There is Nothing Feminist About Me, I am a Feminist…

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.

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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. TC mark

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  • Amad

    you should probably read what the rape allegations include before assuming that because someone said 'rape', it means what you think it means.

    • rawiya

      i have read the allegations. having sex with a woman while she is asleep is rape. pinning a woman's arms back so that you can have sex with her without a condom is rape.

      maybe he's innocent, maybe he's guilty. maybe the pentagon IS after him. that's absolutely possible. but dismissing the charges because you agree with his politics is exactly why most rape cases go unreported.

      you are more than welcome to disagree with me, but don't assume i don't know what i'm talking about.

      • Amad

        Heres what we know:
        Guy has consensual sex with woman A.
        Guy has consensual sex with woman B.
        Time passes, during which one/both women continue seeing Guy.
        Woman A and woman B learn Guy has been fucking both of them.
        Woman A and woman B both tell how they told him to stop, no not without a condom, was asleep, etc. how he raped them both.

        Its their word against his. Calling those who see from his perspective “idiot rape apologists” is inflammatory and dishonest.

      • rawiya

        yeah, it is absolutely their word against his.

        and i'm not talking about his perspective vs. their perspective. i'm talking about the particular manner in which keith olbermann and michael moore addressed the case on television, which to me comes across as idiotic and rape apologist-ic.

        i'm not saying he's guilty of rape; i'm saying that public dismissals of the case based on assange as a public figure and hero are wrong.

      • Cutlesnap

        This frustrates me. There is nothing feminist about automatically siding with someone who claims they were raped. Don't you see how such clearly made-up charges harm the case of real victims? These women are never said he told him to stop; they said Assange “made the condom break” and other nonsense. They even admitted there was never any “violence or fear”. That would have stopped any other investigation dead in its tracks. In fact, it did stop this one, and then political pressure from the US made them re-open it. One of the women is linked to the CIA for crying out loud. Meanwhile, you yourself are lying that he “fled the country and has been largely uncooperative with Swedish authorities”. Do you have any idea how serious those allegations are?

        You're not doing REAL rape victims any favours by automatically siding with someone who clearly lies about rape, and you're not much of a feminist if you think making false accusation towards a man is excusable.

      • Nora Y

        I do not understand the mentality that all women who allege rape are lying, manipulative bitches. It is so wrong. A tiny minority of women do falsely accuse people of rape (PERHAPS these women are two of them). But so, so many more never even get to bring charges against their rapists because it is so hard to prove in court. And the deck is usually stacked against the victim. Rape is absolutely devastating. It is not as if those who speak up for rape victims' rights are attacking all men. It is also a minority of men who commit rape. But it is a social myth perpetuated by misinformation that many or most women are lying about rape. I will fight to the death on the following point: No matter what a woman wears, be it mini skirt and heels, no matter if she has a promiscuous history, no matter if sex started out consensually and she then said no, no matter if she was drunk-NO WOMAN deserves to be sexually assaulted. Case closed. NO ONE is “asking for it.” I find that line of thinking disgusting. Maybe Assange is being falsely accused. But these women deserve their day in court. Also, minor point, to my understanding these charges are not new. They are outstanding charges from years ago. Maybe I'm incorrect but that has been my impression. In which case, that makes it even less likely that this is some media attention ploy.

        Men are victims, too. Men are raped and sexually abused and they are harmed by the perpetual misinformation in our society and media. Men are raised in a culture in which they shouldn't cry, they must be super masculine, and often they are sent the message that they have a certain right to women and access to their bodies. This is harmful to men and women. I highly recommend the documentary “Tough Guise.”

      • maelie arocho

        We watched the Tough Guise documentary in one of my women's studies courses and it was really enlightening.

        Also, on Democracy Now! they had two feminists debating the Julian Assange rape allegations. It was interesting, particularly from two women who share the same beliefs. Here is a link:… .Also if you've never read Noami Wolf I recommend her.

  • maelie arocho

    My first Women's Studies course in college involved an exercise where we shouted out everything we thought a feminist was supposed to. Everything you mentioned in your post was included. If there is anything I learned from minoring in Women's Studies its that feminism is different from everyone. Some of my classmates didn't believe in wearing make-up or shaving, and were big on activism. While others were very “girly” and didn't know how to become active in the community. But in the end, we all agreed that we were feminists.

    I love fashion, get manis and pedis, do some activism work like writing to my local reps and government. I do not agree with everything some feminists say and argue about. But that is what makes each of us unique. You can't fall into the stereotypes if what you think a person should be, because in a way, that is what feminists are fighting for. Don't let anyone box you into what they think you should be.

