For a while after reading, “I Am Not A Feminist,” I considered letting it go, not making any comments and continuing on about my day, not making any rifts or waves. But I decided that I have something worthwhile to add to this discourse and I feel compelled to share it.
Upon first reading “I Am Not A Feminist,” I was angry.
I was confused.
But mainly I was disappointed, that in 2016, it is still necessary to explain that individual experiences do not constitute a basis for those of the vast majority. There are simply some oppressions that others have never, and will likely never experience so they are able to disregard movements like feminism.
I am not personally someone who doesn’t like to be confronted with opinions that greatly diverge from my own, in fact, I encourage an open dialogue because without one, there is no growth. I respect the views and beliefs of others as everyone is entitled to interpret their life experiences in whatever way they choose to. However, statements like “I am not a feminist” and “women and men are inherently unequal” contributes to a narrative that justifies the oppression, subjugation and mistreatment of women and arguably men, and have become a popular rhetorical and divisive strategy.
For me, the road to feminism was not something I needed to be taught to understand the importance of.
As a lower income, bisexual African-American woman, I am intimately familiar with the intersecting oppressions that necessitate feminist ideology and practice.
I live it.
Every time my heart races walking home alone, every time I feel the eyes of men older and younger than me follow me down the street, every time I am interrupted, underestimated stereotyped and objectified in my daily life, I remember how crucial feminism is.
To start I would like to provide a fuller definition for what feminism is. The term, which has carried such aggressive stigma since its inception, is often oversimplified, misdefined and used to further disenfranchise women, as is the case here. Webster defines feminism as:
the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
Feminism is “the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women” (Smith, 2014) from systems of oppression (sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, etc) that prevent access to proper treatment, safety, equal rights and opportunities.
Feminism in the past and even in the present is not without its shortcomings. There is definitely still room for improvement, but discounting the validity of feminism based on biology, socialization and literal misinformation is incredibly troubling. I have highlighted some of the places that grabbed me in “I Am Not A Feminist,” and I thought deserved some specific attention.
The “feminism” that I’ve seen always discourages women from taking care of their families and doing what they were built to do: be caretakers.
To address the above mentioned quote, feminism, real feminism, is focused on opening the possibilities to ALL paths for ALL women. It is focuses on guaranteeing choice and agency for women in all aspects of their lives. The feminism that you have characterized is the result of years of slanderous and misleading portrayals of feminists as anti-male, anti-family, anti-heterosexual, bra-burning heretics. This characterization although largely untrue still persists and is often weaponized against women interested in obtaining their human rights and critiquing the social context that they exist in.
Politically and economically speaking, yes, there are certain rights that men have that women don’t. Yes, there is a wage gap. Yes, there are far more men in the government than there are women. Yes, slut-shaming is real. But none of these things are issues that, to me, make this country or this society inferior to others.
It is problematic and confounding to me that the United States is such a superpower, wielding enormous political, economic, and social capital, yet has still failed to acknowledge the festering gender and racial issues within our society. The U.S. still exports policies and mandates designed to address those same issues on foreign shores. That does not necessarily make us inferior to anyone, but it does make us hypocrites, as most well-informed Americans are all too aware of already. One does not need to be a feminist to acknowledge that.
“Men have run this country but, oh wait, a woman might finally be president and everyone is still at odds with each other.”
As long as America continues to ignore the growing social problems bubbling just beneath the surface, there will ALWAYS be problems. There will always be people writing and posting and campaigning and rioting and screaming out for their rights. The U.S. was founded on the land and graves of indigenous peoples, the backs of trafficked black bodies and the dismissal and erasure of women’s thoughts, voices and experiences.
Who knows how a female president will fare, but I do know that excluding women from any narrative skews and taints the validity of it.
There is rape culture. Cat-calls are demeaning, but honestly, I don’t think it’s wrong because women do the SAME thing to men. And that’s why you are a feminist, but it’s the reason I’m not. Feminists will, once again, start an uproar when a woman is whistled at on the street, but they will not blink an eye when one of their girlfriends says she wants to hook up with an attractive man at a bar. Why? Oh, because she’s embracing her sexuality. Well, guess what? The man who says “I’d tap you in a heartbeat” on the street or in the club is doing the same thing. That is NOT equal. I do not think being whistled at is demeaning, slut-shaming, or offensive.
I cannot express how angry this paragraph made me. I tried to remain objective for as long as I could, but this statement is so incredibly damaging, misinformed and downright hurtful to the MILLIONS of women domestically and internationally that suffer the fatal effects of toxic masculinity and this so-called “harmless” catcalling. Women are subjected DAILY to attacks and these incidents go largely unnoticed and catcalling continues to be regarded by many as ‘flirtatious advances,’ ‘compliments’ and ‘overreactions on the part of women’
Tell Dana Kimbro, Janese Talton-Jackson, Dinieshia Smith, Lakeeya Walker, Raelynn Vincent or any of the hundreds of thousands of women worldwide that have been demeaned, assaulted and even killed as a result of refusing a catcall, that they are ‘harmless’ and “not offensive.”
And in response to the comment about a feminist’s take on the bar scenario, a feminist, would have something to say about the objectification of anyone, even men. However, a girl mentioning that she wants to exercise her sexual agency and have consensual sex with a man at a bar is COMPLETELY different than a man shouting that he wants to have sex with a girl as she is entering her apartment or walking down the street. I think the difference is not only striking but also very obvious.
“In summary: I believe that women and men are unequal. I believe they were built unequally and society should treat them unequally- or, at the very least, not demean them- because of it. I believe women have the ability to love unconditionally in ways that men never will- and that is not equal. It is unequal that a woman is able to form a biologically stronger bond with her child- this is science, people, not just the musings in my head- than a man, simply because she has a birth canal. It is unequal that a woman can balance her child’s needs, her partner’s needs, her family’s needs, and her work needs without even thinking about herself, once. It is unequal that women were created to give all that they have. It is unequal, and it is beautiful.”
This final conclusion to “I Am Not A Feminist” cemented my desire to voice my opposition to this piece. Men and women were not created unequal, they were created differently and that difference does not justify inequity, discrimination or subordination. Men and women are largely capable of the similar things. They are raised and reared and socialized into predetermined roles, using scripts as old as time to keep them compliant and paralyzed within a set system. Men and women are both capable of unconditional love and nurturing, balancing the needs of child/work/family/spouse. To infer otherwise does a disservice to the men and women familiar with all the sacrifices that entails. Women were not created to give all that we have, that is the role and the script we have been cast in and to do otherwise would break a time-honored norm of silent female resilience. We were not born to struggle and scrape and spend our lives trying to convince society and men and apparently other women that are oppressions do actually exist and are worth fighting for.
“We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human is enough.” (Combahee River Collective)
I would love to talk further about this in the hopes of understanding the experiences from which your beliefs are drawn. And I hope that if you have made it this far, you have at least considered some of the points I have made. I hold no ill feelings for you and wish you well on your journey toward understanding and self care and discovery. Regardless, I have lightened the weight from my spirit and wish you well. I have also linked some of amazing literature from truly phenomenal and inspiring women should you ever have the time and/or interest in reading them.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation
Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics
When Women Refuse (Tumblr)