Calling Someone a Feminist is Not Necessarily a Compliment

Another guest post from Renee of Womanist Musings.

I love the blog The Crunk Feminist Collective, but I recently came across a post that I found disturbing that feel I need to respond to.

I’m a feminist. Sometimes it feels like I live
breathe, eat, and sleep feminism. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m just
feminist enough. A while ago, I made the mistake of calling another
like-minded individual a feminist. I don’t even remember what they did
to merit the honor, but I sure do remember their reaction. They actually
got offended at the fact that I called them a feminist. Wait. Stop.

I was taken aback by the negative reaction. I didn’t even know what to
say or where to start. I apologized for offending them and we both went
our separate ways. I still think of them as a closeted feminist. This
made me realize that I need to be prepared. Should the opportunity
present itself again, this is what I will say:

“Relax. I wasn’t trying to offend you. Me calling you a feminist was a
fucking compliment. Why? Well, for starters your actions showed me your
amazing strength. In spite of the
patriarchal/political/cultural/societal structure that fails and
oppresses you daily, I saw you fight back. I was impressed. So impressed
that I called you a feminist. That was some real feminist shiiiiiit.

So, the next time you want to go on and be offended because I called you
a feminist, please check yourself. You’re a fucking feminist. Deal with
it. Don’t do feminist shit if you don’t want to be called out. Stop
fighting it. Join the movement (willingly). We fight for you. We will
fight with you. We believe in you. We will believe with you. We SEE you.
We will always see YOU.” (source)

I probably would have let this go, had I not come across a piece on Transadvocate
exhorting trans women to take on the label of feminist, despite the
history of transphobia engaged in for decades by feminists.  Monica of
Transgriot, responded
by talking about the issues faced by transwomen of colour. I have
written several posts about why I am not a feminist, since starting
Womanist Musings almost four years ago. 

I remember how excited I was when I first became a feminist.  In my
early years, I was hyper aware of gender imbalance in my own family, and
that coupled with my experiences inside of the Pentecostal and Seventh
Day Adventist faith, left me feeling extremely disillusioned.  At one
point, I had even stopped believing in God, because I saw no place in
the doctrines that I was raised in for gender equality.  It is thanks to
feminist theologians that I can declare myself a believer in God
today.  I was so excited to find a group that affirmed by beliefs and
gave me back my religious faith.  I thought that I had found a home for
life, and it is only over time that I discovered the various ways in
which feminism can be exclusionary.

I was desperate for the longest time to hold onto this label. How could I
turn my back on something that had given me so very much?  I found a
way to justify everything, and told myself that it was all in the
service of the greater good, but over time, the bad simply out weighed
the good and I was forced to say goodbye to feminism.  This separation
did not cause me to change my belief system, or my desire to fight for
social justice.  After some time I stumbled across womanism, and though
it does have problems largely based in those whose womanism is faith
based, it was a place that I could call home because it recognized all
facets of my identity. You see, I cannot separate my race from gender
and still be myself.  Womanism allowed me to marry my belief in
anti-racism with gender equality and in time with more reading, gave me
the language to talk about various other isms.

As I mentioned earlier, this latest post at Crunk Feminist Collective
makes the second post in a week to pressure women into taking on the
label of feminist.  How is this different than Jehovah’s Witnesses going
door to door in an effort to get new converts? These kind of pleas
place no interest in what the individual woman believes, they simply
seek to create converts to their way of thinking, and yet we are to
believe that feminism is about respecting the agency of women.  Trust
women they tell us, and yet they have displayed no trust that we are
capable of deciding for ourselves what label we want to identify as.

It is not now, or ever will be a compliment to call someone a name that
they either find offensive, or are uncomfortable with.  It will never be
acceptable to tell women to cast aside their lived experience for the
greater good.  None of these suggestions support women, and in fact
represent patriarchal thinking, because that is the genesis of the idea
that women need to be told what to believe, and what to do for their own
good. Even though the name of this blog is Womanist Musings, I still
have people refer to this as a feminist space, denying my very obvious
stated identity.

Instead of fixating on what women choose to call themselves causing a
rift, what feminists should be doing is seeking to build alliances and
examining what kind of activism that women are involved in.  Just
because this space is a womanist space, does not mean that I am not
actively engaged in challenging various isms, and in fact, a look
through the archives proves this.  I am further positive that women who
refuse to take on the label of feminist also engage quite actively in
the struggle to end gender based oppression. The suggestion that women
need to be feminist in order to be active to end gender inequality
specifically discards the work of womanists, and radical women of
colour, who separated from the feminist movement due to decades of
active racism engaged in by White women, in an effort to maintain their
White privilege.  It also ignores the work of disabled activists, and
trans women, who separated themselves from feminism due to ableism and
transphobia.  Feminism is not the only vehicle in which women can come
to awareness and choose to rise up against the forces that restrict
their lives.

The following list printed at Crunk Feminist Collective are feminist beliefs:

  • Don’t believe the hype
  • Take action to make the world a more just place (for all its inhabitants)
  • Question the patriarchy
  • Acknowledge your own privilege(s)
  • Believe that you are beautiful just they way you are–even on bad days
  • Talked to your friend/child/neighbor/family about the skewed norms the media/marketing machines create, uphold and push on us
  • Stood up to someone when they did you (or someone you love) wrong
  • Told your child that his/her hair, skin, smile, are beautiful
  • Questioned a double standard
  • Gave yourself permission to love yourself and others

But they are also the beliefs of scores of women who don’t identify
as feminist for various reasons.  Feminism does not hold a monopoly on
women’s activism, and it’s time that they start to understand this. If
they truly want women to identify as feminist, rather than attempting to
force this label on us, perhaps they should address the various issues
which have caused so many to take issue with feminist organizing.  It’s
far easier to point a finger outward, than it is to look inward and
examine the various issues within feminism.  It is not those of us who
continue to work for change and refuse to identify as feminist that are
failing women, it’s feminists who have failed to work on the
exclusionary aspects of the feminist movement that are failing us.

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