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I've said it before. I am not ashamed to say it. But noone understands it. I think there is a lot of wisdom in feminism. I do not generally disagree with feminism when practiced. But I am not a feminist. Some readers might think that this has something to do with the false notion that men can't be feminists. It does not. Some readers more familiar with my multifarious interest in gender and sexuality may think perhaps that is why I am drawn to queer theory and its ilk rather than to feminism. It is not.

Many friends of mine, however, both here on the internet and in my daily life, are themselves feminists. And I do have, as I mentioned, quite an interest in gender and sexuality and the ways in which they interact with the social, political, economic, cultural, linguistic, and psychological spheres of the world, as well as how we can go about disentangling this menagerie of thousand-dollar words in order to say something meaningful about what is a central facet of most people's lives and how we can use that knowledge to strive for greater equality. So some have found it curious that I eschew the title.

While some of my feminist friends follow in the traditional molds of second-wave or radical feminism, many take a more modern generalist approach. While the generalists pick some of the best authors from feminism, queer theory, women's studies, english lit, philosophy, and other related fields in constructing their own views and theories, it is feminism they quite pointedly refer to in labeling their interest. Indeed, more than one has written on why they feel "feminism" is the only proper term to use for generally encompassing the whole world of gender/sexuality studies. An opinion I disagree with and have often argued —perhaps at times too vehemently— against.

One of the problems with using "feminism" to refer to the whole of gender/sexuality studies is that it debases what feminism sets out to be. Feminism is a collection of analyses which are, definitionally, about women and sociopolitics. Not "about people, including women, and sociopolitics". Not "about the effects of gender, particularly women's, on sociopolitics". No, feminism is about women. Full stop. When people include ideas like queer theory —which focuses on disentangling gender, biological sex, and sexual desire to better discuss homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism— under "feminism" as an umbrella term, I cannot help but feel that the whole point of feminism, of women as the subject and topic of inquiry to counterpoint the hetero-patriarchal discourse privileging men as the sole subject of inquiry which society tacitly adopts— I cannot help but feel that when "feminism" is used as an umbrella term, the whole point of feminism is lost.

But the reasons I do not accept "feminist" as a label for myself extend beyond the fact that my interest in gender/sexuality studies is broader than feminism itself and that I disapprove of using "feminism" as a general term. That does, however, cut to the quick of it. Feminism is about (hetero[1], cisgendered[2], white middle-class[3]) women. It is not about men, it is not about bisexuals (pansexuals, sapiosexuals,...), it is not about transgendered (third gendered, bi-gendered,...) folks, it is not about polyamory, it is not about kink or pain/sensation or body modification, it is not about being child-free. Feminism is not, in short, about me.

Nor should I expect it to be. It is not the point of feminism to delve into the many identities and ideologies this one particular person may entertain. Richard Jeffrey Newman puts it quite well in his opening post for a discussion about male survivors of child sexual abuse and our relationship to feminism. If you wish to skip the preamble about why he wrote that opening for discussion, the heart of the article is outlined in the three embolded points at the end (and also in the last paragraph of comment #2 by "name withheld to respect his privacy" for more complications about why feminism is not the proper venue for male survivors).

Not identifying with feminism, that post took me aback at first. It is a connection I had never thought to have made, that male survivors of sexual abuse should seek for support among feminists, the most active and salient group for discussing sexual violence. As I read through the comments and followed links, I could not help but feel the sense of outrage by those men who did once seek for shelter with feminists. A rage not unlike the rage of trans folk, particularly MTF transwomen, who have sought such stormy refuge.

For me the sexual abuse, like the psychological abuse, did not have to do with sex. It had to do with power, with control, though it sounds clichéd to say. It had to do with the cycle of abuse in all families of alcoholics, addicts, molesters, and violence. The specific nature of the abuse itself is all too often unimportant, every abusive family is described in the same litany of little things. By the time I reached middle school I had found many friends who were also survivors, all of them women. The first thing you learn in a family of abuse is that you do not talk about what goes on within the family to outsiders, you don't even admit within the family. The second thing you learn is how to spot people like you. Every one has a different story, every one has the same mantra of secret signals and unspoken histories. For me, sexual abuse is about being crazy, about dissociation and depression and obsession; and to deal with it I sought my allies accordingly.

