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…
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 :)