Roundtable: Thoughts on the Term “Feminist”

This week, I asked the ladies of the F-Wave to share their thoughts on the word “feminist.”  Should it be a required term for those who support women’s equality?  How do you react when folks you would consider feminists are opposed to the term?  Are you comfortable with the term yourself?  Here’s what we had to say:

Mary:

I find the label feminism is off-putting for men.  Being part of a movement that proposes that men and women are equal and that neither should be dominant over the other is a great idea that lots of folks are on board with, but then using a gender-specific handle for it is counter-intuitive.  But the problem I see with men’s resistance of the label stems from a fear of being feminized in some way rather than just taking issue with the label inconsistency.  Because just as many women take issue with the label (gender-equality movement has less stigma attached than feminism) yet in discussion of the meaning of feminism, its been my experience that women have warmed up to the label more than men.

I do defend feminism always, because I just cannot see hiding it or taming it down ever. Feminism NEEDS to be part of daily society, it needs to be normalized as LGBT rights need to be normalized. It’s been quite a while since I spoke with someone who said they are not a feminist (I live in a liberal bubble) but when it happens I just ask what that person’s definition of feminism is, and I express understanding that the term has alot of misunderstanding attached to it.  I usually ask “Do you believe one sex is superior to the other?” or “do you believe men and women should have equal rights and be treated fairly and equally?” — generally everyone will agree, and I will say “That’s what feminism is to me”.  I think this has worked on everyone I have ever spoken to about feminism, except my Stepdad. But I’m still working on him.

Bex:

I totally agree with Mary, I often use the same tactics. Except in a university setting, this conversation usually happens with younger students, and usually at social events. At first, I was annoyed that people just didn’t get it. And then I decided to adopt a more constructive approach, and make it into a game.

You see, I didn’t identify as a feminist either until I was educated a bit more about the term. So, wherever I am, if the topic comes up, I usually try to dispel the myths and negative stereotypes around the term. I start by asking them what feminism is to them, let them know about a few key things that feminism has done for them, tell them they’re most likely feminist allies, but that it’s okay if they don’t feel comfortable identifying as such yet, and let them know I’m always available for coffee and a chat if they ever want to know more. Note that I do try a little harder to present with a super-hip, easy-going, modern feminist vibe during these exchanges, lol.

I try to be sensitive to their level of engagement too. Active, front-line feminists are great, but those who prefer to quietly support our values are awesome too. We need both within our movement. They don’t need to be mega-radical hardcore feminists. There are no “good” or “bad” feminists. They just need to believe in gender equality and all it entails. Ditto for male allies. I like the Feminist Ally term, because it supports, without claiming the same experience. (See this Feministing community post for some great debate on this subject)

Of course, there are alternate options:

Feminist Drinking Game!
(***know your limit, stay within it!)

Feminist: So, are you all feminists too?
Others: [various statements of denial]
Feminist: Of course you are! Don’t you think women should vote?
Others: Of course!
All [Begin cheer]:  “Yeaaaaahhhh!” Cheers, all drink
Feminist: Do you think women should be able to go to school?
Others: Well, yeah, duh!
All [Begin cheer]:  “Yeaaaaahhhh!” Cheers, all drink
Feminist: Do you think both men and women should be able to consensually experience pleasure and safe sex?
Others: Hell yes!
All [Begin cheer]:  “Yeaaaaahhhh!” Cheers, all drink
Feminist: Do you think men and women are human beings of equal value and dignity?
Others: YEAH!
Feminist: See? You’re ALL feminist allies!
All: YEAHHHHHH! Cheers all around.

Women’s rights are sexy. I’m thinking of making buttons 🙂

Lisa:

Am I a feminist? Absolutely I am! I understand the argument some people present that a movement so centred on equality should choose a term that has a more universal ring, but I also think the only reason people think “feminist” = militant crazy and always angry is because the haters have tried to ruin the word. I think the unity of the word is important, that we all connect under the umbrella of that word. I also kind of love dropping the f-bomb and making some people uncomfortable. It’s a bold term to identify with!

Judith:

I suggested this topic because I’m not 100% sure of my own opinions, to be honest.  On the one hand, I totally agree with Mary that feminism needs to be normalized.  (I would strongly disagree about LGBT rights being normalized, but that’s a discussion for another time).  I think that there are many misconceptions about what feminism is, exactly, and thus it’s hard for many young women to identify with the movement, as well as being difficult for men.  I asked my Daddy on Saturday “out of curiosity, do you consider yourself a feminist?”  “Hell no!  I’m a man!”  You have to understand here that my father is the most sensitive, gentle, caring person around, and not at all sexist, so this reaction was kind of amusing to me.  And when I phrased it in terms of equal rights, he said yes of course, and yes women should have maternity leave, not have to pay for rape kits, have the right to choose, etc.  But he thinks that feminism is a movement premised on the idea that women are more important than men.  Similarly, I resisted feminism for a long time because I thought that it was premised on the idea that men and women are the same, rather than the idea of equal opportunity.  So I think it’s important to get third wave feminism moving, and to show all the links with ending racism, heterosexism, transphobia, exploitation of workers, despotism, ageism, ableism, etc.

On the other hand, I’m not someone who tends to run around saying “you must be a feminist!” because I came to it in my own time.  And when I look at fathers like mine, who do a world of good for women’s rights just by raising their daughters to believe in a world without boundaries, and when I look at my male friends who say “feminists are annoying” but yet are disability rights advocates and transgender advocates and doing a world of good in their communities… well, I wonder if the misconception really matters that much.  If you’ve got the actions, maybe you can do without the words.

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One Response to Roundtable: Thoughts on the Term “Feminist”

  1. Bex says:

    I really like the term feminist masculinity too. One of the male speakers at the vigil used it to describe his identity.

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