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When Did Being Called a Feminist Become an Insult?

September 19, 2009

pc-059I don’t subscribe to many isms, simply because I find most of them to be limiting in one way or another and they all come with their own set of inbuilt pre-conceptions. Someone might call Fidel Castro a communist, but if you ask my Mom she’ll tell you he’s a socialist. Right there with that sentence you’ve already built yourself an image of what kind of person my mother is based on your pre-conception of Castro. It might be a good starting point, but chances are most of you will be wrong.

One of the things I like about philosophy is its anal attention to defining words. Listen to any conversation between philosophy students and you’ll see they spend half of it coming to an agreement on the definition of the words they use. It’s a good practice, although it can be a bit exhausting at times.

I met my friend Liz for lunch today and we were talking about what we like to be called. A conversation that was spurred on by a blog post that I read on The Pursuit of Harpyness last night: “Don’t Call Me “Miss”: A Rant”. Some women don’t like being called Miss, some women don’t like being called Ma’am and others don’t like being called Lady, Darlin’, or Sweetheart. I mean the list can go on, but what we did agree on is that a lot of that built-in tension around words depends on the context, the place and who is saying it. 

Knowing all of this, and personally finding it awkward being called a feminist (or Ma’am), I can’t help but being surprised when someone gets offended when they’re labeled as a feminist. The other day at work (or where I used to work until recently), there was a little bit a a squabble over who was going to change the water bottle. Usually the duty falls upon Ralph the closet guy to the water machine. All of the other people sitting near it are women, and although I can lift one of those things and carry it from across the office it’s still a pain in the ass. I don’t know if it’s un-femnist of me or simply lazy, but I like having one of the guys replace the water bottle. I can’t really ask one of the other girl to change it, because they would look at me like “do it yourself you lazy bum” and I know that if I ask a guy he won’t even question my request. 

After Ralph changed the water bottle, one of the girls’ thanked him and it somehow turned into her being called a feminist. She got offended and I was curious to know why she took it as an insult. It all comes down to the definition you associate with a word, to her being called a feminist was insulting, because like many others she has this image in her head that feminists equal angry women who hate men. Ok so, I over-simplified it just a tad, but this negative view of feminists does exist and is certainly linked in part to the extremist movement of the 70’s, but just like any ism you will find people at either end of the spectrum. It also seems to be attached to the whole idea that for a women to stand up for herself automatically turns her it an overly emotional, over reacting, maniac, hysterical woman kind of stereotype that’s is so damn frustrating and still so prevalent that it will have to be a subject for another post. 

I wish I didn’t have a problem with being called a feminist, but I do because I find it hard to define myself in that way, but I certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing and it definitely shouldn’t be insulting.

How can realizing there are gender problems in our society and wanting to change the status-quo be a bad thing? 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. A Feminist permalink
    October 18, 2009 3:25 pm

    I completely agree with a lot of what you wrote, but I’m confused as how you can question other people who are embarrassed to call themselves feminists when you yourself say you don’t label yourself because it’s “awkward” and you “find it hard to define [your]self in that way.” What’s so awkward about supporting women’s rights? What’s so hard about defining yourself as someone who cares about gender equality? I have so many friends who feel the same way as you, but I just don’t understand why. You seem to agree with me on that, but you still can’t proudly claim the title. It’s completely normal and okay, but I think you should reconsider this. I think we first have to accept feminism in ourselves, stop “fence-sitting,” and self-identify with this “bad word,” before we can question others and more importantly, make a difference for women around the world.

  2. October 18, 2009 5:38 pm

    I completely agree with you, but even when I do embrace the word, I still get a little bit of an awkward feeling. I’m pretty sure it stems from the idea I have that they (other people) will judge me for it. I’m not proud of that, and I’m certainly working on facing up to my own beliefs in the hopes to make a difference in my own life and for other women.

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