who is a feminist?
April 13, 2003 04:34 PM

I struggle sometimes with the notion of what makes someone a feminist. It's complicated. And then, not.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that one needs to be free to choose whatever personal or political definition one desires. This idea actually originated for me in the college queer scene - where defining oneself as this word or that word became very important. We'd have these discussions around bisexuality, particularly, that would leave your mind and tongue numb. The usual debates: if you're 51% something, are you that, or are you in the middle of that and not-that?

It can be absurd, the definitions. So I finally decided that what made sense was just naming yourself whatever. When it comes to queerness, this works most of the time - after all, queer or not queer is about action, but also about intention; so, in most cases (excepting what VA Spider calls the "Girls Gone Wild Bi's", perhaps) you are at liberty to name your own intention. And who could question you?

And then I try applying this to feminism. It doesn't always fly so well. There are too many "feminists" claiming the term in service of what I don't consider a feminist (meaning belief that equality between people of various sexes is necessary and needs defending) set of politics - or worse, using the term primarily to garner publicity or simply create the image of themselves as belonging to a certain sect of the academic or political world. This issue applies, of course, to the obvious candidates like Christina Hoff Sommers - who claim that equality exists already, but also to scores of women who advertise themselves as feminists while actually promoting an idealized version of women as superior. I actually have less trouble with Hoff Sommers claiming feminism than I do with the latter types, but they're both problematic.

The challenge with claiming a feminist identity [This also applies to a queer identity from an activist perspective, I suppose.] is that you're not just dealing with an intention; you're dealing with a political movement - or movements, rather. So, to take on the name while holding a view completely counter to the political movement (i.e. that equality has been obtained already) is an issue. To take on the name while holding a perspective wholly different from the spirit of the movement (i.e. that equality isn't necessary) is absurd.

It's still difficult for me to assert that someone is not a feminist, though - because I've seen too many people be told they're not feminists for reasons like their gender or their attitude towards a specific issue (most commonly sex work or class). It's just that sort of thing that divides us into many feminisms, excluding entirely too many people from the conversation.

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amen, dear April!

these are the thoughts of eris on April 13, 2003 05:46 PM

i recently purchased a book on what it means to be a "radical" feminist, a "liberal" feminist, a "marxist" feminist, and a whole bunch of other monikers that people stick in front of feminism. i did this because i have been participating to a large extent in the feminist communities on LJ and people kept arguing about who was what kind of feminist and why they didn't like it. little did i know people had "defined" these specific brands of feminism! oy.

these are the thoughts of kim on April 14, 2003 01:34 AM

and thats part of the problem - that people will argue over the label of something instead of discussing the real issues behind that label. its even worse if they dont even have a valid definition of what that philosophy (and thus label) entail.

"you can call a table a chair, but that doesnt make it a chair."

(oooh april, you get a pre-coffee comment. you must be special)

these are the thoughts of eris on April 14, 2003 08:40 AM

I'm flattered that I get comments before coffee. Is my writing even intelligible before coffee?

But yes, I see that as part of the problem - feminism is so broad a movement that feminists disagree. Through disagreement are born new names for different breeds of feminism. And then people like Christina Hoff Sommers start doing things like renaming "gender feminists" from one thing to another, people on the street get confused, and everyone's trying to claim an identity without really being sure what the definition is.

Crazy. But at the same time, as a feminist, I also feel a need to be clear that you're not MY KIND of feminist if you're against sex work, or anti-abortion (legislatively), or anti-queer, focused on your own class, think men can't be feminists... blah, blah, blah. I feel somehow like I need to be clear that we're in the same camp, but we're not fighting the exact same fights.

these are the thoughts of april on April 14, 2003 01:04 PM

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