I'm a feminist, but…
Published: Thursday, February 5, 2009
Updated: Saturday, February 7, 2009 21:02
Feminism. It has been blamed for everything from destroying the family to killing chivalry to women drinking more alcohol to hook-up culture. Feminists have been antagonized as fat, ugly, hairy, bra-burning, man-hating lesbians; these enduring stereotypes have been manufactured by the mass media to discredit feminists. These stereotypes keep some women at bay from identifying themselves as feminists. Time magazine in 1998 even questioned whether or not feminism was dead.
On the contrary, feminism is far from dead or irrelevant. These days, feminist statements are often disguised behind "I'm not a feminist, but…" (I'm not a feminist, but I believe men and women should have equal rights. I'm not a feminist, but I think that women deserve to get the same pay as men do for the same jobs.) People who say that may not know that they are feminists or may be intentionally shying away from the label of "feminist."
I did not know that I was a feminist until my senior year of high school when I took a feminist theory class. Before that I had never thought twice about feminism, but the class opened my eyes. I learned about what feminism is by learning about what it is not. It is not a female supremacist ideology that ugly women who cannot find boyfriends or husbands embrace to make themselves feel better. It is not a brainwashing cult that tells women to leave their husbands and their children. It is not just Ally McBeal's or the Spice Girls' cheers of "Giiiiiiiiiiiirl Power!" It is not just for women. The meaning of feminism varies from person to person, but in its most basic form, feminism is the belief that men and women are equal. For me, feminism is a way to examine and challenge the dominant power structures in society and the ways that different forms of oppression (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, etc.) intersect to maintain the status quo.
It's frustrating to hear the old "I'm not a feminist, but…" because feminism is still so pertinent and important in our lives. Women earn 77 cents to the male dollar -- so much for the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was passed by Congress to put an end to wage discrimination based on gender. Rape wasn't declared a war crime until June 2008. Violence against transgender and transsexual people remains largely ignored, and the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the Constitution that provides for equal rights under the law regardless of gender, has yet to be passed.
We still need feminism when every Election Day in November, states try to pass laws that may threaten a woman's right to her own body. We still need feminism when female politicians who run for office are judged by their looks instead of their policies. We still need feminism when women may feel uncomfortable or unsafe walking down the street because of catcalling or other forms of sexual harassment. We still need feminism when classmates, friends, family or even we ourselves are sexually assaulted or raped and are afraid to come forward because of the fear that we will not be believed or will be blamed. We still need feminism when teenagers are taught nothing about sex in schools except not to have it, and consequently, many young women have unintended pregnancies.
Some "I'm not a feminist, but…" people have told me that they are hesitant to readily identify themselves as feminists because they want to avoid labeling themselves. While I do understand that viewpoint and see how categories can be very imposing and restrictive (look at our binary gender categories), I feel that by saying "I'm not a feminist, but…" is making a concession to the dominant paradigm. It's sort of like saying, "Yes, I have progressive values and believe in X, Y and Z, but I know that you'd disapprove, and it's socially unacceptable in your eyes for me to be open about my beliefs, so I won't align myself with those politics." Saying "I'm not a feminist, but women should not have to pay for their own rape kits" is almost like saying "I'm not an environmentalist, but people should really turn off the lights and unplug appliances when not in use." Prefacing a feminist thought with "I'm not a feminist, but…" makes it seem as though one is apologizing for having those thoughts, when in reality, what is there to apologize for? If you're a feminist, don't be ashamed of it. If you're a feminist, don't deny it. If you're a feminist, say it.
Tiffany Lam is a sophomore majoring in Women's Studies.