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The F-word - the word, not the site. 
24th-Apr-2008 03:01 pm
I mean, why can't all decent men and women
Call themselves feminists?
Out of respect
For those who fought for this
- Ani Difranco, Grand Canyon

Me and words, we have a relationship. You only have to expect that, given how much time we spend in each others company. I use words a lot in my day to day life, and I strive to be mindful of the implications of the words I use, and the words that are used around me. Unless you're brand new to this LiveJournal, or I really am failing to write as I want to be read, I would hope this was pretty self evident. Words are tools and they're also weapons, and everyone who uses them has within that use the power to do great things with them.

I have to think this, I'm a writer person on the internet.

I could actually go on for ages about the power of words in general, but maybe that's for another time, because today I'm going to talk about a type of word - the personal label - and about one of those words in particular - feminist.

It's to agoodshinkickin that I attribute this gem of insight: There are three types of labels: Those you apply to yourself, those other people apply to you, and the objective description of how you act. I may have used my own words there, not hers, but only because I can't remember what they actually are.

The third one can't ever be judged, because words aren't objective. The meaning of a word changes with time, with geography and with context. If it were that easy to divide the world into those who were feminist and those who weren't, we wouldn't need the first two categories, and we clearly do, because people are applying and rejecting the label all the time, with no obvious consensus.

Guess what? I identify as a feminist. And I identify most of you as feminists, too. No matter what gender-pronoun you choose to have applied to you.* I'm talking about this because of another discussion I saw on The F-word: Can men be feminists? Inspired by an article on Comment is Free. And before you go "eeeew, Comment is Free talking about women again." - I actually agree with what is being said there for once. Shocking, I know.  The gist of it is: yes. Yes of course they can. As long as they actually understand feminism and aren't just applying the label with ignorance.

It all boils down to what a feminist actually is. Which is why the discussions on the blogs tend to descend into semantics. What, exactly, is a feminist?

Comment is Free gives the OED definition:

The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of sexual equality
And I'm going to stick with that.

It's impossible to objectively describe anything (though to try is a noble pursuit), because the very act of description is a subjective one. Every description contains information about the object and the describer. I call myself a feminist because I believe that feminism is a movement that strives for gender equality. So anyone who believes that gender inequality is a bad thing and works to fix it is a feminist, in my book.

However, there are countless - countless men and women who don't share this view, and who would  probably object to being labelled a feminist. For a number of reasons, which are often valid. the most common of those is the idea that feminists are misandrists who want female dominance. This claim is frequently used by misogynists to turn people away from feminism, and claim gender equality has already been achieved, and other claims that tend to make my hackles rise. The more people confuse feminism with misandry, the more they turn away from gender inequality battles themselves, out of fear of association with the man-haters, and the harder it becomes for women as a whole.

Then there's the more grounded concern with the feminist movement as represented by womanism - something I only became aware of last year and have tried to understand more fully: Feminism as a movement has been historically and is still predominantly a white middle class movement, that in its momentum has ignored or even harmed women of colour. This is a real concern and a valid one, and not one I'm going to address in detail in a post about male feminists.

I just happen to feel that every time someone rejects the label "Feminist" for whichever reason, they are damaging the cause the word represents. Either because discussions of gender inequality degrade into arguments about semantics, or because people have ascribed negative connotations to the word, reject the word, and in doing so reject the fight. They leave the arena because they're not happy with the way their team is behaving.

And we need everyone we can get on our side. If we're going to fight gender inequality, it doesn't do to exclude men from the fight. Drawing 'us' and 'them' lines, while natural, is a negative behaviour and leads to exclusion. And I, as a feminist and as a human being, want to strive for inclusion.It's always seemed as pointless to me to say I believe in gender equality but I'm not a feminist, as it would be for me to say I don't eat meat, but I'm not a vegetarian. Sure, some vegetarians are fucking morons. They fight the wrong fights and preach the wrong things and I do't align myself with every single associated philosophy. But when it boils down t basics: I don't eat meat, ergo: vegetarian. And that's how I feel about the word feminism.

