i, sandwich

by cathyjwilson
Editor’s Pick
APRIL 1, 2011 4:39PM

Feminist 'click' moment: Not admitting to being feminist

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The moment I realized I was a feminist was peculiar -- it actually came from me not admitting to being a feminist. I was a sophomore in college, and it was the first day of the second women's studies class I'd ever taken, and I was excited to see what the class had to offer. I had loved the intro level class and how it had introduced me to this thing -- feminism -- that helped me understand and interpret the world so much better, through a perspective that I could identify with and that was critical and thought-provoking.

But when my professor of that second women's studies class asked the feminists in the room to raise their hands, I didn't raise my hand. In fact, I don't think anyone did. No one, myself included, wanted to be associated with the word "feminist" -- this was entirely the point of the exercise of course, because then we all got the "thank a feminist" worksheet that detailed all the progress feminists have made for women. Then, everyone raises their hands when the professor asked again who was a feminist.

This was the "click" moment for me. Here was a movement that I was fascinated by, that I agreed with, yet that I couldn't publicly support without seeing other hands beside me proclaiming their support, too. It clicked that the reluctance to be vocal and open about my own feminism was a symptom of everything feminism tries to change; my feeling uncomfortable identifying as "feminist," my being submissive and not wanting to be the assertive one in class taking a stand, my lack of independence -- these were all symptoms of a society that had taught me throughout my life to be quiet and agreeable, not questioning of the status quo. 

That day I thought to myself, I am never going reject the label of "feminist" again. It has a stigma, that if you're a feminist you must be angry, or a bitch, or a lesbian, or some combination of insults that are hurled at women to challenge their socially-constructed femininity, but it's a label I'm not going to shun simply because of what other people might think. That day, it "clicked" that the stigma around feminism is so strong that even women who believe in its ideals and goals sat silently, refusing to take the label. Most of the people in that class were intelligent, strong, and vocal feminists -- but when asked point blank to admit it, initially everyone hesitated.

So I suppose my "click" is also an "anti-click" because I think what led me to realize that I was a feminist is the same thing that prevents other women from identifying with the movement, too. For me, I felt ashamed that I hadn't felt confident enough to, without hesitation or looking around the room, raise my hand -- and I know countless other women feel that same way. They don't like being catcalled; they don't like being afraid to walk alone at night; they don't like feeling like they need to fit a certain beauty standard; they don't like their reproductive rights being decided by a bunch of old, white men. It was this hesitation that to me was like a quintessential example of oppression -- women feeling like they can't even openly support equality of opportunity because they feared society's backlash. 

The movement isn't perfect by any means -- far too often the perspective of the heterosexual, white woman takes center stage and other perspectives and problems aren't heard enough. Lately I've seen an uncomfortable amount of feminist in-fighting -- feminists telling other feminists they aren't true feminists because they wear make-up, have children, stay at home, get married, shave their legs, etc. And the feminist judges act as if these "offending" feminists need to be re-certified or OKed as feminists by their peers in order to stay in the club -- it's disheartening to see women pointing out the flaws in other women because they don't fit a certain "feminist" mold ... who exactly decides what the mold is?

So that's both how I came to identify as a feminist and a few general problems I've had with the movement lately. It seems like I have a thousand more stories to tell regarding how I came to better understand and identify with feminism and other feminists, but the crucial moment was when I was faced with admitting to being a feminist.

For more "click" and "anti-click" moments, visit the Feminist Portrait Project Blog Carnival (at Bitch)

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I am old enough to have suffered through all types of discrimination as a woman (and a petite one). I worked at a company that had one pay scale for men, another for women (because the men had families to support - right and we didn't?). When pregnant I was forced to resign at 7 months lest any clients might be offended by my pregnant belly. Women at my organization did not have maternity benefits but the wives of the male employees did.

Women today are reaping the benefits of those of us who suffered these and so much more discrimination at the hands of the male bosses and male-run unions, etc. [Watch "Made in Dagenham" to see how a few women changed the world!] The glass ceiling still exists as does misogyny at all levels of business, politics and religion. I know so many women who would make wonderful priests. Can they realize their calling? No. I've worked with many men who claim to be pro-women but who exclude their female peers from their inner circle. Women have to be FAR better than men to get the promotions that are handed out left and right to men who are far less qualified. When an opportunity for employment arises will the person who is hired be a big, good-looking man with whom the hiring manager can piss with in the john, play golf with, hoist a few beers and go to the ballgames with - or the woman with perhaps children at home, maybe a bit overweight but with sterling credentials and more experience to the male applicant? Yep.

