I’ve been passively reading on Quora for a long time now, intimidated to answer anything myself because the site has attracted people at the top of every field to answer most every question. Today, though, I stumbled across a question I felt I could make a unique contribution to:
Why do some women insist they are not feminists despite clearly believing in the tenets of feminism?
Let’s look at the question itself.
Here’s a pithy quote (source disputed) that I think is pretty accurate: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Not too controversial, is it?
I want to rephrase this question to, “Why do some people insist they are not feminists despite clearly believing in the tenets of feminism?”
Personally, I embrace the term “feminist” mainly as a rebellion against those who would have me believe that feminists are scary hairy man-haters. Many women of color actually distance themselves from the term “feminist” due to the race and class associations of Western movement feminism. My own mother, though she undisputedly believes in tenets of feminism, falls into that category.
Going back to my question, I once asked my husband (who absolutely believes in egalitarianism) whether he considers himself a feminist. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and eventually said: “I feel like the word is so loaded.”
This is important. Certainly, the word is loaded for women, for reasons as diverse as “The word does not capture diversity of race and class”, to “I don’t want to be viewed as threatening.” But none of this captures my husband’s reasoning. Why don’t many men who sincerely believe in equality want to claim the term “feminist”? Does it somehow indict one’s manhood, because it’s “girly” to care about feminism? Is it a deep-seated fear of loss of privilege, buried far beyond consciousness? I’m not sure of the answer.
Lastly, is this just semantics? Do the words we use matter, if the belief in egalitarianism exists regardless?
Well, I think it does matter, at least a little bit. There are basically two groups of people who have hijacked the image of a feminist: those who feel their social privilege is endangered by feminism, and those who feel they are better off aligning themselves with the first group, because that is where the power lies. I want to claim the label “feminist” because I don’t want to empower those groups with my hesitance. But there are plenty of reasons why someone may not want to claim it: some of them I get, some I don’t. Next time I hear someone say “I’m not a feminist, but…” I’ll be sure to dig deeper.