“You believe in gender equality?”
“Congratulations, you’re a feminist.”
Despite the impression that this oh-so-clever witticism is taken directly from an internet meme, it’s irritating in other ways. Chief among which is I really think I should get to define myself, rather than let an internet phenomenon do it for me.
Of course feminism wasn’t invented on twitter, but the mob mentality that has always been one of the ugliest parts of our civilisations is amplified via the safety and security that comes from not being face-to-face with someone. The Internet has surely contributed as much as anything to the metamorphosis of feminism from a fight for equality into… well, whatever you want to classify it as now.
And there are multiple definitions, and many have perfectly sound reasoning behind them. This isn’t mathematics where 2+2 has always and will always equal 4. This is language morphed by societal attitudes over time. Just as some words become more or less offensive, and others develop to have more than one meaning, the label of feminism is no different.
And a label it is. “Feminist” for the most part, sits in the same pool as “socialist”, “tea drinker” and “party animal” as a phrase. It’s a word to stick on your twitter profile and make you acceptable in certain company – a way to indicate that you have strongly held beliefs about women’s rights. There is nothing wrong with this. It is an evolution though. “Feminist” used to be more closely related to “activist”; it was applied to people that were actually doing something about their beliefs beyond bleating about them and undoubtedly there are passionate and intelligent campaigners who still claim the word in that sense. Most people don’t though. For most it simply indicates belief in the ideology.
But which ideology? Equality? Special rights? Practically everyone who claims the word would favour the former definition but there is a valid argument for the latter. For some it is about empowerment in the workplace, others focus on their personal lives. Some claim that feminism is, in part, about ending beauty contests and page 3 whereby others say it is more concerned with reducing the stigma surrounding them. Are independent, successful sex workers feminists or are they unwitting fools playing a subservient role in a patriarchal society? Can you wear push-up bras, lipstick and four-inch heels and still be a feminist? Again one could make an argument either way.
In three hundred words my point has basically been to establish that there is no single accepted definition of feminism. I am, as the opening conversation indicates, clearly a feminist by some people’s standards, but I’m also excluded from the club by others. Some say I can never be more than an ‘ally’ because there are dangly bits between my thighs. Others yet would say that because I am not an activist for the cause, I logically cannot be called a feminist.
I have other problems with the label; the fact that it has no opposing word of equal value is one. It’s a divisive term by its nature. I don’t like many of the people who are loudest when claiming it for themselves, not least because a great deal of them take shelter under a noble cause merely as an excuse to vent what is in no uncertain terms, sexism. I’ve talked about such behaviour before though and that’s not what this post is about.
When there is such confusion over what the word represents, it’s just plain rude to fling it at others. By all means claim it for your own if you will, but don’t act as if those more reticent to follow suit are somehow less than you. Don’t hulk out because someone refuses to accept your definition of a complicated word.
Is someone English merely because it says so on their birth certificate? Legally sure, but what about their identity? Their label? Can they be English by virtue of living most of their lives in the country? Because they married into the fold? Because they have a love for the culture and people? Simply because they were born there and yet have never been back since childhood?
I’d be happy with anyone to identify as English for any of the above. It’s a label and one they’re welcome to.
I’d be pissed if they called me English though. I don’t hate the label, but it doesn’t apply to me. I have my own identity. I’m not English.
I’m also not a feminist, and there’s nothing wrong with that.