Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Feminist Manifesto Part 1: The Word “Feminism”

 Feminism to me is not, never has been, and never will be about elevating women above men or about denigrating or degrading men in any way. I don’t know a single feminist who would define their experience of/with feminism in that way or who would ever actually want such a thing. I know feminists who have trouble trusting men because of what society has taught them about men and how they should relate to/fear them or worse, because their personal experience has taught them men should be feared first and only trusted once they have proven themselves trustworthy (see Shrodingers Rapist). This is the hardly the same thing as being a femi-nazi man-hater, despite how often people insist that being a feminist means being a femi-nazi man-hater. What this mistrust is is an artifact of our troubled society and really, despite this, many of the feminists I know love men. Like, really seriously love men.

I happen to have an uneasy relationship to men, both because of experiences I have had with men and what society has taught me about my place in it and about how I should expect men to treat me (one of my early sex-ed classes in middle school involved a lecture to the female students informing them that they should assume all men are rapists. The teacher proceeded to teach us how to not be raped, putting all accountability for any potential attack on our ability to fend it off or prevent the attack even happening rather than on the attacker for making the choice to attack. This is reinforced on a daily basis by attitudes like “boys will be boys” and “she was asking for it”). Despite this, I also happen to love men. Many of my friends are men, and most of my best friends are men. I also quite enjoy loving men romantically…and sexually.

So no. Feminism has never been and never will be about putting down men and raising up women. It’s about achieving equality between the sexes – and it also happens to be about so much more than that. It’s also about achieving equality for people of all races, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities and disabilities…and so much more.

It’s about equality for all human beings. It’s about ensuring basic rights for all human beings. Plain and simple.

So why call it feminism? At this point I want to say that I truly hope that you are familiar with Joss Whedon’s speech on the word feminism and the controversy that ensued. Calling into question our language and why we use it and if we can use it better is very important. Language is communication, and the words we choose to use can convey values and expectations and can and often do shape the world we live in. Consider the way the words “gay,” “fag,” and “dyke” are used as insults, and how this shapes and reinforces perceptions and ideas about homosexuals. Joss was absolutely right to call into question the word feminism and ask if there is a better way to express all that is encompassed in the word. He was right to challenge us to think critically about the word and why we use it.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments similar to his about why the word “feminism” may be hindering rather than helping: it suggests the priority of the concerns of the feminine over other concerns. I recently encountered a friend of mine who is herself an incredibly strong individual as well as incredibly smart perpetuating this idea that feminism can’t and shouldn’t be supported because it inherently puts down men. Trying to challenge this idea and press instead the idea that such an understanding of feminism is innately flawed and ignores real feminist goals and values as expressed by the majority of self-proclaimed feminists, she conceded that I wasn’t like those other feminists, but that they are out there and they’re ruining the whole thing for everybody. Yeah, those people totally exist, and yeah, they’re dicks. But they’re not the ones perpetuating this idea. In reality they’re a relatively quiet minority – at least as far as my experience goes. I’ve never met a man-hating femi-nazi.

Rather, it’s people who misunderstand what the word “feminism” represents who are ruining it. It was frustrating, to say the least, to encounter a very intelligent woman buying into this gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of feminism – and not be able to see past that misunderstanding and misrepresentation or see how perpetuating it is harmful. It was frustrating to see that perpetuation at work, and see how it had already done plenty of work on someone I have such respect for.

Despite the confusion the word seems to tow along with it, I stick with feminism. After listening to Joss Whedon’s speech and reading the many criticisms that arose in its wake, I decided that feminism is, in fact, the word I want to use. It is far more encompassing than issues pertaining only to women, but because the movement has its roots in suffrage, one of the earliest movements to focus specifically on women’s issues (albeit a rather limited idea of what “women’s” issues were or are) and because to this day it does still have a strong focus on how imbalanced power dynamics between the sexes negatively affects society (and everyone included therein, not just women) but especially with an eye to the way in which women have been historically denigrated and with an aim to alter the ways in which that practice continues…yeah, I want to stick with the word feminism. It just makes sense to me to use this word for a movement and ideal which, though it has grown to encompass much more, originates with and still to a great degree focuses on women’s issues.

Not only because women’s issues specifically was the root of the movement but because a lot of women have suffered and even died in the name of this movement, all over the world. To retain the word “feminism,” to me, is to honor the sacrifices others have made which have helped to shape my world in a positive way. To discard the word would feel disrespectful. Maybe that’s a silly way of thinking about it, but it’s somewhat in my nature to want to pay homage to those who paved the way. And so I shall.

Obviously not all people who qualify as feminist under my definition like to use that word. I know several feminists who agreed whole-heartedly with Joss, and who like to use different labels for their social and political leanings than I do, and that’s fine. It’s not my place to give other people labels or define their experiences or socio-political stances (I just prefer it if they don’t tear down feminism as a whole and as a movement simply because they misinterpret the word or don’t quite agree with it). What I want to do in this series of blogs is to detail what feminism means to me. It hardly applies to anyone else, unless someone else finds themselves agreeing with every point I make in which case rock on sister/brother/however you identify you lovely being. But in a way that is the problem with feminism – or really any socio-political movement which is, by nature, defined by the individual who claims the label.

It was an article on the degree to which there are so many different kinds of feminism and figuring out what is “right” and what is “wrong” and where one variety of feminism ends and another begins which inspired me to write this (if I could find the article, I would link it to you. There are so many articles and blogs of this variety, however, that I’ve been unable to track down this one specifically.) In that article a woman was quoted as saying she wanted to see feminists writing manifestos, trying to form these definitions, and my brain said “Challenge accepted” so here I am – with more to come in the future.

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