I Don’t Care If You Call Yourself A Feminist, Part 2

I Don’t Care If You Call Yourself A Feminist, Part 2 August 22, 2013

In my last post, I started talking about the trend, particularly in privileged feminism, to pressure people into identifying as feminists. They will say things like “if you think women are human beings, then you ARE a feminist! End of story.” or “You don’t identify as a feminist? Don’t you think women are human? What’s wrong with you?”

Yesterday, I told you that I’m not comfortable with this rhetoric because feminism isn’t perfect. Some marginalized people don’t want to put up with feminism because it “literally could not give a shit about” their issues, or worse. Sometimes feminisms work to actively oppress other marginalized groups. Feminism needs to be more concerned about fixing internal problems than about shaming people who have been hurt by feminism into identifying with feminists.

But there’s another reason why I don’t care for this movement to get everyone to call themselves feminists. Let’s talk about that today.

2. Feminism should have some higher standards, dammit

When I hear things like, “Do you think women are human? Then you’re a feminist!” I think of a blogger that I wrote about awhile back. The blogger in question wrote a couple of posts stating that he didn’t believe in equality, didn’t think women truly had anything to complain about, but was still a feminist because he loved his wife.

Yeah. I don’t think so.

I mean, this ends up getting into No True Scottsman territory. I can’t really tell this blogger and the dozens of other benevolent sexist men who I’ve heard use this argument that they’re NOT feminists. Sometimes people write off the harms done in the name of feminism as “oh, they aren’t really feminists,” and that helps no one.But at the same time, I’m not going to go around telling people that all it takes to be a feminist is to not actively hate women. 

That’s why I don’t like the “If you think women are human, you’re a feminist!” line. LOTS of people think women are human–humans who are exaggerating about being oppressed and who need to learn to submit to loving male leadership more often, sure, but human nonetheless.

I don’t think the definition of feminism should be that simple. 

Feminism should have a definition that prevents people from using it so flippantly. I DO NOT think that there should be one way to do activism as a feminist, or one way to live in day-to-day life as a feminist. But that doesn’t mean we should leave the door so open that men who don’t even believe women are oppressed can call themselves feminists because they don’t hate women.

I don’t want benevolent sexists calling themselves feminists, so I’m not going to tell them they should call themselves feminists. 

It’s not only benevolent sexists I don’t want using the term. I’m reminded of a fellow feminist who said some awful things about trans* women on social media. When people got upset, her response was to go on about how she doesn’t want to be a feminist anymore because feminists can’t take a joke and don’t have a sense of humor.

And really? I wanted to reply with Grumpy Cat:

Again, we feminists can’t fix our internal problems by simply saying “That person isn’t really a feminist!” But if people are unconcerned about the problems different groups of women face to the point that they’d rather leave feminism than check their privilege, I’m not going to beg them to stay. 

I’m not going to tell anyone they’re not a feminist, but I’m not going to send out Hogwarts School of Feminism acceptance letters to men who think “I don’t hate women” is all the anti-sexism work they need to do. I prefer the days when benevolent sexist men were honest about who they were. I’m not going to send out acceptance letters to other women who explicitly refuse to give any shits about intersectionality. I don’t want a bullshit feminism.

I know that telling sexist, racist, ableist, transphobic, and homophobic people that they can’t be feminists isn’t going to fix any of the structural problems in feminism. I’m not suggesting we do that. But stop with the “all you have to do to be a feminist is not hate women” crap.

Let’s have some higher standards than that, okay?


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  • Katherine

    I’ve definitely been guilty of trying to push people into calling themselves feminists before – although typically they were people (such as my mother) who actively believed in female equality and expected to be treated the same as men, but were afraid of the WORD feminism because “man hating harpies” or whatever – but you are definitely making me rethink that strategy.

    Because now I am thinking of all of the men I have know truly a d deeply HATED women… But called themselves feminists because they believed that women (though evil) deserved the right to work and vote. That isn’t something I want to be contributing to….

  • Eli

    Personally, I don’t care about labels; I care about the ideas and perspectives and actions, however a person does or does not classify them.

  • Eli

    Personally, I don’t care about labels; I care about the ideas and perspectives and actions, however a person does or does not classify them.

  • debhurn

    well this is confusing… we can’t be ‘hate’ police who divide all those who allow for women’s human rights into those who still hold distaste/disdain for women and those who don’t. Surely it is enough for now to establish those human rights, and consider anyone who upholds them as a feminist. Think about it in reverse. A woman may have a very dim view of men overall in light of the history of patriarchy, but does not think men should lose any of their human rights. She is ‘entitled’ to her feelings/reactions (they may change over time)… it is her actions and affiliations that count.

    • CarysBirch

      The problem is, there are a lot of people out there who “don’t hate women” who also don’t uphold basic human rights for all women like bodily autonomy. We have to set the bar a *little higher* than that! Don’t we?

      Nice post, Sarah, I totally agree.

      • debhurn

        Carys (love that name!), if they don’t uphold full and free human rights for women (including bodily autonomy) they certainly are not feminists. If they do… well that’s unusual enough, and props to them. Any ongoing negative attitudes to women generally are their own private affair, individual, evolving, probably temporary. We can’t count people out of feminism on this basis.

  • Kareem Jordan

    I’m an atheist who, up until recently, identified as an feminist. I got tired of saying “not all feminists are like that,” or “feminism isn’t just about women,” while having my own problems with feminists.
    It’s strange that with my disillusionment with secular feminism, I found myself agreeing with a Christian feminist.

  • Wesley Hatin

    I wonder if Hogwarts would teach classes on magical gender equality. For instance, if a man has been hexed on his right side to be a woman, should you really treat him any differently?