Helen G posted on The F-Word asking the fundamental question: What is feminism anyway, and why are you one? It was asked in context of whether or not it’s actually possible for there to be such a thing as trans*feminism, throwing out the idea that maybe, just maybe, there’s not enough common ground to work with (and naming that as an extremely depressing though. She says:
It’s entirely possible, I think…that my experiences as a trans woman, including my questions about my gender identity and expression and so on, are such personal things that maybe it really isn’t possible for me to do a Vulcan mind-meld with feminism. Transitioning is primarily about surviving, I believe, and sometimes that makes it difficult for me to raise my head and look for the bigger picture.
I’ve seen more than one woman renouncing the self-identification of “feminist” because they feel that, as trans*women, WoC, poor women, women of faith, queer women, sex workers, etc, the media impression of feminism, the feminism that gets the press and the book deals and the credit, the feminism that gets assumed about you along with the label, just does not work for them, does not apply to them and does not take their voices into account. I mean progressive women, radical women, angry women, women who are passionate about social justice and equality and feel that “feminism” has been co-opted, limited and stripped of any relevance or power.
I’ve been shaking my head at this article in “Comment is Free” for a couple of days now, wondering exactly what to do with the damn thing (since it seemed impossible to let something that arrogant and narcissistic pass without comment), but it seems relevant in that presuming oneself to be the “antichrist” of something presumes a pretty solid understanding of what the goals of the something’s idealized messiah-figure might be. The feminism that the mere existence of this woman apparently destroys exists simply to assuage the egos of young privileged women who need some grandiose cause that will give their lives meaning. These “feminists” need to imagine that they are part of a struggle well beyond themselves, need to situate themselves as having been oppressed, because if they haven’t, they won’t be able to explain their pain, when what that pain is, according to the antichrist, is mere selfish indulgence.
he “feminists” need to recruit for the sake of recruiting, so we will personally shift the definition of feminism just so we can get our numbers up, even if that means having to move so far that we let in such riff-raff as the “stay-at-home-mum”, the “Page 3 girl”, the “High Class Prostitute” and the “crack addict on the corner”. As a stripper, this woman was apparently our Messiah, our holy grail, our manifestation of our newly free sexuality, to be enshrined on all of our trophies and held up for future generations as the symbol of our victory (I must admit, it would be an interesting life to have been both the Christ and the Anti of anything within just a few short years of one another).
OK, so now I’m getting sarcastic and therefore drifting away from my point. I have seriously considered whether “feminist” is a good term for me, because when I see stuff like that “this is what a feminist looks like” video that’s been going around, it just feels schlocky and self-congratulatory, and when I see yet another story about mainstream feminists with power (I’m talking to you, Seal Press) dismissing, mocking and marginalizing the stories of women of colour or women who aren’t bouncy, cute and marketable enough, I wonder whether the term has lost its descriptive relevance for me. I don’t know how well I’m doing on that whole “Vulcan mind-meld”, thing, myself. In fact, as I wrote that first paragraph about our supposed antichrist friend, I realized that what she was saying wasn’t all that different from the “Activist Martyr Complex” I wrote about a few days ago, just with a rather different spin and argumentative purpose.
So how do I answer the questions?
Feminism, for me, is part of a larger complex of beliefs that come down to a search for unity and community with others. It’s been the gateway to learning to see the ways experiencing and being experienced by the world have influenced me and others differently. It’s about breaking down the categorizations and subdivisions and in group and out group distinctions that isolate and dehumanize and divide us from ourselves. It’s about recognizing oppression as systemic, and expressing a wish to take that entire structure back to its roots, strip it all away and start impossibly fresh.
That’s not a good definition, I realize, and it covers more why I continue to use the word than what it might actually mean, but if nothing else, writing some of it down let me clear my head just that little bit more.