[image source: lism.’s flickr]
In a recent post at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, Rachel Hills asks why feminism still has such a bad reputation: “You say ‘feminist’ like it’s a bad thing”
As an older teenager and young adult, it became interesting to me because it provided a social and cultural framework through which I could make sense of my experiences, and the experiences of the people around me. These days, feminism and other intersectionalist discussions around gender, race, sexuality, class and disability, provide the building blocks to think about what it means to lead an ethical life.
But while I’ve never been uncomfortable with identifying myself as a feminist, I have found myself growing uncomfortable with other people identifying me as such. Mostly because they so often say it like it’s a bad thing – like it makes me silly, or ideologically rigid, or batshit insane. They turn what to me says “yes, I’m interested in gender from a critical perspective” and “no, I’m not an asshole”, into an insult.
Georgina Isbister in a piece in the National Times in December last year, wrote “Feminism is not a dirty word”
The denial of feminist identification seems to be based not in resistance to feminism’s goals of gender equality, but in the replication of outdated and exaggerated feminist stereotypes. What I find when I gently scratch the surface of these stereotypical assumptions is that most of my students, both female and male, support gender equality. Actually, they demand it.
I found similar things in my interviews with young women. Often their first response to feminism was to talk about the widely perpetuated negative stereotypes about feminists, but once they got talking about issues that feminism deals with, many acknowledged that their beliefs were feminist.
As I wrote in the comments on Rachel Hills’ post:
One thing I found that makes a difference in terms of feminist identification is how someone defines feminism. If you define it as a belief system (eg. a belief in gender equality) then you are more likely to say you’re a feminist than if you define it as activism. I spoke to quite a few women who said they believed in feminist ideals but were hesitant to call themselves feminists because they weren’t actively involved in fighting for women’s rights. One participant gave a great analogy…She said she cares about the environment, but wouldn’t call herself an environmentalist because she doesn’t go out and chain herself to trees, and so on.
Interestingly, I got different responses to the questions, “what do you think of when you hear the word feminist”, compared with “how do you define feminism?”. The former elicited many more of the negative stereotypes about feminism (man-hating, hairy armpits/legs, angry, humourless – which interestingly most recognised as media stereotypes), whereas the latter allowed the women to describe what they thought feminism means. Once they got talking about it, many were more likely to switch from ambivalnece to saying “Actually, I suppose I am a feminist really”.
Only a couple of my participants were openly hostile to feminism (it’s likely that my recruitment posters which mentioned ‘feminism’ attracted participants who were symathetic towards feminism) and this was because they blamed feminism for women having to do everything – have a full time job and then come home and still do all the childcare and housework.
I’ve written lots about this topic. Not surprising since I wrote my thesis on it! I’ll leave it there for now, but I’ll share more of my thesis findings soon, especially since I have a journal article in the works based on this aspect of my research.
What about you? Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Tags: feminist identification