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Am I Bad Feminist?

August 24, 2010

I have a confession to make. I know jack squat about feminist theory. No, really, it’s true. I’m busted! You found me out! I’ve never read The Feminine Mystique (I can’t even tell you who wrote it with utmost certainty), I’ve never read The Second Sex (the only reason I know who wrote that is because I love me a French existentialist), and I have no idea what the difference is between first wave, second wave, or third wave feminism. Seriously, I have no idea. Although, I’m confident enough that I could probably fake my way through a pretty decent guess. At least with someone who didn’t know any better. And even then most of what I’ve picked up is from movies, TV, and every other form of media, but then only by chance.

I can pretty much count on my fingers the number of books I’ve read that weren’t novels and that were somewhat related to feminist theory. I remember when I was about 18 I bought two books from the woman’s studies section at the new Indigo bookstore in downtown Montreal the titles of which were Bitch and Slut. The only reason I picked up these particular books is because of their succinct and titillating titles. I only got around to reading them about four years later and anyone with a mind can figure out the premises: i.e. women who hold power are bitches and women who have sex are sluts.

Most of what I know I know from having a good sense of observation. I learned about racism growing up in a small town where the population was solely consisted of French white people, English white people and Natives from the nearby reserve. I know about queer theory from living in Montreal’s gay village for three years. I know about trans rights from going to my first bar when I was 15 and seeing a male to female transgender person getting their ass kicked by some ignorant fools on the street. You don’t need much of an education to learn about civil rights (i.e. human rights), all you need to do is look around and sure enough you’ll learn from your own experiences or from the experiences of those around you.

What’s sad is that even the people who are fighting against one issue or another don’t seem to realize that it’s all about the same thing: basic human rights, yet you still have all these different groups fighting for freedom and whatnot AND also fighting with one another. Some feminist groups exclude men, as well as non-white woman. Some gay rights groups exclude transgender people, and on and on like this. It’s such a waste of time and resources. It’s also very sad, don’t you think? What happened to supporting one another? Just because I’m a woman and that’s the perspective I’m coming from doesn’t mean I’m blind to the issues men have to deal with as well. One person’s suffering isn’t more valid than another’s.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 4:00 am

    You can get a good overview of feminist theory with a quick trip to Wikipedia 🙂

    I think the idea of groups campaigning against an “opposing” cause is a very difficult question. Should disabled groups support people who want less accessibility? Should LGBT groups support those that despise the idea of same-sex marriage? It’s not hard to consider people belonging to both causes.

    I think tolerance and an attempt to understand the “other” side is a big part of the answer, as well as leaving the “black-and-white” world.

  2. August 25, 2010 2:05 pm

    The difference is that, for example, LGBT groups are fighting for basic human and civil rights while groups that despise the idea of same sex marriage are opposed to them. My point is that groups that fight for human/civil rights should support each other more instead of arguing over whose “cause” is more important.

    I definitely get your point though that, for example, someone who is pro same sex marriage can also be anti-abortionist or racist or whatever. It just seems to me like a contradiction.

    I agree that an attempt at understanding one another is one step in the right direction.

  3. August 25, 2010 2:32 pm

    Your point about human rights is why I never liked being called a feminist, or describing myself as such. I am a humanist: I believe that all human beings deserve to be treated fairly and decently, by all other human beings, regardless of race or sex or creed.

    To be honest, I think theories are a waste of time. We could come up with theories for every horrible thing humans have done to one another, and we probably will, but actions speak louder, y’know? Yes, theories can help us to understand things on some level, but in the end, if you believe in something you will act on that belief, and no amount of reading academics’ purple prose on the matter is going to change what you already know in your heart.

  4. August 25, 2010 9:56 pm

    That’s true. Knowing the history of something can be helpful though.

    It’s incredibly hard to change someone’s mind about something they believe in. Sometimes I wonder, if the world will ever change. Seems like it’s easier to turn someone into a bigot than to do the opposite.

  5. August 28, 2010 3:11 pm

    Perhaps my views on this will be unpopular, but so it goes. I believe theory is tremendously important to activism. They’re not mutually exclusive, nor do we need to dismiss one in favor of the other. Without “theory” (queer, feminist and otherwise) and education much of the progress that has been made in everyday life would not have been accomplished. Theory that was once confined to the ivory towers of academia has bled into everyday discourse, and is part of what some of us regard as observations and common sense – it might not seem like it came from books and academic writings, but you would be surprised.

    I’m one of those “academics” (or pre-academic? – I haven’t finished yet!) that often get dismissed or derided as just writing within an elitist circle, not having any impact on anybody except me and my self-indulgent peers. Yet I see first-hand the impact of what I do, and what my hard-working peers do, in the form of conversations, teaching young people, and generally spreading the word. I think there is certainly room for complaint in terms of how academics operate, and how easily some people get absorbed into a comfortable and conservative academic lifestyle that merely involves patting each other on the back, but it does rub me up the wrong way when “action” and “theory” are pitted against each other as though they are antithetical.

  6. August 28, 2010 3:21 pm

    I don’t think that that “action” and “theory” are antithetical to one another. There might have been a time when that was true and there are certainly some people who hide behind theory, but I think the time we live in now is all about integrating the two. Using education and theory or personal experience or whatever to reinforce the ways in which we live our lives.

  7. Janvanize permalink
    September 9, 2010 5:52 pm

    For me it’s that feminist theory that made me understand that feminism is a definable aspect of humanism. Being able to explain it is how people learn. The more people write about it, the more eventually some will take the time to read and re-consider their opinion. For me, all this from Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father which I didn’t understand till it was explained to me. Feminism is to be self-realized. Don’t go run out and buy it unless you like extreme philosophical analysis.
    I want to add that feminism today as I understand it is very different from 2nd wave bra burning at Miss America pageant. What it has in common is feminist continue to identify themselves representing their beliefs and specializing in the area that interests them most. Third wave is much more egalitarian and not as radical. I think being self-realized is to know that things happen in the past, things change, and that you commit to spreading the word about what you think is right.
    Finally in reply to your question, are you a bad feminist, the answer is no, you fooled me! You expressed your views on humanism which includes some aspects of feminism combined with others, and plus and plus >Good job!

  8. September 9, 2010 10:45 pm

    That’s a great comment Jan, Thanks! Very well said and I agree with you about the whole “… self-realized is to know that things happen in the past, things change, and that you commit to spreading the word about what you think is right.” That’s probably the best thing that any of us can do.

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