What set me aback is that that's not the case for other men. In retrospect, it makes a certain amount of sense I suppose. While the adolescence of delving into the insanity of ourselves and others was common in my circle of friends, I've known that's not the normal case. And while I've thought it would be normal for others with issues like ours, men aren't allowed to have those issues. Society allows men to have psychoses, to have delusions, to be serial killers— to have violent mental issues; it does not permit them to admit depression, mania, anxiety, cutting, eating disorders, multiple personalities— to being "moody": those are the exclusive domain of women. So while I sought refuge with women, others sought it in feminism. Which is itself a gender statement. Women are expected to find fulfillment in social relationships; men are expected to find it in intellectualism. So it makes sense for men, their gender identity already under assault, to look for ways of nursing their wounds without taking further damage to their masculinity.

But even beyond my expansive interests, the fact that feminism is not about me, and any reluctant issues there may be regarding my upbringing, there is a final reason I do not accept the label "feminist". In short, I believe feminism is wrong. Women certainly deserve equal opportunities, equal treatment, and safe spaces. But I am not comfortable saying that only women deserve these things. As I alluded to earlier, the scope of feminism is limited. But even more than being limited, feminism seems more interested in inverting the current gender–power system than it does in dismantling the whole thing entirely. And from where I stand, not within the gender order but not without it, I cannot help but see the injustice in that proposition. Women deserve justice, not because of what's between their legs, women deserve justice because they are human. But feminism at its very core, before one gets into waves or theories or analyses, is definitionally invested in furthering the idea of "women", of women as separate and differentiable from other people, of women as an exclusive category with wants and desires unique to themselves and deserving of equality with other exclusive groups.

Maybe it is simply because I was born American and so have been raised with the doctrine of deep distrust for "separate but equal". Maybe it is because I am ever part of the group excluded: not man enough, not born-woman, not gay enough, not straight, not trans enough or all too queer depending who you ask. But from where I stand, in order to end injustice to end discrimination to end hatred, while one must focus on those who suffer worst one must also be certain that in offering what help they can they are not perpetuating or exacerbating what they seek to remedy. But then, while I'm not accepted to the standard order, I'm also never wholly rejected. To look at me on the street my skin is white, I'm dressed well enough, I have facial hair and generally wear trousers, I'm taller than most, taller even than those who call themselves tall. I've been excluded from restaurants, but never in this country. I've had people avoid sitting near me, but never been told where to sit on the bus. We can't all be beautiful unique snowflakes, but I cannot speak for anyone in any of the number of groups I affiliate with, my experience is not theirs, they do not accept all my allegiances. I can only speak for myself, and I am not a feminist.

[1] That is, people whose 'natural' desire is heterosexual, even if they have decided to become lesbian for political (read: feminist) reasons.

[2] While individual feminists may extend their politics beyond cisgendered folks, as many of my friends do, I have so far seen no movement within feminism as a paradigm for accepting transwomen. There are, however, numerous examples of the two groups clashing.

[3] Though third-wave feminism and womanism both seek to address this particular shortcoming.

Date: 2007-09-04 11:38 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
I believe feminism is wrong. Women certainly deserve equal opportunities, equal treatment, and safe spaces. But I am not comfortable saying that only women deserve these things. As I alluded to earlier, the scope of feminism is limited. But even more than being limited, feminism seems more interested in inverting the current gender–power system than it does in dismantling the whole thing entirely.

And that is where you lost me. I hear what you say, but I'm sad to read that to truly believe that is what feminism is about, I don't, I feel that feminism (or at least my feminism) is about the rights of everyone who has been hurt by the gender system, men and women, and particually those who didn't fall into either camp. I don't speak for every women, every queer, every anything except myself, but what you are discribing is not my feminism.

Date: 2007-09-05 12:06 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] lindseykuper
lindseykuper: A figure, wearing a pink shirt decorated with a heart, looks upward from between dark shapes that suggest buildings. (Default)
It's not my feminism either. I don't much like the word "feminism", but that's orthogonal to the fact that I'm a feminist.

I couldn't say this any more eloquently than Sarah Bunting does.

Date: 2007-09-05 12:19 am (UTC)From: [identity profile]
Yes, I feel like well feminism might be a less-than-perfect word, but it's the one we have, and we have a hunderd years of history which I don't want to throw away by distancing myself from a _word_

Date: 2007-09-05 12:20 am (UTC)From: [identity profile]
I was just about to post that, actually...

