Original date: 4-9-09
What is feminism? What is activism? What is the definition for these terms and who is allowed to call themselves one? Does calling yourself one have negative connotations? Can calling yourself a feminist be activism in itself?
During Empowered Women’s Week in February, we held a discussion at an Open Doors meeting about feminism. We didn’t discuss the waves of feminism or notable women in history, or the well-known feminists today. Instead, we opened the discussion by saying “Fill in the blank, ‘Feminism is…’”. No one in the audience (a mix of LGBT men and women of all sexualities, and a couple transpeople) really had a definition for it. There were some comments from people that they knew there have been waves of feminism, and women’s votes, and women’s equality. I had learned and thought about feminism enough at this point to say that feminism can take many forms for different people, ranging from radical feminism, to simply telling someone off for saying “you play like a girl”.
Even though I already understood that feminism can take many forms, [the piece] made me think of what my personal definition of feminism was – and that I really don’t have a definition. So I instead began to think about what it meant to me and how I acted on it. Am I a radical feminist? What’s important to me? Where does being a queer person fit into this? I think I feel like a radical feminist. I feel willing to take extreme steps if need be and will call someone out if they do something unacceptable. I don’t feel like an extremely academic feminist, long texts filled with big words turn me off (even though WGS is one of my majors here), and I think that’s one of the reasons people shy away from feminism and expanding their horizons.
One of the things I’ve been looking into more recently is "equality" and what that means. Do I really want to be equal? Equal to what exactly? Equal pay, equal rights, and equal respect? In the legal aspects (pay, rights), I would want to be equal to a man. But I don’t always know if I would want to be regarded in the same light as a man. I don’t want gender roles to be equal, I would prefer neutralizing. I don’t think anyone should be seen as weak when they cry, I don’t think men should have to act tough or cold all the time, and I don’t think women should have to be mild. So I don’t say equality. It’s a small thing, and probably not important to most people, but someone brought it up to me awhile ago and it really provoked some critical thinking on my part.
I could find agreement in many of the pieces put into the Treichler and Kramarae article, but some stood out (possibly for obvious reasons. “Lesbianism is the solution… Until all women are lesbians there will be no true political revolution” – Jill Johnston. It’s one of those things you can’t help but laugh at, no matter how you feel on the subject of LGBT folk. But it does make you think about how feminism can be associated with lesbianism, and people assuming that if you’re a feminist, you’re also a lesbian, or the other way around. I guess I fall into the stereotype here. I don’t think one was the effect of the other, but I can see how they intersect in my life. As someone who considers their self an activist, I sometimes wonder if I’m doing enough for all parts of my identity – am I spending too much time working for LGBT rights? Am I doing something to help women? Sometimes I wonder if identifying as genderqueer instead of male or female is helpful or detrimental to feminism.
Regardless, I know I consider myself a both a feminist and activist, and that anyone can consider themselves one if they believe that something needs to be changed. I believe in speaking out if something bothers you and speaking up if someone says something off-color, especially if it’s something that they don’t think about saying (“that’s so gay”, “come on man, stop being such a pussy”). The first step is recognizing that something should be done, so I put a lot of thought into small actions and bringing up the topics with people in every day conversation.