I hesitate to talk about feminism today, so soon after the the highly successful and affirming Women’s March that took place yesterday. However, I just stumbled across this quote from Louise Brealey (who I admire greatly as an actor and am beginning to respect as a person), and I realized that I have an answer now. As in, I used to be rather confused about this, but now I am not so much. A change that is directly attributable to writing about it here.
“I’d like every man who doesn’t call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn’t believe in equality for women.”
After reading that, the following conversation occurred in my head:
Do you believe in equality for women?
Then does that make you a feminist?
So then do you call yourself a feminist?
The key difference here is being a feminist versus calling yourself a feminist.
So why don’t I call myself a feminist? The short answer is that I cannot endorse the feminist movement as a whole. Specifically, the significant amount of anti-male hate speech contained within that movement. I won’t rehash the difference between the way feminists view their movement and the way outsiders do, but certainly there is one. This is the problem with any assertion that equates feminism with support for gender equality. I wrote about this when Emma Watson said it. Feminism is not a belief. It is a movement, and as movements go, this one is particularly rife with behaviors that should be an embarrassment to that movement. When you say “feminist” to someone who is not one, the meaning that comes across is not “equality for women”. The word is a label for all of the things collectively that people do and have done, say and have said in the name of feminism. And that image is not an admirable one.
My solidarity with feminists is limited to the positive beliefs, actions, and aspirations of the movement. To speak of myself as a feminist is to identify with the movement as a whole, not simply the one core belief of equality. Though equality may be the root of feminism, the movement bears much fruit that is the opposite of equality. And I do not want to be an accessory to the hate that comes forth from the feminist movement.
Which is not to say that I do not support my feminist friends or the movement in general. I struggle sometimes, and it requires a thick skin. However, I realize that people are not perfect. It is not easy to unravel the difference between support for gender equality and opposition to those who perpetuate inequality. Every woman I know has suffered countless acts of oppression, and often trauma or even violence. Certainly it is natural to react with anger and even the desire to do harm. While I do not agree with the harm, I try to be patient and see beyond it. The core of their intentions are right, and I can support that.