The F Word (or, why can’t you just admit that you’re a feminist?)

13 Aug

When I was growing up, my mother always self-identified as a feminist. When she would introduce my sisters and I, she would refer to us as her three contributions to the feminist movement. I grew up with this idea that feminists were awesome, kick-ass women (and men!) who went around fighting injustice and high-fiving everyone. Feminism!

So, not gonna lie, I was pretty upset and confused when, a few weeks ago, I discovered that my mother no longer thinks of herself as a feminist.

It came up during discussion in which I was trying to convince my sisters that they were also feminists (these discussions, as I’m sure you know, always go super well). In a moment of frustration, I turned to my mother and asked her to just tell my sisters that they were feminists so that we could stop arguing about it and get on with our lives already.

To my enormous surprise, my mother said, “I’m not sure that I would call myself a feminist anymore. I don’t like that label.”


Last weekend, when we were visiting my mother, I brought it up again. Because I am a super sensitive individual, the conversation went something like this:

Me: Why don’t you call yourself a feminist anymore? That’s stupid. Feminists are awesome.

Mom: There are a lot of people who use that label whose beliefs I don’t agree with. I don’t want people to associate me with them.

Me: That’s like saying that by calling yourself a Christian, you’re somehow associated with Fred Phelps. It’s like saying that by being part of the United Church of Canada, people will think that you picket gay people’s funerals and believe that AIDS is a punishment from God.

Mom: Annie, I don’t want to argue about this.


And I do. I want to argue about feminism with everyone, all the time. I really, truly don’t understand why people don’t want to be known as feminists.

Do you like wearing pants? Do you like being able to vote, or own property? Do you enjoy not belonging to another person and having agency over your own life? Above all, do you believe that women are people and deserve the same rights and treatment as men?

If the answer to any or all of the above is yes (especially about women being people – please tell me your answer to that is yes), then, as Jezebel would say, guess what? You’re a feminist.

I don’t understand why people fear or dislike that label. Sure, stupid, ignorant things have been said (and done) in the name of feminism, but isn’t that true for any movement? If you let those ignorant people dictate what the term “feminism” means, then you’re giving them power, both over yourself and over the movement.

Why are we letting people co-opt our movement? Why are we so quick to wash our hands of it and move on? Why are we so afraid of people having bad associations with the idea of feminism?

Instead of distancing ourselves from the movement, we need to use this as an opportunity to prove that feminism is brilliant, rational, and urgently necessary to our society. Instead of giving away our power, we need to grab it with both hands and take it back.

By silently withdrawing from the label of “feminist”, the message that you are sending out is that those other people, the ones that you don’t agree with, truly do speak for the entire feminist movement. Or, even worse, your silence is communicating that you don’t believe that feminism has a place in our society anymore; people might take your silence to mean that you believe that equality has been achieved (hah!) and male privilege doesn’t exist.

So call yourself a feminist. Prove to everyone how awesome feminism is. Get to work changing everyone’s minds about the dour, humourless feminist stereotypes (and the crazy man-hating ones – those are my favourites!). Go out there, fight injustice and give some high fives.

Oh, and the next person to say “feminazi” gets a swift kick to the shins. Just sayin’.

This is what a feminist looks like

15 Responses to “The F Word (or, why can’t you just admit that you’re a feminist?)”

  1. Missy August 13, 2012 at 4:07 am #

    I’ve never felt the desire to label myself; generally, or in this instance. I reckon people ought to get over themselves, quit navel-gazing, classifying and sub-classifying, and just *be* reasonable, empathetic folks. That should be the standard, and nothing less acceptable. Isms do nothing for me.

    • bellejarblog August 15, 2012 at 3:54 am #

      I think that Annie said it perfectly below (and much more eloquently than I ever could) – it’s easy to be complacent and avoid social change, especially in today’s world. I do think that it’s important to have a moment, with a specific agenda, to try to drive that change. As much as I wish that people would just, you know, be good people, I don’t foresee that happening any time soon.

      I also think that it can be important to be part of a group or movement, and have like-minded people that you can bounce ideas off of, etc. But, of course, as much as I’m all, GUESS WHAT, YOU ARE FEMINIST, it is obviously totally understandable if you’re not comfortable with labels.

      I guess that basically I just want to make the world a better place for Theo (oh, fine, and other kids too I suppose), and this is one of the ways I see myself doing that.

  2. annie August 13, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    I have actually found myself increasingly more inclined to describe myself as a feminist over the years.

