Saturday, December 22, 2007

I’m not a feminist, but…

I realize that many people have written about women who maintain feminist beliefs but chose not to identify with the feminist movement. Since I have received various related questions and requests for this post, I’ll cover the topic as well:

My question to ya’ll: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but doesn’t identify as a duck, is it a duck?

I get it, feminism has an image problem. Not within the movement, because we all think we’re pretty fucking cool, but on the outside. Douglas (1994) found that the 1970s news media “played an absolutely central role in turning feminism into a dirty word by depicting feminists as deviant, man-hating, unrepresentative radicals who were a threat to society.” Obviously with this image of feminists out there, many people chose not to identify as feminists. However, Zucker (2004) found that “exposure to feminism through education, personal relationships, or personal struggles are favorable conditions for feminist identity.”

There's this weird misconception out there that all feminists are hairy, lesbians, pierced & tattooed, unattractive, fat, aggressive, stubborn, humorless, butch, bossy, etc. The thing is, some feminists may be those things, and that's cool. But others are also not. Just like some non-feminists possess those characteristics as well; they aren’t “feminists specific” traits. As a feminist, you can be all or non of those things and still identify with the movement and with its goals, in any combination. Because feminists come in all shapes and sizes so-to-speak, passing judgments and generalizations, is just, well, ignorant and close-minded. As far as those characteristics go, I fit into some. For example, I am pretty stubborn, however, I also wear makeup and high heels from time to time, and that’s all good and doesn't make me any less of or more of a feminist. What I’m trying to say is that whatever image you present to the world does not mediate your identity with the feminist title. Feminists can look and act however, it’s the beliefs and social action that count.

My opinion? The media loves drama. Most of the self-identified feminist that we actually experience through the media or portrayals of feminism that is created is done through extremes. What makes the news and what is created by television is radical feminism because it is an extreme and will get people talking. Radical feminists kick ass and without them, we'd be a lot further back than we are, but radical feminists do not represent the majority of the movement.

Back to “I’m not a feminist, but…”

I encourage you to take this short questionnaire...

Do you believe that:
  • both boys and girls should have access to education

  • all people, regardless their skin color or gender, should have the right to vote

  • you should be able to wear whatever clothes you want without being blamed for how you are treated by others while you are wearing those clothes

  • everyone should have the right to birth control and the ability to determine, themselves, how many, if any, children they bring into this world

  • everyone should have the right to open a bank account and to own property

  • division of labor should be based on skills and interest, not on gender roles

  • no one should be discriminated against based on their race, sex, age, sexual orientation, weight, social class, religion, etc.

  • everyone should have access to legitimate health care

  • diversity should be celebrated, not just tolerated

  • people should be paid for the job they do based on how well they do the job rather than what they have in between their legs or the color of their skin

  • no one should be sexually oppressed

  • we should provide valid sex education for our children

  • domestic violence is unacceptable

  • rape and sexual abuse are unacceptable

  • you hate the way women and men are portrayed by the media

  • add your own injustice here…
If you answered yes to one or more of these you way want to ask yourself why you don’t identify as a feminist.

So why are women (and men, but that’s a different story that will be covered at a different point) so reluctant to self-identify if they support so many feminist values? There are various opinions to this, most having to do with image. Jessica said in an interview that "younger women are nervous about feminism because they're afraid that boys won't like them." I don’t exactly agree with this 100% because all lesbians aren’t necessarily jumping on the feminist train either, and they don’t have the need to impress boys. I think it’s more of a fear that people will think you are too intense or "read into things too much." You’ll scare others (boys and girls) away because you’re constantly looking at things differently, and critically. This is absolutely the experience I’ve had at least.

Similarly, it’s also an identity thing. Maybe people nowadays are “finding themselves” as Dave recently suggested. Are people so scared of all the negative stereotypes and so insecure with themselves that they aren’t willing to embrace all the positives of being a self-proclaimed feminist? Identifying with something and self-labeling means that you are surrendering part of your identity to that specific group and allowing the group to define you. This is in terms of what those within the group and those not within the group want to believe of the group. As far as feminism is concerned, although many feminists realize how empowering it is to self-identify, due to the negative stereotypes associated with feminism, others chose to reject the label.

