Sunday, March 8, 2015

Who gets to call themselves a feminist?

Although it's ten years old, this post makes me rethink whether I should.

Okay, it should come as no surprise for anyone reading my blog I've wrestled with the feminist label for  a long time. For me, it's a philosophy rather than any kind of concrete activism, but this is the first time I've seen anyone make the explicit claim that identifying as a feminist requires a commitment to influencing policy.

I understand the need for boundaries, but telling individual women that they are "doing feminism" incorrectly, or dismissing them as "conservative" or "anti-feminists" when they fail ideological purity tests is a huge pet peeve of mine. There's no room for fluidity even when we agree on the goals. Plus, a lot of those women condemned as "conservative" are actually civil libertarians, a philosophy that doesn't have to be incompatible with feminism or even leftist politics in general. I think writers like Cathy Young who are unfairly branded "anti-feminist" add a lot of nuance to typical feminist-activist circles. I don't always agree with her, but I don't like feeling I should shield my eyes from her words. If women who fall outside typical leftist politics want to call themselves feminists, they should be able to and define that however feels comfortable.

But I keep coming back to the opening paragraph:
What if I called myself a conservative – but virtually all of my writings on the subject were devoted to passionately denouncing conservatives, and I didn’t actually favor any conservative policies to address any of today’s problems? What if I had virtually never published a positive word about conservatism (apart from “however…” type passages in essays denouncing conservatism?) What if my self-styled conservatism had the practical effect of giving myself a better platform from which to denounce conservatism?
For me, I find it easier to criticize something I feel attached to rather than something I feel nothing but apathy toward.  Plus I'm averse to authoritarianism irrespective of where it's coming from.  I can see how this could put me in the anti-feminist camp, too, if, for example, feminists agree that the FCC should pull Rush Limbaugh from the airwaves. (I know for a fact that many of them don't, but that this was even seriously entertained baffles me. I don't like him either, but I fully support his right to be an asshole on the air, as much as I support my own right to call him an asshole.) I criticize feminism because I want it to do better. If that makes me an apostate, so be it.