    I used to think it an unnecessary label, pigeonholing an entire ethical system, but i disagree with college-aged me now. i think that by refusing to acknowledge the need for the movement – yes, a movement with a name and a mission, not just a vague “can’t we all get along” agenda – no real social change can occur, especially not in a spoiled, first-world, 21st century climate where the average person’s perfectly comfortable with their complacency.

    It’s MORE important to be aware of how we enable everyday sexism in this day and age, not less. we’re all guilty of it at times, self-described feminists included, so being defensive about the terminology and the concept shows a profound misunderstanding of it. Feminism is not a dogma, it’s a lifelong process of trying to make the world a better, fairer, more informed place. At least, it is to me.

    Thanks for writing this, Anne.

    • Rosie August 14, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

      Well said.

    • bellejarblog August 15, 2012 at 3:49 am #

      You are the Stanley Cup of my feminist life.

      And by that I mean you are amazing and what you just wrote is amazing.

  3. Rosie August 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Honestly, for me, it took getting angry enough that I didn’t care anymore that people might call me an Angry Feminist. I’m ashamed that I was so complacent for so long, especially considering all the ways the world taught me that I was part of a lesser class.

    I find myself wondering now how much of the bad press is due to the extremists co-opting the movement and how much can be chalked up to anti-feminists wagging the dog, so to speak. I have met extremists–those women who feel that it’s their duty to point out every single thing anyone does or says that might possible contribute to a misogynistic culture; who can’t ever seem to just relax and enjoy life because they’re on a crusade; who can’t laugh at the differences between men and women because to do so might somehow diminish women in the eyes of men…? I have met them, but they are the minority in my experience. More and more I see women waking up to the fact that they’ve been fed a load of crap when it comes to feminism and they’re ready to take it back. But it happens one at a time, and it happens partly because each of us talks and writes about it. We’re taking the F-word back one conversation at a time.

    • bellejarblog August 15, 2012 at 4:13 am #

      This is a fantastic response, thank you! And this is a really excellent point:

      “I find myself wondering now how much of the bad press is due to the extremists co-opting the movement and how much can be chalked up to anti-feminists wagging the dog, so to speak.”

      I feel like so much of what women have to say is dismissed by men playing the old “women are crazy” or “women are too emotional” cards. So what better way to dismiss feminism than to say, “all feminists are nutso man-hating weirdos!”

  4. Sarah August 15, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    I’m sort of of two minds on this one – on the one hand I obviously agree with the basic tenets of feminism as laid out here, no questions asked – women deserve the vote, equal pay, equal opportunities, etc. And I also completely relate to your comparison to Christianity; believers who disavow that label simply because others have abused it annoy me because then we let ‘them’ define the label and dictate the terms, losing the opportunity to frame following Christ in a different image. That said – I hesitate to label myself a feminist due to 1. (and yes I’m sure you’ve heard this before and been frustrated by it) the implication that women are ‘greater than’; I know it’s a mishearing and misunderstanding, but – much like how anyone who has religious beliefs believes in some form of ‘intelligent design’ yet might shy away from that term given how it’s been coopted – I don’t want others to misunderstand my meaning of the term. And 2. (and perhaps more particularly) I think humans just need to be more empathetic generally – to different races, religions, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes … I don’t like the feeling of limiting my advocacy of civil rights to one group, although certainly on a micro level feminism as defined by you is a part of that. ūüôā Bottom line – I use this term to describe myself, as I use ‘Christian’, although I would feel more comfortable doing so if I felt more people understood it the way you (and I) do.

    • bellejarblog August 16, 2012 at 1:27 am #

      I think I’ve just come to a point where I have zero patience for people who want to believe that feminists are angry, man-hating bitches, or who think that feminist ideology espouses the idea that women are greater than men. I mean, other than, say, Valerie Solanas (whose sanity wasn’t exactly intact, I can’t think of anyone who actually believes that. It’s like, don’t even try to argue with me if you don’t even know what you’re talking about, you know what I mean?

      I do agree that humans should be more empathetic in general. I don’t think that feminism is like a club that you belong to that limits your membership at other clubs – you can join all the clubs! I like to think that I am a feminist who fights homophobia, racism, religious intolerance, and many other social injustices. It is merely one shade in the social justice warrior rainbow ūüôā

      But yeah, I do get where you’re coming from, and I appreciate you sharing your opinion & experience.

