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Monday, December 05, 2005

Have you hugged a feminist today?

I'll admit it -- it took me a long time to come to grips with identifying myself as a feminist. In fact, I used to call myself an "anti-feminist". I coined the phrase to describe the disconnect between my feelings towards gender and my understanding of "feminism". I was one of those many who bought into the bad PR of feminists, who believed all feminists were the shorn-haired, bra-burning, unhygenic women who advocated a rejection of the phallus in favour of lesbianism and sperm cryo-freezing to propagate the species. I believed that to be a feminist was to be White, fervently pro-woman, anti-man, angry, unapproachable, overly-academic, and insular. There was no way that I, a woman, who considered herself "normal" (i.e. not one to shun traditional female identities) in almost every way, who chose Disney over Dworkin, who appreciated a little dose of chivalry once in awhile, who, well (and not to be crass) loves some good dick every now and again, could be a feminist! I knew sexism was real; I wasn't blind to the inconsistencies, the inadequacies, the injustices and the hypocrisies of the female experience. Yet, I felt feminists were extremists -- crazy women who wanted as little to do with someone like me as I felt I had in common with the perceived "them". It wasn't really until I started blogging that my eyes were opened to the diversity of feminism as it exists today. Though separatist extremist feminists existed during my childhood and continue to exist today, it was really not until I started reading cornerstone feminist blogs (notable early regular readings included Rox Populi, Shrub.com, Sour Duck Pandagon and Alas, A Blog) that I came to understand that feminism was not about male hatred but this great thing I had believed in all my life: gender equality. Male feminists? Feminist gamers? Feminists who wear makeup? Feminists of colour? It sounds crazy, but I honestly didn't think it was possible. The word, feminism, itself, seems to hide that true meaning, sounding more like "female supremacist" to my pre-encounter ears than "gender activist". My stereotype of the feminist was so monochromatic, so monotonal and one-dimensional that I wasn't aware of even the possibility of a complexity in the term. It's a testament to the power of the patriarchal media that this false, narrow-scoped depiction of feminists could be so pervasive. The idea of the strong, self-determined female was so threatening to male dominance that the surest method of control was to deny young women the understanding that this movement was meant for them. I'm sorry to say I bought into it. As with all things, it takes time and exposure to cause someone to re-evaluate their perspective. Although I wish I had some amazing "pre-encounter/post-encounter" trauma to relate that set me fastly and firmly on the path of becoming a self-identified feminist, but I actually arrived at this identity as unassumingly as I had strayed from it. My feminism was, it turned out, perfectly normal, nothing to be ashamed of and obvious, even. There was no bra-burning inherent to the cause, no violence to the phallus I could perceive, no misplaced, unjustified, anti-intellectual anger and bitterness, just a widespread grouping of like-minded men and women who believe, as do I, that the genders are, have been, should be, and should be treated as equal. Though I still struggle to find a way to fit my appreciation for romance and male chivalry into my feminism, I still worry about my Yellowness in the predominantly White feminist climate, it has become easier to see that feminism is not a box that anyone can fit perfectly into. Rather, feminists are mere people, as different and similar as any other community united by mindset rather than background. Nonetheless, just as I re-defined feminism as an ideal for myself, I now believe that feminism, as a movement, still needs to re-define itself. Though the world of blogging has been quick to underscore the "normalcy" of feminism, the world outside the blogosphere has been slow to embrace this. The everyday layman still believes feminism to be a dirty word, and far too many of my friends found it unbelievable that I, far from butch, could be "feminist". And still, there are those within the feminist movement who believe that true feminism cannot exist outside of identities not unlike the "feminazi" stereotype. These feminists do the movement a disservice -- after all, it is only by encouraging women dissuaded by the "abnormal" reputation of feminists to realize their own feminism that gender equal ideals will begin to take real root in our society. And we, as feminists of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds should take it upon ourselves to spread the understanding that you don't have to be anyone but yourself to be a feminist: it is not some exclusive club or secret cult, but a simple stand that anyone, regardless of lifestyle or personal choices, CEO or housewife, can take and embody. It is not until every mother, daughter, and sister realizes their own strong femininity is, itself, a form of feminism that we can realize a more universal and accepted position for feminism in America. So, yes, I am a feminist. I am a vocal, activist-y, liberated, free-thinking, insecure, movie-going, comic-book-reading, video-game playing, dietin' and exercisin', studious, educated, ignorant, opinionated, long-haired, make-up-wearing, bra-toting, skirt-donning, leg-shavin', dick-lovin' feminist of colour. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that. Thus, I would challenge you, dear reader, to walk up to the next person you see and ask them whether or not they believe that men and women deserve equal pay and equal treatment under the law, whether women deserve rape and sexual degradation, whether men deserve to die in wars in place of women, and whether both parents deserve leave when a child is born. Ask them whether they believe women are just as capable, as honest, as loving, as strong, as opinionated, as controlling, as independent, as beautiful and as worthy of respect as men. Then hug them and tell them that you have just hugged a feminist today. I'm sure they'll be surprised. Update (12/6/05): I'm honoured to say that this post was included in the fourth edition of the Carnival of the Feminists at The Happy Feminist. Thanks also to the number of people who have linked to this site, including: Sour Duck's Link Blog, Shrub.com and Bitch, Ph.D.