Date: 2007-09-05 02:23 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
...which would make two of you to have pre-empted me.

Date: 2007-09-05 12:52 am (UTC)From: [identity profile]
I'm not sure whose feminism it is. It's worth pointing out that there is not one "feminist perspective"; there are many.

(Also, um, you do see the irony in a four-line sentence with many multisyllabic words dismissing the use of "thousand-dollar words")

Date: 2007-09-05 01:15 am (UTC)From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I'm with these ladies. And Sarah Bunting. I've heard this idea before, that feminists want to invert privileges and exclude others from services, but I've yet to meet anyone who fits this mold. And even if these people exist in a fringe somewhere, ceding them ownership over 'feminism' seems ridiculous to me.

Date: 2007-09-05 07:05 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
"Invert" was a poor word choice on my part.

If you have redstuffs and bluestuffs imagine them separated out into a barbell with all the redstuffs on one end and all the bluestuffs on the other. Certainly it is wrong to orient the barbell with red on top, and even if there's a long history of such it's also wrong to reorient it with the bluestuffs on top.

But I think it also wrong to orient them side by side. The current orientation is a problem, but however reoriented you get the same problems in different ways; all orientations are isomorphic. The problem is that they were ever separated out into a barbell at all. What about purplestuffs, or stuffs what flash between blue and red, or greystuffs, or greenstuffs? All are disserved by the barbell no matter which end is on top or even if they both are on top (which I cannot help but fear is an unstable orientation).

Though feminism has done excellent work in uncovering the barbell and in overcoming the inertia keeping it in a particularly maleficent orientation, I have not seen it take any steps towards destroying the barbell entirely. Which makes sense from feminism's perspective: trying to remove the barbell without first addressing the imbalance in it could too easily fall into merely choosing to be blind to the fact that there is indeed such a barbell and such an imbalance.

Date: 2007-09-05 06:37 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
I've read her post before, though I still don't agree. I do believe in equality for the sexes, or rather I believe in equality and think sex et al is irrelevant to that. "Feminism" does not seem the right word to me.

Every academic strain of feminism I'm familiar with is invested in the idea that "women" exist, that there is some platonic nature that distinguishes them from other entities and other people. I disagree, I do not think that sex or even gender is an appropriate metric for categorizing the world (which is not to say that I think people don't do this). I don't think there is anything fundamentally special or different about women, even though society raises us to very different positions and natures. Few if any of these feminisms openly claim there is such a difference, my interpretation is based on their tone, terms, and methodologies.

That doesn't mean that I think we should abandon feminism, that feminism hasn't brought us great things, that it won't continue to bring great things, that it causes more harm than good, or any such rot. And it certainly doesn't mean I think women don't deserve to have a special focus given all of history. As I said in the post, I do not generally disagree with the practicing of feminism. I do see theoretical flaws with it however, ones which I am unable to reconcile without altering it to the point where "feminism" is no longer an appropriate name since the new version abandons feminism's core idea that "women" exist.

Just because I disagree does not mean I think other people should abandon feminism either. I disagree with Government–Binding Theory and Minimalism, but that doesn't mean I think we've learned nothing from them nor that it would be beneficial for everyone to abandon future work on them. Even if fundamental problems with the theory mean they can never solve their problem domain, future development could uncover better theories and even if it does not the theories are well developed enough that other discoveries could be made which hold even if the framework is eventually abandoned.

Non-academic strains of feminism are less invested in the problems I see with academic feminism. However, non-academic strains of feminism are much more the "equality of the sexes" variety that Sarah Bunting espouses, which is where it gets into the issue that I do not think "feminism" is the proper term for encompassing the whole of gender/sexuality studies nor the proper term for equality for everyone (regardless of sex, gender, race, nationality, religion, creed,...). I think feminism, in the narrow sense, is important and broadening the term in either of those directions weakens it. Calling everything "feminism" is like calling episcopalians, baptists, lutherans, apostolics, quakers, unitarians, etc all "catholics"; doing so ignores the reasons they broke off from catholicism and also makes "catholic" into a term as generic as "christian", which means profoundly little.

Date: 2007-09-05 01:10 am (UTC)From: [identity profile]
While I can see how many of the points you made are app[licable, your li9mitations on the scope of current feminist discourse is somewhat problematic epistemologically speaking.

Feminism USED to be merely about middle-class white women and the female identity in relationships of social power, this era is rapidly chaging.

