I’m Not A Feminist But…

I think one of the most frequently heard things said about any social or political issues relating to women has to be “I’m not a feminist but…” and the person talking will generally come out with something that sounds pretty much like feminism to me. It seems to bug so many feminists that someone won’t throw their towel in with them and accept the feminist label. I think that getting annoyed with someone who expresses feminist opinions but doesn’t identify as a feminist is just going to lose more support for feminism than persuading people to declare their support.

I’m a big fan of Caitlin Moran’s philosophy that if you have a vagina and want to be in control of what happens to it and you, then you’re a feminist, but sometimes there is a reluctance there and there are many valid reasons why people, including me sometimes, don’t frame their political views as feminist.

Scary Ideas About Feminists

The first, simplest and most obvious reason is the portrayal of feminists by the media and, occasionally by themselves. Many of my friends see feminists as people looking for a reason to frown on having fun, against sex and anti-men. We’re not and as a whole, I would say feminists are pro-men and pro-sex. There’s nothing new about this line of thought which is why I’m quickly moving onto the other reasons why someone might be reluctant to call themselves a feminist.

Too Much Infighting

While feminism as a general idea seems to have a unified direction, i.e. the removal of patriarchal structures, social norms and patterns of behaviour, the hows and whys of getting there diverge massively. It’s difficult to sometimes figure out that not only do you have to choose between all the divergent strands, especially when feminism comes preloaded with a whole vocabulary and set of definitions which have to be read up on to even hope to understand the debate. While I welcome debate around, sometimes it just ends up being a distraction from the real issues.

Let’s look at the spat about intersectional feminism and whether Caitlin Moran should have called Lena Dunham on the lack of people of colour in Girls. Obviously feminists need to look beyond their own perspective and I abhor Moran’s response on Twitter, but there also is an element of ‘Am I Feminist Enough?’ about the whole argument. It’s an important debate to have but sometimes I feel that too often we get caught up in wars of words with other feminists, instead of doing anything for the campaigns we claim to support.

Am I Feminist Enough?

The other big issue for me anyway and one of the reasons why sometimes I’m reluctant to declare myself as a feminist is the reaction from someone else who decides that I’m not feminist enough. It sounds stupid and thankfully I haven’t seen much of it in real life, but there is an overwhelming trend of it on the Internet. I wrote about Deborah Schoeneman’s Jezebel article last month in which she alleged that the new trend of women not growing up into adults in an appropriate manner is undermining women as a whole, and then there was a rant last week about how Pinterest is undermining feminism by promoting traditional feminine activities, including dieting. Now I know those arguments are nonsense, but putting that message out there that if you’re a good feminist, you won’t like fashion, makeup, baking or decorating is completely counter-productive. We’re human and most of us derive pleasure from the simple things like good food, looking nice and living in a beautiful space, and that’s not limited to women alone. Some of the content on Pinterest is problematic, but getting into a good feminist/ bad feminist mindset about its users is not the way forward. One person’s actions is not going to undermine feminism, so stop making women feel bad about things which are a normal part of their lives.

Trying Not to be Labelled

Here’s the other thing. Most people aren’t really interested in a political label. Personally I tend to vote in a certain pattern but I would be reluctant to publicly identify as a supporter of a political party. Primarily because while I support their general ideas and some of their campaigns, invariably there will come a point when I disagree with a campaign or a leader. Similarly I sometimes will support one campaign from a political party but in general wouldn’t be a fan of their overall party policies. Similarly I eyeroll at feminist campaigns sometimes as well as being ridiculous, despite being a feminist.

Many people are like this, and the all or nothing of telling someone that they can’t say “I’m not a feminist but…” turns people off the overall idea of supporting a campaign or group. Maybe someone is pro-equal pay and stringent sentencing for rapists but can’t lend their support to other campaigns, and that’s okay. Not everyone has to agree with everything, and it’s better for people to be in support for women’s rights even if they don’t adopt a feminist label.

What are your thoughts on ‘I’m not a feminist but…’?


10 thoughts on “I’m Not A Feminist But…

  1. What a refreshing way of looking at feminism, and I especially loved your reference to Caitlin Moran’s philosophy. Apart from that common thread- a shared desire to protect our right to rule our own womb, it’s clearly inevitable that contemporary feminism will come in as many shades and shapes as the women who proudly wear the label. I would add another broader aspiration of feminism, that of leading a fulfilling life in which we feel able to pursue our ambitions to our fullest potential. I think the fact that there are more voices chiming in about their personal brand of feminism, their own way of living as Feminists, is a strength of this generation of feminism rather than a weakness, we are stronger for the breadth of experience and perspective we add to this age old struggle. What of the label? I think it’s up to us feminists to reclaim the F-word from those who soured it making it synonymous with man-hating and entitlement and from those who seek to co-opt it, namely anti-abortionists and the radical right, so that those who are now afraid of ‘coming out’ know that we respect ’em even in the closet, and there’s a good thing waiting out here when they’re ready.

    • Thanks for your comment and your reblog! I agree with all your comments and they really round out my argument. I want both myself and other feminists, even those one or two issue supporters, to be able to make a difference. However sometimes I feel those who have access to the media and can share a feminist message are using it to score points in a minor argument than fighting the good fight.

      Reading your blog now for the next while, I love Cannery Row, it’s one of my all-time favourite books!

  2. See I used to call myself feminist, but to be honest there are so many women who have been along the lines of “lets knock down men and put women on that pedestal” mindset, that it has COMPLETELY turned me off the term feminism and the idea of associating myself with the title. Have you seen the people who call themselves “woymen” etc, (some of the infamous screencaps come to mind) I swear it makes me embarrassed to be shoehorned under the same label as these people!

    They peddle SUCH an “anti men” agenda its terrifying, some suggesting (and scarily getting a lot of vocal support) mandatory castration etc! Crazy stuff.
    Obviously they are in the minority, but they are a very vocal minority.

    The people who I agree most with are the “moderates” the people who just want equality, while admitting that yes there are differences between men and women, for instance in conflict situations most women can’t cope physically with infantry positions, as the physical strength necessary is innate to most males, and women have generally got smaller and more nimble hands and so suit other roles better than most males. It’s just the way things are and humans are made this way to compliment each other, not really to compete against each other…which some people seem to forget….

    I agree with your breakdown on the topic, and I agree with your thoughts, I personally don’t want to have a label political or otherwise forced upon me, especially when it’s being skewed by some people to try and make feminism synonymous with certain political agendas.

    Maybe one day, hopefully soon, I can reclaim the title without fear! 🙂

    • The best comment I’ve read about not wanting to identify as a feminist was along the lines of the more they identify as a feminist, the more they realise why other women might be reluctant to call themselves feminists. It makes me sad that feminists who try to be controversial for the sake of attracting media attention gives feminism a bad name, and I think there is more to this issue than the media creating a straw feminist to attack.

      As for differences between men and women, the way I see it, if there are differences, it’s nothing to worry about. The real need is to go that those differences shouldn’t really matter in terms of how a person is valued as a human being. Needless to say, I want to make a difference and using a feminist framework to think about certain issues is one of the ways in which I can evaluate how society works or doesn’t work.

      • Exactly differences are not flaws, they are also not places and cracks to force political agendas.

        Agreed, controversial for the sake of controversial, that’s how I hamfistedly tried to broach the subject on our blog, that I dislike the “having an extreme viewpoint just for attention”.

        I honestly believe that feminism is a legitimate viewpoint, and hopefully it can return to being a respected “political” stance (I’m not sue if that’s the term I want to use, it’s the only one I can think of at the moment).

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