I’m Not A Feminist, But…: How Feminism Has Become A Dirty Word

by:Bobby Crowley 

I’m a feminist. Hold your crinkled up noses, shivers, and gasps back for one second. In fact, I would like to politely suggest you please take those reactions and gracefully shove them. I am proud to be a feminist and I would like to take a second to show you why that shouldn’t be shocking.

Even now, as the third wave of feminism washes over our society, feminist is a word with which people do not want to associate themselves. If I had a ham for every time I heard the opening phrase “I’m not a feminist, but,” I would have a lifetime supply of ham. I’m not really sure what anyone would do with that much ham, but I figure that made it the perfect example to show how unnecessarily often I hear this phrase.

I always wonder, right before they finish that phrase, what is coming next. I’m not a feminist, but Audrey Hepburn seemed like a relatively pretty lady? I’m not a feminist, but I once accidentally laughed at a meme from that Texts from Hillary tumblr? I’m not a feminist, but I wouldn’t mind if we didn’t jail all women after they have served their purposes as humanity perpetuating wombs?

However, the rest of the sentence is usually less exciting. Usually, in fact, it is something about protecting women’s rights or standing up for gender equality. Usually, it is something relatively “feminist” in nature. Shocking, I know.

At this point, I often wonder why a person with feminist ideals denies any attachment to the feminist movement. Why is feminism a bad thing, especially if you sort of, kind of, a little bit agree with it? Why do people cringe when I claim ties to feminism?

I guess, when I say that I am a feminist and stand proudly as I say it, the other people in the room instantly imagine me cutting off any male genitals within reach, stuffing them into a purple velvet bag, and setting it on fire just high enough in the air to show off my armpit hair. However, this is just not what I have in mind every time I enter a room.

It is not that I mind armpit hair or believe I should shave mine because I am a woman. I just enjoy shaving. As for the other stuff, it just seems so unnecessarily violent and undeserved to me. Still, I see these reactions happen. I just don’t understand why.

Why are we so afraid of and uncomfortable with feminism? Cheris Kramarae said that, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” Why, then, are people uncomfortable with the label “feminist”?

First of all, there multiple forms and sections of feminism, making it practically impossible to assume something about anyone who claims ties to general feminism. Second of all, the accomplishments of feminism so far and the evolution of feminism through its three waves makes it easy to say the word “feminist” with pride.

Feminists won the right to vote for women in the first wave and influenced the final Roe vs. Wade decision in the second wave. These are only two of the many accomplishments made by feminism and the third wave is even more impressive. The third wave of feminism challenges issues of inequality and discrimination that are perpetuated even within the feminist movements. Self analysis and dissension? Bravo, I say. Bravo.

With all of these advancements, how can you NOT want to be a feminist? With brilliant and powerful feminists like bell hooks, Simone de Beauvoir, and Judith Butler, how can we force shame into this word? We are forcing it, because if we didn’t make the effort to turn this word into something negative, it would have no choice but to naturally appear in a positive light.

Feminists are people who believe in equality. Feminists are people who fight against oppression and prejudice. As Kramarae suggests, feminists are people who believe that women can be people too. Do these sound like things you oppose? Would you rather perpetuate discrimination against genitalia, skin color, identity, and other such aspects of the human being that are oppressed in the society in which we live?

You can. I can’t stop you. All I ask is that you learn more about feminism and all it has to offer this world before you shake it off. Before succumbing to this dirty, violent, and uncool connotation that comes with the word, learn its true meaning. Then, maybe you’ll understand me when I declare proudly and publicly that I, Barbara Crowley, am a feminist. (Gasp).

Bobby Crowley is a Queer woman with a love for all that is fabulous. She is currently working on her Creative Writing degree at Loyola University where she is also on the board of Advocate and a writer for the alt. magazine LUChameleon. She is in love with Andrea Gibson, her labradaniel puppies, and singing loudly in the shower.

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13 responses to “I’m Not A Feminist, But…: How Feminism Has Become A Dirty Word

  1. I’ve always been proud to be a feminist, and have sometimes despaired over the “I’m not a feminist” phenomenon amongst women – especially when it’s a young woman saying it. (Mind you, I’m old enough now that a disturbingly large number of women saying it are younger than I am.) Thank you so very much for reminding me that there are women out there like you – folks who didn’t live through the 60s and 70s – who share my pride. Well written, funny, and spot on!

