As someone who has a close circle of feminist friends, has worked for a feminist organization in New Delhi for a year and a half and fundamentally believes in all things human rights, I have grappled with the identifying term ‘Feminist’ more so than the average human being. Arguments have abound in my head, from “Yes, I am a feminist, duh, so what’s the problem?” to the kind of thinking that many feminists love to lash out at — “well, I agree with the principles of feminism, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist.” Considering the kind of strong individuals I interact with on a day-to-day basis who are very astutely feminist in their beliefs, my struggle with finding a niche for myself within the milieu of the term’s ideals has been a constructive, self-reflective yet often tiring process.
Through this course of self-doubt and contemplation, I have gone from lauding feminism for its history, accomplishments and strength in affirming principles of basic rights (for not just women but all) to questioning the westernized manifestations of feminism, its Anglo-centric (and ‘femme’-centric label) as well as the restrictiveness of labels in expressing one’s identity and ideals to the larger world. I have also opposed the quick stereotyping by society that feminism is by nature ‘radical’ or feminists are ‘feminazis’ (a very politic and unnecessarily crude manner of making a point) without understanding the basic tenets of the movement. Yet, I have also questioned the feminists who can be extreme in words when it comes to the actions of men (hence the stereotypical terms such as ‘man-hater’).
After deep thought over the span of many years, I have come to a decision on my position with the word ‘Feminist’: I will not shy away from the word itself in its most basic linguistic definition when expressing my ideals yet I will also not actively identify myself as a feminist, choosing instead to ensure my actions, words and approach to life speaks to equality for itself more than any label.
To provide some light on this decision, I thought it would be relevant to list three basic reasons that contributed to this choice, as listed below:
- The westernized, euro-centrism of mainstream feminism:
As a ‘woman of colour’ (as the term goes for non-white woman in feminist circles), I am very much aware of the western (primarily North America and Europe) origins of feminism as well as the Euro-centric manner in which it gets expressed even today within the mainstream. The growing movement of ‘Black Feminism’, branched out movements such as ‘Womanism’, the questions regarding feminism’s approach to the LGBTQ community, the very Anglicized and academic nature of word choices and abbreviations within the ideology, and the “white girl-pop” (as enhanced by social media platforms) manner in which feminism has become popularized amongst the youth — all of the above and more underbelly my hesitation with the use of the “F” word and it’s reach in addressing the diversity of the issues, rights, and people it claims to address or empower.
Not to say that I do not respect the evolving nature of thought and healthy debate on feminism — as exemplified by the increasing recognition of intersectionality. However, considering the origins of feminism as well as the long road ahead, I am most definitely wary of not being fully comfortable, recognized, or listened to as a ‘woman of colour’ within this space.
2. Labels and hypocrisy
In a society where labels on individual characteristics and actions abound — example: racism, sexism, Christian, Lesbian, Boy, one-of-a-kind — labels do provide the convenient means for people to self-identify or identify others in a structured and seemingly easy to understand manner. However, despite the utility of labels in conceptualizing people and the world, the limits of labels cannot be denied. Fluidity of experiences, such as the ideas of sexuality and nuances in personalities, make it difficult for labels to fully capture the dynamics within an individual and his or her actions. People also have a tendency to get defensive when proselytized on who they are. The beauty of feminism is that considering, by definition, the term allows people to essentiality feel safe with being who they are, it would make sense to think that if I have an issue with the use of labels and ‘isms’, feminism itself would allow me to not identify as a feminist. It’s all about respect for choice, after all — right? Ironically, today, individual choice in this regard is overlooked by many feminists who get accusatory of those who choose to not identify as feminist despite aligning with the basic tenets of the movement. This is an unfortunate situation and a consequence of the evolving nature of the term that illuminates that feminism is indeed a work in progress.
3. Actions speak louder than words but both speak louder than a concept of an ideal
Ultimately, it boils down to the above written sentence — what I do and say means more than any label I put on myself. If I identify as feminist yet showcase disrespect for a woman making her own choices, for example, than it is not feminism. However, if I am respectful of individual choice, women’s rights, and work towards changing perceptions of gender in society, while choosing to not identify as feminist for whatever reason, does that make me a traitor to the cause? I do not believe it is fair for feminism to judge individuals who make the choice to not identify as feminist (or for someone to judge an individual who does identify as feminist). However, I do believe it is completely fair for the movement to question and expose words and choices made by individuals that show disrespect for basic rights, be it a woman’s right or anyone else’s. Let’s not get carried away with labels but let’s definitely carry on the fight in bringing equality for all to action.