An argument for feminism

I just had an attack of the 500-line comment, so I decided to turn it into a blog post instead. On her blog, Angry Black Woman has a post up called On Feminism, part 1 where she quotes from Why I am Not a Feminist, or “My Anti-Feminist Manifesto”. The author hits on many of the problems that have plagued the feminist movement since its birth. Namely, she takes issue with the rampant white, middle-class, Western privilege that exists in many parts of the movement.

She isn’t wrong.

I’m only a fledgling when it comes to participation in feminist activism, and I have a whole heaping of privilege to boot, but I’ve seen the issues that she points out crop up more than once in the feminist blogsphere. My “Check my what?” post isn’t just for non-feminists, but it’s also there to try to help feminists, who already understand gender oppression, understand how to acknowledge and deal with their other privileges. So, yes, I understand (insofar as I can) her choice.

But, I can’t help but wonder why feminism has to be defined by the privileged. There are plenty of strands of feminism that I vehemently disagree with (most of them having to do with feminists who want their gender-based oppression acknowledged but refuse to acknowledge their white, class, cisgendered, etc privilege), but I don’t let them define feminism. And if I did — if I refused to call myself feminist because there are people out there too busy naval gazing to see the big picture — then who will be there to show others that there is a different side to the movement? Who would be there to further my particular interests?

As someone who has a whole heaping of privilege — white privilege, class privileged, able-bodied privilege, and cisgendered privilege in particular — I am in no position to pass judgment on women who feel the movement has failed them. Mainstream feminism has a long, long way to go in recognizing and redressing the rampant unacknowledged privilege, and I can’t blame someone for not wanting to walk into that battlefield. But at the same time there is a part of me who sees the, “I’m not a feminist, but…” argument that has done so much to keep us from forming solid relationships with each other. Every time a feminist woman — especially when she has very good reasons — says that she doesn’t use the feminist label, I feel it as a loss.

Which, I guess, brings me back to my first question: why do we have to define ourselves based on what other feminists think? Why can’t feminism be about connecting with other women and discussing the subjects that matter to us (talking about our own issues; listening to the issues of others)? Why can’t feminism take care not to engage in the deplorable behaviour that has been outlined in the Manifesto?

In the end, the only thing I can do is to be the one working towards building a feminism that people like Ms. Hernández would be proud to be a part of. I know that I, alone, don’t have that kind of power, but I know that I’m not the only ally. I’m not the only feminist working towards a feminism that understands that women come in all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, from all different cultures. And I can only hope that one day it will be enough. That one day when people think “feminist” it will conjure up a positive image of women coming together to fight for diversity, rather than the negative one of an elitist movement of middle-class white women.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Reddit
  • Tumblr
This entry was posted in Feminism, Multiculturalism, Privilege, The Evil -ism's. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to An argument for feminism

  1. Winters Wrath says:

    I just wanted to let you know that I’m in the middle of finals right now. Since I’m a little stressed, my writing skills aren’t up to where they normally are. So I’d just like to apologize in advance for any confusion.

    I can’t help but wonder why feminism has to be defined by the privileged.

    I don’t think it has to be. Feminism — like everything else — is ultimately defined by those who are best able to shape cultural mythology. In the context of U.S. history, in the 1960s the women in the best position to gain access to mass media and political power — and, thus, shape cultural mythology — were be white upper-middle class heterosexual cisgendered women.

    but I don’t let them define feminism.

    I wonder whether this statement conflates definition with reading. As I understand it:

    Definition:Culture::Reading:Individual. In other words, an individual’s interpretation is like a vote for president in an average (i.e., not 2000) election: it doesn’t count for much individually.

    Since individuals can’t really control definitions, usually the most effective way to construct your identity is to reject the problematic definitions. The only other alternative is coming up with a new term, but that requires certain types of social influence that very few individuals — white or PoC — have. (See Alice Walker’s use of the term “womanism.”)

    why do we have to define ourselves based on what other feminists think? Why can’t feminism be about connecting with other women and discussing the subjects that matter to us (talking about our own issues; listening to the issues of others)?

    Your sentences answer your own question: it’s because humans can’t connect without language. Like it or not, definitions are fundamentally about the Other and they’re always culturally mediated. The way out of the puzzle is to deconstruct the difference between us and them through imaginable empathy.

