Progressives have always led the way on respecting other people’s identities and self-described affiliations. While conservatives have often sought to invalidate or even erase ethnic and cultural identities on grounds of nationalism, and to invalidate LGBT identities on grounds of ‘values’, progressives have always been there to defend the victims.
Except when it comes to the feminist identity of some people.
Despite the fact that Ivanka Trump has repeatedly told people she is a feminist, this has not been respected by many feminists. Many of my feminist friends say they don’t consider her a feminist, and I have a feeling that this is representative of many other feminists out there. I have even heard some people say that only Trump supporters would consider Ivanka a feminist.
This, to me, is very wrong on many levels, no matter what you think of Donald Trump (I’m not a fan of him personally).
Firstly, as described above, this is inconsistent with the progressive value of respecting others’ identities. We respect others’ identities because we want others to respect ours, and we respect others’ identities no matter if we understand it or not. I may not fully understand how it feels to be a black woman or a gay man in this world, but when somebody tells me that they identify that way, I fully respect that identity. Anything less would be unacceptable, right?
Secondly, if the feminist movement is able to exclude people on the grounds of political affiliation or views, this sets a dangerous precedent. I first became a feminist at 16, after being told that ‘a feminist is simply somebody who believes in gender equality’. Feminism has always been about gender equality, refusing to accept anything less. However, it also isn’t about a specific way to achieve gender equality. As I often say, feminism is not a political party, and there is no party line to toe. But if the movement can exclude Ivanka because of her association with her father, this is no longer true. Despite Donald Trump’s attitude to women causing widespread concern among feminists, Ivanka and other Donald Trump supporters may still decide, in their best conscience, to support him for other reasons, and to fight for feminist causes using other means. If these people are excluded from feminism, it would be exclusion due to political affiliation, something that should not happen in feminism.
If feminism starts excluding people due to political affiliation or beliefs, there may be no end to it.
For example, if Trump supporters can be excluded, how about Sanders supporters? (An argument could easily be made that they too were in Hillary’s way.) Or Republicans in general? (They are in Trump’s party, after all.) The overall effect will be a feminism that is representative of only some women, and only serves the values and interests of some women as a result. If feminism becomes so limited, there will not be an incentive for the majority of women to be part of it. This would have dire implications for women’s rights.