Saturday, 23 March 2013

What is feminism?

Pretty basic question, I know. Perhaps it's even a stupid question. But, also, perhaps it's good, in the early days of this blog, to address the fundamentals.

This is a question I'm asking, not a question I intend to answer, by the way. Some people are really hot on feminist literature and have read all the stuffs. I haven't. I have read zero feminist literature, except for some PhD-related stuff on medieval women, if you count that. So I know very little and so this is an honest question.

So far in my life I have come across two, wildly differing but both fairly simplistic, definitions of feminism. The first is basically the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated equally. I think most reasonable people would agree with this assertion. I was at a gig once - I think it was Ani DiFranco - when Ani or whoever it was screamed out into the audience that any reasonable person should call themselves a feminist. But they don't, do they? I know lots of people who are very reasonable and who believe that women should be treated as equal to men, and yet they don't call themselves feminists.

That's because those people have subscribed to my second definition of feminism: the angry feminist. I recently claimed not to be an 'angry' feminist and my (male) friend replied, "Is there any other kind?" Yes, most of the time I am quite an amiable feminist. Though there are issues of inequality and mistreatment about which, I think, some righteous anger is justified. But there's still this bra-burning, man-hating stereotype which makes me sad and with which I am reluctant to associate myself. Some of my favourite people are men, and I'm up for a feminism which empowers men and women. But am I really qualified to say that the stereotype, that this definition of feminism, is 'wrong'? To get all postmodern for a minute, if that's what feminism means for you, is that not at least partially what it means?

What does feminism mean for you?


  1. To me feminism means the first definition you mentioned; its a human rights issue, women are half of humanity but issues that affect them affect men as well. I also sometimes wonder if the women who participated in second wave feminism in the 60's and 70's (and they did have to fight hard to be heard) feel a certain amount of resentment of the current generation that enjoys the benefits gained as a result but rejects the feminist label? (Not saying this is accurate, just wondering.)

  2. I don't know, but that's an interesting point. Thanks for your comment, Mari. :)

  3. For me, feminism means actively challenging oppression in the effort to break down the structures that propagate it. I don't consider myself an egalitarian because it doesn't help me to approach those problems (but your mileage may vary). I think there's too many steps for us still to climb, so I choose to focus on the problems in front of us (misogyny, transmisogyny, etc, etc) rather than on the ideal (which is, of course, equality). In practice, my approach to feminism means things like calling out misogyny, providing opportunities for non-cisguys to speak, providing safe spaces, and spreading awareness.

    Of course, I also think that as a guy, it's not really my place to say what feminism is or isn't, and what it is/is about should never come back to me or my needs. The vast majority of society has been geared towards attending to my needs for long enough. Men taking the comfy, nice, stance on feminism is really insidious and just leads to derailing (in my experience). I'm not always *good* at taking the active, impassioned approach, but I think it's important for me to try. After all, as a dude, I can do that and the patriarchy will still reward me (as shitty as that is). There's... a definite tension there, and it's one that I'm probably not going to resolve to my own satisfaction any time soon.

    Regarding the question about angry feminism, I really like the following quote: 'Is angry feminism the only valid feminism? No. But what does it tell you that safe, comfy, nicey-nice feminism is the one universally lauded by liberal dudes? Not “this is the only feminism that works!” incidentally.' ( 'Requires Only That You Hate' is an excellent blog in general, but always challenging.

    I hope that all makes sense. Surprisingly hard to answer that question without writing an essay, apparently!

  4. Wow, thanks for the intelligent and well-thought-out response. It's really helpful to get a man's point of view.