I have two things to say to people who will question my choice. First, there are many different kinds of feminism, and I don’t relate to all of them. Second, it is more important to look at people’s actions than at words that they use to describe themselves.
Feminism in not a homogeneous movement. Feminists understand their cause in many different ways. Yes, if we look into dictionary we will find one neat definition. But when we are talking about such a complex phenomenon as feminism, dictionary is not enough. Merriam-Webster tells us that feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” There are plenty of feminist scholars who advocate against the division of people into “men” and “women” (take, for instance, Judith Butler). There are also plenty of feminists who do not know Butler or do not agree with her, plenty of feminists who think that men and women are different, and that this difference should be acknowledged.
Feminists can have such different opinions on things that their debates turn into wars, literally. So-called "feminist sex wars" split feminists in two camps viciously opposing each other in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the reasons for these heated debates was the difference in interpretation of pornography, prostitution and BDSM. Can participating in these activities be liberating for women, or it is always oppressing and humiliating? Echoes of these wars can be found in today’s feminism(s).
There are some definitions of feminism that I can most certainly relate with, for the example the one formulated by bell hooks in her book Ain’t I a Woman: "Feminism… is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels—sex, race, and class, to name a few—and a commitment to reorganizing U.S. society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires."
But there are also plenty of feminisms that I do not relate with, especially those that uphold gender binary. That is why I find it easier not to use the term to describe myself. This does not mean that, in my opinion, this term is useless, or that I reject the legacy associated with it.
And here I move to my second argument. I don’t quite understand people who say that if one does not call him/herself a feminist, he or she is against feminism. I find this logic internally flawed. Aren’t our actions more important that words that we use to define ourselves? I am most certainly for gender equality. I educate people about gender equality, I do research about ways of promoting gender equality, and I do my best to support gender equality through my activism. I study feminism, I support feminism, I advocate for helping people understand the complexity of this very important movement. Does it really matter how I call myself?
While I do think it is great that some celebrities call themselves feminists, I think that others might use this term to win more female fans, or because the term is so controversial. Should all their actions be celebrated only because they call themselves feminists?
I am for gender equality. I am for helping people understand the importance of the feminist movements, and their complexity. Let’s look beyond labels and find allies based on actions, not on words.
(previously published by http://www.cultnoise.com)