This piece is not written to address the very obvious issue that men and women should be treated equally by the government and people. I presuppose that anyone who reads this already agrees with this. This is rather a defense of the feminist label itself, and why it is good to identify with the feminist movement. It is addressed to people like myself. I am aware that on this blog network, I’m the least qualified person to talk about feminism, next to people like Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, and Stephanie Zvan . It would be as foolish as me talking about science, while you could click on the sidebar and go read PZ Myers and Dana Hunter, or talking about psychology while we have Miri the professional ruiner or Kate Donovan. But I believe I write for a specific kind of reader – a reader who believes in feminism, yet shies away from calling him/herself a feminist, has an allergy towards the term itself, and his/her worries are not necessarily anti-feminist. I picture someone who believes in liberty, and is somehow worried that feminism might be in contrast to that.
I have always identified as a feminist, although I have also read and thought extensively about any opposition to my allegiance to the movement, and I have considered the arguments against identifying as a feminist. I have come to the conclusion that I am a feminist, I want to identify as a feminist, and I ultimately disagree with all the arguments against the title. Here are the arguments and my reasons for not accepting them. (You can counter-argue).
1) I am basically a misanthrope.
Maybe misanthrope is the wrong word – I have a deep admiration for humanity and the general force of the history. But this looks at things at another level – at a deep mistrust towards human institutions in general.
On my personal journey regarding feminism, this one was the second most major obstacle, which not only challenged my feminism but my allegiance to all equality movements. The basic idea is this, behind most progressive movements there is a general optimism regarding people that I don’t share. Even strongly, there’s a positive attitude towards cultures, identities, and interests, but I consider them all potential tyrannies. I believe that the logical and inevitable next step to self-expression is strangling the other, and this is the root of my belief in liberty. I do not look at liberty as an opportunity for everyone to express themselves, I look at it as the ultimate disinterested censor of self-expression – liberty draws a red line “You can express yourself but not stop others from expressing themselves” – liberty actually sets limits. I believe that everyone does pursue their own selfish interest, and they will inevitably begin to oppress others unless they are checked by the force of law.
I do believe that charity and altruism exist. I believe most of the time they don’t amount to nothing more than the soft side of oppression. Of course, there is genuine and real altruism as well – but I just don’t believe that we should assume that people will behave well. We set the system for the worst possible scenario, and if it’s actually better, well, we’ve lost nothing.
As you can see, although my worldview is different from most liberals and progressives, in actual policies I am not different – I believe in democracy and equality and such, but I look at them as the safeguards to a good society. But can I continue calling myself a progressive, or a feminist, if there is such a fundamental disagreement between me and most progressives and feminists?
Yes, I can, and I do. Because ultimately, this philosophical difference has no real bearing on actual issues. Which feminist policy I disagree with? None. Which feminist idea I disagree with? None. Therefore a philosophical difference doesn’t matter. I’ve seen many people who refrain from calling themselves feminist for precisely this reason – they detect an optimism they disagree with. But optimism is only an attitude, and the central component of feminism is equality, not optimism or pessimism.
There is no contradiction between having a generally disfavorable view of humanity and yet believing in feminism, it only appears that there is.
2) When you believe in liberty, you don’t need to specify equality separately.
This one was the toughest. I thought that you cannot be a liberal (the way I define it) without being a feminist, so why is it necessary to point it out? You can’t believe in liberty and discrimination at the same time. Liberty requires legal equality. A friend of mine who agreed with this claim used this analogy: “When you have a Ph.D, you don’t need to mention that you have a BA too, it’s automatically assumed.” But then I decided the same could be said about many things, and these are not exclusive, you can call yourself a liberal and a feminist.
Problem is, although it is contradictory and nonsensical to claim you believe in liberty without believing in equality beforehand, many people are not that way, there are many people who claim to defend liberty but also have some sexist positions. Sexism requires special attention, and identifying oneself as feminist is a sign that that attention is provided.
I would see that in the future, maybe 200 years from now, we night not need to specify this. No one calls him/herself an abolitionist nowadays, because opposition to slavery is considered obvious. One day people will not need to specify that they oppose sexism. That day is not today. Today feminists need as many allies as they can get, and I see it as an ethical imperative to be one.
3) I disagree (sometimes very strongly) with some feminists.
Well, feminism is such an umbrella term that it’s impossible to find a feminist who doesn’t have strong disagreements with other feminists. Yes, I dislike puritanism in general, I find sexuality liberating, I unashamedly love porn, I do think some feminists approach something too close to censorship, some feminists do have tyrannical attitudes, (chief among them the trans-exclusive ones), and I dislike postmodern and postcolonialist feminists because I dislike and vehemently oppose any school of thought that can be prefixed with “post”.
But who cares? All of these feminists have one thing in common, and that is that they all fight sexism. That’s enough agreement. Actually in no movement anybody completely agrees with anybody about everything. There is a sort of double standard here involved – usually no one questions the fact that they are liberal or conservative or progressive based on liberals and progressives they disagree with. Why should feminism be any different?
4) I don’t use labels to describe myself.
Why not? Labels are convenient and make people communicate easier. When I call myself a feminist some people avoid me. Like people with peanut allergy avoid foods labelled “peanut”. That’s enough for me to be a fan of labels. “Atheist”, “anti-nationalist”, “pervert”, stick them on.
5) We don’t need feminism anymore.
Well I never considered this one seriously, because it’s not serious. I don’t which version of utopian future these people live in, but I’d like to go there.
As you can see, I tried to look at the oppositions to the label “feminism” from a different perspective, a perspective that is very close to mine, and then try and argue why I personally disagree with them. Your thoughts, criticisms, and corrections will be appreciated.