Sunday, 5 April 2009

A Sunday stumper

What makes a feminist? And who gets to say?

Answers in comments if you please.


Anna said...

Love the cartoon!

I have views on this that probably no one else will agree with at all. I think that the collective is really crucial to feminism, so I tend to be sympathetic to second wavers (without dismissing the very fair critiques that a lot of third wavers have brought against them).

Some of the individualism that goes along with the third wave leaves me a little uncomfortable. In its more extreme forms, you hear people advocating women doing harmful things to their bodies, reasoning that it's their bodies, their choice.

If we reduce feminism only to expanding women's personal choices (and I'm not suggesting anyone here thinks that way, necessarily), we lose the ability to critique the effects of those choices on other women. IE, If I decide to lose radical quantities of weight because I don't like being fat, what impact does that have on the body image of other women around me?

Knack said...

I for one put about as much store in male feminists as I do in wealthy socialists. I.e. none at all.

Anonymous said...

I think of it as "being feminist" rather than "being a feminist". (I am also "atheist" but not "an atheist").


Giovanni said...

Oops. Ironically "Knack" before was moi, I was still signed up as my partner from when she checked her email.

I'm clearly trying to pass for something I am not after all.

Brett Dale said...

People who dont judge someone by their gender or culture or religion, sexual preference or political views.

Lilly said...

Anna, I agree with you. The collective is crucial to feminism. Feminism to me is about valuing the experiences of individual women while at the same time seeking collective responses that resonate across difference. We all have different experiences of being a woman, but as you point out, individual responses based on the notion of personal choice can lead to actions that damage women as a whole. We need to find ways to work together while still respecting each others differences.

Alison said...

I agree. I think there's also a difference between making feminist choices in areas of one's own life, and being a feminist. To me, the latter requires some recognition of, and concern with, systemic inequalities. I wouldn't go so far as to say that someone must be taking action against those inequalities to be a feminist - for me, that's what marks out a feminist activist, but I don't think it's feminist to dismiss structural inequalities.

I don't have any problem with men who wish to label themselves feminist.

hungrymama said...

I think being feminist takes three very basic things

1) Believing that discrimination based on gender is wrong.

2) Acknowledging that discrimination and inequality exists.

3) Thinking that something should be done about it.

I think there is a lot of room for disagreement about what constitutes discrimination and whether every instance is unacceptable and about what should be done and who is responsible for doing it.

Anonymous said...

See now I don't think that men can be feminists. I do believe that they can be pro-feminist and supportive of feminist agendas. I think that to be a feminist requires the lived-experience of being a woman.

Alison said...

But what is "the lived-experience of being a woman"? There is no single thing that is universal to all female experience, up to and including having, or having had, a uterus.

If a man fits all of hungrymama's very succinct criteria, then I don't see any cause for their not being feminist.

M-H said...

Universalising is dangerous, yes. There is no one way to live as a woman. And yet, unless you have lived as a woman, and internalised all the socialisation that a woman has, you can't see things as a woman does (This is true of men too, of course). Not to say that people who haven't lived as girls and women can't be feminist, but it would be jolly difficult - even more difficult that it is for me, and that's hard. I think men can be feminist supporters, in the same way that carers and other non-disabled people can be disabled suppporters, and white people can be supporters for the rights of POC. I suppose there is no reason why men who are feminist couldn't start a movement for "anti-sexism', in the same way as we have anti-racist coalitions. Funny that they haven't, really.

Alison said...

Feminism is a bit different from either of those examples simply by virtue of having been named as if it was a philosophy/theory, not just a political movement.

I feel that misogyny isn't just against women, it's against the feminine and femaleness, and there are plenty of men who have experienced sexism because of perceived feminine traits.

It's true that they probably won't have experienced much in the way of structural inequality. Then again, neither have I, thanks to a reasonably privileged upbringing (and since I don't have children, I haven't yet dealt with the family/work issues that raise their heads for so many women). For that reason, I'm not really comfortable saying that a man hasn't experienced what women do, and therefore can't be feminist when, on a personal level, he's been at least as much the butt of anti-female sentiment as I have.

notafeminist said...

For me, a feminist is a woman who works with other women to improve the current social and legislative place of women.

I'm hesitant to say a man can be a feminist, but he can certainly hold feminist views. I am of the belief that women should be in charge of women's issues, and leading the fight. A (self-identifying) male simply cannot know what it is like to be a woman. Also, a lot of women's issues stem around violence from men, and especially men they trust, so having spaces that are specifically women-only is an important thing.

And by this of course I don't mean to imply that all women are immediately more feminist than all men; there are a huge amount of dickwads in both camps.

Also, feminism for me is about identifying and appreciating what makes a woman different from a man, and changing people's attitudes so that regardless of whether she has a vagina or not, she is taken equally as seriously as a man. It's not about saying that man and woman are the same; it's saying that masculinity and femininity is 'to each their own'.

