2012/07/18 by admin
Feminism is awesome. Some feminists aren’t.
By tackling this one, I’m aware I’m running the risk of infuriating everyone in both camps on this issue. By writing anything that says that feminism is a good thing, I’m risking both anti-feminist ire and accusations of short-sightedness when it comes to the history of the movement.
And I risk annoying feminists – of all genders – by pointing out that some people who define as feminists are, when it comes down to it, actively problematic because of the ways their behaviour contradicts their stated goals.
So, with my fireproof hat on, let’s begin.
Feminism has a chequered history when it comes to including people who are discriminated against in other areas. Early Western feminists were straight, white, middle-to-upper-class women, fighting for their own interests from a position of relative privilege.
These women fought for the right to work, while working-class women never had the choice not to; these women fought for the right to have abortions, while black women and women with disabilities were being sterilised against their will. Radical feminists have tried to deny rights to trans women and erased the existence of trans men, in the pursuit of women’s rights.
All of which is a bit crap, really, because all the women who aren’t white, well-off, straight, cis, temporarily without disabilities – all these women are still women. And these issues can at times eclipse the value of feminism, despite everything that’s been achieved in terms of rights, justice and social change for women of all flavours. Of course, there has to be a bit of prioritisation.
Not everyone can fight for everything, and it’s better to fight for something than for nothing at all. But we have a problem when people who call themselves feminists perpetuate a worldview that’s not awesome, that doesn’t mean equality for everyone but that excludes some, implicitly or explicitly.
This is hard for everyone. Everyone struggles with internalised -isms of all sorts, and it’s hard enough work to unpick your own unacknowledged prejudices even when you’re on the receiving end. It’s harder still when you’re coming from a position of relative privilege. It’s difficult to shut up and listen, absorb and reflect, when you’re being told you’ve done something that hurts someone even though you weren’t trying to.
This is a problem that feminist women have to tackle in ourselves, but it’s a problem that feminist men face writ large, because they’re already coming to the table with a lot of privilege to unpack, and a lot of social pressure not to unpack it. Privilege is really, really comfortable. Taking a good look at yourself and stopping behaviours that perpetuate sexism is both difficult to do and intensely unpleasant if you’re doing it right. So men who choose to identify as feminist are taking a big, positive internal step – but that step is just one stage of a process, and for some folks not a necessary one.
What’s important is working against prejudices, your own and other people’s. What matters is not just not making sexist, racist or otherwise offensive jokes, but calling other people out when they do, too. What’s important is not just knowing that you’re a good guy, but proving it with actions and with words. And a big part of what’s important is understanding that the label is just a label, that there’s always more to be learned, and that there are no cookies for not being an asshole. What’s important is living it, not just thinking it.