Here’s the thing: I always thought I was a feminist. In fact, I thought pretty much everyone was a feminist. How could one not be? By its very definition, not being feminist would mean you believe women do not deserve the same access to economic, social, and political resources as men. It would mean you believe there is nothing wrong with the wage gap, that women are not entitled to the same human rights as men, that domestic violence and sexual harassment are no biggies. In other words, you’d pretty much have to be a misogynist to not be a feminist.
I was raised by a highly educated, powerful, self-proclaimed feminist mom who managed to at once be an accomplished professional in her field, a great mother, and an inimitably chic woman. She did not compromise her child rearing, her career, or her personal style (although looking back at those velvet dresses and the big hair, maybe she should have).
I always believed I was equal to my male peers. I believed I was as smart as them, as witty as them and, if I cared enough to work on it, I could probably do as many chin-ups in gym. I believed men and women were equal. I believed I could be President, or a writer, or an artist, or a businesswoman. That I would be good at any of those things had nothing to do with my gender. And that made me a feminist.
Simple enough, right? Wrong.
Apparently, I was living a lie. A naive, simple-minded, innocent enough lie wherein I believed feminism came down to gender equality. Turns out there was more to it than that. To be a feminist, I quickly learned in my first year of college, I had to be an activist. I had to be angry about the condition of women around the world. I had to despise pop culture for maintaining the status quo. I couldn’t be interested in fashion. Nor could I straighten my naturally curly hair. I had to wear cargo pants and hiking boots. I had to favor poetry slams over dance parties.
And I really didn’t want to do that.
Funny enough, during my brief middle school stint as a scholar of black power movements, I learned it wasn’t enough to believe in racial equality either. It wasn’t enough to believe that black people were fundamentally equal to white people, the same way it wasn’t enough to believe that women were fundamentally equal to men. I learned I had to despise “the Man” and, by extension, the white man.
And I really didn’t want to do that either.
But here I am, a few years and a handful of women’s studies classes later, and I’m still struggling with the notion. I’d like to believe I’m a feminist, but am I really?
Things got especially confusing this week, in light of the Julian Assange rape case, and the subsequent (idiotic, rape-apologist) defenses made on his part by Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore. If you’re out of the loop: Assange has been charged with rape by two Swedish women. He fled the country and has been largely uncooperative with Swedish authorities. He’s being bailed out by Moore and other progressives, the former of whom publicly discounted the charges, laughed at them, and called them “hooey.” Another case of a powerful man minimizing the importance and seriousness of rape allegations.
I’ve been reading Sady Doyle’s enraged, astute commentary (you should, too) and following her Twitter protest, which aims to solicit a public retraction and apology from both Olbermann and Moore. Her perspective and method are both spot-on. But when I began reading through the hundreds of comments on her blog and under her #Mooreandme hashtag on Twitter, I found myself back in college, feeling once again like “not enough of a feminist.”
I wonder: Is it possible to be a feminist without being an activist? When did those two things become so inextricably linked? I try to use gender-neutral language; I speak up in defense of women’s rights across racial and class lines; I challenge friends and acquaintances who engage in rape-apologism and blaming-the-victim. But that’s not really enough, is it? I’ve got to get mad, don’t I?
Dammit. I really, really, really don’t want to do that either.