George Washington University’s Dr. Zucker (2004) published a study addressing this issue particularly. Dr. Zucker’s research explored women disavowing social identities when they said “I’m not a feminist, but…” Zucker notes that even if women embrace feminist principles, they strongly disassociate from the feminist label. Like most research, Zucker’s sample was not completely random because all surveyed were college-educated women, which is not representative of the American population. However, Zucker did find that in the 272 women surveyed, self-identifying as feminists was a predictor of feminist activism. Herein lies my concern. On one hand, I don’t care if you identity as a feminist or not, as long as you retain feminist beliefs. On the other hand, if self-identifying as a feminist is going to make you more of an activist then of course I want you on my side because then we could work together for common goals, not just dream big about a world of peace and equality.

The other thing is, as a young adult just beginning to be politically enlightened and active, it is difficult to navigate through the mess of titles and identities in order to chose the best fit for yourself. Should I say I’m “liberal” or “progressive;” “feminist,” “womanist,” “humanist,” or “pro-feminist” There are an overwhelming amount of titles with which one can align and this affiliation is important because it determines our social action and activism. Whatever word you use to empower yourself and work towards equality is okay by me. I just so happen to chose feminist because it seems to sum me up best, stereotypically and otherwise.

In summary, I guess if you work for equality, I don't necessarily care what you call yourself. However, since research shows that feminist self-identity directly and significantly relates to collective action, I think it’s super important. Also, being able to place all the things you tell me you believe in and work towards will allow my psychology operated, categorically inclined mind, to label you a feminist anyway.

I leave you with this: why do you, or why do you not, consider yourself a feminist?

Also, please respond to the two poll questions I have up regarding this issue. Although I realize this is not a random sample in the least bit (since the majority of those who read my blog are either feminists or part of the “male rights movement” – go figure) it’ll still be interesting to see what we come up with.

Happy Christmas to all who celebrate :)


Smirking Cat said...

Another important question to ask yourself is who benefits if you are reluctant to identify yourself as a feminist. I believe in the equality of women and men; if this is fundamentally unattractive to someone, I assure you I am better without that individual cluttering up my life. It's that simple to me.

GottabeMe said...

Excellent points. I know many smart women who don't want to identify themselves as feminists, because of the stereotypes and connotations associated with feminists. We're not all scary, butch, hairy, or man haters.

I agree that it's important to ask women why they would say "I'm not a feminist, but...", and why they aren't worried about doing something active about women's rights.

shrink on the couch said...

Often I think the right wing, conservative politicos have been successful in a plot to imprint mainstream Americans with these negative stereotypes of feminism. I know plenty of women who shun the "feminist" label but actively believe and promote feminist ideals in their own lives, in particular regarding the dreams they have for their daughters. It drives me crazy. It takes away from our collective power.

Presley said...

I used to fit the characterization given by phd in yogurtry, whose name I like, by the way. I was raised Republican, and I thought 1) women basically do have equal rights, 2) if they don't, the answer is to ignore gender, not to look at how it affects people's lives, and 3) feminists are somehow vaguely bad, and feminism was a 60s/70s thing anyway. But a lot of my beliefs were feminist, I just didn't know it. I felt strongly about a lot of women's issues (and was unaware of a lot more) and didn't realize that other people felt the same way and had analyzed these issues. When I learned about feminism, I briefly considered being notafeministbut, and then saw the poster you have a pic of about that and decided to suck it up and call myself a feminist. All that stood in my way was worrying about what people would think. But I got over that. And now hopefully some of my Christian Republican friends will learn that there is at least one feminist in the world who doesn't hate men. Although they probably do think I'm a little crazy now. Oh well.

Radical Reminders said...

lilith, thanks for your candor and trust me, i can definitely relate a bit. I too was raised republican and really had no choice what to believe because my family very loudly "taught" me what was right. It took lots of Women's Studies classes in college to help me openly identify with all the labels i actually saw fit. I think feminism within religion is incredibly interesting and would love to hear/read some of your thoughts - i notice you removed a lot of your posts from your blog - is there a different place to locate them? :)

shrink on the couch said...