17 Comments:

Blogger bitchphd said...

Yay you!

12/07/2005 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger Grim said...

I'll go on record as believing that men should die in the place of women in war; and that women are more, rather than equally, beautiful. Otherwise, however, there's little room for argument.

12/07/2005 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger yellowbaby said...

double yay to jenn!!!

12/07/2005 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger The Happy Feminist said...

This post is featured at the Carnival of Feminists at http://happyfeminist.typepad.com/happyfeminist/2005/12/holly_at_self_p.html

12/07/2005 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Lina said...

Especially agree with you re. media. The media in the UK is essentially patriarchal and actively encourages women to fight with frequent discussions about stay at home / go to work mothers: which one is right etc etc.

12/07/2005 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Rtother said...

Good post. I'm a big fan of membership by commitment to certain ideals as opposed to membership by birth. By the way, I know that you're not saying that all feminists have the exact same ideas, but rather that membership is not exclusively limited by birth or things of that nature.

12/07/2005 06:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Ampersand said...

Huzzah! Great post!

Also, I'm really flattered that "Alas, a Blog" is mentioned. :-D

12/07/2005 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Pip said...

Good post. I've never made the connection before but the definition of "feminist" which you initially mistrusted sounds to me like the female equivalent of "mysogonist", both being equally reprehensible.

As a male I also believe in "gender equality". Whilst I have a strong streak of "to give is better than to receive" in me, I apply this equally to females and males. Whilst we are moving forward to such equality unfortunately, even here in the UK where I live, it too often seems to be a at a snail's pace.

12/08/2005 04:28:00 AM  
Blogger T. Comfyshoes said...

Wow, awesome post!

After my famed Birkenstock Conversion Moment, and probably leading up to it as well, reading feminist blogs has done a lot for my own journey, both in terms of showing the diversity of feminist thought (I used to buy the feminazi stereotype too), and at the same time for opening my eyes to what is going on outside my privileged, sometimes-wilfully-blind sphere.

...one long kludge of a sentence to express the sentiment that feminist blogging rulz

12/08/2005 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

thanks, everyone for the comments and the linkbacks!! also special thanks to the happy feminist for including this post in the carnival!

12/08/2005 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Found you from the carnivale. Love the post.

Re: your desire for some chivalry. I think of chivalry as condescending because it assumes women are weaker & less capable. However, there is nothing wrong with wanting some extra attention from a man you fancy. Many of the same actions can be done with an attitude of affection and respect. I prefer to call that romance and it should be mutual. It's the motivation that counts.

Disclaimer: I don't like neo-medival concepts in general. Princes, Pricesses and chivalry are all bad words in my book.

12/08/2005 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger OTT said...

Jenn,

A brave post.

I am sorry the feminist world loses briliant women such as yourself to the curse of media stereotyping of feminists. The media has so much to answer for - but then (at least in Australia) it is run by men, or by women trying to be men because this is the only way they know how to succeed.

I am Asian (viet descent) and 'belong' to the Asian Australian diaspora. For years I fought to be recognised as feminist by the women in the Women's Room at my university, in much the same way I fought to be recognised as Australian. And now, I consider I fight the feminist fight in my own, lawyer trained way and best of luck for the more militant ones out there.

My only critique would be: gender equality is not being as equal as men, and nor is it about being more equal (or worthy of respect etc) as men. I think it is about breaking down the dichotomous barriers within society that posit men and masculine oriented traits as more worthy than women or feminine oriented traits (and nor should the converse be accepted). I don't want to be an honorary man. Man is not the standard to reach. There is value in human beings and worth in diversity.

I look forward to your hosting of this wonderful carnival.

12/10/2005 12:25:00 AM  
Blogger Pris said...

I found your link on Lee Herrick's blog. It led to the police post which was such a disgusting video that I'm too upset to even comment sensibly right now.

I like this post. I was in my late twenties when feminism was so strongly connected with hair under the pits, no make-up, no looking pretty ...Gloria Steinem got hell from some women for just being naturally pretty. There was anger if a man opened a door...anger, anger everywhere. I had my Ph.D. and my own profession. I kept my maiden name when I was married. I even didn't wear a bra when not at work, but I didn't call myself a feminist. I couldn't identify with all that anger, nor did I want to be connected with it. Over the years, things have radically changed and the word has meaning for me now. It brings pride!

Pris

12/11/2005 06:55:00 PM  
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