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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 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.
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