The reason that modern feminist discourse has lent itself well to the development of queer studies and sexology is that it contains an the base analyses of a comparative state against an empowered and hegemonic norm. While I agree that feminist discourse is not appropriate to facilitate more than the inkling notions of queer theory, it was a damned good palce for many peoples' work to start.

Your definition of feminism as empowering women over others is also a bit misguided. while there are a number of feminist theorists who have gotten much press under these ideas, especially during the height of what many call the second wave, the current discourse is more largely about partnership societies and social equality than matriarchy.

There is also a growing number of feminists theorist (among them those who I find most credible) who are engaging the discourse of trans-feminism very well. As in all fields, one has to take the work of assholes, and tear it as new one as it were.

You seem to be speaking of very selected femninisms, but not the more current state of the discourse..and while I can say that I identify as a feminist, I also take feminism for a bit more broad than you are defining it. It is about women and the social conditions of women...which gives birth and berth to a whole lot more work in other fields.

Date: 2007-09-05 07:24 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
I know that contemporary feminism has moved beyond the white middle-class, however so far as I'm aware the second-wave feminism with those limitations still has more literature and mindshare than third-wave feminism does. I may well be wrong. Most of my knowledge is on second-wave (third-wave didn't exist when I wrote my thesis, though I'm glad feminism managed to survive the splintering at the end of second-wave), though I am aware of some of the current goings on. When I started reading current works, the biggest changes I noticed were that performativity has moved from a wacky new theory to being accepted 'fact' (unfortunately one not much dwelt upon) and the focus is no longer on the patriarchy but rather on cooperative partnership as you say. Those changes don't address my real concerns, though they are good for feminism.

If my understanding of contemporary feminism is limited, perhaps you have suggestions on what I should read?

Date: 2007-09-06 08:21 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
Third-wave feminism has been around since at least the early 1990s; I'd be very surprised if you had written your thesis before that.

I'm not sure how Susan Faludi's work is categorized in terms of "waves," but it's quite recent and worth checking out, particularly Stiffed, which quite specifically addresses the ways men have been injured by the gender system. You also may want to get your feet wet with an anthology from one of the more well-known third-wave feminist magazines -- there's The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order and BitchFest. I recommend the latter more strongly. I also read and enjoy both magazines on a regular basis; I feel any given issue of Bitch is likely to contain good foood for thought and conveys a sense of the true diversity of feminist perspectives (as well as pointing you in the direction of more reading material from recent authors who are in their 20s and 30s, but on whose names I'm drawing a blank right now).

Date: 2007-09-08 03:59 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
Some incarnation of it, yes, but it took a good while after people had decided that second-wave was finished (and thus that third-wave had begun) before they could really figure out what it was that third-wave feminism was supposed to be. There were many different post-second-wave feminisms around, but when I was writing my thesis none of them had managed to capture an audience much beyond those who happened to read their particular book. I do recall that at the time there was some question as to whether a real third-wave movement would emerge from these splintered post-second-wave ideas, or whether feminism was dead like postmodernism.

I read Bust for a while a while back and an issue or two of Bitch, but I'll have to see if I can get my hands on more of them and on Faludi.

Date: 2007-09-05 01:47 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile]
It does feel as though you are taking an extremely narrow version of feminism here--possibly one with justifiable boundaries, but only as justifiable as saying that, for instance, only people who literally interpret every part of the Bible are actually Christians, or only those whose work can be traced directly back to a dialogue with the "original" theorist in his or her field is a member of that field (so if what I do has a lot of basis in quantum mechanics I'm not a chemist). Nice, limited use of the word, and possibly a useful categorization to keep in mind, as yes, words lose some shades of meaning when they get broadened, but not at all reflective of the real world's use.

To be fair, I don't really call myself a feminist either, most of the time, because I don't call myself much of anything that isn't a large time-consuming part of my life (I'm a chemist, musician, friend, and partner, but if I can't point at it I feel uncomfortable using a word about it to describe me). Adjectives are yucky that way.

