I wrote the following email to a guy I used to date because we were having a lot of arguments about feminism. It was really the first time a man I was dating had ever really questioned me on this topic and I realized that I couldn’t quite answer even for myself why I consider myself a “feminist” and why the word is so powerful for me. His belief was that if you are truly for the equality of both sexes, then you should actually consider yourself a “humanist” rather than a feminist. I get it. If I’d had this discussion at age 20, I would have agreed with him. But when I got out into the much broader world, I started to realize that I couldn’t deny the particular type of attention that my femininity was being given and I had been trying to deny it even to myself. Enjoy and keep an open mind please.
I’ve been thinking further about this word “feminist” because if I’m going to self-identify as one I think it’s important to know why at its very core. The word “humanist” is based in good intentions. I myself used to identify only as one in regards to gender mainly because I was afraid to admit I had feminist ideals and I did fear that men were being taken out of the conversation. I have empathy for the particular struggles that men as a whole tend to deal with: The pressure to always be strong and “act like a man” even when they want to curl up somewhere and cry for a bit. These expectations have affected my father and his father, many of my male friends, and even you, love bug. There are so many men that don’t fit the mold of masculinity…they identify more with women or find themselves in both worlds of masculine and feminine (these men are not necessarily gay). Many women feel the same and have taken shelter in learning about feminism and the historical struggles of both sexes. Rarely will you find a women studies or gender studies course that doesn’t cover the male experience. The truth is whether we call it women studies, feminist studies, masculine studies, or gender studies…a lot of men and some women tend to opt themselves out of the conversation. The most fascinating conversations I’ve had regarding gender and, yes, feminism has been with males. Many of them had a lot to say on the topic and some of them kept quiet and listened. Not necessarily because they were placating me or didn’t want to rile me up, like you said. Many were genuinely interested in what I had to say and were themselves riled up about the inequality of men and women. Saying “humanist”, while obviously not a bad thing because we should all be humanist even when you are also a feminist, in regards to gender inequality, even with the best of intentions, completely erases the individual and complicated experience of gender and the female experience from the conversation. Historically, this has been a major issue with men tending to be the default of almost every institution. Women and girls on a global scale are still the victims of intense hate crimes and physical violence simply because they are female. Although it is not on a genocidal level here in the united states, almost every woman has experienced some form of sexual abuse or harassment or some form of inequality in the workplace or at home. These feminine voices should be heard (as well as the femininity within males) and taking feminine out of the conversation would be a detriment and a disservice to all those women who have been invisible. It’s not like these things do not happen to men because they certainly do but the statistics of sexual abuse, domestic violence, eating disorders, unequal income, career disadvantage, lack of self-confidence, etc. tends to lie significantly more heavily on the shoulders of women and girls. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with self-identifying as a feminist. Just as much as there’s nothing wrong with self-identifying as a Christian or a Buddhist or an artist or a writer. What I don’t believe in is judging others for who they wish to be or telling them to be anything less when it comes to their principles. I don’t care if you don’t believe in the label of feminism. That’s your choice but it shouldn’t stop us from having healthy conversations about what it means to be a man and woman in this world. I’m not saying we should have them all the time because goodness knows even I get tired of talking about it, but you love a feminist. Take it or leave it, love bug. It isn’t a bad way to be. I don’t think that makes me dogmatic (i.e. inflexible). I love you even when we don’t always agree.