I'm anti-racist. I'm also white. And from there, in many ways, (and in many ways not) I'm analogous to a male feminist. I mention this only because what I think about male feminists I must also apply to myself.

It's probably not easy to be feminist and male. It's not enough to pay lip service to the concept while enjoying your male privilege and reading Terry Goodkind**. You have to understand the issues, to know why feminists see the problems they do, and to above all, recognise and challenge your privilege at all times.

When a woman tells you "This is what it's like to be a woman living in a patriarchy," listen.
When a woman tells you "This treatment of women is not acceptable," listen.
When a woman tells you "There is a problem here," listen.

Listen, and think, and accept or reject her arguments as you see fit. Act where you can. Watch your actions, your thoughts, and your words. Recognise inequality, talk about inequality, act on inequality.

As long as I do that for racism, transphobia, and other such evils, I'll be content within myself.

And if you do that for sexism, I'll call you a feminist.

*Obviously more important in this discussion than the anatomy of your pelvic region or your chromosomal makeup.
**Actually anyone who thinks Terry Goodkind is a good author is automatically disqualified.

View this post in: my style; your style; light format
24th-Apr-2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
I am so, so glad I friended you. This is day two of really interesting posts that I agree to. A lot.

I consider myself a feminist. Because feminism is about making sure women are treated as equals, not about toppling the phallic overlords and knocking over the Washington Monument or... any other crazy idea people get about it.
24th-Apr-2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
Knocking over the Washington Monument sounds like fun, though...
24th-Apr-2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
Excellent post.

I always hesitate to apply labels to myself, good or bad, because to do that accurately, you have to fully understand the meaning of the label and what it implies. There are very few things I understand to that degree, so I'm more comfortable to say I'm just me and let people find out what that means for themselves.

But, based on your definition, it looks like I'm probably a feminist.

And I've never heard of Terry Goodkind! Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
(Deleted comment)
24th-Apr-2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
As usual, I see one of your brilliant posts and all I can do is quibble with a footnote.

I thought Goodkind was awesome when I was twelve, not because I was unfeminist but because I was twelve, and therefore an idiot. Having an objectionable taste in literature doesn't necessarily mean you agree with its objectionable implications; often it just means you're naive. (I think I kept liking him until I was sixteen out of habit, then went back two years later and said, "Hey! *lightbulb* This is kinda fucked up!" I'm slow that way.)
24th-Apr-2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
This is freaking awesome. OK to link?
24th-Apr-2008 03:14 pm (UTC)
Always :)
24th-Apr-2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
I've never heard and or read Terry Goodkind. This is probably a good thing. Is it analagous to listening to G'n'R and Buckcherry?
24th-Apr-2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
Sadly no. He's a crap fantasy author.
24th-Apr-2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
Something should have tipped me off about my ex when he thought Terry Goodkind was the Greatest Author Evar.

Considering I've had a lot of trouble with men who are like "I want gender equality, but I hate those freakin' feminists!" this is a very thought provoking post.
24th-Apr-2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
"Feminist" is one of the few labels I'm not worried about muddying by attaching it to myself.
24th-Apr-2008 06:28 pm (UTC)
I agree.

Anyone who feels threatened by feminism or the word feminist is a loser.
24th-Apr-2008 06:29 pm (UTC)
Great post.

"The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of sexual equality"

That's the best definition, and I wish it was the one in the national consciousness. I'm not sure it is, though.

I do feel that being anti-racist and white (which I am) is much easier to apply to myself than being a male feminist. It's dangerous for a man to even claim to be a feminist in many places online, and people are instead starting to take Joss Whedon's approach about being focused on *equality*, not feminism or chauvinism. Is this problem with men not being able to call themselves feminists ridiculous? Yes. Is the playing field equal yet, where active feminism has stopped being the answer and is too extreme? No. But...