    Why can’t feminism take care not to engage in the deplorable behaviour that has been outlined in the Manifesto?

    Feminism can change to not engage in the behavior described by the Manifesto. But that has more to do with imaginary empathy than with individuals accepting or rejecting definitions.

  2. Sara says:

    why do we have to define ourselves based on what other feminists think? Why can’t feminism be about connecting with other women and discussing the subjects that matter to us (talking about our own issues; listening to the issues of others)? Why can’t feminism take care not to engage in the deplorable behaviour that has been outlined in the Manifesto?

    The thing that comes to my mind first and foremost when I hear that question is what then prevents anti-feminists from calling themselves feminists? Feminism has to have a definition somewhere and while I agree that it’s problematic to let it be defined simply by its most privileged members, I certainly wouldn’t want people like Dawn Eden being able to claim the label and then say “well sure I disagree with other feminists but I’m still a feminist,” or those Concerned Women for America people, etc.

    (Sorry I’m incoherent, I’m tired and hungry :p)

  3. Amazon says:

    You make some excellent points, madame. :-D

    It makes me sad, too, when folks decide to say “No, I’m not a feminist” rather than change what that label means by… heh. I want to say ‘by adding their voices to the throng’, but I think a better metaphor would be a patchwork quilt – one movement made up of zillions of *different* takes on things.

    On a Random Typo Spotting Note:

    [That one day when people think “feminist” it will conjure up a positive image of women coming together to FIGHT DIVERSITY, rather than the negative one of an elitist movement of middle-class white women.]

    I assume you meant “fight *for* diversity” – yeah? ;-)

    Take care, m’dear. :-)

  4. Fantastic, necessary post. Most of the feminists I know/read seem to be becoming more and more aware of the need to recognize that the most work being done in feminism right now is work being done in the so-called margins.

    “That one day when people think “feminist” it will conjure up a positive image of women coming together to fight diversity, rather than the negative one of an elitist movement of middle-class white women.”

    I’m not exactly sure you mean coming together to fight diversity, but maybe I’m missing something. At any rate, I would add: “…it will conjure up a positive image of people of all genders coming together…”

  5. tekanji says:

    Fixed the typo. Thanks Amazon and Jeff. As for the actual content of all of the comments, I don’t have the time/energy to properly address them right now, so if anyone else wants to take a crack at them, please do :)

  6. 01d55 says:
    why do we have to define ourselves based on what other feminists think? Why can’t feminism be about connecting with other women and discussing the subjects that matter to us (talking about our own issues; listening to the issues of others)? Why can’t feminism take care not to engage in the deplorable behaviour that has been outlined in the Manifesto?

    The thing that comes to my mind first and foremost when I hear that question is what then prevents anti-feminists from calling themselves feminists? Feminism has to have a definition somewhere and while I agree that it’s problematic to let it be defined simply by its most privileged members, I certainly wouldn’t want people like Dawn Eden being able to claim the label and then say “well sure I disagree with other feminists but I’m still a feminist,” or those Concerned Women for America people, etc.

    A chance to apply what I learned in Semantics 1!
    A word’s meaning can be divided into entailments and implicatures. Entailments are what dictionaries are made to describe – a word’s strict definition, things that a word always asserts.
    An implicature is something implied by a word’s use in a context.

    Feminism entails that women ought to be social equals of men. In the context of our history and culture, “feminist movement” implies the failure to confront other privileges, but does not entail that failure. A different culture could exist, in which “feminist movement” would imply a movement which holds the values Tekanji describes, but a word can’t have implicatures which contradict their entailments*.

    Anti-Feminist movements, such as Concerned Women for America, reject the social equality of women and thereby contradict the entailments of the word “feminist,” and if they claim to be feminists one can fairly say that they would be lying.

    *Excepting when they occur in sarcastic statements.

  7. Sara says:

    Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that will mean very little to the masses of people who hear those women described as feminists. It’s all well and good do know there’s a difference between denotation and connotation, but we’re talking about people who still believe that feminists hate men and don’t shave. I’m pretty sure they’d be willing to believe that CWA is “feminist.”

  8. Pingback: Feminism Friday: When women who advocate for women’s rights reject the label “feminist” « Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

Comments are closed.