Feminist – Are you or Aren’t you?

I haven’t been blogging much -not into the groove I guess. But recently I asked the question “Do you consider yourself a feminist” on both my local mama board and on twitter. I wasn’t surprised by the answers but definitely intrigued by some interesting conversations that developed. For the record, I consider myself a feminist. Since I was a teenager I have identified as part of the F. world and it has shaped a lot of who I am. My version of feminism is pretty fluid and open – I believe in equity, equality and a voice for all. It translates into my relationships, my work,  my mothering and pretty much everything I do. I don’t know how to piece it out and define it.  Although I identify more with some aspects of feminism than others, I accept the diversity of the movement as positive reflection on its openness and am not attached to one particular view or another.

So what were some of the responses I got from other people? Some felt that we were past the need for feminism  – that women have made it and that feminism is no longer relevant. I don’t accept this view for a variety of reasons.  1 in 3 women experience violence at the hands of someone they know (usually a male), women in Canada and the US only make 77cents for every dollar a man makes, women make up the vast majority of the poor in Canada and around the world, rape is used as a weapon of war and gender based violence is growing not decreasing. Despite these reasons and others,  I do understand why some women might believe we are post-feminist. In their view, these particular women have not been hampered by their gender and they believe they are equal to men. To me this speaks more to a particular woman’s privilege than it does to the state of gender equality in the world. I could easily look at my life and think that gender doesn’t matter – I have reaped the benefits of being a white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied woman in the west. But even with this privilege I see inequities – I see it subtly in my own life and I see it in the women that I work with, love, know and read about. Even if I could concede that feminism is irrelevant in North America, a look beyond these borders to the marginalization of women around  the world would cause me to put that big F right back on my chest. There is so much more to be done.

Some of the other responses from women  were that although they agreed with equality,  they weren’t man-haters or concerned with political correctness and therefore weren’t feminists. I am not sure how man-hating became equated with feminism other than by a concerted backlash attempt by those who fear feminism to paint it as a radical, anti-male agenda. But I know a lot of feminists and not one of them hates men – in fact most of them would be less likely to stereotype or degrade the male gender than most people I know. And since feminism really is about equality for all, I assured these women that if they wanted the label of feminism they already held the ideals.

Lastly, there were the women who did say that they were feminists and the reasons were as varied as those who didn’t. Some came to it through motherhood and expressed desire to uphold the feminine values and the unique bond and relationship of the mother baby dyad. Others spoke of  coming to feminism recently, as they began to understand their place and privilege in the world  Some experienced great oppression in their lives through violence or other forms of marginalizations. And others were similar to me in that  they couldn’t quite recall what brought them here as it just seems like they always were a feminist.

It has been an intersesting discusssion. One I hope to continue so if you stumble upon my blog and have some thoughts please feel free to comment. I am open to people disagreeing with me, I just ask that you remain respectful. My feminism is about love, peace and change – not anger, resistance or fear. Regardless of your take on my words,  I offer you that.

10 Comments

  1. mymilkspilt said,

    January 6, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    I am!
    I think that my feminism is similar to yours – I like the term ‘open.’ I believe that any decent person who believes in human rights and equality should believe in feminism. That they often don’t says much about the way that feminism is presented (men-hating, hairy legged types usually) and also the fact that we still need feminism. Badly need it. That so many girls and women can’t see the ways in which they are defined and limited by their gender in our world tells me that there is much work to be done! And adding to that – the fact that so many women allow their choices regarding childbirth (and infant feeding, parenting etc.) be taken away or circumscribed by a male-conceived and dominated medical system speaks volumes about the need for greater female empowerment, particularly in the area of understanding and accepting our bodies. I think that the birth-work that midwives and doulas do is often feminist work as well, whether they identify it in that way or not.

  2. January 8, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Admttedly I’m a little biased here (I am Shawna’s husband) but I loved this post. When you tweeted the question originally I was stuck at how to respond. Do I identify as feminist? I don’t know.

    I identify with what you described and am sickened by the depths of gender based violence happening around the world. So in that case I guess I am. There’s something still in uncomfortable for me about using the word for myself though. If the question though were do I support Feminism – absolutely without a doubt.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. January 9, 2009 at 2:57 am

    Hi Shawna, I work with Michael lots through SiG and MaRS and social finance and would like to meet with you sometime because I think we have lots in common but I have a few more years on you. I started my”professional” career as a volunteer at a women’s addiction centre, have worked at Rape Crisis Centres (a collective), been the president on the board of battered women’s shelters, volunteered for Elizabeth Fry for women in conflict with the law, public education for LEAF (around the time when Justine Blainey wanted to play hockey on a boys team – let’s see who remembers that) etc etc and I’m sure if blogs were around when I started doing this type of work, over 20 years ago, the responses would be almost exactly the same as what you are hearing today.