    • neek

      Maelie, thanks for writing this comment (it's exactly what I wanted to say myself. The purpose of feminism has changed throughout its existence despite the societal understanding/stereotyping of feminism as a movement of anger, hatred and radicalism. As with many other “ism” groups, what others tend to focus on is the extreme view; however, such a view detracts from the recent purpose of feminism: social equality across gender, race, geographical location and socioeconomic class. In other words, feminism seeks to put all of us on an equal plane with one another and when people (not just men, but PEOPLE) declare that one person's cry for justice is “hooey” then how are we supposed to ever really find justice for anybody? I understand that we are all innocent until proven guilty, but we shouldn't toss aside the possibility of guilt merely because of a person's gender, alleged contribution to society or bank account.
      Furthermore, anger nor activism are not necessary aspects of feminism. To even declare yourself a feminist, is, in a way, an act of protest–an act against impositions. bell hooks has provided us with an understanding of feminism and equality that can stem from love, not hate–from understanding, not rejection. If anything, anger is merely a jumping off point to realizing these things.

  • maelie arocho

    Do you know what rape apology is? You're practically making the age old argument of “no means yes” or “she wanted it.”

    The anger that is coming from the feminist community stems from women who are raped being silenced about what happened to them, or being made to believe that it wasn't really rape. When Michael Moore calls these allegations “hooey” it as if he is completely calling “bullshit” on both these women. Although the women may have began having consensual sex with Assange, it is reported that they told him to STOP. As as woman, I don't care who you are if I say stop it means STOP.

    It is their word against his, and I understand people are angered that the courts are trying to stop Assange's work. But Wikileaks is large organization, and should he be proven guilty I don't think they'll stop posting the information they have.

    • rawiya

      what she said.

  • GraceJane

    I enjoyed your post. I feel the same frustration mentioned here.

    I dislike the idea that a feminist has to take on a particular shape or role.
    I feel like telling others that they should not shave their legs – for example – is immaterial and regressive. Why criticize the media for telling people how to look if you are doing the very same thing?

  • Travis Baugh

    I've never heard a professor, or anyone really, say that in order to be a feminist you need to be an activist. If anything, I've heard that being a feminist just means (at minimum, I guess) being aware of gender difference/inequity in certain problematic social situations and that feminism is different things to different people in different places and times.

    • Jess Dutschmann

      I've had the same experiences as Rawiya here, and it's not 'saying' so much as social pressure. It's essentially, weirdly enough, kind of a 'mean girls' thing. Have to be whatever group to the t, even if it's feminists, otherwise you ain't accepted.

  • Roe

    but I wonder—what isn't upsetting about that?
    Maybe the question isn't why shouldn't I be a mad activist?

    Maybe the question is:

    Why don't any of these things make me angry?

  • C.M.

    I'm sorry, why exactly do you not want to care about the quality of life for women “around the world”? That doesn't make you an edgy ~not a feminist~, that makes you an awful person.

    • Chelsea

      She doesn't mean that she doesn't care about a woman's rights in other places! Of course she cares, she doesn't have a black hole for a heart. I think the question is whether she needs to be an activist for the rights of all women around the world in order to feel confident in her feminist values. The fact that she is asking herself that question at all means at the very least she cares. I think it's a difficult question to answer, because you have to figure out what you would be willing to do as an activist and where to begin. And then, there will always be people who are struggling with the fight as well who feel you should be doing more, or be more like them, when they really should accept activism coming from many different angles. Not everyone will listen to just one way of reasoning; some people don't mind ignoring petitions, but that doesn't mean it isn't important for them to understand as well as everyone else.

  • Franny

    The idea that to be a feminist, you have to be hairy, wear androgynous clothes and no make-up is damaging to what the focus of feminism should be– gender equality and humane treatment of all people. I think it is safe to say that these radical feminists would assert that their beliefs are justifiable and should be widely supported but to say that a person has to meet a certain PHYSICAL standard to preach these values is limiting, non-inclusive and just enforcing a new kind of prejudice. They are essentially saying there is only one correct way to be a woman: hairy and flannel wearing.

    I live in Seattle so flannel is kind of a wardrobe staple and I don't always shave my legs in the winter but I also like dressing up sometimes an often wear makeup, but the thought of leaving the house without concealer on doesn't cause me to hyperventilate. Clothes and makeup should be a matter of personal expression. I will respect the right of other women to dress in ways that are not traditionally feminine and expect my right to do the opposite to be respected as well. What should count –and yes this is a trite cliche, but– is the actions and ideals of the person. A woman in heels is no less effective than a woman in combat boots when demanding equal pay in the workplace or access to birth control for women in third world countries or whatever the cause may be.

    Rawiya, I think you are more of a feminist than these regressive women trying to force their own physical standard on YOUR body. Feminism as a movement should find power in the many different ways we can be strong women. Diversity of thought is essential for finding solutions to complex problems.

    • Karina

      Well, well said, my fellow Seattle-ite! it's time that we start claiming our feminist identities which are multi-dimensional and nuanced, rather than apologizing or steering ourselves away from the movement simply because we can't identify ourselves with the more traditional (and often stereotyped) forms of feminism.

  • Ryan O'Connell

    I'm a gay man and a total feminist. People question whether or not that's feasible but I'm just like, “Yes, it is. K byeeee!”

