Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Am Not A Feminist, and I Am Certainly Not Your Feminist

It's been a full ten years, at least, since I felt I had to set aside the term 'feminist'.  This has caused me no end of arguments with feminist friends, and it's resulted in a tremendous number of people assuming I hate women, don't support their equality, or 'just do not understand feminism'.

Initially, I left the word because I kept having this conversation in which I'd try to explain my concerns with the simplistic approach of American feminism, and the other person would become progressively more aggressive towards me for resisting the label.  I've been told that as a woman if I wasn't a feminist I was a traitor to my gender and a tool of the patriarchy, and had no self-respect.  Ultimately, it almost always resolved in the same way, with another woman shouting into my face "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people!  Why don't you think you're a person?"

And so, wearily, I would say, "OK, fine, then, I'm a feminist."  And she would sit smugly back, and congratulate herself on enlightening me, and never once stop to consider that maybe, possibly, it's worth considering that the nuanced complexities of privilege and equality don't resolve that easily into a binary, gendered dynamic.  Some time later, I'd start talking about an opinion, and the same friend would ask me, "How can you possibly think that, and still call yourself a feminist?"

Finally, I settled upon the word 'egalitarian' to describe myself.  I know the word has a bad reputation, because it's been embraced by the "but men/whites/heterosexuals have it JUST AS BAD" crowd, but it really is the best description for me.  What it means is this:

Everyone is not automatically and automagically equal.  Everyone cannot be *made* to be equal.  That way lies Harrison Bergeron.  My vision of equality is equal opportunity.  What we are entitled to is equal rights, equal protection under the law, equal pay for equal work, equal educational options, equal treatment by the system of institutional structures.  I believe that the only limiting factors on a human being's potential should be luck and will, not any function of demographics (and that you cannot handwave 'I was born into a white middle-class family that sent me to good schools' as 'I was just lucky', sorry, thanks for playing, have a version of the home game).  And I will work, on every front I can find, to promote and ensure that equality of opportunity and experience.

And people keep telling me, that yes, of course, that's what feminism is.  It really means 'equality for everyone' and 'a rising tide lifts all boats' and 'if we eliminate patriarchy, everything else will follow because patriarchy hurts men too'.

But it isn't.  Feminism, at least as it exists in my country, is deeply incongruous with equality.  Many feminists supported, for example, Z Budapest's exclusion of transwomen at Pantheacon.  I've found deeply-rooted ableism and body-shaming in self-proclamed safe feminist spaces.  The very fact that a Twitter hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen even exists at its current level of popularity suggests deep divisions in feminism.  The more I read and learn about the growing frustrations with white feminism, how willing we are to overlook the objectification of women of color right inside our own alleged movement for equality, how frequently we appropriate the struggles of women of color to give our own perspectives 'more emotional impact', the less I am comfortable sharing a label with feminism.

I had hoped, that after time had passed, I could be a feminist again.  That the movement would progress, and grow, and fully embrace the nuanced and complicated implications of privilege.  Yes, women are oppressed, I will never dispute that in the current culture.  But we're not The Oppressed.  Oppression is a hydra, a vicious, insidious, ugly beast woven into our social structure, and a vanishingly small number of people never experience it in any form.  I cannot claim to 'own' oppression because of my gender, and I cannot pretend that my experience as a woman is a one-stop ticket to Getting What It Is Like for any other group.

So, with a heavy heart, I begin to accept that while I support feminist ideals, and I support the advancement of women and the protection of our rights and freedoms, it is fully possible that I will never, with a clear conscience, be able to embrace the label 'feminist' again.

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