What if we’re not all supposed to be feminists?
I know, I know. The title of today’s post probably has you wondering if I’ve been kidnapped and replaced by a MeganBot meant to undo all my work to promote women’s rights. Don’t worry, I’m still here. (I’d have figured out a way to send a Snapchat distress signal by now, guys.)
But I do want to raise this question: Should all people identify as feminists?
I watched a video today from performer Katie Goodman, who has delivered a witty song about whether or not you should call yourself a feminist (spoiler: you should). After describing an anonymous actress who denounces the term, Goodman goes on to sing/announce that since the actress presumably appreciates equality, driving cars, and voting, “Sorry, babe, but you’re a feminist!”
“Feminism” is currently experiencing an explosion of popularity, with celebrities like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Emma Watson freely using the term to identify themselves. Added to this, male public figures like Aziz Ansari and John Legend are also joining Team Equality.
In many ways, this is fantastic news. It is a positive and encouraging sign that more folks are willing to wave the feminist banner. ”Feminism” is losing its status as a dirty word. Stereotypes associated with the movement (man-hating, bra-burning, lesbian, prudes, sluts, bitches) are slowly being eradicated. And, although we have a long way to go, it has become more acceptable recently for women and men to publicly call sexists out on their bullshit! These are all great developments, which hopefully will lead to a world in which all spaces, physical and virtual, are safe and free for women.
But I take issue with the argument that because you have benefited from decades of the feminist movement, you are automatically a feminist. All women and men have benefited from feminism, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still sexist people and ideas out there. If you’re a politician who calls yourself a feminist, but then supports abortion restrictions, I’m going to give you some serious side-eye.
Normally, I do not believe in defining anyone’s feminism. I would never want to scare people from identifying with a movement that does have a fundamentally simple principle: Women and men are equal. But I also don’t think that we should lasso everyone into a big feminist kumbaya campfire. After all, if we are including in our membership those who do not embrace feminist principles, what does the word mean anymore? As Jessica Valenti asked, “If everyone is a feminist, is anyone?”
At times, it seems like this growing fascination with feminism is more trendy than empowering. I am nervous that we are watering down the meaning and history of feminism to make it more palatable. I am suspicious that celebrities and public figures are jumping on the feminist bandwagon to sell more stuff, not to create a more equal society. And I am afraid that we are on a dangerous trajectory to post-feminist feminism: a feminism that celebrates itself but ignores the gender-based injustices still occurring in the world.
We cannot forget that feminism is a historically activist movement. That doesn’t mean you need to be an activist, yourself, to identify with it. But the movement is born from centuries of oppression, biological reductionism, and internalized and externalized misogyny. We cannot forget these important roots or whitewash the movement into a rah-rah girl power trend that contains no substance.
Feminism is constant questioning. Feminism is a fight. I’ll be the first to pop the champagne bottles when every man and woman espouses feminist principles. But I am unwilling to compromise those principles in the mean time.