Until there are more women managers, CEOs, members of Congress, etc. this 'subtle' discrimination will continue to keep women in lesser jobs.

Oy! Am I a feminist? Yes I am. And all women should be and should be proud to support and work for equal rights for all women.
Don't take the rights that you have today for granted. Your sisters paid the price and women continue to pay the price now because they don't fight for more than what they have.

And what's wrong with being "angry, a bitch or a lesbian?" Have you ever thought that those women are out there fighting for your rights as well as your own? Help them.

Descending the soap-box.
Every woman today should be a feminist. Unless of course she really wants to be less than a man in every aspect of her live, including her own body.
Interesting post. You didn't want to be labelled.
Labelled people infight.
The abstract appelation becomes a
mode of identity, a "way to be", determing "what i should do"...
alot of people live comfortably within this kind of safe cocoon,
but not you, i think...
why not call yrself a "neo-feminist"?
taking all the best of the decades-old doctrine
and adding to it

the modern situation, here in 2011,
and also your own independent thoughts?

Nothing destroys independence of thought
like having to live up to being a label.
or male.
congratulations on being able to stand up. it'll cost you money, maybe, but there's more to life.
This is not the forum to criticize your Feminism and personally I think it is great that you have found something that you can be passionate about, but it would be interesting for you to list what was given to you by your Women's Studies prof in terms of "thank God for Feminism." And while I am sure that your prof has a lot of good things to say about Feminism, there is one problem with that, and that is in Women's Studies, by its very nature; one has to have the correct anatomy to teach it in 99.9% of the cases. Furthermore, there is an assumption that because of the nature of the subject matter all males are inherently biased and prejudiced. The only other courses of this nature are Black Studies, and Mexican American Studies, etc. The point is that these are token classes because of the nature of their restrictive insulation of outside criticism. This by itself makes it essentially a Fascist-like form of study. Furthermore, while academia gives lip service to this field as a viable "chair" of intellectual inquiry, no one that I know of would consider this a serious form of academic rigor. The bottom line is that Women's Studies is considered analogous to what a degree in "Basketweaving" was during the 1960's. Because of its inherent incest-like tendency to insulate itself from all forms of intellectual inquiry and criticism, it is not really considered a viable field of study by serious academicians. Furthermore, even utilizing minimal academic standards for credible published research , the published material is so biased and unprofessional that I don't know of anyone other than other Women's Studies professors that consider it even to meet the minimum standards of academic scrutiny. We would not for example feel comfortable with a field of study advocating Fascism, Nazism, Klu Klux Klanism and utilizing federal funding for this purpose, but we're very comfortable with Black Studies and Women's Studies. There is nothing wrong with being an advocate for Nazism and Bigotry advocacy since we live in a free country, but to brag about it would--to me--be a little much. So my point is that if you have a passion for this field, I would suggest perhaps getting a graduate degree and going into research and teaching and help change the poor image this field has within academia and in society in general. There is certainly plenty of work to be done. I wish you all the best.
I married another Feminist. He's a wonderful guy who, for me, is the wife that Judy Syfers wrote about so years ago in "Why I Want a Wife." (http://www.columbia.edu/~sss31/rainbow/wife.html)

He's my 4th husband. It took a little extra effort for me to find such a fabulous Feminist. He is intimately acquainted with every cleaning implement in our home and is also an accomplished architect. When I went back to pursue a law degree he made it possible for me. He supported me in becoming whatever it was that I wanted to be. He carried burdens and lightened my load in ways that I didn't grow up to expect in a marriage. I believe that angels and Feminist men have some kind of secret cabal for which I am grateful.
One of the common refrains of the early feminism movement was, "A woman has to be twice as good to be considered half as good as any man." Alas, it still seems to hold true.

Worst of all, women seem to be the best at holding back OTHER women. That's been my experience, and also at observing that other male managers capitalize on that competitive fury that women seem to have for each other. Divide and conquer. Too bad that many women managers are too blind to recognize that--or it works to their advantage to keep other women out of their playing field. Sad.