Who are you calling a feminist?

After reading through some of the stoushes on Twitter recently, I got to thinking about different types of feminism and who calls themselves a feminist.

Corinne Grant asks if men can be feminists.

Rachel Hills talks about whether Margaret Thatcher was a feminist, what feminism means for her, and right wing feminism.  This follows on from her interview with Melinda Tankard Reist. Rachel also discusses this on her Tumblr [links have been edited to lead to correct articles~M]

No Place For Sheep raises a few questions that she thought should have been asked of MTR (Rachel responds in comments).

I like the definition that Bee of a Certain Age uses on her business cards.

I think of myself as a feminist, although there are a lot of things that other feminists no doubt think I should be doing to really earn that title. Some of them are right.

I don’t believe that feminism is in danger of falling apart, as was suggested on Twitter recently, because it has seemingly fractured into so many different factions. But I do categorise feminists in my head. For example – right wing feminist, anti-sex work feminist, anti-trans rad feminist, feminist who uses ableist language, feminists who think that their writing magically lets everyone know that when they make jokes about [x,y,z] then everyone knows they are joking as opposed to people who really think this way. This is somewhat of a cop out I know. But I know that I am not perfect either so I don’t want to point fingers and then find them pointing back at me. I also recognise that it is easy for me, as a cis, white, het, middle class woman, to let crap slide because at the end of the day it isn’t challenging my very identity.

Finally, a few thoughts on anti-abortion feminists, [ETA] such as Melinda Tankard Reist. I can understand wanting to create a society where abortion isn’t needed*, but I think this is something that we need to be completely sure about what is actually meant. I think it should mean a society where unwanted pregnancies don’t occur because contraception is 100% effective and sexual relations are always consensual^. Working towards this type of society as a feminist is fine IMO. However, this ignores the fact that there are other reasons for a woman to seek an abortion apart from contraceptive failure or coerced sex or rape. As a feminist I believe that women should have the right to choose a safe legal termination.

*This could also mean a totalitarian state ala Alias Grace, where women are merely vessels and so don’t need abortion.

^I don’t actually know how anti-abortion feminists define a society where abortion isn’t needed.

Please feel free to add links in comments, HAT authors please feel free to add links into this post.

[ETA further discussion] This was posted on Twitter, I have no idea if it was directed at me or not, chances are not, and I’m not going to embarrass myself by asking ‘Is it about me, it’s all about me right?’ 😉

Lesson in logic: labeling your opponent, even if the label is accurate, does nothing to prove you right or them wrong.

But it does raise an important point, why label other feminists at all? Well, because it allows me a free privilege pass – if I recognise that some of their attitudes are, from my POV, problematic then I can still call them and me feminist without having to think too hard about it. If I accept them as feminists because they call themselves feminists then I don’t have to call them out and bring down a hail of crap on my head, although some days I do choose to do so. But I pick my targets carefully.

In labelling I’m not trying to prove myself right or them wrong, and it does help if I want to link to something someone has said but that I think needs to have a warning for people who don’t want to be directed to somewhere that isn’t a safe space for them.



Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, Life, Meta

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10 replies

  1. Well timed, I was planning to write about MTR tonight – though more how my feminism and her feminism are poles apart on most things.

  2. I think it should mean a society where unwanted pregnancies don’t occur because contraception is 100% effective and sexual relations are always consensual^. Working towards this type of society as a feminist is fine IMO. However, this ignores the fact that there are other reasons for a woman to seek an abortion apart from contraceptive failure or coerced sex or rape. As a feminist I believe that women should have the right to choose a safe legal termination.
    Just for the record, I agree with you on this. And while I think it’s to be expected that different women (even different left wing, feminist women – as any reader of Hoyden About Town would know) will have different opinions on what the best policies and philosophies are for women, I also seriously question whether women who seek to limit other women’s right to choose qualify as feminists. It’s a pretty central tenet of the movement.

  3. Sorry Rachel, I did not mean to imply that you were anti-abortion so I have edited the post to, I hope, make this a bit clearer. I have also changed the links around so that your original interview article is in the first link, and your later discussion at your Tumblr follows after.