And also, I don't even feel like feminism is about me, either, at least at this point in the world. I'm white and come from affluent well-educated parents. It's supposed to be about me, right? But in my whole life I have experienced less gender discrimination than most men, I am pretty sure. I've had a short list of places where I was expected to fail or something for being female, but because all my life I have been indoctrinated with entirely opposite views--that expecting my gender to impact my abilities on anything other than a basic biological level is absurd, and all of this not through the rhetoric of feminism but through the rhetoric of, well, my mother--I never had any trouble shaking it off, really. So in a way, feminism has already done its work with my life. Honestly, being female has been an edge in a lot of what I do, so it even overcompensated. Feminism as a route for further change? Not about me. I'm too much of a perfect representation of what original feminism was for.

But I believe in the broader, more recent feminism that isn't just about me and people like me. And that's not to say I think it's one-size-fits-all; I agree men looking to feminism for coping with sexual abuse is really problematic. My point is only to say that feminism doesn't have to be about you for you to be a feminist. I'm not even going to get into What Feminism Today Includes because the above people did it a bit, but it may include you more than you think, too.

But words like that are scary, and it's hard to say what they mean sometimes. I don't blame you for not identifying that way, I just disagree with your logic.

Date: 2007-09-20 06:07 am (UTC)From: [identity profile]
[Please forgive the late reply and any glaring omissions of intelligence--I am no feminist, or linguist, or other such things... I am a scientist mostly, and can rant like the best of them.]

When I first learned about the rule of thumb, how prevalent it had become in modern argot and it’s sordid and violent patriarchal past, I vowed never to knowingly use it again. The process of changing my vocabulary to reflect my views has been an interesting challenge at times, but one that I can at least be personally proud of. I don’t need to be gypped anymore, jewed down, or any other slurs that have remained in our horribly neglected observances of cultural evolution. Indeed, it is a testament to how far we have yet to come.

But if we have learned nothing from our current president’s re-appropriation, misuse and spin of crafty language is that semantics, however dreadful and nitpicky, is still quite an issue. Words unfortunately still have a great deal of power over people, and usually most whose understanding of those words is least. I like being polyamorous, but because few know or can agree on what that entails (even fundamentally from its roots) means I either have to fully explain myself (which I do because of its vagueness) or leave it out entirely because of its extreme uselsessness in common language (which I also do depending on the situation).

Feminism has come a long way from its iconoclastic, hippy, bra-burning 60’s image. But those images and concepts, however left behind, are still as much in the public’s image of what that word can mean that it can debilitate the discussion further. This discussion alone proves the point that; when needing to designate one self as second or third wave feminism, just using the term feminism is not saying enough about one’s beliefs, motives, missions and history. Saying you happen to be a feminist when talking with other feminists might give you a place to start, but (as with my condition of polyamoury above) telling an average [under-educated] person on the street you are might distance rather than join those people even if the sentiment and ideals are the same.

Just as I like Jesus and many of his most fundamental spiritual teachings about being nice to people and loving each other, I disagree with most everything his message has turned into and been corrupted by with his church (some exceptions pending, of course). But all the same, I cannot more consider myself a Christian openly without tacitly agreeing to what the rest of society might assume I consider true (which would be a gross misunderstanding of what I do believe). One could argue that by considering myself feminist and then crusading to show the world what that now means, I could continue to influence the world to understand that new meaning. I don’t mostly because I have other agendas, but I resist to identifying with the movement still on some of these base linguistic grounds.

Most fundamentally to my argument in support of what Wren has said, is that, as unread I am about feminism and the other associated and included ideals, is that, at the end of it all, when the ideals that this new (whatever wave) feminism claims are won, when men and women and whatever else precipitates from the milieu can live in harmony with being around each other and not violently tread on each others’ wills, I cannot stand to have the banner of that work end up being a term that still remains divisive. I require a banner of masculinism to join them and finally make a better humanism out of it. That, if anything, is the crux of the matter for me. We already have a term for what we are wanting for, albeit that has its own rather historic precedent as a movement a fair different than what we currently discuss.


Date: 2007-09-20 06:07 am (UTC)From: [identity profile]
(from continued)

Few parts of what this new feminism claims can I disagree with--other than the dogmatic attachment to the term (in observance of its history) that must be smashed just as much as any other dogmatic attachments to form or function in any sphere. If indeed feminism is all these new things, why don’t we simply call these things what they are, and leave the title off entirely? It would seem that feminism is still in such a ideological disarray that every subscribing member (as with many broad term upstart social movements) suffers from having to define every last part of what they believe. Feminism would need its own analogous Nicean council simply to agree on what it now agrees upon, with such a dogmatic conference likely being antithesis to its own ideals.

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