Monday, November 13, 2006

A while back I posted about whether "feminist" was a dirty word, asking who considered themselves not to be a feminist because of the connotations of the word. I was sort of thinking at the time that surely most people I knew approved of the advances made so far under the name of feminism so why reject the label? Since then, I polled a few friends and colleagues informally (not as many as I intended; I've been busy).

I didn't ask men this question directly -- I don't think there's much downside when a man to call himself a feminist. Nonetheless I appreciate the input I got, and that all the men who commented here or in-person describe themselves as feminists. Thanks guys! Of course this isn't a universal, but probably an artifact of who volunteered this opinion. I didn't mention it in my original post but it was a male family member who (despite having very liberal, equality-oriented views himself) strongly objected when I said my views might be feminist! He likes me personally and was distressed when I labelled my views -- which he agreed with -- with this nasty word.

Of the women I polled, several said they do indeed consider themselves feminist (I can't remember them telling me this before though I've known many of them for years), and a couple said so quite strongly. Perhaps defensively re-appropriating the label? It's hard to tell. Of course they had good reasons for calling themselves feminist and some interesting discussions ensued.

Finally, three female friends did *not* call themselves feminists. I found their answers the most interesting.

M: "I don't know. I never really thought about it."

L: "I don't think it describes my positions well. I think of myself as somebody who believes all people should be treated equally, rather than that women in particular need different treatment."

S: "The people I know who call themselves feminist talk about issues all the time, and are obsessed with little things like who cooks dinner each night."

All these women have active tech careers, I think they're all pro-choice, and I think maybe S. does cook dinner each night. Anyway, I appreciated their answers and didn't have anything to particularly convince them of but it sure led to a few interesting conversations around the water cooler and in friends' living rooms.


Barry Leiba said...

«[...]all people should be treated equally, rather than that women in particular need different treatment.»

I see this sort of attitude all the time: that support of group [x] means that group [x] gets "special treatment".

Of course, the whole point of feminism (and anti-raciscm and so on) is to foster an environment in which all people are treated equally. Feminism was never about "women are special", but quite the opposite. And yet there's always been a perception otherwise.

One thing I find interesting about the word "feminism" is that with all the other related words ("sexism", "racism", "ageism"...) the "-ism" word describes the problem. Here, it describes the solution. I wonder if there's a problem caused by that difference.

Barry Leiba said...

NPR's "All Things Considered" had an item yesterday about NOW at 40, which is worth a listen. They do talk, in there, about the negative connotations of "feminism", and the perception that the problem has been fixed and feminism isn't needed any more.

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