How do I know if I am a Feminist?

I have met many young women who embrace the idea of having: the same rights as men, the same wage as men, and believe that rapists should be punished more severely.  However, if you ask these women if they are feminists, many of them reply “no.”

What is it about the label of “feminist” that works as a repellant? Is it the idea that some women may believe in equal rights but would not identify themselves as politically active in the movement for/toward equal rights?

In Chloe Angyal’s article for Guardian on April 7th titled “You’re Not a Feminist, but…what? Many young women embrace the ideas of feminism but are reluctant to use the ‘f-word’ for fear of rocking the boat” she discusses the tension around the politically charged word . Angyal argues “feminism demands a complete overhaul of how we think, how we behave, how we talk, where we work, what media we consume, how we vote and how we raise our families…that’s why it’s so thrilling—and so threatening.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/07/feminist-f-word-young-women

Though I do agree with Angyal that being a feminist engages several parts of one’s life and activities, what it really does is “refocus” the lens in which we view the world and forces us to be critical of what we see through this lens.  It makes us acknowledge why we see things the way we do and how we are informed by our gender, personal/familial histories, race, neighborhood, socioeconomic status, etc.  I don’t think it is so much a conscious change in lifestyle but more of a shift in thinking and field of view. For some action follows thought, and for other feminist thinkers, thoughts simply ruminate.

Click: Young Women on the Moments They Knew They Were Feminists set to be released this May, chronicles the various lives and thinking of women who do identify as feminists. The anthology, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan, shows the different “paths” and strains of feminism, highlighting the fact the feminism does not have to be public (though in some cases it is) but rather it is extremely personal.

Some personal accounts are directly political, and reference Roe v. Wade, yet most are simply human. Many entries center around observations about the way the individual views her world, and how she is influenced by the cultural climate of her time.

Winter Miller explains in her chapter“I Was Not Aborted and Further Miscellanea”:  “Despite my feminist DNA, there are still times when I catch myself behaving in a way that is rooted in our inherently pro-heterosexual—and also sexist—values…It’s hard to know where the lines blur, between internalized homophobia, compulsory heterosexuality, the laws of attraction, and good fashion sense.”

I interviewed the Editor of Bitch Magazine, Andi Zeisler about how she started to construct her feminist lens:

“One thing I remember pretty clearly was that chores when I was growing up were divided along gender lines, or to put it more bluntly I was expected to do household chores (clearing dishes, washing up, hanging laundry) and my older brother was not. I began to rebel in middle school, when my mother continually asked me to mend my brother’s clothes or sew buttons back on or whatever. This was especially galling because my brother took home ec and knew how to do that stuff all on his own, but the default assumption (not on his part, but on my mother’s) was that I, being a girl, should be the one to do it.”

In essence, feminism is not always about activism, it is not always political, it does not always denounce heterosexuality, it is not always against men and in many cases INCLUDES men, and it is not against procreation.  Feminism documents a process (albeit mental or reactionary). It critiques compulsory “normalcy” and asks how normal became normal.  Each and every feminist I have met participates in a different way.

I am a feminist who is engaged to be married and wears high heels.  I work with several organizations promoting women’s rights, specifically women who have been involved in domestic/sexual violence situations.  I would align myself with anyone who felt “left out of” or “beaten down by” the “way things work” and my understanding/lens of “the way things work” shifts weekly if not daily.

Lia Avellino

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5 responses to “How do I know if I am a Feminist?

  1. Most people I know equate the word “feminist” with the term “feminazi”. The image of the man-hating, crew cut wearing feminist is all too prevalent. They don’t want to rock the boat and they also don’t want to be seen as the “ugly bull dyke”. (Culture’s stereotype, not mine.)

    It’s sad, really. I admit I am not the most politically active person ever when it comes to women’s rights, but I do identify as a feminist. Which reminds me, I have to go order my “This is what a feminist looks like” shirt pretty soon. :o)

  2. It is a disappointment to think that there are so many people who are unaware of all that the definition of being a “feminist” entails. One would think with all this technology and education literally at our fingertips, people would be more informed.
    Many people would agree with the statement that all humans deserve to be treated equally. however, not many people would agree to being a feminist. the word is-or isn’t-what you make it.
    If you believe that all individuals are entitled to basic human rights, and you’re a woman, chances are that you’re a feminist.
    I mean look how many more women go to college in this day and age compared to our parent’s generation. Perhaps it’s that women expect to be going certain places and expect to be treated a certain way. Women before us have made this world possible for the women that would follow-the certain lifestyles we have grown to except is thanks to feminists of past generations.
    I’d say most young girls need to check themselves. Do you like being able to wear whatever you want? do you like being able to entertain the idea of being a working-mom..in 10 years? Do you like being able to call pervs out on the train or in the work place or at school who sexually harass you? Is there comfort knowing you can really follow your dreams-and that those dreams are no longer limited to housewife or secretary or stewardess?
    If so, what do you know? you’re a feminist!

  3. I spent the last couple of days digesting this entry, and giving it some solid thought. I didn’t want to write a comment on a whim, and end up going back on what I said.

    I’m in complete agreement with the comment above me. Thinking about what I can and cannot do these days makes me realize that the opportunities I now have access to are by and large due to the work of the generations before me. I’m very grateful, of course.

    But when I think about the word “feminist” itself…I don’t know. Something about it still makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Like squirm-in-your-seat kind of uncomfortable. Or, I guess, in your own skin. It seems like after all this time, I still have trouble isolating the term from the image of those man-hatin’ power-pushin’ women of the past. And I’ll admit that it’s an image that has only been further seared into my brain over time.

    If feminism is about refocusing one’s lens and exploring why I feel the way I do, then yes, I am totally a feminist. But it’s still not an association I feel comfortable with saying aloud.

    …does that make me a bad person?

  4. P.S. That last sentence/thought could inspire another blog entry unto itself, no?

  5. These are thoughtful and honest comments. To the last commenter, no one is a bad person for thinking anything. It’s just being real — and helps us think about what we think and feel. Perhaps it also opens the way to new views, too. I’m too young to be a Boomer and too old to be a Gen Yer– one of the inbetweens, so straddle the generational lines. The question I have for those who feel uncomfortable with the term feminist is what actually are the images of those ugly, man-hating feminists of yore? I just don’t see those images myself in the old magazines and histories. I profiled Gloria Steinem and she is so kind, grand, lovely, thoughtful and also beautiful that she influenced me deeply. (And btw, she was slammed for being too beautiful by “radical” feminists back in the day, but now somehow, being beautiful makes her more persuasive. And that gets back to the question: why do society and even ourselves still focus on looks so much with women, but not men? If you have an answer, please post it here immediately!!)

    Anyway, if you want to see that Steinem profile, here it’s the first link on this page: http://www.jessicaseigel.com/culture.shtml

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