As we near International Women’s Day, I spend more and more time thinking about the need for Women’s day in the first place, and more importantly what it means to celebrate it and what it means to be a feminist. 3 years ago, I wrote a Facebook post in which I ended it with “I’m not a feminist but…”
I remember some friends commenting underneath that maybe I’d not properly looked into the word, and although I was still hesitant to label myself anything at first, the term grew on me and I soon realised it’s importance. Despite that, there are still many, many people who don’t define themselves as feminist – female or otherwise. The paradox here comes in the form of realising that many of the people who choose not to define themselves as feminist are, by definition, feminists. These are people who truly believe in equal rights, and recognise the lack thereof, but yet choose not to define themselves under the feminist term. But why is this? I spoke to some of the people I know to learn more about the various reasons they chose not to call themselves a ‘feminist’:
1. The Negative Connotations associated with feminism and it’s ‘new’ meaning
I spoke about both these concepts in a prior post when I looked at some of the problems with the word ‘feminist’ itself. Whilst the origins of feminism and what it stands for are entirely commendable, there have been instances in history where it has gained a bad reputation for promoting something it’s not, or for being associated with unnecessary voilence or otherwise. This misrepresentation of the feminist movement has often led people to choose not to associate with the term as they do not stand for the negative connotations of the word. As well as this, some argue that feminism and its ideals have morphed from what it additionally stood for – so although they would call themselves a feminist by their dictionary definition, it’s meaning in today’s society is no longer the same in their eyes. And it is true that there are both ‘extreme’ feminists and also people who claim to be feminist but actually do not believe in equal rights at all. The question here seems to boil down to – is it constructive to call yourself a feminist if there is potential for the word to be misinterpreted? And should we be challenging these alternate meanings and connotations that drag the feminist name down?
2. The inclusion of ‘femme’ in feminism
Again, like the reasons above, I discussed this in an earlier post, yet the more I speak to males, in particular, the more I realise that sometimes this can be the defining reason they either choose not to label themselves a feminist, or fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of feminism and therefore don’t want to associate themselves with it. It is definitely a common misunderstanding that because feminism has the presence of ‘feminine’ or ‘femme’ (French for women) within the word itself, it therefore means that the meaning of the word is to do with the superiority of women, or the belief that women are better than men. If this is what you think is true – now’s the time to learn it’s not! And for your benefit, here’s the dictionary definition of feminism:
However, as mentioned, I really do believe that many men (and of course also women) don’t want to call themselves a feminist because they can’t properly identify with a word. For a man who believes in equal opportunities, it can be hard for them to identify with a word that seems to, in the word itself, exclude them even if it really is searching for equality. So even though it appears counterintuitive, it is understandable to recognise that being labelled under a term you find hard to associate with can be difficult.
3. The idea of separatism, doing it for attention, and pursuance of less life-changing problems whilst neglecting problems of the sort in the developing world
When I raised the question of why people choose to not define themselves as feminists, my friend Meliha shared a different perspective. Though, she says, she does (obviously) believe in equal rights, feminism has some problems which she shares below:
I think the term “feminist” is outdated and forms a separatism of people based on gender and ideals. To me, any decent person wants equal rights for men and women and by putting a label on it you are making it a brand as opposed to a belief for equality of the genders. The supporters of the Civil Rights Movement in America did not have a “brand” they were simply people who believed in equality. The term was to get voting rights for women and has now become an advocation for more trivial things in Western society when so many women in developing countries are struggling with monumental issues. Equality is what a decent person believes and shouldn’t be made into a brand to identify with, it’s simply a belief to hold.
Meliha writes much better and more concise than I will ever be able to, and I’m so proud to say that she has an offer to read Law at New College, Oxford starting October 2019 (go you Meliha!). If you want to hear more of her opinion, you can follow her on her Twitter or Instagram.
Of course, all this goes without saying that some people choose not to call themselves feminists because they just, well, don’t believe in equality. In this case, I guess all we can say is I hope this number decreases more and more. And maybe, these posts can help. So until tomorrow,
-Jo who blogs xx