  5. Amy December 28, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    I don’t understand something and I would really love to hear your opinion on this. You say you’re against the crazy man haters, (and the crazy man-hating ones ‚Äď those are my favourites!) I completely agree with you, that people do need to go out and prove how great feminism can be. I think your blog is a great example of how you yourself are trying to combat this issue. And yet, not long ago you posted the feminist Kill Joy gift posts. That post was how I discovered your blog a few weeks ago, and at the time, reading that post re-enforced an opinion I’ve had for a while. ‘This is why I don’t feel comfortable labelling myself as a feminist anymore’.

    When you post saying what a fab idea the Valar Morghulis – Yes All Men phone cover is, it instantly proves that you’re another one of the feminists giving feminism a bad name. It’s a massive contradiction. At 16, before facebook, I thought of myself as feminist, but at 26 I’m reluctant to align myself with this new online movement that’s continually reinventing itself on everyone facebook newsfeeds. Every thirty seconds there’s a debate about privilege in some new article and a never ending comment war that follows. These things NEED to be debated, but it’s as though everyone takes it as a personal call to attack, and below the line there are comments filled with aggression and hate by proudly self labeled feminists. Obviously there’s disgusting misogynistic comments that are provoking them in the first place, but unfortunately there are people champing at the bit to take on the title of feminist and use it as an excuse to retaliate in equal aggression and do nothing but widen the gap.

    I’m not angry about your post but I would like to point out to you that when you are calling out for people to “convert the dour, humourless feminist stereotypes and the crazy man-hating ones. Go out there, fight injustice and give some high fives.” Everything you are saying makes perfect wonderful sense,

    And yet, as someone who read the killjoy gifts post last week, I am saddened because you haven’t realised that you yourself have contributed to that stereotype. I’m not saying in your daily life, but that one post was enough to make me say to myself ‘this is why i hesitate in identifying as a feminist’ and if someone who can write such a great post as this one above is susceptible and part of the problem, then there is a long road ahead before this is an issue women can unite upon as a whole.

  6. lindajett March 12, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    Reblogged this on stillrocking and commented:
    I agree. Period.


  1. Too Loud, Too Outspoken, Too Feminist: Anne Thériault Writes Her Truth | The Confused Page - January 11, 2016

    […] of the first posts that I wrote ‚ÄĒ‚ÄúThe F Word (or, why can‚Äôt you just admit that you‚Äôre a feminist?)‚Ä̬†‚ÄĒ¬†is objectively not a well-written post (I was young! and green! and inexperienced!). My basic […]

  2. Feminism in a Nutshell :Redefining the F word for the Modern woman – theonearmedbandit2380 - January 20, 2016

    […] Here is an appealing  list of All of the¬† reasons I don’t¬† fear being referred to¬† as a feminist : This article summed up¬† pretty much everything I have¬† ever tried to¬† express about the¬† “Feminist “label. Let me¬† just start by saying that¬† as an Evangelical Christian¬† I run in interesting circles amongst people who¬† misconstrue what feminism was or is intended to be¬† about and truth be told that was part of the reason I¬† initially shyed¬† away from¬† using that label. However as I looked back on my academic and¬† spiritual career I noted that¬† all of¬† my heroes were in fact self identified feminists¬† from Sojourner Truths “Ain’t¬† I a woman? ” speech that first enticed me while writing my fifth grade book report to¬† the story of¬† Elizabeth Blackwell’s struggle to be taken seriously as the first female¬† MD, to one of¬† my favorite poems¬† Maya Angelou’s “phenomenal woman “.I do not¬† fear being referred to¬† as a “Christian “because¬† some uneducated individuals assume that¬† I am some kind of¬† Bible wielding¬† psycho intent on¬† blowing¬† up abortion clinics. I¬† understand that¬† several influential people from¬† Mlk, to Mother Theresa also identified¬† as Christians and¬† for the¬† most¬† part¬† even post homously are considered¬† respectable and  influential  people . In the¬† same¬† vein many noteworthy women¬† including the¬† Suffragettes,¬† women who¬† risked their very lives in order to grant us the right to vote,¬† to work outside the¬† home or even to access birth control¬† recognized and identified¬† proudly with the¬† Feminist label. I am¬† proud to¬† consider myself a kindred spirit and¬† an ally with those who¬† believe that¬† a woman’s place is wherever she chooses it to be¬† that is feminism in a Nutshell¬† to me. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: