To begin I think I should say, it really depends on what your definition of a feminist is, and for this, I’m going to be sticking to a dictionary definition for clarity, to begin with, then explain my ideas fully. But first, what do I stand for?
I believe that everyone has the right to be treated equally under the law, no matter who they are and that everyone should have freedom of opportunity no matter belief, skin colour, culture, sexuality or gender.
Now to those of you wondering why I’m writing this, for a while now I’ve been asked why I don’t define myself as a feminist, especially if I believe in equal treatment.
I think ultimately this comes from my love of rigidity when it comes to definitions of words, for the sake of clarity and understanding I for one believe that words should be given strict definitions, not often helped by the fact that English is a descriptive language. But it certainly helps when communicating ideas if everyone is on the same page when it comes to the meaning of each word I think a more prescriptive approach is certainly necessary in some cases.
With that out the way, I feel like I should give a little context, for a while now I have been asked why I don’t describe myself as a feminist. This can be broken down into three parts: I’m not a public supporter, I don’t entirely believe there are any laws which have to change surrounding women’s rights in the western world and nor do I think they will change for the worse, lastly I do not like to affiliate with any particular political ideology.
So to begin, here is the definition, and then how these three parts fit into the definition.
As I feel the first part is a little more complex, we can leave it out and focus on the second part of the definition for now.
The main parts I want to look at are: organised activities (also referred to as advocacy), rights, and interests.
This one is fairly simple, as I don’t participate or engage in at organised activities associated with women’s rights, even if I believed these activities to be right, I cannot be counted as engaging in any sort of advocacy.
These are the laws which govern certain things, like for example the right to vote. As I do not believe freedoms like this are going away anytime soon (and believe you me if they were there I would be an uproar about it) I see no reason to engage in this. As for additional laws, I can’t see any reason to change laws based on my current understanding of them (But do feel free to correct me).
This to me seems a little redundant as interests seem to refer to governing laws too, but I shall take it to mean social interests: anything which benefits women socially. Now as this is a particularly complex topic I can’t even hope to understand given my current level of knowledge on how women are affected in society, I wouldn’t know where to start on what is most beneficial for women. As such I can count myself out of this aspect of the definition.
Feminism as a political movement:
Now, something I’ve often heard which confuses me no end is the idea that feminism is not a political movement or a political ideology. Given that most feminists I’ve spoken to believe laws must be changed in some way or another, it seems a little like cognitive dissonance taking place in this circumstance.
To lay this out
- A political movement seeks to enact changes to laws
- Feminism seeks to make changes to laws in order to benefit women
- Feminism is a political movement
- An ideology is system of ideas and beliefs
- Feminism seeks to change laws based on a set of ideas and beliefs
- Feminism has an ideological basis
Now onto the first part of the definition
I disagree with the vagueness given by this particular dictionary definition for a number of reasons. While I don’t think it impossible for someone who describes themselves as a feminist to fully believe there should be both social and legal equality to some degree (obviously men can’t get pregnant and have abortions etc). I don’t think this should be given the title of feminism.
This is for a number of reasons, all of them linked, but I’ll try to lay it out as best I can. When we use words to describe things they are symbols used to invoke an idea, each of us having a concept of which symbols should be associated with which ideas based on our perception of the world, and as such, should be carefully chosen. Many disagreements we have are usually lexical as opposed to ideological, but these two are inextricably bound. For example, if I present you with a word it will also conjure up other words we expect to either be spoken or involved, each of these colouring our interpretation of it. For example, Someone mentions the word pig, words which may pop into your mind (depending on your background), say for example pink, pet, food, bacon, filth.
All of this is in order to paint a mental picture of the concepts people try to describe to us. With this in mind, a word like feminism has linked words, the “femin” prefix summoning words like; woman, girl, feminine. The “ism” suffix usually used to describe either ideologies or pathologies. Given this, to me, it seems unwise to choose a word that conjures up gender if the aim is to prove that both genders should or could be equal. Even the dictionary will present “masculine” as an antonym of “feminine” an idea which feminism in its most recent form is wanting to erode, in that, men don’t always have to be manly and women don’t always have to be feminine.
Given this, for the description of an ideology which seeks to promote an equal approach to genders, having a gendered descriptor seems counter to the cause, instead perhaps a word such as egalitarian would be more appropriate. This combined with the fact that many of these issues I believe to be an issue for both genders as opposed to just the one, for example a man may want to spend more time with their children and his partner may want to spend more time at her job, calling this a women’s issue or a men’s issue ignores that this issue is inextricably linked, and only takes on one-half of the problem. Egalitarian would be the overarching idea of some sort of equality of opportunity, and feminism to be how women specifically play a part in the larger sphere.
My last and final point is this, that it should not be a source of shame that an individual only wants to fight for the rights of women or the rights of men, for example a man may only feel emotionally connected to the fact that he wants to see more of his children, but due to the current way in which custody is dealt with by courts, women will in majority of cases, be given custody, even if they are not more suited. It’s more likely for an individual to understand or want to fight their own issues. I mention this because every choice we make has an opportunity cost when we make one decision, there are always a plethora of other choices we could have made, and so expecting every single individual to fight for one cause (ie feminism) would risk letting other issues fall by the wayside. That’s not to say that this would be a zero sum game, but given I’ve gone on long enough, maybe I should leave that for another post.