Fat and Not Afraid

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In Defense of Feminism

June 21, 2014

Have I ever mentioned I don't like change? I hate it, and when I say hate I'm not being hyperbolic. I hate it. It is hard for me to change my mind even in the face of good data, but I *will* do so eventually. For example, the other night I was complaining about nuclear power and how the fall-out from Fukushima is giving Japanese kids thyroid cancer and can we PLEASE JUST STOP WITH THE NUCLEAR POWER NOW?! A friend pointed out that, pound for pound, nuclear power is cleaner than oil, gas or coal when it comes to producing energy. My counter-arguement was that nuclear's supposed cleanliness meant next to nothing when we have a melt-down. We're both right, but there's a bigger picture. The nuclear power industry is like the airline industry, an apt comparison Ryan came up with; when things go bad, they go very bad and a lot of people die, but most of the time it's going along just fine and is very very safe. Over the years there have been only four major nuclear accidents. How many major oil spills have there been? Gas leaks? Mountains leveled for coal? Pits dug for crude? It's disgusting. So my perspective has changed somewhat on nuclear power.

This brings me to the last month and some, and some big changes that happened around me. Very long story short, a dear friend got tired of close friends and family not calling themselves feminist and threw down the gauntlet; either wear the name proudly or GTFO. It wasn't just about the label though, it was about not being all in, not being 100% on the same team, years of little things adding up until she'd finally had enough. It got very very messy, a lot of things were said, and in the end she has a lot fewer friends but I think she's happier. As one of the few people deeply involved who does call herself a feminist, this has left me in an awkward spot socially, and dealing with some cognitive dissonance mentally. It's the latter I'm working through by writing today.

During the ensuing conversations, arguments, debates on semantics and such, a common point kept coming from the not-feminists; they don't want to associate with a movement that doesn't like them, or is downright hostile to them. Feminism began as a white, straight, middle-class woman's movement and hasn't moved very far from there in the last hundred years or so.  Supposedly there's room in feminism for everyone, but actions speak louder than definition and there are a number of groups that just really don't feel comfortable inside feminism; women of colour, trans*folk and men. I'm sure I've missed some but that's just a few examples that came up because of the gauntlet. If a group of people told you that as a man, every time you had sex with a woman it was rape, would you want to be a part of that group? If a group of people took your stories and told them for you would you want to be a member? If a group of people shit on your choice to be a stay at home mom or changed your name when you got married, you'd probably avoid those people.

On the other hand, I am proud to call myself a feminist. I'm a feminist because I recognize that every form of oppression and violence on earth affects women disporportionately, from hurricanes to rape, murder and war. Fully half the human race is at a disadvantage, and then you can add in the extra oppression of not being straight, white, cisgendered and Christian. Feminism at it's core is about equality. This is why feminism as a label is important, as opposed to humanism or equalism. Those two terms erase the reality of what being a woman on planet Earth is like, and if we can't look that simple truth in the face we can't begin to change it.

A few bad apples screaming about how they hate X Y or Z shouldn't define a movement that's done so much good. The people who say that all sex is rape, are judgemental assholes of women's choices, and appropriate other people's culture and stories in order to 'help' them, aren't helping.

I really enjoy having the ability to vote and own property, and not geting looked at sideways (often) for not changing my name when I got married. It's awesome that I can drive a car or go to work in any profession I choose, and I have feminists of the past to thank for that. Not equalists or humanists but feminists. The terms just don't carry the same weight for me. However, being a feminist doesn't mean I get to tell other people what labels they're obligated to wear. If you walk the walk and talk the talk I don't care what label you choose for yourself. This is where me and my friend differ; she's disowned anyone who wont wear it and while I don't necessarily *like* humanist or equalist or whatever, I respect the decision to keep the term away if feminism has treated you badly.

People who reject the label based off of Pat Robertson's stereotypes up there are just ignorant, and ignorance can be fixed. (The willfully ignorant, on the other hand...) I have no problem with people who reject the label because of shitty experiences with feminism. Hell, I get why some men may not want to use the term because they're not women, and don't want to overpower women's spaces with their privilege. That's cool if misguided. The movement needs MORE voices, more diversity, not less.

Honestly I think the word needs claiming; the 'yes, feminism is really about equality for EVERYONE' people, like me, need to be a lot louder. Feminism has never had a good name in the larger culture, there's always been pushback against something so woman-centered. But I can't make people claim something they don't want. I can't make people care about something in the way I care about it. All I can do is all I can do and hope it makes some change. Would it be cool if someday all my friends could wear "This is what a feminist looks like!" shirts? Yes, that would make my whole year. But it's not going to happen, and I'm ok with that.

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