diversity in feminism
March 19, 2002 12:58 PM

The question(s) I posed to the We Have Brains collab this week: Is feminism inclusive of different types of people, in your opinion? If not, who is responsible for changing it, and how should it change? What responsibility do women, as the majority of feminists, have to include and/or educate men? Whose responsibility is it to ensure groups are included in the debates over feminist issues?

I practice something I'll call "dude, what are you smoking?" evangelism. That means, roughly, that I feel a sort of obligation to respond to misinformation.

I'm especially evangelical when it comes to feminism, which suffers from mountains of misinformation, distributed by anti-feminists [I'm still surprised to see such people exist, as if equality weren't a critical goal], feminists, and the unsuspecting public. More than once I've been asked by people sincere and otherwise whether being a feminist didn't automatically mean I had to be a lesbian. I kid you not.

So I respond to misinformation. I'm polite. I laugh when I need to. I try to be gentle, even though I'm, by nature, terribly blunt and given to disregarding the feelings of others.

I think that feminists, all of us, have failed at marketing feminism. We turned it over to girl power and a marketing machine that will trivialize anything in order to sell products. We should have been louder and softer and sculpted our image for ourselves, rather than letting our detractors do it for us. We should have, but that's a hard battle to fight.

And the result, I think, is an idea of feminism that doesn't match the reality of the people who make up feminism. The idea is attached to a lot of stereotypes - the white, upper middle class straight woman, for instance, or the college age multi-racial lesbian who doesn't shave and plays the guitar - and, like all stereotypes, this idea fails to really represent.

What needs to happen to change this? Honestly, I think it has to be a shared responsibility. Feminists need to be open to each other, rather than defining who is and is not a "real" feminist, or limiting ourselves by type (or, as I'm guilty of doing, by "Wave"). That's not to say we should stop defining ourselves by everything else we are (political stances, racial groups, sexual preferences, parents, etc.), but rather that both "mainstream" (whatever that is) and outre feminists have a responsibility to educate each other and work together to educate the rest of us.

Because most of us will step up to correct misinformation or to answer questions, but we have to know the questions exist first. The questions have to be asked, in order to be answered. If you're confused or intrigued by some aspect of feminism, ask someone who might know about it. Chances are they'll be polite, laugh if they need to, and try to be gentle.

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