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…’?