“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”
As a student pursuing a master’s in Gender Studies, I often find myself in conversations surrounding feminism and feminist theory. Most people seem to begin the dialogue with a challenge in attempts to show what is wrong with feminism and feminists. I’ve heard that feminists are crazy and that all they want is either to be like men or to destroy them, I’ve heard that people who study feminist theory are simply emotional and take things too personally to pose factual and objective information.
I also encounter those who quickly proclaim they are feminists yet don’t really know what that means to them, nor can they acknowledge that their feminism may be very different than another person’s. These people might say something like – “oh men, they have no place in feminist conversations because they just don’t understand” or “all women should have equal working rights, unless this makes me give up my own class privilege” (I’m paraphrasing here of course).
I think both standpoints are equally as harmful to a feminist movement, at least the one I consider myself to be a part of, one represented by the quote above. As I often do when in conversations concerning feminism, I want to bring in a few bell hooks quotes here that begin to address both those who just dismiss feminist theory and those who mindlessly pick it up, for both are simply misinformed.
In her book Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks writes: “When I talk about the feminism I know – up close and personal – [people] willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like ‘real’ feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it”
I use this quote because it is something I deeply relate to. There are too many people who dismiss feminist politics because they have accepted a mainstream representation of it that loses sight of its goal to end oppression on all levels. Feminist theorists themselves have often been unable to question their own levels of privilege especially those they hold over other women of lower classes or of different race groups. These transgressions are more than fair to critique but they are not reasons to dismiss ones commitment to end sexism and sexist exploitation. If people weren’t so quick to criticize feminism when they meet a feminist, they would provide themselves more room to grow and to see the diverse layers and history of feminist thought (as they are many).
In the same book, hooks continues to a different point: “A male who has divested of male privilege, who has embraced feminist politics, is a worthy comrade in struggle, in no way a threat to feminism, whereas a female who remains wedded to sexist thinking and behavior infiltrating feminist movement is a dangerous threat”
Again, this quote addresses a misunderstanding and one that is extremely dangerous. She explains to her readers that being feminist should not just become a fashionable trend; it is something that should cause a change in your lifestyle no matter what gender you identify with. Simply identifying as a woman does not mean you are automatically a feminist, especially if you participate in acts of oppression. And identifying as a man is not a reason to be excluded from a movement that desperately needs you in order to succeed. I believe it is crucial for those who identify as feminists to embrace this belief because each one of us represents a larger movement. One that often becomes vilified when infiltrated by those who wave the banner and are not willing to learn how they might improve in their own thinking.
This is solely a brief introduction to a general discussion of why more people should set aside their misunderstandings and learn for themselves how beneficial embracing informed feminism could be for themselves and society as a whole. bell hooks beautifully summarizes this by writing: “Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction” I hope you take these quotes and commentary as important food for thought in your next interaction with feminism and that you engage with future pieces concerning my choice to align with Black Feminism specifically. More on this soon…