In my recent writings I have taken great pains to criticise elements of feminism that I believe are failing the women this movement purports to serve. I stand by those challenges and will repeat them so long as there is need for them.
But I should also dedicate this space to my own robust support for the ideals that undergird feminism and there is no better place to begin with an introductory question: what does feminism mean to me? What follows is my answer to this question, a modified version of which appeared on Reddit in a thread of the same name.
I will not simply trot out the radical cliches about how “feminism is the belief that women are people” and it would take only a few seconds for an observer to note that I most definitely believe in equal opportunity and equality between the sexes. These two statements, for me, go without saying. The deeper definitions for me have more to do with the following: love and respect for yourself as a woman and a willingness to confront unfairness.
But Feminism is, above all, the standard to which I repair.
When times are at their hardest, it lends me strength. It lent me strength for much of my life, even when I did not think it my own. It gave me an enormous amount of courage, the strength to not hate myself for wanting to be a woman, the strength to see something positive and worthwhile in it, and the strength to face transmisogyny; strength I didn’t know I had.
Because above all else it is the term ‘repair’ that matters most. Feminism gave me the strength to not simply sit down and shut up or hide in a dark corner, but to forcefully assert my dignity, rights, and right to exist. It gave me the ability to repair my strength when it was left mercilessly battered and tested.
When I came out it gave me the strength to stand up to my father, who groped me and demanded to see my underwear. The strength to know this was not only wrong, but why it was happening.
It gave me the strength to stand up to radical feminists who said I had no place in the movement, and to find the courage to never doubt my own womanhood.
But it’s not just about my own life. My mother is not a self identified feminist, yet in making certain things clear to her she began to realise she had a right to self respect as a woman. She began to wake up and see that no, it wasn’t okay for her husband to withhold medication from her in exchange for sex or to dismissively tell her to take a cab on a night she needed an ambulance, it wasn’t okay to force himself on her the night before her father’s funeral after she said no dozens of times, it wasn’t justified or excusable that he used to hit her, it wasn’t right that he constantly put her down, it wasn’t hers to accept her role in his deluded fantasy…
To many men, especially, it is hard to see why it would take something like feminism to get someone to realise those basic and essential things. Well, that’s why it’s still very necessary. Because even in this day and age it is so easy to beat a woman down into self-loathing hopelessness.
That is why I say that feminism is not Michfest. It is more than a building, or a convention, or a sign, or a Women’s Studies Department. It must be that place where you discover it’s okay to have dignity. It must be the ideal that equality is more than a word, or an airy thought, but a reality that you can live.
It’s about more than material political battles, it’s about the battles you fight in your own life.
It is about developing the habit of freedom.
It’s the battle one of my closest friends fought to find self worth as a mother after spending several years in sex work just to raise her child and pay for medical treatment. It’s the battle another friend had to accept that she could be into BDSM. It’s the battle my mother’s still fighting to find the strength to divorce herself from a man who controls all of her savings. It’s the battle my trans women sisters fight every day to see themselves as people of worth, in a society that dumps on them twice as hard because they are women. It’s about the time I launched myself out of my chair to condemn a man speaking to my classmates with pride about how he kicked his pregnant daughter to the curb, with the child of her rapist, because she was a ‘slut.’
This is more than politics, it’s more than a gathering of opinions; it’s my life, and the lives of the people I love.
That’s why I identify outside of the wave system. The whole Third Wave et al. series of designations is useful academically but I do not like to box myself into one mode of feminist thinking. I let my experience, learning, critical thought and observations inform what I believe.
Because as I said, feminism is more than anything tangible; more than something that can be corralled in the neatest of confines.
In all of this is my rejoinder to the ceaseless and witless suggestions about “equalism”. Those experiences are why a separate word is needed. But I am an equalist too. Feminism is about standing up for yourself as a woman, in addition to equalism and humanism.
It is the standard I hold proudly, and I’ll never let it go.