Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I'm Not a Feminist, But...

Sorry I've been absent for a little while. Sometimes life smacks you full on in the face and you don't know whether to be happy or sad: nutty little neurons firing all over the place and no where to go but crazy. In the interest of distracting you from my slow dissent into madness, I would like to rant endlessly on things that have bugged me this past week.

Apparently, we still live in the 9th Century BCE (thanks for the heads up, Autodidact). Gosh! And here, I thought the purpose of International Women's Day was to reflect on the rights of 51% of the world's population (now would be a moment to enjoy a UN with enforcement power). In reaction to this heinous miscarriage of justice, let's consider the way our laws surrounding rape and their prosecution also demonize the victim. Surely, our courts are not nearly as villainous as this one, but we should be cognizant, too, of our attitudes towards sex, shame, and agency.

Speaking of women, rights, and meaningless rhetoric, let's address one of my least favorite phrases: "I'm not a feminist, but..." I first heard this phrase in high school, after we read Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Young women in my class would stand up and say, "I'm not a feminist, but... I think that Virginia Woolf makes a good point about the need for personal income and property to support artistic endeavors." Think of what that phrase means: I'm not a feminist. What you are literally saying is, "I am not an advocate of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes)." (For those of you who are wondering, I lifted that definition directly from my one true love, the OED.)

Why would you say such a thing?! Why would you announce it? If it's actually true, if you do not advocate the rights of women (and NB: equality does not necessarily indicate sameness, although I personally don't approve of the Plessy v. Ferguson principle), then that's one thing. I disagree with you and I will use every rhetorical tool in my kit to convince you of that, but more power to you for stating your principles so baldly. Yet, I do not thing that's what you mean, is it? It's not the first part of the phrase: "I'm not a feminist." It's the second clause, "But..." You are about to contradict yourself. You are a feminist! A closeted, rights-desiring, equality-grubbing feminist. You dirty, dirty feminist. I know your secret.

I am not the only person with this pet peeve. Check out: Laura (and her aptly titled blog), Runes, the 21st Century Mom, as well as this article in the f word, an online journal about contemporary feminism in the UK (those crazy Brits: they call masturbation, "flicking the bean"-- delightful! What will they think of next?).


Tamar said...

In high school I had all these teachers who would say they weren't comfortable calling themselves feminists, which actually made perfect sense considering how they were living their lives, but it made me crazy mad. I think usually when people say, "I'm not a feminist, but" what they mean is: I don't want to burn my bra or become a lesbian, but I don't think I should be paid less than men just because I have a vagina. Obviously these people are stupid. They don't *deserve* vaginas.

::Sigh:: When can feminism be sexy again?

El Gigante said...

I am seriously enjoying the image of Harley with a kit of rhetoric.

Tamar raises a key point, the term feminism has acquired a great deal of mud, grime and sadly a number of negative connotations over time. So much so that people feel the need to bombard it with qualifiers before they can find themselves even remotely comfortable with using the term. Sadly there are lots of words that have this problem; environmentalist, Zionist, astronaut, mad scientists. Ok so the last two are jokes but its a revealing aspect of our culture that people aren't able to align themselves to a certain viewpoint that would imply they have a passionate belief in something. We live in a time of extremes where you're either with us or against us and caring about things is decidedly lame. Awww, I intended this to be a mostly fun reply and I got all serious.

Flicking the bean.

Phew, saved it.

Irina Tsukerman said...

Well, I think most people who say that actually mean that they don't want to align themselves with any particular groups or activist movements, the fist thing that comes to mind when we think of "feminists." In other words, feminism has become associated with activism.

Annie said...

I agree with Harley, I almost always say something snarky like "oh, you would like to make less money for equal work?" And point out that the wage differential is still high (I will make, on average 87 cents for every dollar CJ makes). But I am just irritating like that.

Kypris said...

Harley, thanks so much for your post. It annoys the hell out of me when people don't have the guts to stand behind feminism in word as well as deed. There is even a facebook group entitled "I'm not a Feminist, But..." and I wish I could give them all a talking to. Cheers!

Jamila Akil said...

Although I am a feminist--and use the label--I can understand why someone would say "I'm not a feminist, but". Because of some of my personal beliefs I am often accused of not being a feminist or not being feminist enough because I disagree with so many things that are considered to be essential to the majority of feminists. I oppose a national health care plan and nationalized day care scheme; I also oppose mandatory Gardasil vaccination, among other things. Obviously this doesn't win me any cool points with the bulk of feminists. So I can completely understand the intent of someone who chooses to align themselves with certain feminist principles and priorities but does not want to be aligned with certain groups of feminists or all of the goals that the majority of feminists espouse.