.

"Feminist," it seems, has ended up in the same syntactical purgatory as another once-useful, now-reviled term: liberal. Most people endorse what that word historically has stood for — integration, child labor laws, product safety — yet they treat the word itself like anthrax.

I really hate this meme.

There's a reason people who espouse these beliefs do not adopt the term "feminist".


You do not have to be a feminist to believe in child labour laws, product safety, equal pay for equal work, birth control, abortion, equality amongst the sexes, etc. etc. etc.

Dr. Deborah Tannen agrees. She is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of a number of books on gender and communication, including: "You're Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation." "The reason, I believe, is that meanings of words come from how they're used. And since the word 'feminist' is used as a negative term rather than a positive one, people don't want to be associated with it."

Or how about they just do not believe in the movement?

What if you believe in birth control and abortion, but you do not believe that gender is constructed, that there's no patriarchal conspiracy, and that old-fashioned courtship values should remain? ("Men should be the ones to ask for dates").

You can't be a feminist and say "let the guy ask for the date". That's ridiculous.

Some women have some beliefs in common with feminists. And then there are other beliefs that are anti-thetical to feminism.

I thought feminism was about letting women make up their own minds about what is true or not.

But no, that's not the case. To be a feminist, there are a set of beliefs that you must not deviate from, otherwise you're not a true feminist.

It's only normal that a movement have a standard of "orthodoxy" if you will. It wouldn't make sense if it didn't.

But most women don't meet that standard of orthodoxy in on several points.

That's why they don't call themselves feminists.

We have lost, I think, collective memory of how things were before the F-word. Of the casual beatings. Of casual rape. Of words like "old maid" and "spinster." Of abortion by coat hanger. Of going to school to find a man. Of getting an allowance and needing a husband's permission. Of taking all your spirit, all your dreams, all your ambition, aspiration and creativity and pounding them down until they fit a space no larger than a casserole dish.

"I'm not a feminist, but . . ."? That's a fraud. It's intellectually dishonest. And it's a slap to the feminists who prepared the table at which today's young women sup.

Yeah, and Christianity prepared the way for feminism, with its unique notion of the equality of the sexes, of a universal morality for both sexes (it's not okay for the man to have adultery) etc.

But that shouldn't mean everyone who believes those things should call themselves Christians.

You are not obliged to believe in a patriarchal conspiracy just because feminists won the right to vote in the earlier part of the 20th century. I very much believe in the right to vote for women. Am I going to reject my own beliefs simply because I think feminists were right on this point?

That's dumb.

This strikes me as a desperate appeal to get more women into the feminist fold without really questioning whether they really are feminists, whether they really agree with the feminist philosophy in toto.

I considered myself a feminist in high school. I believed that patriarchy oppressed women. I believed that women were constantly discriminated against.

But I also believed that abortion and homosexual behaviour were wrong.

Do you think that genuine feminists were happy to have someone like that in their fold?


Why? Because feminism is more than just a series of policy proposals about women. It's an all-encompassing philosophy of life. And if you don't buy it, you're not a feminist.

It's really that simple.

Just look at how Judy Rebick et. al. raked Elizabeth May over the coals for suggesting that there is no such thing as a right to a frivolous abortion.

Elizabeth May considers herself a feminist.

But many others do not.

She isn't really radical enough to be one. She's too capitalist. She tries to appeal to the "big boys",i.e. win votes.

This isn't just about how non-feminists perceive the "feminist" label.

It's about how feminists treat other self-described feminists once they've adopted it.

I think women who are not genuine feminists are right not to call themselves feminists. They're being honest and frankly, showing a lot of independence by not having to adopt that label.

Women should have the right to adopt individual beliefs, and just because they believe some tenets of feminism, and not others, doesn't make them feminists.

It makes them individuals. Women are fully capable of doing this, without feminist help. You do not need an ideology to be an individual and ignore conventions.

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