a blog by J.M. Cottle
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I am not evil scum (or: thoughts on feminism)

In many of my social circles, saying “I’m not a feminist” is roughly equivalent to saying “I am Satan”. If you aren’t a feminist, you must be a sexist, which is the lowest form of scum, and your arguments are no longer valid. To avoid causing this ad hominem reaction and having my arguments ignored, I will not say that I’m not a feminist. Instead I will say that as a person with no gender, I find feminism to be limiting, and I don’t like to take on a label that tries to cover more ground than it can.

One definition of feminism is: “the belief that women are equal to men and should be treated as such”. According to that definition, I am a feminist, sure. But I don’t think that this definition is inclusive enough for me to take it as my label. What about all the people who are not men or women? I’d rather use a word that includes us.

Well, all right, let’s try a more nuanced definition: “the belief that femininity is equal to masculinity”. Those who use this one usually say that all people who are oppressed due to gender are oppressed because femininity is considered worse than masculinity. Anyone who “should be” masculine but is feminine is oppressed for leaving the “good” side and going to the “bad” side; anyone who “should be” feminine but is masculine is oppressed for trying to sneak over to the “good” side; naturally, a feminine woman is oppressed because she is on the “bad” side where she “belongs”. According to this definition, too, I am a feminist, but since I don’t think that masculine and feminine should be the only ways to exist, I’m not all that interested in defining myself according to them. I’m also not convinced that elevating femininity to be equal to masculinity will stop people from oppressing those of us who don’t want to be feminine or masculine.

Other feminists say that the definition is “the belief that all people are equal regardless of gender” and that the word is used because of its historical roots. When the feminist movement began, gender was still all about men and women; our understanding of gender identity has broadened, but the principle of equality remains the same. I certainly get this point of view, and by this definition I am a feminist, but it makes me feel erased. I am indebted to the feminist movement, of course, and I respect much of its philosophy and certainly its writers and activists, but I wish to take on a label that, if it does not explicity include me, at least doesn’t explicity exclude me as a person who doesn’t identify with femininity.

So, sure, I am a feminist — I believe that women are equal to men and femininity is equal to masculinity. I’m also a neutralist, and a genderqueerist, and an agenderist, and all kinds of other -ists, and my stance on those is equally important to my stance on women and femininity. Trying to say that “feminism = equality of all genders” is kind of like saying that “blackism (a word I just made up) = equality of all colors and ethnicities”. There are a lot of people of color who are not black, and lumping them all together under the word “blackist” wouldn’t be cool, even if the argument for the word was that all POC are oppressed because blackness is considered worse than whiteness and everyone who is not white is oppressed for being closer to the “bad” black side. It would be especially uncool if a POC who was not black stood up and said, “I want a word that includes me,” and everyone said, “Sit down, Satan — if you’re not a blackist, you’re a racist.”

Instead of focusing on one segment of gender possibility, I focus on all of them and call myself an egalitarian. I would rather not identify as a feminist, partly due to my desire to make a more inclusive word more widespread, and partly due to bitter rebellion against the assumption that feminism is the epitome of gender equality and all who reject the label are sexist scum. The adjective “feminist” fits me, but I don’t like to wear it by itself, because it just doesn’t cover enough.

One Response to I am not evil scum (or: thoughts on feminism)

  1. I know this is an old post but I just found it while reading many of your other posts on gender. I’m surprised there are no comments on this one. Anyway thank you for echoing many of my thoughts on feminism. Even before I stopped identifying as female (I’m now gender-neutral) I had a lot of problems using a gendered word to describe the concept of treating all genders equally. Can’t I be down with that concept without adopting that label? I have enough other problems with gendered labels as it is…

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