On Feminists and Assholes

I keep waiting for there to not be something that could be attributed as proximate cause for this post before posting it, but I suspect that’s never going to happen, so just trust me when I say that this is not in response to any particular thing, it just is what it is.

I don’t identify as a feminist.  I don’t just “not identify” as one: I explicitly identify as “Nope, I don’t call myself a feminist.”

I’m female.  I’m firm in my conviction that this doesn’t affect my ability to do anything much past piss gracefully while standing which, outside of very narrow circumstances, is an utterly valueless skill, and that I’m therefore entitled to all the same things as the people possessing those skills.  I’m aware of the fact that this is not, in fact, how the world works and that there are a range of varyingly explicit systematic problems perpetuating the current state.  I don’t get offended if people call me a feminist, and I’ve got some serious respect for the people who are adamant about wanting to reclaim the word from its current associations with radical man-hating boogeycreatures.

Here’s the thing: as far as I’m concerned, I’m an unmarked fully functional adult who goes through life doing pretty much whatever she damn well pleases.  If you’ve got a problem with that I have two options.

1) I could label myself as a feminist to indicate my disagreement with your problem.  Lots of people do, and they accomplish a lot of really good things by doing it.

2) I can point out that your problem with me going about my business as I have every right to reflects on you, not me, and instead of labeling myself, affix an appropriate term to you.  Say, something civil and uncontroversial.  Like, asshole.

I opt for option 2.

Both options have problems.  The first isolates and segments off people who ought to be striving to be mainstream.  The second makes it harder for like-minded people to find each other and have the conversations that need having and generally muddies the waters.  There’s an assumption (valid but hopefully diminishingly so) in the first option that people who are down with equal rights across genders are not the norm.  There’s an assumption in the second option that they are.

I’m not here to say we’ve achieved gender balance utopia.  We haven’t.  I’m not here to say we don’t have systematic problems where women get marginalized, undervalued, ignored, and taken advantage of.  We do.  What I’m saying is this: That shit is unnatural.  I’m calling it out as such, rather than letting it define how I identify myself.  It’s a calculated decision, meant to force reality into compliance with my assertion about how it should work.  For me, this works extremely well.

It’s not enough on its own.  It does nothing to address cultural assumptions that the default is male and the ramifications this has for women for everything from marketing to medical research without any individuals being explicit bad guys.  We need people who spend their time digging into that, identifying problems and their sources, proposing solutions.  We absolutely need a baseline assumption of what’s normal, but we’re not yet at the point where we don’t also need feminists.

Don’t look at me, though.  I’m just a competent human adult, on the lookout for assholes.

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6 thoughts on “On Feminists and Assholes

  1. I disagree with your premise that feminism is not mainstream. People like Rush Limbaugh certainly try to portray it as being fringe with language like “feminazi,” but he is simply restructuring the language in a way he wants it to be. I refuse to let him get away with it.

    • I didn’t say that feminism isn’t mainstream, but that identifying as a feminist implies that it isn’t. The word ‘Feminist’ however, once you’re outside groups dominated by feminists and allies, is loaded in very negative ways. It’s not hard to find people who say, “I’m for equal rights, but I’m not one of those feminists,” and they’re thinking about a stereotype that’s out of date because they don’t realize that they probably agree with the people using the term now.

      I think there’s a really good case to be made for doing the word of reclaiming the word and fully support people who want to do it. My priorities are just different, and best served with a different set of tactics.

  2. I can definitely see the case for wanting to make good behavior the default and bad behavior the one that needs a label. I think I side with wanting to keep mentioning the feminist label for two reasons:

    First, basically every mention of feminism I grew up with was pretty much along the lines of Kate Beaton’s Straw Feminists (http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=341, if you haven’t already seen). I knew older people who knew better (e.g., my mom), but they never talked about the actual history of feminism with me, I’m assuming because I was a boy – I also asked quite a few questions about things girls did that I now know have reasonable feminist, gender-role-analyzing answers but that at the time elicited nothing but “you’d never get it” head shaking. So I know how easy it is for men to end up only ever having heard of straw feminism, and I sort of imagine that by casually using “feminist”/”feminism”/etc. in more accurate ways I may someday help educate someone. (Though, realistically, since misogyny in dudes is usually strongly correlated with enforcing male gender roles on other dudes, and since the latter makes me super guarded and inclined to keep quiet, I’m not sure if I’ll ever accomplish this.)

