Thoughts on Whether or Not to Identify As a Feminist

One might reasonably presume based on some of the topics I touch on regularly in this blog that I identify as a feminist. Coming from the types that generally read my blog, I would probably take this as a compliment (either it’s coming from one of my awesome feminist readers and meant as a compliment, or from one of the rationally-challenged MRA-types and meant as an insult but taken as a compliment). That said, I don’t generally identify as a feminist. I haven’t made a firm decision not to, and if I were convinced that the center of gravity of feminism as a political movement were well in line with the opinions of most of the feminists I follow, I would absolutely call myself one. I am, however, not convinced that the center of gravity of feminism as a political movement is something I want to identify with.

In a nutshell, the explanation for why I don’t identify myself as a feminist is because, in my experience, the term is not sufficiently specific to meaningfully distinguish me from people I vehemently disagree with on feminist issues. My impression is that there is a not insignificant number of feminist-identified people who are anti-sex work, and a not insignificant number of feminist-identified people who are trans-phobic, and a not insignificant number of feminist-identified people who are anti-porn, to name a few examples. I am not interested in lending my name to those people’s politics, and I’m not particularly interested in arguing with them over which of us is actually the truer feminist, because that’s time I could be spending advocating for the things I believe instead.

It could be argued that the anti-sex work, trans-phobic, anti-porn, etc., people who call themselves feminists are simply incorrect. One could argue that being anti-sex work, for example, is actually counterproductive to the advance of equality for women, and therefore I should call myself a feminist because this means being anti-sex work is not actually a feminist position. I might agree with the premise of this line of reasoning, but I wouldn’t agree with the conclusion. If I chose my labels based on what I thought they ought to imply rather than the impact they have in practice, then by that same logic, I might reasonably decide to call myself a “masculinist”, even though my politics are at odds with almost everything anyone using that label has ever said. Personally, if I were trying to contribute to a movement about men, my objectives would probably be in near-perfect lockstep with the objectives of most of the feminists I know. Most of the feminists I know take political and philosophical positions that, to my mind, help me as a guy, in addition to helping women.

Unfortunately, by calling myself a masculinist, I would be lending my name to a movement that, on the whole, I see as narrowminded, sexist, and destructive. While I think that the center of gravity of feminism as a movement is indescribably better than the center of gravity of masculinism, I’m still not sure it’s sufficiently progressive that I’m interested in lending my name to it.

Another option would be for me to use a more specific label. At the point that I start calling myself something like an Intersectionalist, Sex-Positive Feminist, though, I think it’s gotten to the point where I may as well just say, specifically, what my political and philosophical positions are without using the label at all.

Most of the time it has seemed easier to say what I think, specifically, than to wrestle my misgivings about feminism as a whole into submission. I think rape culture is real and horrible and worth fighting against; I think easy access to birth control and abortion is important; I think fighting sexism is important; I think sex positivity is important; I think fighting community and workplace discrimination and abuse against women is important.

Does identifying as a feminist communicate all of these positions sufficiently reliably that it makes sense for me to take it on? I’m not sure. I would be interested to hear the thoughts of others, though. To my feminist readers, did the things I’m talking about ever give you pause about using the label? If so, why, and if not, why not? How close to the center of gravity of a political or philosophical label do you think someone needs to be before it makes sense to take on that label? How much good is done by taking on the label versus how much is done by avoiding the complications in interpretation that can result from it?

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5 comments on “Thoughts on Whether or Not to Identify As a Feminist

  1. Pingback: I Guess, in the End, My Asshole Antifeminist Commenters Were Right About Me | Research to be Done

  2. Pingback: Why Talking About Feminism Can Be Scary | Research to be Done

  3. I understand your concerns, and I think it really depends on your audience. The vast majority of people will benefit from knowing someone they know is a feminist. If your audience contains lots of folks who would automatically assume you were transphobic or the other things, then you have cause for concern.

    • That makes sense. I waffle sometimes between basing my labels on asking “What does this label mean?” versus “What will using this label do?”

      It seems like, with feminism, the meaning is, to a large extent, open to individual interpretation, so I’m more on the “What will it do?” side in this case. And I think you’re right that in a lot of cases, probably just identifying with the label around people who tend to look sideways at feminism due to bra burning stereotypes and such, would be a very good thing.

      I really need to have some conversations with trans people about feminism to flesh this thought process out more, I think.

  4. No, it never gave me pause because I use the bare bones definition of feminism, which is social, political and economic equality between men and women, and ignore all the different schools of thought. Also, because I know many pro-sex, pro-trans, pro-porn feminists, so I know that the definition of feminist has nothing to do with it. It’s the approach taken towards achieving equality that varies.

    I like to use the bare-bones definition for everything. Anything else is an off-shoot and can find it’s own label but the core should have a name and be identifiable. I personally do not like it when people say I believe in gender equality but eschew the word feminist and try to make up words like “gender equalist” like a friend of mine does.

    Feminism has a long history. It has helped a lot of men and women. I find it sad that the word is so disparaged now, also because I know that a lot of it has to do with people who do not believe in equality and their smear campaigns. Still, while it makes me sad, I’d rather have people believe in equality whatever they choose to call themselves than be in the opposite camp.

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