Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Labelling Issues - Feminism

So, I have talked about this kind of stuff with a lot of people over the past year or so, since I began to to study certain aspects of feminism in relation to my interests in identity theory and, having seen a huge amount of relevant material recently on my Facebook Newsfeed, I have decided to write down some of my thoughts in a short entry. 

What I want to talk about is a trend and an issue that I am seeing within contemporary feminist movements which I feel the need to mention and draw attention to. Certainly, there have been a huge number of benefits brought about by feminist thought and theory and I would like to think that overall the contributions of the feminist movements have been positive. 

Aaron Young, Underdog (2009).
Image posted by artruby.com

However, in order to introduce the issue, I shall say that I am someone who believes in the equality of genders who does not consider myself a feminist. Note, I did not say that I am against feminism, only that I do not consider myself to be one.

"What?" I can hear you saying. "But you are a feminist, because you literally just said that you are what a feminist is, right?"

That kind of thinking right there, is the issue. 

Feminism, at least in my understanding, is a grouping of many different ideologies and movements and groups which ultimately attempts to work against patriarchal structures and allow both women and men (anyone who argues that men cannot benefit equally (on the identity front, at least) from feminism I would consider to be greatly mistaken) freedom from those structures and the ability to self-determine who they want to be, rather than being moulded into certain stereotypes based off their gender. 

So if a central part of feminism is the desire to allow all individuals the right to create their own identity, why then do so many of its supporters feel that it is okay to attach a label to another person even if that individual rejects that label? The two things are, to me, at odds.

I know that many have the attitude of, "well if all feminists think x and this person thinks x, then they are a feminist". But I think that this is ultimately very reductionist, especially as it then grants feminist thought and theory a monopoly over the idea of equality, which I do not think it is fair to grant it. It should not be the case that anyone who desires equality must therefore adopt a label applied to them externally, especially not from a movement which purports to encourage individuals to construct their own identities. Certainly, feminism has been excellent at allowing us to progress, it has enabled civil rights movements and done some fantastic things, but if anything that should mean that its standards are higher when it comes to reflecting its core attitudes at the level of surface behaviour. 

Another point that I would like to raise is that those who consider themselves part of the feminist movement can often be hostile towards those women who do not care to use the label of "feminist" for themselves. They are often (certainly not in all cases) seen as traitors or misinformed and perhaps some of them are, but I think that to label someone misinformed or ignorant simply for disagreeing with you is the anathema to the liberty and empowerment that feminist theory is trying to promote.

My aim within this post was neither to encourage practice of feminism nor to discourage it, for though there are evidently problems within its theory (as there are in all theories of identity, which is understandable, as people are complicated) it is definitely something worth keeping around. Furthermore, I was not intending to talk about feminism as a whole, only trends that I, as an outsider, have spotted and thought worth discussing. 

Fragment of the face of a queen, yellow jasper, c. 1353–1336 B.C. Middle Egypt
Image posted by Free Parking

As I said in the beginning, this was intended to be a very short entry in which I just raised some points of thought. 

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