  4. You know what? I’m really happy that there’s so many feminists out there that we need to talk about feminisms and hyphen-feminists and talk about all the ways in which Feminist A differs from Feminist B.
    I also recognise that it is easy for me, as a cis, white, het, middle class woman, to let crap slide because at the end of the day it isn’t challenging my very identity.
    I think we overlook this too often when we say that a particular kind of feminism is wrong or bad or not really feminism. Personally, I can’t see a way in which anti-abortion feminists are compatible with my ideas of feminism (because they aim to control other women’s bodies and choices as well as their own) but I bet that a feminist labour organiser in the developing world would have a few things to say about my consumer lifestyle controlling their choices, too. That’s why I prefer your hyphen-feminism to excluding people who claim to be feminists.

  5. Great great post, love thinking about this stuff.

  6. Hey Mindy! No worries, I didn’t think you were implying that I was anti-abortion. Your post just came up on my Reader just before I went to bed last night and I thought “yes, this!” in response to your last paragraph. And thought it was worth clarifying since I have spent all week banging on about conservative women.

  7. I think anyone can call themselves a feminist, because how can we stop them, really? (eg Hugo Schwyzer, although I am shocked at the number of other feminists who agree with his self-assessment). I don’t think it’s in any way a problem that feminists come in lots of flavours and stripes, in fact, I feel this idea that all feminists must agree on everything is just another iteration of “all women are alike” that leads to all that sexist “what do women want?” claptrap.
    I used to be a pro-abortion, “let’s work for a world where abortions aren’t necessary because sex is consensual and contraception is available and works” feminist. Then I learnt something about some of the ways a pregnancy can go wrong medically (ectopic pregnancy, blighted ovum, choriocarcionoma, etc, etc,). It’s not clear to me if the anti-abortion feminists allow abortions that a panel of six doctors will unanimously agree is essential to save the woman’s life.
    I’d like to hear the reasoning either way, because if doctors are allowed to decide that an abortion is necessary, I think medical ethics and respect for the individual requires us to allow the patient* to decide that an abortion is necessary; and if an abortion is just never okay, even when there is no viable outcome and an abortion would leave the woman healthy and whole, well, that’s just obscenely cruel, frankly.
    And then there’s my perspective as a biologist: the first failure mode of life is death, but the second failure mode of life is excessive life (cancer, weeds, overpopulation). I just don’t think there is ever going to be 100% guaranteed contraception for all that doesn’t involve us all being dead – not that more effective contraception isn’t worth working for, it’s just like Buddhist nirvana, you’ll probably never get there but closer is better.
    And the plain human perspective: people make mistakes. We have to allow for women’s mistakes at least as much as men’s mistakes. And that includes not only mistakenly getting pregnant, but also mistakenly chosing an abortion, or mistakenly deciding to have the child (I don’t think that possibility is considered nearly often enough, in terms of “how do we help you now?”).
    And I think I’ve mentioned before my personal perspective from having an unwanted pregnancy (and deciding against an abortion in that case): it’s just too damn intimately personal for anyone else to get the final say. And it’s not like there’s any shortage of people who are anti-abortion except when it comes to their own family, their own personal situation. At least hypocracy isn’t possible when you’re pro-choice.
    *”patient” is not really the right word but it should make it clear who I’m referring to.

  8. I just read about MTR in the Sydney morning herald – I was rather pulled in by the “pro-life feminist” line, which really confused me. I wish people didn’t feel the need to divide the world up into pro-life and pro-choice – they’re such misleading terms anyway.
    It was rather interesting, as you say, that was reported as thinking that abortion should have no place in the world, without actually saying what that meant. I think her reasoning would make sense if the world were so, but the fact is that it’s not, and all women need to be able to have that option available to them. It’s a bit like when people get really annoyed at identity politics and communities that are formed around minorities with the argument (Butler-ian style, kind of) that everything is just a social construct anyway and gender/sexuality/ability shouldn’t matter so people shoudn’t “segregate” themselves – all nice in theory, but the world simply isn’t like that at the moment, so you can’t expect people to not form communities! Aaaarrrgghh.
    Just my thoughts on the matter.

  9. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could prevent people’s homes from burning down? Let’s ban the fire brigade!

  10. That’s how it is, YA Matt, if I read your metaphor correctly. And we should still aim for state of the art design and state of the art behaviour so we get as few fires as possible, because that is hugely preferable to one where fires run rampant, but they are still going to happen so we still need that fire brigade.

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