I must confess to finding it difficult sometimes. I am rabidly for equality in all areas, on principle. The usual problem of "What, for the BNP too?" is still a thorn, but in general I'm satisfied I'm a liberal and come out with the feminist line when sexual inequality is at stake. My problem is the people around me. When the open-source boob post came up, I asked my girlfriend about it: she thought it was a little naive and stupid, but wasn't incensed. If anyone came up to her at a Con while she was not wearing a badge, she would be happy to say "no". If they ignored that, she would remove their testicles with a large kitchen knife.

And all my female friends are like that. I don't need to fight for any of them, they're fucking frightening to begin with if you piss them off. Independent, secure, intelligent women who are pretty relaxed about the issues but will bring down great wrath and suffering on any idiot stupid enough to threaten them. And I'll be right behind them (I'd be in front, but then I'd get accused of spoiling their catharsis by nabbing all the violence for myself.) They're awesome, loving, gentle, wise, intelligent people who mostly seem to have dropped the description of "feminist" in favour of just doing it every day.

Does this mean they live in an equal world? Not remotely. That they're free from the pressure to be thin, and conform daily in a million ways? Nope. But it does make it difficult for me to claim to vocally take a very feminist position sometimes. They might laugh at the idea that they NEED help in most areas. The only task left for me is to change the minds of several million Sun readers, and I'm working on that, honest. But I don't see my daily actions (which I like to think are in line with equality) as being especially "feminist". I just try for "not being a dick" and it seems to work out.

I guess the F word is loaded for me, because whenever I do meet anyone calling themselves a feminist they are pretty extreme. I know a lot of pagans, and Reclaiming Goddess tradition, Dianic Wicca... there are several "no men allowed" groups which are happy to shoot through the other side of 'equal' because the overall imbalance will still be there in the world. There are men-haters (nearly always for very good reasons which make me ashamed of the monsters who caused it) who call themselves feminist, and it affects how I see the word. Most of the people being feminists daily around me would just call it "not being an asshole" instead. If you did or said anything that crossed the line, the line that everyone knows, they'd stop and pull you up on it.

But this is in my liberal, educated society. Of course they still get shouted at in the street, leered at in public, hassled... it's just left unsaid that amongst friends, we're all a higher form of life than that.

Equality Now is my favourite charity, and I think "Recognise inequality, talk about inequality, act on inequality. As long as I do that for racism, transphobia, and other such evils, I'll be content within myself" has just become my favourite quote. But I don't think "feminist" is ready to be a neutral term yet.

Also, Terry fucking Goodkind. Grrr.

Edited at 2008-04-24 18:32 (UTC)
24th-Apr-2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
I hadn't heard of the OSBP. That's interesting.

A lot of the comments are kinda making me sick, though; more than enough of them are acting like all women hate sex and all men are barbarians constantly clamoring for it. Yeah, great. I've seen guys actually take that general attitude to heart, you know, and then wake up feeling horrible the morning after sex.
24th-Apr-2008 06:33 pm (UTC)
Eh. I don't like the label because the very etymology flat-out says that focusing on women is going to achieve gender equality. I don't think the best way to solve a problem is to introduce the opposite problem and hope everything kinda balances itself out; I personally am pretty apathetic towards everyone's genetic makeup, so movements that insist I focus on it because other people are focusing on it in a different way make me uncomfortable to say the least.

I'm put off by the concept of male/white/straight/blue-eyed/blond-haired/five-foot-eleven/whatever-the-fuck privilege, too. It feels like a cheap trick to make me feel bad about myself, which again just focuses on genetics that I normally don't care about. If someone is being treated worse than me for a stupid reason then yes that is terrible, but being told I am treated better just sounds like a condescending accusation (or like I should be treated worse, rather than that everyone else should be treated better) and it is really not a good way to win me as a fan.
24th-Apr-2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
Crap, once again someone says what I was trying to, only much clearer and in half the time. Nice one :)
24th-Apr-2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
A lot of the comments here remind me of this:

title or description
24th-Apr-2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
I disagree with the term because its very etymology, as has been stated, is inherently non-equal. It implies that all feminists champion the cause of women over the cause of anybody else, including men, which isn't the case, and that anyone who does not self-identify with this label is automatically supportive of opposing viewpoints and could very well be guilty of masculism.

