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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why "Feminist" Isn't a Dirty Word But a Badge of Honor 

I have to admit: I hate talking about this subject. I hate having to repeatedly argue over the definition of a term when my time could be better spent advocating on issues that the term is meant to represent.

But we live in a symbolic society, one that puts a great deal of stock into labels and slogans and bumper stickers.

So, I find myself confronting confusion, hostility, and childishness from both men and women (but mostly men) when I talk about being a feminist.

Now, it's not like I throw out this term with every breath. In fact, I (and anyone else calling themselves a "feminist") really don't have any incentive to brag about being one. Saying you're a feminist (especially for a woman, I've noticed) is an invitation for uninformed people to direct anger and hostility at you. As a man, I've even gotten the occasional remark that, surely, I only say I'm a feminist in order to attract women interested in gender equality, which is really quite laughable because any woman intelligent enough to be invested in women's rights is intelligent enough to tell if a man is sincere in his efforts, at least the like-minded women I know.

Feminist is not a dirty word. It has been given a bad reputation by men who are threatened by the idea of a woman being as powerful as them and have gone to great lengths to discredit their efforts by claiming they hate men, hate housewives, hate children, etc.

But as all these old school arguments have fallen by the wayside, new arguments, adopted by my generation, have replaced them.

Of all these new arguments, one has been particularly effective: why not identify as a "humanist" instead of a "feminist"? Do feminists not care about men? Why don't they fight for the equality of all people?

This argument has become so persuasive that I've noticed a lot of young women using it against other young women who call themselves feminists, even though both groups essentially agree on everything.

So, I'd like to explain why so many of us still (proudly, I might add) identify as feminists, and I hope this metaphor does a decent job of explaining it:

Take a second and look at medical doctors. They all receive a similar, basic education in the sciences during undergrad and do four years of medical school.

And that's where all doctors officially part ways on their own paths. Some become pediatricians, some become cardiologists, some become surgeons or OB/BYNs or ophthalmologists, etc.

Every doctor joins a specialized community within the medical field, and they focus on that specialty for the rest of their career. Do they collaborate at times? Of course. But they put their energy into a specific field.

And why is that? Because no physician would be able to address every problem with the human anatomy with expert-level care. No podiatrist is going to be able to crack open a chest and perform open-heart surgery.

Now, with apologies to physicians reading this, look at social advocates: there are folks who work and volunteer in so many different fields.

Personally, I focus my energy on women's rights (and to a large extent, LGBT rights). It doesn't mean, for example, that I don't care about the African-American community and their obstacles, but I spend upwards of 40-60 hours a week researching and writing about women facing steep disadvantages in society.

So, do I have time to put energy into the very-worthy field of black politics? No, I don't, and I believe Michael Eric Dyson feels the exact same way about women's rights. It's not that he doesn't care (he clearly does), but the guy has made his career analyzing and providing commentary on race and its relationship with society, culture, and politics.

So, yes, when I say that I am a feminist, I'm saying that I'm a social advocate who dedicates myself to women's rights.

And like any cardiologist (sorry, cardiologists) who are proud of the work they've put into their specialty, I am VERY proud of the work I've put into feminist issues.

Being a feminist isn't a bad thing, but being someone who feels free to judge others on their worthy pursuit of equality because it makes you uncomfortable *is* a bad thing.

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  1. Cardiologists do not dominate every aspect of medical journalism, nor do they attempt to use such influence to shut down any counter arguments to their cardiac-centered ideology.

    Cardiologists do not soak up billions of dollars in government money, leaving other the other medical disciplines to scramble for funds.

    Cardiologists do not have a decades-old tradition of publishing blatantly false information in order to drum up more attention - and government funding.

    And the cabal of cardiologists most certainly do not claim to be THE "-ism" that encompasses all of medicine (especially when their support amongst actual cardiologists never grows beyond 25%), while sending out trite little missives like yours that protest against saying any such thing.

  2. You're right - they don't. And nor do feminists.


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