Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Is it Possible to be a 'Passive' Feminist?"

This started as a response to a comment on yesterday's I'm a feminist, and... post.

Anonymous said...
The gap between I'm a feminist but and I'm a feminist and...I think the hardest part for me right now is the issue of activism, and am looking for your thoughts on the necessity of activism (mostly in the verbal/written format) within the feminist identity. Looking through your "quiz" on the I'm a feminist but post, there is no way that I cannot consider myself a feminist. But, yet, I dont. Feminism made the life I lead possible, and I fully accept that fact. However, I do not identify as a feminist because I do not actively deal with feminist issues. I dont try to educate others and I try not to get too offended when people make stupid comments. I try to promote female strength and intelligence through my actions, but that's about it. I think my more or less acceptance of the status quo negates the answers to the above mentioned quiz as identifying as a feminist. So my question to you is, is it possible to be a "passive" feminist?

I bitched at Twisty yesterday for acting like the feminism police so i'm sure as hell not going to tell Anonymous what's possible and not within feminism ;)

Activism doesn't have to come in a form of standing in front of government buildings with signs, it can (and should) be things we do every day. Anonymous mentioned realizing feminism made his/her life possible as well as valuing and promoting female agency. Those are already forms of activism that Anonymous is engaging in without even recognizing it as such.

However, I do think activism is crucial to the women's movement. In fact, i think collective action is essential to any political movement because with out it all we have is a theoretical framework which is great, but not nearly enough. Activism doesn't have to be overwhelming, especially for someone just starting to view themselves as a social/political identity.

As far as whether or not it's possible to be a "passive" feminist? Sure anything is possible... but as your feminist identity develops you won't be able to hold back your outrage as you go about your life. Daily, you will encounter things, people, situations, media, etc that will piss you off beyond belief and it will become more and more difficult to remain passive. Outrage is one of the first steps in the development of feminist consciousness and once you develop a feminist lens with which to view the world it will be easy to become outraged, on a regular basis. It's what you do with that outrage that's important. My suggestion - act on it. There are many ways to do so and they are all the ways in which to engage in collective action. This will empower you, strengthen the movement, and support a goal of justice and equality. Also, research shows that feminist self-identity directly and significantly relates to collective action so although being a "passive" feminist may be an option, the more your feminist consciousness develops, the harder it will be to resist taking action.

Activism comes in many forms, here are some everyday things you can do:
  • Call people out for what they say, explain that their words may be hurtful and/or oppressive
  • Write letters
  • Recognize your white/cis/thin/able bodied/hetero/male/etc privilege and explain it to others
  • Support legislation that you believe in
  • Don't shop at stores with unethical practices (like failing to promote minorities or not allowing workers to unionize... coughwalmartcough...)
  • Stop engaging in "fat talk" or other talk that cuts you (or others) down
  • Take part in everyday life with a critical/feminist lens
  • Educate yourself and others
  • Set an example
  • Don't laugh at racist/homophobic/sexist/etc jokes
  • Sign petitions for causes you believe in
  • Engage other people in conversations about the importance of the women's movement
  • Give money to causes you support
  • Start a feminist book club
  • Think before you speak (don't use oppressive language like "that quiz raped me!" or "that is SO gay" or even "you guys")
  • Promote and celebrate diversity
  • Support feminist arts
  • Think outside the US to women in other countries
  • Support candidates that promote affordable and accessible birth control
Other ways to take action here

What are some other forms of activism that i may have missed? Feel free to link to sites that encourage others to take action.


Noble Savage said...

I'm a new reader and I couldn't agree more with you on this. I too used to feel sort of like a 'passive feminist' but something began to change in the last few years and the more I engaged in feminist discussion and viewed things through a feminist lens, the more outraged I became and the more I felt compelled to action.

Honestly, I think it was becoming a mother that turned that switch in me. Being treated like a delicate flower when I was pregnant and then like a child in need of guidance when I was giving birth and coming to grips with a newborn -- it just infuriated me. Don't even get me started on the way society treats breastfeeding, maternity leave, work vs SAHM, etc..

I now am an active member of several feminist websites and discussion boards and regularly talk to my friends and family about feminist issues. I've attended a few marches and written letters to my representatives. But it's engaging in discussion and keeping these issues at the forefront of people's minds that is the most important, in my estimation. Not keeping quiet when someone tells a sexist joke, even at the risk of being labeled humorless, is part of who I am now and I don't apologize for that. Neither should you, Anonymous.

FeministGal said...

Noble Savage,
thanks for sharing your experience with feminism and i can't wait to read your blog to find out more about how you navigated through pregnancy, motherhood, and all that came with it! It's incredible that motherhood was the catalyst for your feminist identity and i think your kid(s) will be so much better off because of their strong, smart, feminist mom! :)

frau sally benz said...

I think being engaged in the feminist blogosphere is an awesome way to get started!

Check out Change.org to learn about great organizations and causes-- you can participate in email campaigns, raise money, raise awareness, etc.

Also, I say it every time, but volunteer for an organization you support. It doesn't matter how little or how much time you have, you can always make something work!

feministblogproject said...