    I actually never thought I had a choice about being a feminist, I was a young, passionate, educated female who saw the incredible injustices in the world and I never thought I could be anything but a feminist, if not me, then who? But there were many of my generation who rejected the word for all the stereotypes you mentioned, yup fears of being labeled man-hating or having hairy legs seem to linger.
    It’s great to see this debate continuing you know, if we forget our history, I understand we are bound to repeat it.

    Keep the F word – faith not fear in feminism

  4. doulamama said,

    January 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

    mymilkspilt

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. When I came to birth work 5 years ago I assumed I was entering another area of feminism – that is partially what brought me here. It took me about 2 yrs to realize that many women who do this work do not identify as feminist and in fact fully reject that label. In addition, birth work hasn’t been embraced by the feminist movement as much as some other areas of reproductive rights. The perception of motherhood and its essentialist components seems to be one of the reasons for the divide. Some birth workers feel feminists are responsible for maligning pg, birth, bfing and motherhood (which I in no way believe) and feminists seem to think that birth is well…just birth and that there are plenty of options out there for women.

    But i agree with you, I absolutely believe that birth work is feminist and one of the things that interests me is looking at how we can put the needs of pg and birthing women back on the feminist radar. There are enough feminist birth workers out there to make this happen and I know we have allies in the larger picture of feminism.

  5. doulamama said,

    January 9, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Michael,
    Thanks for your comments and support :-) I think many man would agree that they are uncomfortable with the term feminist. I think there are probably a lot of reasons for that – one of them being not wanting to take that term away from women. But I think men can proudly call themselves feminists and not just as allies. Feminism is a movement that is about equity for all and it has room for men in it.

    Interestingly I had a couple of men who are gay answer my question of whether they are feminists or not with a resounding yes. Two thoughts come to mind about why identifying with the word feminism might be easier for a guy who is homosexual over a guy who is heterosexual – one is that gay men understand and experience marginalization just as women do, so they get it and live it. The other thought is that perhaps there is a ‘feminized’ tone to the word feminism that heterosexual men reject as a latent form of homophobia. You know I am not calling you homophobic as I know you are allied with all forms of oppression but we both know that we all carry the ‘isms’ in us just by default of living in a society where they still exist and are expressed implicitly and explicitly in our culture.
    If you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts on what I said in a public space like this I would like to know what you think. Agree or disagree is fine.

  6. doulamama said,

    January 9, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Allyson,
    It would be wonderful to connect with you at some point. I feel similar to you in that being a feminist didn’t feel like a choice – it was just what I did and who I am. We do have a lot in common. I have volunteered in women’s shelters, worked with women in Indonesia, been part of many feminist organizations and currently work with women as a Doula and Childbirth Educator. I am in the process of starting a Mother Outlaws group in London based on the one in Toronto started by Andre O’Reilly at the Association for Research on Mothering.

    I don’t know whether it is comforting to know the stereotypes of a feminist have been around for a long time or if it is more concerning. Regardless I love how you put that we should keep the F word – faith not fear in feminism. What a wonderful way to express it. I do hope we can connect at some point and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Lori said,

    January 19, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    when i was in college 25 years ago, friends said they weren’t feminists because all feminists were man-hating, angry, hard types who didn’t shave their legs. now they say it’s because feminists conjure the idea of woman-as-victim. you can’t win for losing! i was a feminist then and am a feminist now, because to me, the term means “in support of women”, period.

  8. Katelyn said,

    January 27, 2009 at 3:15 am

    Hi Shawna, I found your blog through Twitter friends and I love what I’ve read so far.

    I consider myself a man-loving feminist. The only reason I distinguish the term is because of the ridiculous people out there who think assume that the two ideas exclude one another. Perhaps I shouldn’t need to specify… and maybe someday I won’t. But for now, it fits. *shrug*

    You make great points in this post and I wonder if you’ve read Full Frontal Feminism, by Jessica Valenti…
    If you haven’t, I recommend it very highly – it’s totally modern and accessible, with a fun, sarcastic writing style. I read it a few months ago and it really re-sparked my focus on women’s issues and the different groups/movements that can make things better for us all. :)

  9. doulamama said,

    January 27, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks Katelyn – I haven’t read Full Frontal Feminism but I have read Jessica’s blog. You have piqued my interest though so I am off to hunt the book down.

  10. Saver Queen said,

    March 21, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Bravo on a well-articulated post on a difficult subject. I completely agree with you – I describe myself as a feminist for similar reasons and with similar goals. Although my current partner answered a resounding “yes” when I just asked him if he considered himself a feminist, I know many other men who have been supporters and ‘allies’ as you say of feminist women, themselves working towards the development of peace and equity in the world, yet shying away from the label – not consciously, mind you, but rather just not even considering it as a potential explanation for their beliefs and values. For them it seemed not only “off-limits” but not applicable. Although feminist philosophies are quite diverse, I wish there was a broader acceptance of the term feminism and the desire to achieve equality, peace, freedom and to eliminate entrenched discrimination.


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