    • Franny

      Men can totally be feminists.

    • neek

      Feminism is for everybody (thanks bell hooks).

  • Erik Stinson

    long ass comments…

  • Dee

    We are all humans, and everyone should have the same rights. Women and men are made differently though (duh). Thats why we have separate restrooms. Feminism is an unnecessary mode of thought.

  • Leigh Alexander

    i struggle all the time with this, like, feeling guilty like i am a 'bad feminist' because i am not an activist, and because of things i enjoy or want to do that people tell me i shouldn't enjoy or want to do if i am going to be a feminist.

  • Nora Y

    NO-you do not have to be an “activist” to be a feminist. Those who make you feel like you do are being close-minded. You sound like you have a very reasonable belief system when it comes to gender and race equality, and just because you aren't picketing at a rally doesn't mean you don't live it. I commend you comments on the Assange rape allegations. It is so unfortunate that Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann have come to this man's defense. In all truth they probably have no idea whether or not those charges are true. I am ashamed to say I watched that interview, and started to question myself whether maybe it wasn't all a little exaggerated. Then I had to slap myself back to reality. Yes, Assange may have done some wonderful things to raise questions about freedom of information and freedom of the press. But that does not excuse him from potentially committing sexual abuse. I don't know if Rachel Maddow has spoken out on these issues or not; I wish she would. Sometimes I wish she had more segments on women's issues. I am afraid that she is wary of becoming a target, and worrying that it may hurt her credibility. She is a strong, articulate voice for gay rights, but I just don't get the same enthusiasm for her for women's rights. In no way do I expect from her what you have felt expected to do-I don't need her to get all hyped up and angry at The White Man. Just perhaps for her to be the voice that speaks out against her fellow cable news anchors when they clearly engage in victim-blaming, potentially the most devastating social threat to rape victims and any woman at risk for sexual assault. The world needs more steadfast moderates such as yourself, who want to engage in meaningful discourse without resorting to anger. And activism doesn't have to be so visible. Anything you do to change your world, whether calling out someone or writing this article, is proactive. Don't let anyone tell you it's not.

  • Kath

    I agree with a lot of the points you make here, or at least I feel I can understand the position you are coming from, and maybe this is petty but for me it took away from your argument:
    Does anyone really still believe that in order to be a feminist you have to eschew all societal markers of “attractive” femininity (makeup, hair straightening, footwear not designed for combat, whatever)? Do people ACTUALLY give you flak for that? It seems counterproductive to bring up that shitty stereotype when we're well into (or maybe even past) the third wave at this point.

    • rawiya

      thank you for this comment.

      my intention isn't at all to stereotype; everything i've listed has come directly out of my personal experience and, as someone mentioned below, interactions with 'mean girls' in feminist circles. i have ACTUALLY been given flak for aesthetic choices. and my point, much like yours, is that that's completely ridiculous.

  • Lbourne

    To get angry means you care. I would consider myself a feminist- though I may not “look” like one. And I always have, still do, get angry. So angry that I attend protests? No, that's not my personal style. But I have written many a letter to fashion editors urging them to show a more realistic image of females. I would love to be able to pick up a fashion magazine and see models closer to my age- and believe me, I'm only 30- I do not consider myself over the hill- and not size 0. I have more disposable income than I have ever had in my life at this age. I would probably be more influenced by what I see on the pages of a magazine or various blogs if I saw someone who resembled me rather than a frail teen modeling the latest trends. Because when I was 18 and crazy skinny- I had no money. And I don't buy the whole “selling a fantasy” thing. Because please. We're smarter than that.

    Anyway, I am just talking about one little corner of feminism in our culture. My point is that each woman and man who considers themself a feminist usually is because they're not ok with something- maybe even a little angry at something- whatever it may be. And it's not a bad thing to care. Anger can push you towards activism, which doesn't necessarily mean burning bras and attending protests- it can mean a range of things- and activism of all types can lead to change. Complacency leads to nothing.

  • Kelley Hoffman

    sounds like you're mad at your college feminist friends. i would be too, seems like they kind of sucked. and didn't read their emma goldman. no dance parties?

  • Guest

    Tangential to your main point but Julian Assange did not flee Sweden. The first prosecutor on the case determined there was no evidence nor any suspicion and then he left the country.

    After the first prosecutor decided there was no evidence (and after political pressure) a second prosecutor was placed on the case. Furthermore, Julian Assange has been co-operating with Swedish authorities, he even turned himself in once a legitimate arrest warrant was handed to the British police.

    You can be (rightfully) annoyed or angry over people trying to minimise the seriousness of rape charges, but you cannot (or should not) be misrepresenting or fabricating facts about an ongoing rape investigation.

  • Alena

    You don't have to do anything you don't want to. There are as many definitions of what a feminist is as there are feminists. Be true to yourself. However, there are so much injustice in this world that all of us, feminists or not, men or not, black or white, should be angry.

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