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.