Saturday, March 28, 2015

I am a Feminist

I am a feminist.

A few years ago I would not have claimed that label. That isn’t to say that I was some kind of misogynist, but I did attach some baggage to the feminist label owed in large part to having only a cursory understanding of what feminism actually has to say. Like many people, I was taking in just surface impressions of a complicated set of issues from often shoddy sources. So it should come as no surprise that I admit to having had a misinformed and fractured opinion that made me reluctant to adopt the label.

I would later learn that my opinions on a great many things about sex, sexuality, gender, manliness, femininity, etc. were already largely in agreement with modern feminist writers and activists. I had to actually read feminist writers and talk to actual feminist activists to come to realize that I was in fact a feminist. Built from the idea that your gender and your sex should not create social barriers or privileges, feminism is about equality. So yes, that does mean that feminism is opposed to the special, expanded advantages men enjoy in society. And that no, feminists do not think our society has already achieved gender equality. And get this, feminists recognize the harm done to men by our present system of inequality.

It turns out that feminism isn't an anti-male, female supremacy movement that is prudishly anti-sex. Like any decades long, complicated social movement, there have been voices with odd views. Although quotes from such people have been put to use by anti-feminists to shock us, the actual arguments against those views come from within feminism. There is no single feminist leader. There are just voices, thousands of opinions that take different stands on things, but from that multitude we can form a more generalized, consensus understanding of feminism. As one might guess, even if the core values remain, what gets emphasized and argued about changes with the times. These are known as the waves of feminism. We're either in the third-wave or the beginnings of the fourth-wave now. Regardless, these are the feminists who are shaping the focusfuture, and intersectionality of feminism with other facets of social justice today.

What feminism is up to nowadays isn’t fighting against sexuality or burning bras or slut shaming women who emphasize their femininity. They aren’t anti-sex, but are instead sex positive. They are championing consent as the foundation of sexual ethics. They are pushing back against the tradition of women being forced to be submissive and subservient to men in both bedrooms and boardrooms. They are fighting the pervasive idea that being feminine is bad, which is the very basis for using accusations of femininity as insults to both men and women. They are explaining how strict gender roles are hurting us all. Feminists are trying to get us to see that there are problems in our society that are so engrained we overlook them, especially those of us who benefit from such things. In that way, feminism is intersecting with the fight against racism and for LGBT rights.

Gay pride or black pride is about being positive and building equal rights despite being a marginalized group instead of being ashamed and powerless. Feminism is the part of social justice that focuses on the gender that is more marginalized in our society. That is why despite having egalitarian goals, feminism keeps its name with its feminine root. Sure, there is complaining in social justice movements about the unfair advantages afforded to straight, cisgender, white men in our society — but that doesn’t mean feminism is anti-men, anymore than gay pride is about hating straight people.

Rights are not a zero sum game. I understand that being a member of a privileged group, it can feel like having my rights eroded as others gain rights I already enjoy, but that is not true. Privilege is an unfair overabundance of special advantages. If society is changed so that a marginalized group has the same rights as a privileged group then those special advantages aren’t special anymore because they were only special insofar as they were exclusive. Feminism is the fight against that exclusivity to create equality for all genders and sexes. Fighting against feminism is fighting to maintain those special advantages for men and withhold them from women — that is male supremacy and I oppose that because I am a feminist.

[There are more than 40 different embedded links to supporting material in the text above.]