  2. I’ve never understood why it’s a dirty word. Perhaps it’s the power of male-centred media portrayals, which have leaked somewhat into even female subconscious? Even satirical portrayals that are mocking the stereotypes people imagine are taken seriously.

    When people ask me if I’d have the same opinion of people and their behaviour if their sex was different (say if a man said something, would I be appalled if a woman had said it), and I say “no”, they stare at me in disbelief. I don’t think many people recognise equality when they see it. As shown in one study of boardroom meetings, where in order to be considered an “equal” discussion, women had less than 30% of the conversation.

    • I don’t know if this applies to other people, but my own interaction with feminism lies in the separation between capital “F” Feminism and lowercase “f” feminism. I think I waver back and forth on my concerns of identifying as feminist for a number of reasons, though ultimately, I identify that way in most discourse with people, in regard to issues of gender equality.

      The points of concern I have are more to do with Feminism and not with the feminist ideal of gender equality, and some of the problematic outcomes of Feminism (as a parallel, this is also why I prefer “queer” over gay as the Gay Rights discussion also has quite a few problems that I am not comfortable taking ownership over as a gay person). This is more about power dynamics in organized Feminism–which are problems not exclusive to this movement–but I contemplated this initially when reading about the denial of status to transwomen at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (not representative of Feminism as a whole, but a lot of important discourse between women occurs here):
      http://pamshouseblend.firedoglake.com/2010/03/04/michigan-womyns-music-festival-lesbian-and-feminist-musical-artists-supporting-segregation/
      and then again with the debate of womanist vs. feminist and how women of color relate to Feminism:
      http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/03/womanismfeminismfeminismwomanism.html

      So, given the replication of patriarchal power structures in some Feminist spaces and in some Feminist discourse that are not isolated incidents, I’m still going to struggle with wholly identifying as feminist, or at least not without caveating my interpretation.

  3. I used to identify as a feminist, but now I’m often one of those “I’m not really a feminist, but I agree with [x]” (where x is a feminist ideal.)

    For me, I’ve just grown strongly anti-label. For instance:

    -I’m not a socialist, but I think there should be more public ownership of companies and more corporate regulation.
    -I’m not a capitalist, but I think the free market of the internet has created some brilliant things. -I’m not a Republican, but I think school vouchers give parents better options for their children’s education.
    – I’m not a Democrat, but I think Obama has a good health care plan.
    – I’m not gay, but I think gays should be allowed to marry.
    -I’m not religious, but I think churches shouldn’t have to marry them if they don’t want to.
    -I’m not an animal-rights activist, but I’ve stopped eating meat.
    -I’m not cruel to animals, but I don’t think they’re equal to people.

    I’m not a feminist, but I’m all for equal pay for women, increased protection for women in the workplace, supporting positive body-image, and fostering an environment that makes violence against women, be it physical, emotional, or otherwise, 100% wrong.

    BUT…

    I’m not an anti-feminist, but I think abortion is wrong, that transgender pronouns are pretentious, that it’s okay to laugh at “sexist” jokes if they’re actually funny, and that there’s nothing wrong with loving uber-masculine movies that’d never pass the bechdel test.

    I think guys who use the word cunt are oppressive. I think guys who use the word bitch are fine. I don’t shave my legs because I’m lazy, and I honestly think I’m equally attractive either way so why make the effort?

    I think sexuality can be liberating. I think sexuality can be embarrassing. I haven’t had sex yet and that doesn’t bother me.

    Point being, feminist isn’t a bad word. It’s just a confusing word that, like any label, is bound to include some tenet I disagree with. I’m not one to bend a word to fit me, but I won’t bend myself to fit it either. So until then, I’m not a feminist, but kudos to you 🙂

  4. “Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not a feminist, I support equality.”

    Some actually said this to me and I just didn’t know how to respond, other than to ask her, “So, you’re a feminist then?”

    My significant other and I had a conversation the other day. He is all for equal rights. He tries to read and get knowledge of feminism and even dabbles in some men’s rights issues, to see both sides. Straight says, “I am 100% for equality for everyone,” but he will not call himself a feminist. Or any other word that would imply that he is for equality because he doesn’t like labels. This worries me. If he is so proud to be 100% for equality, then why is he so worried to be called a feminist?

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