I agree with the movement and the philosophy, except for the complete lunatic misandrists who spoil women's rights for the sane. I am, however, used to being labeled by other people without my consent, so go ahead and call me a feminist if you like.
24th-Apr-2008 09:14 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I wonder why it is that words like "guys" and "mankind" are acceptably gender-neutral (and for me, they are), but the word "feminism" is untenably biased toward women.

I also think it's problematic to use "feminist" as an adjective that is anything other than self-selected. There isn't really a convenient replacement for it as a lower-case adjective, which is unfortunate, and I know the impulse, but I feminism that centers around people's informed choices to join political movements/describe personal identities/whatever than "look, you tripped and fell in my chalk outline of feminism!" Especially in cases where people feel not that they're opting out because they don't like the way their team is behaving, but that they're not fully allowed to be a part of the team. (E. g. The white feminist blogosphere's recent show of great fail.)

And I do say this as somebody who sat through high school wondering why every girl in every class felt the need to preface anything even remotely related to equal rights for women with, "I'm not a feminist, but ..." My long-suppressed rage, let me show you it.
25th-Apr-2008 05:16 pm (UTC)
I'm not deeply bothered by the term; I would just never use it to describe myself. I'm not going to start anything by claiming to not be in a group; I already want to punch people who start out some LGBT-friendly sentence with "I'm not gay, but..."

I would also like to point out that I use Spivak pronouns heavily. 8)
24th-Apr-2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
The vast majority of this post I agree with, in my gut.

I know and like plenty of people who don't want to be labeled feminists, for valid reasons. I'm not going to stick a label on them that pisses them off - but I still feel kind of kicked in the stomach when people say, 'I don't want to be a feminist, because feminism implies crazy.' Especially for the reasons you said above, about damage to the movement by association of the cause with only the negative aspects.
25th-Apr-2008 03:55 am (UTC)
I agree. Words mean things.

(Words also mean things in context, of course, which is why we don't call Michael Clarke Duncan a "fine Negro actor" - despite its accuracy - unless we are jerks. But years of debating in high school taught me that you don't let your opponent set the definitions.)

Is it possible, however, to read Terry Goodkind at the library so that he doesn't get any money just to marvel at how terrible it is? Which I keep being tempted to do? I mean, are we talking the Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where intent matters, or the One Ring from Lord of the Rings, where touching it with the best of intentions will still blacken your soul?

Given the general badness of Goodkind, I'm inclined to think the latter.
25th-Apr-2008 12:12 pm (UTC)
So... because I enjoy the escapism of the Sword of Truth series (though I recognize the inherent wrong-ness in a lot of the ideals preached within it) you're saying I'm disqualified from supporting gender equality? Or would that only happen if I was male?

Just, you know, clarifying.

I'm just gonna assume you were kidding, in which case don't mind me. I mean, I'm probably not a very good feminist, I've never really been able to spot at a distance the way I am being downtrodden by a patriarchal society.

Weirdly, the post next to this on my flist was this quick rant by luciusmalfoy. And had you heard about the Open Source Boob Project and the drama surrounding that? 'Cause I'd love to hear your opinion. :D
25th-Apr-2008 12:26 pm (UTC)
I'm just gonna assume you were kidding
I was, I was!

(I just can't stand his treatment of women in that series. He has some funny ideas about rape, is all.)

The OSBP? I dismissed it when I first saw it as "LOL permavirgins are funny." Then I quickly got bored of the wank. If I actually knew anyone who thought it was a good idea, I'd smack them down, but I don't know of anyone who would.
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