“Don’t worry,” they often tell me. “You’re a real feminist.” In earlier days I was alright with this statement. “OK,” I’d think, “They’re taking me seriously and are willing to listen.” But really, what they mean is that since I’m not wearing army boots and wishing death upon men, I’m a feminist unicorn.
In other words, I don’t fit the perpetuated stereotype created to discredit feminist ideologies. Few do. I mean, think about it: “feminist” has been used synonymously with terrorist, dirty hippie, man-hater, and supposedly far left, absurd political correctness. Basically, it’s made into a parody that mocks a movement fighting for equity among genders. Achieving such justice would mean dismantling a system built on oppression, capitalism, and patriarchy.
The word feminist is itself Eurocentric and—because of this—arguably not intersectional. Yet, in Western society, Eurocentrism is, unfortunately, our default position—that idea that the only important ideas are from European colonial empires. Just look at what we are taught in history classes and you get an idea. Male gender privilege is undoubtedly part of this and harms all women, including white women.
However, feminism has had a tendency to operate on an all-women-are-already-equal platform. The second wave is often criticized for this. Women of colour have different experiences than white women, and, of course, not all women of colour even have the same experiences. To achieve true justice, this “everyone is equal” mentality cannot be applied. As a April 2014 blog post reads: “We do not need a Eurocentric ideology to help us practice what we have ALWAYS practiced as a people. The only reason we stopped respecting one another, regardless of gender, is because the Europeans brainwashed our ancestors into acting like them.”
I can promote intersectional feminism through my work, words, and actions, but I cannot claim language to manipulate how I see fit. I don’t own the word feminist. If I tried to, I would be like those who have alluded that I’m not a feminist because I’m a “baby maker” or others who say I am not aggressive enough to be a feminist.
Though I no longer find it important whether or not people identify as feminists, I do place value on whether their behaviour and attitudes are supportive of women’s and trans rights. I personally identify as a feminist for a number of reasons. I want to get people talking and have the word as part of every day conversation. I want to be the gateway drug for others when it comes to feminism. I think the word feminist identifies the issue of the imbalance of power among genders and I want to show there is nothing to be embarrassed about by identifying as a feminist.
But I’m not a “real” feminist, as per the definition by whoever is calling me as such.
A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her first year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.