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chris

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on claiming feminist identity [May. 28th, 2014|10:24 am]
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given how much i write, talk, and obviously care about feminist principles, it might surprise you that i don't actually *call* myself a feminist, usually, except certain contexts where i believe that everyone has a shared meaning of the word. among strangers, or in a persistent internet presence, like a twitter profile or something, i don't use the word for myself. even in those restricted contexts, i try to be careful about using the word to describe actions i try to take rather than me as a person, because progress isn't a fixed state.

a couple of folks i follow were recently discussing on twitter how it's a problem that so many people have a stigma against feminism, and purported that more people loudly identifying as feminist would solve this problem, and thus make headway for feminism. one of the participants, jean yang, wrote a post summarizing her view on what makes someone a feminist.

i talked to jean for a while afterwards pointing out some of the problems i had with the particulars of her post, like using "equal opportunity" as a unifying cornerstone.

but more fundamentally, i disagree with jean and scott that making feminism more acceptable for more people to claim is inherently a step forward. it's similar to how i don't believe that making a programming language gain popularity makes it a better programming language. yes, there is work to be done in dispelling myths and disseminating good information. but in the process of "selling" something you believe in, you become protective of it, and then suddenly defensive in the face of valid criticism. you also wind up needing to water down and compromise the ideals you're selling until it's palatable to the people who really fundamentally are not on your side. (in shanley's words: "at last, a feminism the patriarchy can get behind!")

this failure mode is quite apparent to me in jean's post: many Qs in the FAQ read to me like, "can I go on believing the things I already believed, not do any work to learn where i might be wrong, and still claim the word feminist?" with As of "yes," which seems like it's inevitably going to lead to pain when someone points out that a lot of their actions don't support feminism at all, and that if they're male, feminism means opposing a system that was designed to benefit them (even if it's in many ways a shitty design for men too).

so instead of responding further in terms i don't actually agree with in the first place, here's my version.

Q: Am I a feminist?
A: Type error: that's not really something a whole person can be. But some of your thinking might be in line with feminist theory, and some of your actions might execute feminist practice. Maybe if you consistently actively strive do do those things, someone else will give you the compliment of calling you feminist!

Q: Okay, so what kinds of actions are feminist?
A: Those that work to dismantle sexism. Sexism is a social construct that partitions human beings into "men" and "women" at birth and asserts the former as default and dominant over the latter.

Q: When is it useful to organize under the word feminism?
A: When you're organizing with a mission that dismantles sexism, or when you want to find like-minded people with that mission. Alternatively, it can be a useful banner when you want to critique forms of feminism that go against other things that are important to you, such as anti-racism, anti-classism, or queer/trans rights.

Q: Why might I want to *avoid* organizing under the word feminism?
A: When you're trying to include people who may not trust your use of the word, because e.g. they are PoC or trans women, and lots of people have used "feminism" to mean whitewashed corporate feminism that ignores class and race issues, or feminism that excludes and abuses trans women.

Q: Okay, so I want to do feminist things. Now what?
A: Shanley's got this one covered.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: tak
2014-05-28 10:04 pm (UTC)

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i didn't describe myself as a feminist for many many years, and now even though i sometimes do, i'm hesitant to do so publicly (e.g. in my twitter bio), as i fear it will make me a target...
[User Picture]From: techstep
2014-05-29 02:34 am (UTC)

(Link)

Even though I try to work against the constructs of sexism and the hetero-patriarchy (and their intersections with class, race, gender, ability, and so forth), I feel...weird labeling myself a "feminist", mostly because to call myself that feels mighty freaking presumptuous. At best, I hope that my actions and work can be considered "compatible with feminism" by others who are situated in some way or another to make that determination.