    But second – and probably more importantly given the above aside – while those straw feminists may not really exist, and while men who aren’t assholes really don’t have anything to fear from any sort of feminist, there are definitely people out there using the feminist name for evil, in as much as there’s some really nasty transphobia committed by alleged feminists. Which is extremely not cool, just as it wasn’t cool for the extremely anti-porn feminists to team up with conservative Christians and get laws passed in some areas that (surprise!) primarily end up being enforced against makers of queer porn, and so on. And I think we need people being vocal about how feminism done right doesn’t throw anyone under the bus – not trans people, not queer people, not poor/non-white people (the way I hear happened a lot during the 60s, although obviously I wasn’t around then), both because it’s the right thing to do and because, in the long term, throwing less privileged people who could be your allies under the bus is such a losing strategy.

    …all that said, I do feel a little weird calling myself “a feminist” in a lot of contexts, because I somehow have this idea that there’s this skeevy “trying too hard” element a lot of the times when this comes from men. I’m not sure how much of this is a legitimate concern (I know there are plenty of queer people who get a little sick of straight people who go on about what great allies they are, which maybe is similar?) and how much is just in my head (I am inclined to worry too much), but for now I stick to expressing that feminism is a good thing without explicitly claiming (or disclaiming) any sort of self-label.

    • I’m actually a huge fan of men calling themselves feminists. When women call themselves feminists they’ve put themselves in a box where they’re easy to shove aside and ignore because of course they’re feminists, they’re all biased and stuff. But when men call themselves feminists the assumption is that they’ve really thought about stuff and they must be coming from a point of authority. As long as the man in question isn’t being an asshole in the process, that’s helpful (even if the dynamic powering it is messed up.)

      Part of the reason that I’m for shifting the labeling scheme is that the problems we have today have shifted from the historical ones. Setting aside stuff that looks like an effort to lurch back toward history, a lot of the explicit clear-cut battles have been fought and, while they’re not completely secured, won. The problems we still have are more subtle, pernicious, and complicated. Changing the labeling scheme changes the assumptions inherent when we start talking about those problems and, I think, makes it easier to address. So where before the problem was that women weren’t allowed to do x and the problem now is that women have an incredibly hard time doing x for reasons y and z, if the conversation has the assumption that of course women can and are allowed to do x, we don’t have that part of it clouding a discussion that needs to be about y and z.

      Hrm, now I’m thinking I should write up my glass floor rant and post it.

      • I guess I have this idea that men who call themselves feminist come off like they have some ulterior motive for this – either they’re doing it to project a progressive image, or because they want to get with someone who’s super feminist, or to feed their own ego – but I’ll admit that this may be mostly me being paranoid, and certainly I don’t assume that men I meet who call themselves feminist are like this. And you do raise a good point; maybe I should try calling myself a feminist more often and see how it goes. (It’s not like natural opportunities come up all that often.)

        And setting aside stuff that looks like an effort to lurch back toward history… that covers basically the entire GOP platform, doesn’t it?

      • It’s really easy to spot the guys who are calling themselves feminists just to get laid, especially since male feminists tend to (at least in my experience) be very extreme in being low pressure and soliciting consent. There’s nothing quite like getting asked, “Are you sure,” a zillion times to make you start second guesssing 😉

        While the 2012 GOP platform hasn’t been finalized yet, If you look at the topics they’re planning to develop, it’s definitely not the whole thing lurching toward history. I’m probably ready way too much into it, but I’m heartened to see that the Family Values and Faith Based issues category is the last one on the list.

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