I was talking to my sister in the car on the way to St. Louis when we got to discussing feminists, and how a lot of people don't like the term "Feminist", they'd rather be called "humanist" or just, um, "really cool person" or something. Yes, labels suck sometimes. But I have a problem with the "humanist" thing, just as I have a problem with every other issue people have with the "Feminist" label.
Labels get us in trouble. They're used against us, and the world pins them on us against our will. So why would you willingly put one on yourself, especially one as powerful as the great F-word, "Feminist"? People are going to think you're a whiny, self-centered, pro-abortion liberal bent on domination and putting men down, right? And besides, when you label yourself, aren't you agreeing to go along with whatever the other people with the same label believe in? Don't you stop thinking for yourself when you get a label?
These are common misconceptions, but they aren't true. I've labeled myself as a Feminist and I'm proud to declare it. I figured I'd outline some of my reasons for you today, so everyone sort of has something to think about. There are three major issues people have with Feminists, and none of these have any validity to speak of, as you'll see...
Why can't you just be a Humanist?
As always, everyone loves to say that feminists are self-centered. By calling yourself a feminist, you're ignoring the fact that there are starving children, political prisoners, endangered species and terrorism. I'm always amused by this because most of the feminists I know are actually very active in these other movements... they're willing to participate in a gay rights protest or donate to human rights organizations. These people who bring up the humanist argument, accusing Feminists of being self-centered, are never actually doing anything for human rights.
Being a feminist means caring for the world... by its nature, the feminist movement helps out many aspects of human rights. But fighting for the good of the world means you need some focus. You can't just march up to washington to ask it to "make things better"... they'll laugh at you (or call you a politician... I'm not sure which is worse). Making the world a better place means picking out details of what's wrong with it. In many countries, women are killed for having relationships with people their family doesn't approve of. This is an attrocity and we should tell our government not to support these countries. It doesn't mean we ignore every other crime these countries are guilty of, it just means we bring this one up. We make sure that the women's rights issues aren't ignored. We focus.
So the next time someone asks why you're not a Humanist, ask them what they do for a living. Are they a biologist? Damnit, that's what's wrong with the world! Do you think chemistry is just not important? Why can't you be a scientist? Maybe that'll put it into perspective for them. No movement gets anywhere without focus, and feminism is one aspect of the "humanist" movement.
So, You're A Liberal Man-Burning Bitch?
Another thing you should know about fighting for feminism is that the people we're fighting, especially in the United States, are ignorant, uneducated people. They want to think of things as very simple, and want to boil our movement down to one defining core. I'm surprised that people still do this though, since it's not possible with any label.
There is diversity in the Feminist movement just like there is in every other movement. By labeling yourself as a feminist you're supporting this diversity. You don't have to support abortion. You don't have to support Hillary Clinton. You don't even have to be a woman... millions of men call themselves Feminists. The only thing necessary is that you believe that women are people too, with minds and abilities equal to men's, and they should be treated equally in the eyes of society and the law. They should, like men, be encouraged to do what they want with their lives. They should, like men, have the right to a life of freedom and value no matter where they're born in the world. They should not be considered anyone's property. If they are raped, that rapist should be punished. If they are killed, the killer should be punished.
Yes, there are men who are raped and killed and we need to make sure that the criminals behind those events are punished as well. But there are hardly any countries where it's legal to do this. There are hundreds where no one is punished for raping and killing a woman... her husband and family are free to do what they will with her. It's terribly sad, but it's the truth. And it's the type of thing Feminism is about. You're free to deny whatever other beliefs people try to pin on your once you tell them you're a Feminist... they probably need you to set them straight. Not all Feminists are the same. And it's okay.
Why band together?
I love this quote from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "It's not that I condone facism....or any "ism" for that matter. "Isms" in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an "ism", they should believe in themself. I quote John Lennon, "I don't believe in Beatles...I just believe in me. A good point there. After all, he was the walrus."
And it is a good point. When a large group of people decides that they need an official title (in this case, "The Feminists!") they can do a lot of harm to the world. Sometimes more harm than good, really. Every bloody war ever fought was fought by people under some flag or label. If everyone just laid low and believed in himself or herself, we'd be a lot safer.
But groups can do good for the world too. Rosa Parks did a lot for herself when she refused to sit in the back of the bus, but it was her group of people, gathering together and boycotting the Montgomery bus system, that changed the rules. One person can start something great, but it takes more than one person to finish it.
What we're dealing with in the world, and have been dealing with for a very long time, is gigantic inequality. It's going to take more than believing in yourself... it's going to take widespread culture changes. Sure, you're happy with your life. But what if you knew the name and face of the little girl in Idaho who wants to be an engineer but who thinks it's impossible because she's seen a female engineer in her life? If you just watch out for yourself, what kind of life will she have? Or what about the woman in Jordan who is abused by her husband but can't escape, because she can't legally leave the country without his approval? Who will watch out for her? Can one person do it?
One person can start something. One person can stand up and get the everyone's attention and make a huge difference. But the differences will be even stronger if we band together and recognize one another.
I don't believe in many -isms either. I'm careful about the ones I pick and I'm careful to represent them well through my words and actions. But I strongly believe that all people of the world should be free, and when there are so many in this one group who aren't, well, it makes me want to focus in and draw attention to it.
So I call myself a Feminist and deal with the consequences. I hope you can do the same.