Friday, July 10, 2009

I am a feminist.

I was scrolling through Could You Date a Man Who Didn't Call Himself a Feminist?. The article itself was disappointing, but I was excited to see it because I am dating a man who doesn't call himself a feminist. He is a feminist. He just doesn't use the word. And it bothers me. Just like it bothers me that people working in feminist organizations, literally devoting their lives to feminism (almost hostilely) reject "feminist". Just like it bothers me when I hear their justifications, like this comment from the article: "I would never attach the feminist label to myself, people already do enough labeling to each other so why do it to yourself."

Here's the thing. Labels are powerful. People place labels on others because it works. And it's powerful to subvert the meaning - make it dirty - in order to shame people away from their work. If no one wants to be labeled a feminist then patriarchy can continue on it's happily oppressive ways. It is powerful to label yourself in the ways in which the world will see you. And feminism is powerful - but it's being co-opted and "re-branded" by people who are not feminist. Of course it has a bad rap and it happens because of 3 things:
1. Feminists are too afraid of the backlash to take on the label.
2. Non-feminists get to then articulate the definition. Then it becomes not what it is (the theory that women are human beings in their own right) but what it isn't (women who are humorless/loud/bitchy/man-haters/home wreakers/ugly....).
3. Women who are not feminist take the label and further pervert the theory. (You can not be feminist and be anti-choice. If you think women are not capable of agency in their body then you do not believe in their inherent human-ness.)

I can't do a lot about what anti-feminists do to smear the label, but I can own it, wear it proudly, and demonstrate that THIS is what a feminist looks like. And if there's a backlash, that is part of my responsibility to the movement to take on.

I am a feminist. More specifically a Radical, Anti-porn Feminist. So bring on the backlash.

*Image from OneAngryGirl.


Shawn said...

Labels ARE powerful - if

a) language and verbalization are one's primary method of experiencing the world,

b) one is prone to give greater credence to the description than to what's described, and

c) pidgeonholing becomes one's lifelong hobby.

Me? I prefer to remain speechless, and open-minded. But then again, I'm old.


Kate said...


Thanks for interacting with me about this!

I have to question b&c because I do not find a critical or verbal frame mutually exclusive to open/emotional inquiry, and in fact we are limited in our relationships by what we can communicate to one another. Further no label or the perception behind it is static, we're always negotiating and I think that process is part of our humanity.

By remaining silent one does not remain unbound, but merely described upon by others, and gives up one's own agency to describe their world. We limit our relationships by not sharing our perceptions. We may even become more closed for lack of sharing our world experiences.

Shawn said...

(in 2 parts)

That's interesting that you respond to b) & c) but not a). Fodder for another pleasurable interaction!

"...and in fact we are limited in our relationships by what we can communicate to one another." Yes, but what do you consistently and absolutely mean by "communication"? Does ALL communication occur in a verbal fashion? If someone acts like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, does not that perceived expression of "duckitude" transcend whatever one might talk about it after the fact? No one ever expresses annoyance over the "as-plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face"-ness of a damned duck, even if someoned refuses to call it a damned duck. YOU perceive the duck as a duck, and then move on to FAR more interesting things, certainly more interesting than whether or not you can get the bloke next to you to agree that it's a damned duck. Furthermore, a duck NEVER needs anyone to label it as a "duck" to remain, in feathered glory, a damned duck. A human male feminist, for example, may be in tune with such a dharma-duck, and be quite unconcerned about how he is labeled. His "feminism" (or "duckitude" for that matter) is quite independent of others' old (and, evidently, ever new) habits of labelling.

Not everyone holds that we're always negotiating. Perhaps there are folks who ALWAYS do, and simply want all of the rest of us to keep up out of loneliness. But one only negotiates for what one needs. Not everyone is in such a perpetual state of need that their entire waking life is consumed by "negotiation".

And by my comment re: "remaining speechless", I do not at all imply there there aren't occasions where verbal expression is appropriate. I certainly didn't exactly remain speechless by responding to your rather interesting and well thought out blog entry, did I? And if I had never went through the relatively horrifying process of getting a blog account so that I could reply, would I have remained "bound" by others' descriptions of myself, having, in effect, "remained speechless"?

No one "gives up their agency to describe their own world", you know. First off, one cannot "give up" what one does not posess in the first place. We're not "agents" at all, and do not perform "agency" in the rather rare and pleasing way that you employed that term as a verb. I must say I liked that a lot. We need to think of ourselves differently, and labels that were formed by lips I actually witnessed forty years ago (yeah, my sister took me to see Gloria Steinem, and I watched live television broadcasts of Bela Abzug all the time in my teen years. One might say that my experience of "feminism" predates some peoples' births), but are continually bandied about by folks who seem to feel a sort of proprietary attachment to them without having actually gleaned their meaning through experience. I feel that these "labels" are - as in any lively changing world such as ours - getting too old and inadequate to describe what's happening TODAY. If we MUST use labels, for the love of Santa (more on Him later), let's get new ones.

Fixating on words and labels alone (though I am NOT suggesting that this is what you are doing) will not solidify our own perceptions, or even our own ephemeral selves, by one whit, even if they appear for a time to service a cause - nor will they help us or others to comprehend (NOT the same as "understanding" intellectually) this world that we at root and ground of being ARE anyway.

And describing our experiences? Hell, we talk to ourselves all the time, describing our experiences to no end, keeping our wispy, transitory selves company in the lonely process. Some of us can't even resist twittering while we do it, all the while thinking that THIS is sharing our experience.

Shawn said...

(part 2 of 2)

I would agree that we limit our relationships by not sharing our perceptions. But not all information is necessarily transmitted verbally, and certainly a great deal of information can be conveyed without "labels". I do it all of the time when I write music.

A parable, albeit a hastily conceived and concocted one:

There's this dude with miraculous powers - and a tremendous desire - to instill goodwill and peace among humans. This rotund fellow hops aboard a magical vehicle every December 24th and spreads



presents to children

a spirit of community and compassion for those less fortunate than us,

and who knows what else?

Yet somewhere in the world, there's a dude or a chick who's bitching about the fact that this guy just simply, absolutely, flatly REFUSES to call himself "Santa".

Yeah, I know, "Santa" is an imaginary figure...

...with about as much proof for his existence as the human spirit itself. But I encourage folks to take out full page ads in the New York Times to demand that he - and we - accept the label "Santa". It would be - and is - funny and entertaining as hell!

We give names to things so that we can pretend to understand them. Sometimes, through experience and time, we discover their meaning and purpose. More often, their purpose and meaning remain obscured and mysterious - but at least we have their names. But let's not make the mistake of driving 2500 miles to Las Vegas, only to park the RV and break out the tents and coolers under a sign that says "LAS VEGAS - 50 MILES" - and then proclaim to our children "We're finally HERE!" That's what labels are: signs, not the destination or definition.


Shawn said...

Hmmmm... it's now 6:45 the next morning, and I've noticed a few run-on sentences and general over-wordiness. Sorry about that!

Have a super day,