Feminism: The Other F-Word

John Oxton, Flickr Creative Commons

As is the case with so many of my posts lately, this one started with a xoJane article. This one happens to be about how Taylor Swift and the author don’t identify as Feminist (capital F). I don’t think any of us find that shocking. Here’s a girl who makes her living singing syrupy songs about break-ups with the kinds of guys who I get great joy out of giving the heave-ho. I also think of her as being eternally 16 because she continues to write songs that have the emotional maturity of a 16-year-old. (Maybe ya’ll have guessed, but I’m not a big Taylor Swift fan.) How can you be mad at a 16-year-old for not being a feminist?

More to the point, I do identify as a feminist and have ever since I took my first Women’s Studies class in college. Back then I tended to wear army green pants and gray shirts and spent too much money on Ani DiFranco tickets. These days I only go to see Ani when it’s free (which, oddly, happens more than you would think) and I try to incorporate more colors into my wardrobe. I no longer care to resemble camouflage. But I’m still a feminist.

Daisy, the author of the xoJane article, laid out all the things that bother her about feminism and I’d like to comment on a few:

At times, feminists come across as angry. If you’d gotten me in my 20s, I might have been on board, but in my more mellow 30s, expressing myself through rage just isn’t my thing, nor do I think it’s an effective way to bring about change.

Many feminists come across as self-righteous. Again: just not that into it. If I’m better than someone, it’s not because of how I label myself. (It’s because I’m smarter and prettier and funnier, regardless of whether you have a penis, vagina, both or neither. Yay self-esteem!)

I kind of hate this argument, but totally get it… There’s nothing I hate more than a person with no sense of humor. If I can’t make off-color, offensive jokes around you, I don’t want to be near you. Humor allows us to talk about tough shit — like stereotypes, inequality, and tragedy (just ask Tig Notaro) – without just wanting to slit our own wrists. It allows us to communicate with people who don’t take this stuff seriously without them tuning out (hopefully). When you come off as militant, most of America will just turn the channel, so it behooves your cause not to be a boring nag. And that’s why I love people like Sarah Silverman and many of the ladies at xoJane. They make feminism fun.

I feel a lot of times like the current feminist movement excludes minorities. I don’t want to throw my support behind a group that excludes women who are often oppressed for a hell of a lot more than having a vagina. (For more on this, see s.e.’s earlier essay on this topic.)

This is a pretty common complaint. (Just ask Lena Dunham.) I don’t think any movement can be all things to all people, but I also don’t think that lets Feminism off the hook. It’s hard to feel bad for some female SVP of Ahole Inc. who gets paid less that her male colleagues, when there are women all over the country who don’t have jobs at all, and live in an endless cycle of teen motherhood and poverty. Of course, without Feminism and the people who work to support its mission, Planned Parenthood and women’s health clinics like it – often the only place minority women, and women living in poverty have to turn with reproductive health issues – might be a thing of the past. Feminism isn’t perfect on the class/race issue, but is it really right to eschew the whole movement for it? Isn’t it better to fight from within?

I don’t always believe that women are at a disadvantage, therefore a movement that often assumes that is the case irks me. Of course there are areas in which women aren’t treated equally. But is the same not true for men? Is true equality of the sexes even an actual possibility? (I posit: no.)

I’m not sure that I believe that the “oppression” of women is the fault of men. I realize that feminism doesn’t necessarily blame men, but — let’s be real, here. It pretty much does.

I get this. I don’t naturally slide into the victim role. It’s just not me. So I’d be lying if I said I feel oppressed – and I often feel the best way to not be a victim, is to just not let yourself be one. But there are women out there who need the support of other women, who didn’t have a bunch of badass female role models, and can find strength in the feminist label. I do, however, kind of agree that true gender equality probably won’t be possible, because the simple fact is we’re not all the same. We just aren’t. All we can do is try to level the playing field.

I just can’t get up in arms about things like someone using the word “he” to mean “he” and “she.” Confession: I do that all of the time. It’s often the only way to write using the singular that’s grammatically correct and not clunky. Likewise, if you’re the type of person who flips out when someone calls a woman a “girl,” then yeah. We’re probably not going to be bosom buddies. I mean, I kind of prefer being called a girl. Daddy issues and a mother who idealizes youth and whatnot.

This is an example of one of those issues that seems like a non-issue to me. Do people really care about this? I feel like, maybe, those are just the people who have nothing better to worry about that day. But this is one of those places where I feel like you risk alienating mainstream America on the important issues because you complain about little things that make absolutely no difference in the real world.

Sure, I get it. In 2012, a woman can shave her legs, get a weekly manicure, cook dinner for her husband, pop out seven babies, pack her kids’ lunches and still identify as a feminist.

And that’s great if that’s what she’s into.

But personally, unless that person is actually doing something to fight for women’s rights, I don’t see why it really matters what she calls herself.

It’s clear that there’s still a stigma attached to being a feminist – otherwise people like Daisy wouldn’t object so vehemently to being called one. So it’s important that people who don’t fit that “angry,” “self-righteous” mold identify as being feminists.

I think the author is probably over-thinking the issue a bit. “Feminist” wouldn’t even make it into the top 10 words I use to describe myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m not one. And just because Daisy Barringer doesn’t use the word to describe herself, it doesn’t mean she’s not one… like it or not.

But I’ll leave you with a few words from Ms. DiFranco: “Feminism ain’t about equality, it’s about reprieve.”

re·prieve/riˈprēv/

Verb:
Cancel or postpone the punishment of (someone, esp. someone condemned to death).
Noun:
A cancellation or postponement of a punishment.
Synonyms:
verb.  respite
noun.  respite – postponement
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