Right on!!

There are so many ways to be an "activist" without staging massive protests and such. It's not necessarily about signing petitions. It's about the media you consume, the places you shop, the jobs you take. Yes, writing letters and donating money are a part of it as well. But "activism" goes way deeper than that.

Anonymous said...

From the same anonymous that caused the writing of this post:

I wrote yesterday's comment to try to figure out why, despite my acceptance of what feminism has done, I, (and possibly others?) cannot identify as a feminist. And I think this response, in a way, helped answer my question, as well as yours as to why some women dont (and wont) identify as feminists.

but as your feminist identity develops you won't be able to hold back your outrage as you go about your life.

Anger. It basically sounds like you cant be a feminist without being angry at something. Now, you might say that im "uneducated" about the plight of women everywhere and if i knew better, I would be angry. And in all honesty, I wouldnt argue with you much on that point. I dont study women's issues nor do I claim to know much more about the subject than what I deal with on a daily basis. I work a "man's" job, and quite honestly, dont have time or the desire to get angry about what, in my mind, really small things that go on at the workplace. Things for me would be a whole lot worse if I did get angry. Emails are sent out "hey guys-" and I dont blink, im expected to change the water cooler, im expected to know as much as the guys my level, more than the guys under me, and less than the guys above me. I enjoy the work I do, and I am respected for the work I do. No, that's not the case everywhere, but maybe the answer to you question as why some women dont identify as feminists; they're not angry (or at least not angry enough to take action).

frau sally benz said...

I totally get what anonymous is saying. I don't think feminism has to come from anger. It's just any emotion really. And those emotions change constantly.

It might sound sappy/corny, but most of my action comes from being inspired by other women and educated about different issues, seeing beauty in diversity, finding causes to be passionate about, etc.

I certainly get angry too (and that's what sometimes sparks my own blog posts), but that isn't what motivates me to do much of anything other than rant.

That's just me though.

Feminism is different for everybody. Just find your own way of expressing your feminism.

Sarah J said...

I don't think feminism comes from anger at all. Some of my feminist 'action' comes through discussion with male friends when they unthinkingly use words that I see as sexist or insulting to women. (Slut being a big one.)

I'm not angry at them--some of the people I love and trust most in the world say things like this. Part of what I do is point out calmly why those things are offensive.

Everyone has to pick their battles. It's like when a blog kerfuffle starts because some feminist blog didn't cover an issue that some other feminist blogger thinks is the most important...well, your activism is always going to be about what matters to you.

Sometimes I write or act because I'm pissed about something. Other times I do it out of love, support, or empathy. Activism isn't just protesting. It's donating, signing, or offering support to someone who needs it. It's writing. It's discussing these issues over drinks with friends. It's gently correcting friends when they offend you.

And it's even changing the water cooler yourself. ;)

Re: Watchmen trailer, I didn't see it because I saw TDK in IMAX and they had no trailers. Boo, because I bet Watchmen trailer in IMAX would've been awesome.

...but I'm a bad comics geek and have not read Watchmen...after I get through with Y the Last Man and the books I'm picking up today, though, I'm all over it!

FeministGal said...

Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences! I completely agree that you don't need to be ANGRY to become a feminist or while you are a feminist.

I do think that before developing a feminist lens you can't help but become outraged about the things you discover that you hadn't noticed before you critically thought them through. This outrage doesn't necessarily have to be anger but some sort of strong feelings, IMO, are essential.

SnowdropExplodes said...

It seems to me that it is in itself a revolutionary act, to view the world through feminist perspectives.

If you don't then feel some strong emotion about what you see around you, then I think it is surprising! And once you feel strong emotion, then action of some kind follows, be it the act of speaking or of intervening somehow.

But simply by living as though women are people too, I think that is the most potent form of activism: in the word of the poet, "maybe someday you will join us, and the world can be as one". From my own background as a Christian, this is the same as Jesus' instruction not to hide one's light under a bushel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone, I definatly got a lot out of this. I started reading G's blog for something to do during lunch, and it turned into me trying to figure out why I don't identify as a feminist. It's definatly educations and I'm learning a lot about the feminist cause, finding a lot of things I agree with, and a bunch of things I dont. I'm definatly not ready to take the jump into considering myself a feminist, as my feelings about the matter are not strong enough to cause me to take action. In the big picture, but often times not in the small picture, I support and thank you all. Its true, I'm not a feminist but...

phd in yogurtry said...

I was an active feminist in grad school and somewhat after. But once I had a career plus three kids, it sure got tough to keep the active part going. Maybe dormant feminism is a term more to my liking.

But then, there is some active feminism is in the raising of my kids. Teaching my girls to be strong and brave and independent, my boy to appreciate and respect girls. Modeling the juggle of mom & career woman is certainly active.

Love your thought provoking posts.

Sammisal said...

I'm new to this blog, but just wanted to add to what people have been saying. If you accept that we still live in a patriarchal society, every time you vote, every time you leave the house on your own, to be honest, in just living your life you are saying "I am worth something, I can make my own decisions..." and a lot more besides. That annoys people who still think women should be stuck in popping out babies, so it's activism.