Why I Call Myself A Feminist

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.

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6 comments

  1. kassandwes

    First off, thank you for this post.
    I have had similar experiences and struggles as a feminist. As a lesbian teenager I read anything I could by anyone who labeled themselves as ‘feminist.’ I drank their writings down hungrily, eagerly searching for something to make me feel whole, bigger than I was. I embodied it with everything that I had. I was a Feminist.
    As I got a little bit older I slipped further and further away from my feminism. I was something that feminists seem to hate. I was a masculine butch. I had penis envy. I wanted to be a man. How could I turn my back on everything we had fought for as women? How could I betray my sisters? How could I want to transform myself into the male patriarch? How could I stray from my roots?
    I struggled with these questions over and over in my head. While researching transgender issues and treatments and the like, I found many feminist blogs that said there was something wrong with me. It made me question myself, my choices and my tactics. Why was I having these feelings? I strayed further and further away from my feminist roots.
    I almost didn’t transition because I was afraid of turning my back on feminism.
    After a long internal deliberation, I decided that I could still be a Feminist. That I didn’t need to look the exact roll people expected me to, but that I could still be one. Isn’t feminism after all about being proud and strong and fearless? Why then was the one thing that I lived and breathed for so long causing me to fear myself?
    I decided that was not my feminism.
    Today I feel like I am in a different place in feminism. I am still well read on the subject from being the lesbian teenager, but I have grown, I have experienced the world, and I have seen and felt the issues first hand.
    I now know that anyone can be a feminist and that I am a Transmasculine Feminist, and I will not apologize for who I am, just as I was taught to not apologize for being a woman. I am fighting now on a much broader spectrum, and I will continue to fight.

    • rimonim

      Hey Wes! I really relate to your experience. My fears about selling out/being a traitor were the last roadblock to my transition. I finally realized that I could still be a feminist and advocate for justice as a man–and perhaps a better one, because I’d be fully myself. Once I got to that point, being a feminist guy became one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of transition for me.

      • kassandwes

        I’m really glad to hear that, because that is exactly it for me. I had gotten comfortable with the idea myself, my wife was on board, close friends were supportive, but I felt like I was a traitor to myself, to women everywhere, to everything we had fought for as a gender. I had several talks about it with my wife, and she just told me that I can still be a feminist and anyone who doesn’t understand or accept me or her fully because of my transition are people that we don’t need in our lives anyways. That was when I fully committed and let go. And it was the best choice ever.
        So I’m really excited that is one of the best parts for you!

  2. Meike

    I resonated with a lot of what you said, but followed a slightly different path. I learned about it from watching Iron Jawed Angels in my AP US History class, and became a die-hard, almost bra-burning femininst. I got into college and by my junior year I had other things on my mind (i.e. my gender identity and impending transition) so it fell by the wayside, but I still identified as a feminist. In my senior year of college I met some feminists who I was either not to fond of, or seemed to be a little more extreme than I thought was strictly necessary, so I was uncomfortable with the term. Now I use it because I feel feminism is — or should be — more open and inclusive of ALL gender, sexes, and sexualities, and I certainly identify with that.

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