Aside from being a regular reader of FWD while it was active, I am neither a member nor a follower of the social justice blogosphere at large. I don’t have time to argue with folks on the internet, and I’m not interested in educating anyone about their privilege or obliged to do. When it comes to online interactions, I try to stick to Charles’s Rules of Argument. In person, or between friends, it’s a totally different story. But, as a general rule, I believe in activism by walking the walk, not talking the talk. (This is hardly the only, or always the best, form of activism and advocacy. It’s just mine.)
One thing I am getting really tired of right now – and when it is prevalent enough that it gets insular ol’ me’s attention, it concerns me – is folks’ urge to label people, beliefs, or actions as “not feminist.” There’s a few issues here, so let me break it down for you.
Feminism is not a monolith. There are many different schools of thought, and what’s “mainstream” on the internet isn’t necessarily what’s “mainstream” in academia or offline activism. Reducing feminism to an arbitrary rubric – one that might be particular to your social group, or even just to you – is misrepresenting both the ideology as singular and your views as general. It does a disservice to your work and your credibility. Don’t do it.
Many folks, groups, and philosophies may not be concerned about whether their actions are “feminist” or not. There are, in fact, many different forms of marginalization, and racism, ableism, cissexism, heterosexism, classism, etc, are not more or less important on some mythical hierarchy of oppressions than sexism. It is possible that, from your point of view, they appear less urgent. That’s called “privilege,” fyi. What we should all be concerned of, when it comes to areas in which we have privilege, is supporting others working for social justice. That support does not need to be uncritical, but dismissing social justice work or discrediting it solely on the basis of whether folks identify as “feminist,” their work satisfies some kind of “feminist” rubric, or whether folks actively reject the label “feminist,” is both uncalled for and completely missing the point. (Dismissing social justice work which has rejected a “feminist” label is also perpetuating the cycle of negativity that leads people to reject that label. Just sayin’.)
“Feminist,” when it comes to people, is an identity. It’s problematic to retroactively assign it: as much as I love Christine de Pizan, I’m not going to call her one of the great “feminist” writers of the early modern era. It’s also problematic to assign or attempt to strip a “feminist” identity from folks you know or know of today. We can criticize or celebrate other folks’ positions or actions, but we can’t assign their identity or take it away from them. Loving Christine de Pisan or Margaret Cavendish doesn’t make them “feminists.” Loving the work of disability bloggers who have rejected the label “feminist” doesn’t make them “feminists.” Their work is just as important, however they choose to label it. By the same token, disliking the work of other feminists doesn’t invalidate how they choose to identify themselves.
I’ve identified as a feminist since I was a very little girl. I learned about feminism from books and posters of fierce ladies on my wall and Our Bodies, Ourselves, because for some reason it was easier for my parents to give me that book than actually talk about sex ed. It’s who I am. That doesn’t mean I believe or agree with every feminist philosophy or political position, or have an uncritical love for the movement as a whole. I know that I have plenty of work to do when it comes to areas where I have privilege: I’m a white, queer, cisgender lady with disabilities from a middle-class, suburban family in the US. When I say that I’m not obliged to educate anyone, that doesn’t mean I’m not obliged to learn. To listen. That’s where we should all start.
Okay, dance party time now!
Erin K. BartuskaI'm a writer, artist, and feminist-of-all-trades living in San Francisco. My passions include baking, social justice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and God.
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