America’s Next Bill Clinton!

I am not a feminist, but …

Really, why are some young women so reluctant to identify themselves as feminists?

We met in a women’s bathroom at a gay club. A few friends and I had gone to an AIDS fundraiser earlier that night, and decided to drop by the Wave for drinks. Having to go to the bathroom and a bit sloshed, I announced that I had to pee. Someone suggested that I used the women bathroom instead, because I was considered “fresh meat” for one reason or another in the men’s bathroom.

A friend was nice enough to walk me into the women’s bathroom, and there I met and shook hands (after we both washed of course) with a nice young woman from VCU. After about an hour of meeting and talking to her in the bathroom, I ran into her again. She was extremely attractive, so I continued our conversation.

Upon minding out I am a women’s studies major and feminist, she said, “I am not a feminist, but …” and started listing a long list of reasons for women’s rights.

In my extremely fogged up mind, I recalled an article I’d read as a freshman in my women’s studies class called, “Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies.”

If I can recall correctly, the reason for it is that young women are afraid of the stigma that comes with feminism – the image of bra-burning, man-hating, armpit-non-shaving, head-shaving, dyke. They were, as the article said, also afraid that they had to give up their sexuality for feminism – that, somehow, calling oneself a feminist means that one could no longer love a member of the opposite sex.

So, why is it, I still wonder, that so many young college women are afraid of being labelled as feminists? I contend that it’s because of the above false image of feminists – that somehow feminists are strange creatures; we hate sex; we hate men (I do, anyway); and we hate anything that’s normal.

While I hold these beliefs to be false, my question is this: even if they were true, so what?

Take away those actions and behaviors and feminism is left with love, compassion, empathy, equality and a sense of responsibility, in making the world a better place. What’s so bad about it?

Yet, time and time again, I run across women (and men) who take feminist positions, but never want to describe themselves as feminists for fear of shame.

The truth is you should never be ashamed of your work in trying to make the world a better place. You should never have to apologize for the desire to work toward equality and social justice. In fact, you ought to be very proud of it. I am proud of you for it.

The next time the conversation comes up, proudly and emphatically claim yourself as a feminist – and answer with a loud and resounding “Yes,” if anyone ever asked you whether you are a feminist.

Bill Clinton was right when he said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what’s right with America.” You are everything that’s right with America.

On that note – I want a “This Is What A I-Am-Not-A-Feminist But looks like” t-shirt. 😀

8 Comments so far
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I think you have definitely got it right – there is a HUGE stigma attached to the word “feminist”. I was aware of it before I found my place in feminism, and I am aware of it even moreso now that I am calling myself a feminist. You should see the reactions I get sometimes – much eye-rolling, snickers and smirks. And sometimes even a lot of contempt.

My husband was making some comments about “women drivers” the other day, and I warned him to choose his words more carefully, especially when speaking to a feminist. He laughed, shook his head ever so condescendingly and asked, “Why would you *want* to be a feminist?” I explained to him that the traditional definition of that word doesn’t mean what he thinks it means (i.e what you said Marc, about the bra-burning, man-hating, armpit-non-shaving, head-shaving, dyke) and after some (somewhat heated) discussion he conceded that perhaps his views were a bit archaic and could do with some updating. He still seemed a little nervous on the subject, so I told him about your blog and encouraged him to read it, as it would show him a feminist view from a male perspective, and then maybe he could learn from your example. 🙂

So thank you for your efforts in the “crusade” (Ha! Am I being a bit melodramatic calling it that? Perhaps not!) 😉 If your words help to educate even one person a day, then I would say it’s a success!

Comment by MzStilletto

Awww, thanks for your kind words, I very much appreciate it. I think women drivers drive better than I do, because they’re not busy checking out other female drivers, as I do. 😀

Comment by profeministmale

I always find comments about “women drivers” to be pretty amusing, since all stats clearly show that men are the more dangerous sex on the road. ; )

I agree with the stigma attached to the word “feminist.” Unfortunately for many people it’s still a dirty word. We need to spread the message that feminist=equal rights for women, not that you’re some man-hating butch lesbian. It’s a shame that people have managed to undermine the feminist movement by tainting that one word so badly…

Comment by Marcy

As a man, I can never know what it means for a woman to self identify as a feminist. I don’t think you can say you favor equal rights for women if you won’t even give them the opportunity to choose how to identify and define themselves.

Comment by Matthew

I am seemingly frustrated with the “I’m not a feminist, but…” young women, and for that matter, men as well! When I first realized that I was a feminist, it’s true that I was kind of “oh crap, are people going to think I’m a man-hating bra burner?” But, it’s something one gets out of and now I shout it proudly, while staying as “normal” as possible so other young women around me won’t be so afraid to become one, although I think they still think I’m crazy.

One of the main keys is to obviously get rid of the stigma that comes along with the word feminist, by educating women and men that feminism, as Marcy said, that feminism is simply equality between the sexes. Nothing bad about that!

Comment by pk

Matthew – let’s not make it into a men vs. women issue. I was addressing everyone who holds feminist positions, but are afraid to call themselves feminists. I suspect the motivation is the same for both gender, though – women are afraid to lose their “womanhood” with such claims and men are afraid to give up their masculinity. But then again, that’s just me talking.

Comment by profeministmale

PK – you’re right. I think the challenge comes in being “normal.” Certainly, I don’t think it’s normal for me to challenge every man to a fight every time he makes misogynistic comments. It firstly turns him off to feminism and secondly, it’s not a very diplomatic way of promoting feminism. “NOT A FEMINIST? I’LL KICK YOUR ASS!”

I really do wonder, though, how one can educate another being without giving said being some sort of an enticement to come to feminism. It seems, for most, feminism will either ask them to give up privileges they already have, or will entice them with privileges that are less than feministic in its marketing.

Comment by profeministmale

Homophobia polices gender even in straight people’s lives. It’s pretty much as simple as that. Gender transgression is read as homosexuality, which is read as unwomanly-ness and therefore the opposite of everything a woman is conditioned since childhood to be. The same applies for men, only with photonegative expectations.

Comment by RJ

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