Friday, January 13, 2012

Calling Someone a Feminist is Not Necessarily a Compliment

Another guest post from Renee of Womanist Musings.

I love the blog The Crunk Feminist Collective, but I recently came across a post that I found disturbing that feel I need to respond to.
I’m a feminist. Sometimes it feels like I live breathe, eat, and sleep feminism. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m just feminist enough. A while ago, I made the mistake of calling another like-minded individual a feminist. I don’t even remember what they did to merit the honor, but I sure do remember their reaction. They actually got offended at the fact that I called them a feminist. Wait. Stop. What?

I was taken aback by the negative reaction. I didn’t even know what to say or where to start. I apologized for offending them and we both went our separate ways. I still think of them as a closeted feminist. This made me realize that I need to be prepared. Should the opportunity present itself again, this is what I will say:

“Relax. I wasn’t trying to offend you. Me calling you a feminist was a fucking compliment. Why? Well, for starters your actions showed me your amazing strength. In spite of the patriarchal/political/cultural/societal structure that fails and oppresses you daily, I saw you fight back. I was impressed. So impressed that I called you a feminist. That was some real feminist shiiiiiit.

So, the next time you want to go on and be offended because I called you a feminist, please check yourself. You’re a fucking feminist. Deal with it. Don’t do feminist shit if you don’t want to be called out. Stop fighting it. Join the movement (willingly). We fight for you. We will fight with you. We believe in you. We will believe with you. We SEE you. We will always see YOU.” (source)
I probably would have let this go, had I not come across a piece on Transadvocate exhorting trans women to take on the label of feminist, despite the history of transphobia engaged in for decades by feminists.  Monica of Transgriot, responded by talking about the issues faced by transwomen of colour. I have written several posts about why I am not a feminist, since starting Womanist Musings almost four years ago. 

I remember how excited I was when I first became a feminist.  In my early years, I was hyper aware of gender imbalance in my own family, and that coupled with my experiences inside of the Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist faith, left me feeling extremely disillusioned.  At one point, I had even stopped believing in God, because I saw no place in the doctrines that I was raised in for gender equality.  It is thanks to feminist theologians that I can declare myself a believer in God today.  I was so excited to find a group that affirmed by beliefs and gave me back my religious faith.  I thought that I had found a home for life, and it is only over time that I discovered the various ways in which feminism can be exclusionary.

I was desperate for the longest time to hold onto this label. How could I turn my back on something that had given me so very much?  I found a way to justify everything, and told myself that it was all in the service of the greater good, but over time, the bad simply out weighed the good and I was forced to say goodbye to feminism.  This separation did not cause me to change my belief system, or my desire to fight for social justice.  After some time I stumbled across womanism, and though it does have problems largely based in those whose womanism is faith based, it was a place that I could call home because it recognized all facets of my identity. You see, I cannot separate my race from gender and still be myself.  Womanism allowed me to marry my belief in anti-racism with gender equality and in time with more reading, gave me the language to talk about various other isms.

As I mentioned earlier, this latest post at Crunk Feminist Collective makes the second post in a week to pressure women into taking on the label of feminist.  How is this different than Jehovah's Witnesses going door to door in an effort to get new converts? These kind of pleas place no interest in what the individual woman believes, they simply seek to create converts to their way of thinking, and yet we are to believe that feminism is about respecting the agency of women.  Trust women they tell us, and yet they have displayed no trust that we are capable of deciding for ourselves what label we want to identify as.

It is not now, or ever will be a compliment to call someone a name that they either find offensive, or are uncomfortable with.  It will never be acceptable to tell women to cast aside their lived experience for the greater good.  None of these suggestions support women, and in fact represent patriarchal thinking, because that is the genesis of the idea that women need to be told what to believe, and what to do for their own good. Even though the name of this blog is Womanist Musings, I still have people refer to this as a feminist space, denying my very obvious stated identity.

Instead of fixating on what women choose to call themselves causing a rift, what feminists should be doing is seeking to build alliances and examining what kind of activism that women are involved in.  Just because this space is a womanist space, does not mean that I am not actively engaged in challenging various isms, and in fact, a look through the archives proves this.  I am further positive that women who refuse to take on the label of feminist also engage quite actively in the struggle to end gender based oppression. The suggestion that women need to be feminist in order to be active to end gender inequality specifically discards the work of womanists, and radical women of colour, who separated from the feminist movement due to decades of active racism engaged in by White women, in an effort to maintain their White privilege.  It also ignores the work of disabled activists, and trans women, who separated themselves from feminism due to ableism and transphobia.  Feminism is not the only vehicle in which women can come to awareness and choose to rise up against the forces that restrict their lives.

The following list printed at Crunk Feminist Collective are feminist beliefs:

  • Don’t believe the hype
  • Take action to make the world a more just place (for all its inhabitants)
  • Question the patriarchy
  • Acknowledge your own privilege(s)
  • Believe that you are beautiful just they way you are–even on bad days
  • Talked to your friend/child/neighbor/family about the skewed norms the media/marketing machines create, uphold and push on us
  • Stood up to someone when they did you (or someone you love) wrong
  • Told your child that his/her hair, skin, smile, are beautiful
  • Questioned a double standard
  • Gave yourself permission to love yourself and others
But they are also the beliefs of scores of women who don't identify as feminist for various reasons.  Feminism does not hold a monopoly on women's activism, and it's time that they start to understand this. If they truly want women to identify as feminist, rather than attempting to force this label on us, perhaps they should address the various issues which have caused so many to take issue with feminist organizing.  It's far easier to point a finger outward, than it is to look inward and examine the various issues within feminism.  It is not those of us who continue to work for change and refuse to identify as feminist that are failing women, it's feminists who have failed to work on the exclusionary aspects of the feminist movement that are failing us.

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