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.
Me: WELL I DO.
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’.