And me makes three, raised in an all-republican voting family, and am the only one of 4 siblings to rebel (makes for lovely dynamic).
My fem-enlightenment came in grad school, had some admirable feminist profs. My biggest personal awakening was reading the silly titled book: Cinderella Complex, recommended by a prof. It made me seriously question sex-roles I had internalized and taken for granted.

Fidelbogen said...

"There's this weird misconception out there that all feminists are hairy, lesbians, pierced & tattooed, unattractive, fat, aggressive, stubborn, humorless, butch, bossy, etc."

Yup. That truly IS a weird misconception, and I personally have never believed it. No, not for one single instant!

Real life is NEVER that simple. Collective human self-presentation is NEVER that simple.

Besides, feminism as a movement and as an ideology has been a roaring success, and you can bet this would never have occurred if "ALL" feminists were indeed packaging themselves in the described manner.

If such were the case, their movements and intentions would be obvious to the whole wide world and they'd never have gotten past square one. Or square two at the very most.

No. Real politics in the real world requires stealth and camouflage. And the whole Machiavellian arsenal.

It also requires coalition-building - which is another case where stereotypification is counter-productive.

Oh gosh! People with all of their "weird misconceptions" really DO need to take a hard look at how the world actually operates.

We need to educate them to stop making bloody fools of themselves. . . :-(

habladora said...

Hey, this is an amazing post, thanks for pointing to it. I'll have to read the Zucker closely, it just might answer all my questions. Thanks also for the quiz, I'll go link here from the main post I have up asap.

Radical Reminders said...

aw :) thanks la pobre habladora, i'm blushing :)

Radical Reminders said...

wait, by "quiz" if you meant the quiz like thing on the post - it's not an actual measure of anything, i kinda just made it up, i mean, feel free to refer to it but it's not a validated measure feminism. i tried to find a feminist identity scale for some academic research i was doing a few years back and struggled - this one was just something i came up with :)

habladora said...

Yes, I know. I just thought it 'neatly lays out many of the issues most central to feminism' - to quote myself.

Cheryl said...

OK, there's way too much here than I can address in this comment.

I think it is very valid that younger women don't want to identify as feminists because they think they'll scare away others. I would say for myself, I didn't want to be known as a feminist when I was younger, because I wanted to be treated as 'one of the guys'. But then you live some years and when it's always pointed out to you in some way shape or form that you've got breasts, and that is the number one reason why men treat you the way they do (as the other), you begin to change your point of view.

I consider myself a feminist because I want to be treated as a human being. But I think most people would think I'm a feminist because I produce a show, fem′∙i∙nä∙zi. Now when the actress passed by Colin Quinn and said, it's a feminist comedy, he said, "I thought that was an oxymoron". Again, the stereotype that feminist s are so pissed off they couldn't possibly have a sense of humor. In the show itself, the feminazi goes after the hairy stereotype and the "I am not a feminist, but..." sentiment. Does the show play on extremes? You betcha, but as the media uses the extreme to reinforce the stereotype, we use the extreme to implode the stereotype. By creating an uber German commandant-like crazed feminist, we bring to light the savagery of the word feminazi, so that everyone understands the viciousness of this slander.

Perhaps people would consider us 'uber' feminists. :-)

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting article posted. I don't think women own the term or definition of feminism any longer. What you declare is now irrelevant and doesn't really matter. Feminism is now a political institution, entrenched to the extent where it serves women and disenfranchises men. This is now so pervasive in society that if you are female you are a feminist. Regardless of what you declare. This has become an extension of risk management for men. Any man who declares himself a feminist, as most men now know has simply not been tapped on the shoulder by reality. It's like believing in God. The safe bet says you should. Potentially there's less to lose. Well now it's the same for feminists, the safe bet is that you are,meaning potentially less damage and less to lose. Women have achieved deity status in the risk management department. Well done. This also serves another objective of the movement which is to wipe out the institution of marriage. Since the risk is no longer worthwhile again well done. I think the point I'm trying to make is it doesn't matter to another woman whether you say you are a feminist or not. Now it no longer matters to men what you declare. For men, if you are a woman you are a feminist. End of story. The old saying "you go girl" now means go away, and go it alone.