And because of this, I think the fight against transphobia is every feminist's business as well.

Anonymous said...

Men & women alike suffer from sexism (in different ways & to different degrees).

Almost all men & women are unconciously "sexist" to varying degrees also IMO [this is because we all live in a society with sexist stereotypes & beliefs, and this influences our attitudes and actions even if we not conscious of it].

So it is too black and white to make a blanket statement that "men cannot be feminists". The issue of whether men can be feminists is a separate issue to that of whether feminist-identified men can be leaders within feminist organisations or movements (just like the issue of whether someone is a Christian is a separate issue to whether they should be allowed to lead a Church).

I think a feminist is someone who is aware of issues of concern relating to gender in society (including structural issues) & wants change. I think feminsts need to be good at listening, & have an open mind.

I don't think that it is helpful to tell men who are concerned about gender issues but who have not become aware of all the issues feminists 'should' be aware of that they are not feminists. It's also not helpful to tell them that they cannot possibly be feminist because they are male.

Some people are more "feminist" than others, and perhaps as a general statement men who are "feminist" are less feminist than female feminists, simply because they can't understand feminist issues as easily as women can. However, regardless of our gender, we all can become better feminists as time goes on & as we study gender issues.

muerk said...

I've always wondered about male to female trans.

I know someone who is female now, but was brought up male and she discovered she was intersex fairly recently.

This person speaks of being a feminist and a lesbian and about how hard it was growing up lesbian and not being able to come out as a lesbian as a teenager. Yet at that point she was living as "David".

As a woman I feel a bit strange about someone choosing their gender as an adult and then assuming an understanding of growing up female and having a female biology, ie. female menstrual hormone cycles - being pre-menstrual.

Can trans women understand everything there is to being female? Can they be leaders in the feminist movement?

Anonymous said...

The question of whether men can be feminists is a tough one. My issue here is around male privilege. Now I am not saying that all males are inherently privileged because that is just not the case - gay men, men of colour, disabled men etc all face discrimination. But men are able to take a whole bunch of stuff for granted and are privileged in a lot of ways that women are not. I think that this makes it close to impossible for them to really know what it is like to be a woman.

M-H said...

Alison says : Feminism is a bit different from either of those examples simply by virtue of having been named as if it was a philosophy/theory, not just a political movement."

Alison, I'm not really clear what you mean. I think that feminism is a philosophy, a way of thinking about the world, and of course it is political, as there is no point in understanding discrimination if you don't then get motivated to do something about it. are you saying that fighting sexism is different from fighting ableism or racism? Can you clarify a bit?

backin15 said...

I like the simplicity of hungrymama's definition; by that, gender might limit your capacity to acknowledge that discrimination and inequality exist as you'd not directly experience it.

I had a related conversation with my wife a while back about whether she was a feminist. It wasn't a tag she choose for herself, possibly a reflection of the "waves" mentioned by Anna, but again according to hungrymama's definition she would be. I'll not speak for her, save saying it was an interesting conversation. We both agreed that our daughter was a feminist, even if she's currently fond of Barbie, and that we'd continue to support her as she develops her own personal interpretation.

Anonymous said...

Ouch Giovanni, you write me off in one sweeping stereotype... is it not possible to be a wealthy male socialist feminist

Anonymous said...

How about this:

A man can be a feminist, but if having his status as a feminist acknowledged by his female peers is a major goal of his, he's probably not.

For too many men being a feminist is just about impressing a specific sub-group of women.

Anonymous said...

And because of this, I think the fight against transphobia is every feminist's business as well.

Agreed. And yet comments like this one:

This person speaks of being a feminist and a lesbian and about how hard it was growing up lesbian and not being able to come out as a lesbian as a teenager. Yet at that point she was living as "David".

Aren't moderated, for some reason.

Anna said...

I'm intrigued by that last comment, Anon - is your concern with it that it buys into a binary understanding of gender, ie David was in some way being dishonest by 'posing' as a male when s/he felt female?

I can't actually find the original comment at first glance, but it doesn't look like it was intended to offend or breaches the comments policy (so wouldn't therefore be moderated). Probably, the person who made the comment hadn't thought through all the ramifications - and you're very welcome to point these out, in the interests of enlightening debate! :-)

Anonymous said...

The comment was made by muerk on 6 April 1:36pm in this thread. Hopefully that will help you find it.

I'll respectfully decline to point out what's wrong as it's my personal policy not to validate transphobes, homophobes, xenophobes or any other type of phobes by treating their views as rational or informed.

Perhaps you don't feel that this comment is abusive, and thus doesn't break your comments policy, but surely it is transgender woman who should decide whether an expression of transphobia is abusive?

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the most important debate to any political struggle to overthrow the hegemony:

"Which fellow-travelers should we exclude as they're not up to our standards?"

Because we all know that excluding people is the one true way to success.