The F word
“I believe in equality, but I just don’t call myself a feminist.”, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist”, “I would call myself a feminist but I don’t want to be seen as radical”. I guarantee in any conversation about feminism, these words have been heard in some form or another. “Those radical feminists” is a phrase that I have heard one too many times over the course of my short involvement in the community and I’m here to clear the air.
If we take a trip down the road of feminist history, which has not been documented as well as you might think, you will see that there was not a point when feminism did not receive backlash from people who thought it was “too radical”. If you’re someone who deals with words daily, or just a human being with access to the internet, you can quickly discover the meaning of the word radical. Radical means “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something”. It seems obvious why people don’t like feminism, or other social movements like Black Lives Matter; it disrupts the way people are accustomed to live. Why would men like feminism if it means they don’t get all the power anymore?
If you think that there’s a focus on trivial matters now – like reproductive rights or equal pay in the workplace – just know that this has always been the case for those opposed to feminism. Take a look at the feminist history documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”, detailing the women’s liberation movement of the sixties and seventies, and you will see numerous examples of this. One particular line from Mary Collins, a National Organization for Women leader, says that people used to always ask her if she really believed women should have equal pay.
It may seem like we have come a long way since (white) women gained the right to vote in the 1920’s, and we have. This doesn’t mean we don’t still have things to fight for, especially in an era where women are beginning to recognize the intersectional nature of feminism. Being disabled, a woman of colour, a member of the LGBTQ community, or any number of things affect the way you experience feminism and societal oppression.
The purpose of this history lesson is to explain that you should identify with feminism, regardless of how you experience it. There are valid reasons for people to reject feminism, like how mainstream feminism’s exclusion of black women led for some to identify as womanists instead. Women in the sixties felt this exclusion as well, especially in the LGBTQ community where lesbian women felt pushback from the mainstream women’s liberation movement because feminism at the time was more concerned with straight women’s’ struggles. (watch)
Drawing parallels in history once again, there will always be those who identify with a political movement take their activism a step too far. In the sixties and seventies, a group of women believed that heterosexuality was a result of the patriarchy, and that if you weren’t a lesbian, you weren’t a feminist. We now realize that is a mistake, much like we as feminists understand there is likely a small percentage of women who believe we are superior to men (although I have yet to hear this apparently vocal group so many MRA’s claim to have met). This doesn’t mean my personal brand of feminism coincides with that, yet I find myself constantly having to explain why there is women like that.
Somehow, third wave feminism has been branded as the “too feminist” generation. First wave was the right to vote, second wave was equal pay, and third wave is just a bunch of angry women. This is what we have been told throughout history; you are overreacting and you are going to far. Feminists today are seen this way because we care too much about too many issues, and because there are those in other countries who have it worse. Campus rape, paid maternity leave, the societal idea of a “promiscuous women”, are compared to child brides, genital mutilation and violence against women, as if we have to pick one over the other as an issue to care about. Just like in the sixties and seventies, women are stigmatized as angry and radical, and this is given a negative connotation.
As one of my favourite female characters Hermione Granger once said, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” This is my call to action for all you self-proclaimed “feminist” men and women. Stop allowing people to derail the conversation by asking you for explanations. Allow yourself to be radical, because it isn’t a bad thing. Don’t let feminist become a bad word. Scream it from the rooftops, or in the faces of MRA’s who are trying to tell you feminism is cancer. Just know that this generation of feminists are not the first to face backlash on the basis of being too radical, and we will not be the last. Call yourself a feminist with pride.
Want to learn more about being a pissed off feminist? Check out the documentary mentioned above, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. (It’s even on Netflix!)