Am I a feminist?
Every now and then I read a meme or article telling me that I should identify as feminist because I agree with the core premise.
What I actually tend to identify myself as is 'pro-feminist', by which I mean that I'm glad that feminism exists and I'm glad it still exists. I'm very pleased that there are people who identify as feminist. However, I don't identify as a feminist. This is for a number of reasons:
I have spent a stupid amount of time discussion, debating and arguing gender politics online. It would be very nice to think that my attempts to engage with gender politics and with other people's opinions on gender activism has had some net positive effect but I think a lot of it has been a mix of casting pearls before swine or preaching to the converted. In terms of my own intellectual and moral growth, it's been very useful but as a means of activism? Probably not so much.
I have never attended a feminist protest, I have never volunteered my time to help with a feminism-related charity and I have never donated money to a feminist-related charity. I have attended political events, volunteered and donated to causes in the past, and I still make an effort to donate generously to carefully selected causes now, but in terms of activism in regards to gender politics? Not something I've been involved with.
Nor is that likely to change; I have only so much time and money to donate and, although I maintain a strong interest in gender politics, it's not my pet cause. I have a list of causes I have given priority to and they're not going solved any time soon, probably not in my lifetime. Gender politics will not be getting to the top of that list any time soon. In the meanwhile, I'm not going to make a slacktivist out of myself by pretending to be any kind of gender politics activist.
I have spent a lot of time talking to feminists. I have talked to plenty of feminists who have told me that I am a feminist, regardless of whether I identify as one or not. I have also talked to feminists who have told me that I am not a feminist, regardless of whether I identify as one or not.
The problem is that there is no one feminist manifesto by which we can judge how feminist we are. Feminism is a very broad grouping of individuals, organisations, movements, ideologies, attitudes, beliefs and values. Although I can talk to some feminists and it turns out we believe exactly or almost the same things about gender politics, I can talk to other feminists and it turns out that we have very oppositional views on gender politics. Views on what feminism is and should be are very divergent.
I've already said that feminism is not likely to become one of my pet causes anywhere in the foreseeable future. I'm definitely not going to make a pet cause of arguing with feminists about what feminism is or should be (and whether I am one)
I believe that feminism, as a whole, has been very positive for society. We've come a very long way since the origins of the feminist movements and the strides forward we have made in gender politics speak for themselves; there have been many, many amazing achievements thanks to feminism. We can still go further, which is why I'm not only glad that feminism has existed, but that it continues to do so.
However, if you ask me whether I agree with feminism, my answer would have to be 'some of it'.
In fact, I don't think it's possible to agree with all of feminism. I made the point earlier that feminist beliefs are divergent, but they can also be oppositional. I consider there to be good points raised by both pro-sex and anti-porn feminists, but there's no way I could craft a stance that would please everyone in both movements. The inevitability is that I do not agree with all feminists, nor all feminist organisations, nor all branches of feminist ideology.
Worse, I consider some of the attitudes and beliefs that can be found in feminism to be ugly, vile and offensive.
I dislike the anti-trans prejudice found amongst many Radical Feminists. I dislike the slut-shaming towards sex workers found amongst many anti-porn feminists. I dislike the demands for censorship that can be found amongst a variety of feminist positions. I dislike the eurocentricism found in much feminist discussion. I dislike how mainstream feminism has sidelined groups other than white middle-class women to the extent that some women of colour have abandoned the term feminist altogether. I dislike the way that so many Internet feminists will turn an insightful nuanced idea and turn it into a sound bite to beat people over the head with. As with almost all political activism, I hate the 'us versus them' attitude that is so often makes itself evident.
I feel comfortable saying that I am glad that feminism exists because I can justify that statement by reference to the amazing effect feminism has had on society. I can't, in simple terms, say that I agree with feminism.
I say that I don't agree with all feminists, but I also don't agree with all liberals, yet I still call myself a liberal.
Here's a difference between liberalism and feminism; I've never encountered the notion of a 'bad liberal', but I have encountered the notion of 'bad feminist' (typically applied to women) and 'bad feminist ally' (typically applied to men).
I started calling myself a liberal after I'd gone through a process of reading a certain amount of political philosophy, considering and discussing other people's opinion and reflecting on my own values and beliefs. Once I arrived at a set of beliefs, I looked at them and considered 'liberal' to be a good (although vague) summary of the shape of the political beliefs I had formed. I never aimed or tried to be a liberal, nor do I ever worry about being a 'bad liberal'. My beliefs are my beliefs, the term I use to describe them comes afterwards. People largely seem to accept that as self-description, rather than a self-evaluation.
I do not go into conversations about politics identifying myself as either 'feminist', 'feminist ally' or even 'pro-feminist', I just engage directly with the issue under discussion and leave the identity politics to the side. However, people tend to mentally categorise me as 'feminist' as soon as I start saying the sorts of things one might expect a feminist to say (which is very often). An unfortunate side effect of that is that people start to evaluate how well I 'measure up' to the title of feminist, or whether I deserve the title at all. Without ever identifying myself with feminism, I can find myself being told that I'm a 'bad ally' or how to be a 'better feminist'.
All of this assumes that I have a vested interest in being a feminist, as if I'm primarily interested in the label and willing to acquire whatever beliefs, attitudes and values are needed to justify that label. This is entirely backwards to my actual approach to political labels; I form the belief first and then apply the appropriate labels.
In it's defence; much of the advice given can be useful for personal intellectual growth. If you want to form strong opinions on gender politics, it's important to both (a) listen to the experiences of those most intimately affected by the issues under discussion and (b) take note of the ongoing discussion that precedes your interest. However, my approach will always be to gather as much information (as time and energy allows), listen to a variety of opinions from a wide selection of persons (as much as time, energy and opportunity allows) and then -make my own judgement-.
Making my own judgement for myself is a core aspect of my intellectual autonomy that I will not be giving up. Despite being a male-bodied non-feminist, I will make my own judgements on what I believe to be true or false about issues in gender politics, including those issues that do not directly affect me. I will take the experience of others seriously, but I will not agree blindly. My choice of whether to agree, disagree or remain undecided is my choice and I have to accept full intellectual responsibility for that choice, not defer to whatever particular feminist or group of feminists I happen to be talking to at that particular moment.
If I'm an 'ally' to the feminist movement, it's only in the literal sense of the word. As seen by the United States of America and the Soviet Union being allies in World War II, allies are not necessarily people you always agree with, or people you share values with, or even people you like... they're just people you can work with to a shared goal or aim.
I've said that I'm not a feminist, but that isn't to say that you shouldn't be a feminist or there should be less feminists in the world, just that it isn't my movement. Of course, I will still be saying the same things that chime with what many feminists are saying, so any 'contribution to the cause' I may be making should still happen regardless of whether I call myself a feminist or not.
I've also made it clear that Feminism is not all that I think it could or should be, but it's not my movement to clean up (nor do I imagine that setting myself that task would be well received). When feminist friends of mine call out other feminists for being transphobic, slut-shaming or racist, I will certainly voice my agreement, but I don't think I have a significant role in the way feminism develops and reshapes itself across the coming decades.
And that rather drives home the point; feminism was always going to be something I was on the sidelines of, not actively part of. There's not a space for me there and I'm not convinced that there should be. Feminism needs to develop and evolve, but I don't think that a male-bodied white straight (more or less) person is the person to make that happen.