I am a feminist.
I am both passionate and ambivalent about this label.
I claim it because I am committed to gender justice, because I recognize the role of sexism in the power structures of my society, because my politics are indebted to many feminist thinkers. I claim it because it’s an excellent shorthand for some of my most closely held principles. I claim it because most people aren’t feminists. I claim it to see the look of surprise people get when a man says, “I am a feminist.” I claim it to remind myself to practice a nonviolent masculinity.
I am ambivalent about the label because I have huge problems with many feminists and large swaths of feminist thinking. Feminism has often failed to take an intersectional analysis, centering white, well-off women and ignoring issues of race, class, nationality, sexual orientation and ability, to name a few. As a trans person, I am disgusted by the cissexism and transphobia that flourish in some feminist circles. As a man, I can’t be entirely enthusiastic about a gender justice movement that grapples so little with men’s experiences. I have respect for anyone who avoids the word “feminist” because of the failings of many feminists.
At the same time, feminism is what brought me here. I got my first exposure to ideas like systems of oppression, hegemony, and allyship through feminist spaces. I followed the path of feminism, and it lead me to people working for all kinds of equality. The principles of feminism, distilled to their most basic core, guided me to my current understanding of the interlocking matrices of power that operate in my society. Feminism lead me into a world of activists and thinkers much greater than the term itself could contain.
Feminism lead me to critiques of feminism. The deeper I went into feminist thinking, the louder the protest became. I was soon reading the work of women of color, working class women, lesbians, and trans women who illuminated flaws and blindspots in feminist discourse. I encountered men who explored the male experience of the gender system, sometimes criticizing feminism, sometimes valorizing it.
My level of comfort with the term “feminist” has shifted across the phases of this journey. First, I was curious about feminism, but wouldn’t describe myself that way. Then I became an ardent feminist. Some time later, as I learned about the inadequacies of feminism, I became uncomfortable with the word and stopped using it for myself. Now, I use the word when appropriate, with an awareness of its strengths, shortcomings, and context.
In my life, feminism emerged, became its own opposite, transcended itself, and was reborn. I honor feminism as a wide net that sets many on the journey to critical consciousness–a journey much bigger than any one struggle.
Do you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Thanks to Alma for the interesting conversation that inspired this post.