[Columns, letters or cartoons published are the work of the attributed author and do not necessarily represent the official views or opinions of “The Highland Echo.”]
I’ve heard several of my friends recently admit that while they buy a lot of the things I say about feminism and they think that women’s rights are important, they don’t like to call themselves feminists.
One of my favorite party tricks to use is to ask people if they believe that women deserve the same rights as men, and when they say “Of course,” I get to exclaim, “Congratulations, you’re a feminist!” and watch how they try to argue their way out of it.
I’m pretty good at arguing, so they’re almost never successful. But, ultimately, me winning an argument about what someone does or does not choose to label themselves doesn’t really accomplish anything.
I used to think that the more mythical aspects of feminism put off people, thinking that if they wanted to be a feminist they’d have to stop shaving their legs and become a lesbian or something.
Although those two things aren’t inherently bad and people, feminists or not, are certainly free to do one or both of them, they basically have nothing at all to do with being a feminist or supporting women’s rights.
There isn’t some big contract you have to sign wherein you agree to do lots of radical or socially unacceptable things or you don’t count as a feminist. Also, just because you didn’t sign such a contract or wear such a label doesn’t mean that when you support women’s rights you’re somehow not being a feminist. You are. And it’s okay.
So, I decided to survey some people on Tumblr, of all places, for some alternative reasons that feminism might be objectionable and women would avoid it even though it directly benefits them.
I got tons of those stereotypical answers that I already talked about in response, but also some interesting ones that I had never considered. An anonymous submitter said, “You just seem to angry all the time. I wouldn’t want to have to be so miserable. I have never met a happy feminist.”
Ouch! Never met a happy feminist, eh? Well, if you’re reading this, you are indeed familiar with someone who describes themself as both happy and a feminist.
I think that the whole angry feminist stereotype really stems from the fact that feminists, just like practitioners of any other ideology that is concerned with social constructs and social justice, are often critical of pretty much everything. We are critical of ourselves, our friends, our family, movies, books, TV shows and commercials. The list goes on.
One of the first people I ever met who actually openly called herself a feminist liked to say that if you’re not being critical, you’re not paying attention. When I first heard that, I thought it was a little negative, but now I see that being critical does not always mean being negative.
When I go see a movie or read a book for entertainment, I can’t just decide between enjoying the book, the movie or being a feminist. The two things just aren’t mutually exclusive and they certainly don’t need to be.
I can enjoy something while admitting that it’s problematic. Everyone does that. But I can also use the tools of my feminism to point out what’s problematic about something and why and, hopefully, do something to amend it.
Sometimes, I seem like the only person who is being vocally critical of the things that I see. But, the truth is, I am not any less happy or any angrier than anyone else. I am simply taking things in and reflecting on them.
Yes, I despise a lot of things about patriarchy and I would change them with a flick of the wrist if I could. But, guess what? I also have to live in it as it stands while it’s changing. Anger, while sometimes a gut reaction to something problematic, is not what my feminism is about. Anger is often a starting point of feminism, but it is almost never its end game.
The fact is that women have a long history of being told to be quiet, to have thoughts but then bury them. When I refuse to be quiet about things that trouble me, people assume that I’m angry, which is a pretty effective tool for feminist opposition. “Don’t take her seriously,” they say. “She’s just upset and irrational.”
Being critical is good and sometimes being angry is an element of that. But feminists don’t spend their lives in perpetual state of being pissed off. We notice. We report. We change. People can call us whatever they want because of it, but they will never be able to say that we sat back in our bliss and did nothing.