You know something that really pisses me off? The whole “Do you believe in gender equality? Then you’re a feminist” angle. Now, I’m a feminist myself, and I reckon we need to re-evaluate the way we define feminists, and why we feel the need to put that label on them.
I have friends who are feminists and I have friends who are not. And I understand fully why people might not want to associate with feminism, especially now, with a toxic mush of Twitter screenshots and appallingly handled rape reportage feeding into the idea that feminism wants to make women victims and men villains, to strip women of any responsibility for their actions and cast every single man as a potential rapist. Even as a feminist myself, I look at what some of the bigger feminists (such as Jessica Valenti or Laura Bates) are saying, and don’t always agree with it. I can openly admit that sometimes feminists will target small issues, like someone wearing a slightly misjudged shirt, and hold them up as indicative or a larger problem, and that I don’t think that’s the best way to tackle the issue. But I associate myself with feminism because there are a large number of feminists I seriously respect- everyone from my own mother to Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the feminist collective who spearheaded the changing of rape laws in America to include male rape. By calling myself a feminist, I accept that I am both associating myself with the good side of the movement, and of the often more publicised bad side. And I’m happy with that.
But I’m also in no rush to force the label on anyone else. If you’re an egalitarian, fantastic. If you want to focus your efforts on dealing with gender-based problems that affect men, great. As long as you are actively working towards gender equality, and doing so with activism in the areas that mean most to you, you go for it. If you fight for the causes that mean most to you (and are not getting in the way of genuine gender equality by doing so), I’ve got no reason to try and foist the label that I’ve decided to go with on you. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s important that we encourage anyone passionate about gender equality to work alongside feminism, even if they don’t want to directly identify with it themselves, because by excluding people who do not go for the feminist moniker we’re cutting out the opportunity to absorb new experiences, new information, and new issues that help move towards gender equality into the movement.
I know a lot of people who are not feminists, but who are equally as passionate about gender equality as I am. They’ve come to an informed decision about what they choose to term themselves, and that’s fine by me. Proving the legitimacy of feminism doesn’t come down to how many people we can browbeat into actually calling themselves feminists; it comes down to how we as a movement can make steps towards gender equality, and how we can work with other people aiming for the same goal. And that’s the last I have to say on the matter.
This article originally appeared on Witty Bitches, so head over there to join in the debate and support a cool new feminist website.
I think it’s time that we talked about TERFs. Anyone involved in the feminism movement in any kind of way will probably have encountered this phrase a few times before- whether spitefully thrown out as a way to dismiss someone’s opinions (“ignore her TERF trolling”) or as a disclaimer (“feminist, not a TERF”) but what exactly that acronym means- and what kind of implications it has for feminists in the broader sense- is a factor that’s often obscured. So let’s take a closer look.
First off, what is a TERF when it comes down to it? Like all political ideologies, there are a bunch of sub-sections that bicker beneath the main banner, but those letters stand for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (and also spawned a million “TERF war” pun headlines whenever they clashed with the more mainstream movement). That sounds pretty self- explanatory-but there’s a lot of confusion about what precisely a TERF is. For a lot of people, it’s just a radical feminist who believes that trans people (specifically transwomen) should not benefit from or partake in the feminist movement, and should be denied access to women-only spaces (like bathrooms and refuges). And I’m not going to come right out and sweep everyone who identifies with this group under the transmysoginist or transphobic carpet, because I’ve read some interesting pieces by TERFs who vehemently argue against those terms, but I will say that a rotten bunch of people who DO identify as TERFs have been involved in pretty nasty behaviour. By which I mean, repeatedly and apparently deliberately misgendering transpeople, outrightly denying their gender, suggesting that lesbian transwomen cannot actually be lesbian, and saying some pretty repulsive stuff about the bodies of transpeople. Which is all pretty grim and unacceptable to most sane people, and most feminists.
But the real problem I have with it is suggesting that feminism is a girl’s club-specifically, a cisgender woman’s club. And I’m certain there will be TERFs who disagree with this interpretation of it, but that’s the way I see it. Sure, the majority of feminists who I’ve met during my lifetime have been women, but I also know personally (and know of, more broadly) a good number of non-cisgender women who are feminists. And that’s a pretty vital thing about feminism. Even if the movement is broadly focused on women’s issues because women suffer from the most systematic gender inequalities, it doesn’t mean that feminism is a movement for women’s power. It’s a movement for gender equality. Let me repeat that: IT’S A MOVEMENT FOR GENDER EQUALITY. As soon as you start excluding people from feminism on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or, well, anything other than the fact that their ideology just blatantly doesn’t sit well with feminism, the ground upon which feminism is built shatters. It’s vital that we call out those people who come up with tenuous reasons to try and stop people from supporting feminism, because by not doing so we’re tacitly agreeing that feminism is something that only applies to cisgender women. And that only they can participate. And that only they can benefit. And that’s bullshit, and I don’t like that idea at all.
Look, when it comes down to it, I just feminism to stop being such a dirty word. I want to throw window open and invite everyone to come and join the feminist party. Gender equality requires input from all genders, including those outside the gender binaries. If you can’t handle the thought of your little feminist clique being blown open to anyone who wants to join a long and drawn-out battle to end discrimination based on gender- whatever that gender is- than I’ve got some bad news for you: you might not be as feminist as you think.