What feminism means to me

I have considered myself to be a feminist ever since I was about 6 years old. It probably has something to do with having three brothers and no sisters. The shape and form of it has changed over the years as I have grown (as well as the intensity of my ‘belief’ in it, for lack of a better term), but if asked if I consider myself to be a feminist, I will always have said “yes”.

More recently, mostly thanks to people I know from twitter, I have been giving a lot more thought to what type of feminist I am. Apparently there are a lot of different types, with distinct characteristics and aims. I did not know this until the denizens of the twittersphere educated me. I’m a physicist, so my education was focused on waves of sound and light, not waves of feminism.

Yesterday, keen to educate myself further on the topic of feminism (so I no longer have to either smile blandly or reveal my ignorance when a colleague mentions that roller derby has a third-wave feminist component), I headed to wikipedia. I probably shouldn’t have done that, because my reaction to some of the articles was much like what I imagine the reaction of  the non-mathematically inclined is to something like Stokes’ Law.

Despite my enthusiasm for learning about feminism, I have no idea where I sit on the spectrum of all things feminist. I’m a little embarrassed by this, because I consider feminism to be quite important to me. I don’t quite have the vocabulary to express my feelings as well as many others do, but I am going to have a go anyway.

My personal feminism has strong components of choice and freedom. Women should not attain different levels of respect depending on whether or not they have kids, or whether or not they have a career. There shouldn’t be rules such as you must/mustn’t wear makeup. Women should be able to embrace their inner sex kitten, but shouldn’t feel compelled to do so. There’s a whole bunch of other rules out there, but I always have trouble keeping track of them, so I’m just going to say this: women should feel free to be themselves.

My feminism also includes men. Men should have the same choices available that I think women should (one that springs to mind here is the choice to stay at home with children, and the choice to not have a high-powered career if that doesn’t appeal). Men should be allowed to be feminists if that’s how they feel.

My feminism also involves acknowledging that things are not yet equal. A while ago I read a book called “The Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vedantam. It includes a chapter called “The Invisible Current” which uses the analogy of swimming with or against the current to describe how many people experience sexism. From the book:

Most of us – men and women – will never consciously experience the undercurrent of sexism that runs through our world. Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine. We may have out suspicions, but we cannot know for sure, because most men will never experience life as a women and most women will never know what it is like to be a man.

I’ve previously written about some of my experiences with overt sexism, but sexism isn’t always so easy to identify. People may not realise they are being sexist, and it can be very hard to define. Yet for all the hidden sexism, there are some concrete measures – such as the inequality in pay, and differences in numbers of men and women in leadership positions (video).

For sure, I’m the beneficiary of the battles of generations before me, but I don’t think the battle is over yet. As I get even older, I am sure my experiences will shape my feelings on feminism even further. I’m also sure there’s plenty of stuff I missed (I consider myself to be on feminist ‘L’ plates), but since I am keen to learn, feel free to educate me (politely) either here or on twitter.

A final note: In all this, I’m aware of problems with the gender binary. I’m also aware that there are a multitude of forms of discrimination other than sex discrimination, and that these can affect the ways people experience sexism too. However, since I can barely find the words to write about what feminism feels to me, I’m trying to keep things as simple as I can.

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9 Responses to What feminism means to me

  1. Melissa says:

    Hey, I don’t think that one has to classify oneself. I think it is about embracing the concept and being open to the way other people see the world, but with a critical eye. I think I would call myself a critical feminist, just as I am a critical cultural theorist. Identifying as an specific kind of anything creates traps as much as not doing so.

  2. Captain Old says:

    I admired your frankness, and the reference to ‘L’ plates I also liked, and agreed with, the way you included men in the process. I think you also put your finger on what must be a key element of feminism – a person’s freedom to be themselves and make their own choices.
    I suspect some feminists may not agree with you there – they’d prefer to drive all into their own particular world view, but that isn’t freedom, it’s ideology.

  3. Keith says:

    I feel I am rather in the same situation as you are, not having given much thought to where I stand in the feminism rainbow beyond “somewhere far far to the left of Messr. Rabbit”. I’m not even sure how useful the search for a niche in something like this is, but that may just be a case of not wanting to have a label applied to oneself.

    Enjoyed the ‘L’ plates analogy 🙂

    • bogurk says:

      Thanks Keith and Captain for reading. I’m glad you both liked my ‘L’ plates analogy – it’s the bet way I could think of to describe how I feel.

  4. OliveWildly says:

    Right there with you. I never know quite where I sit in the ocean of feminism. Usually I mark myself as an Equalist as many people refuse to believe that feminists could be anything more than bra burning manhaters. I believe we will even out the scale even in terms of pay only after we confront the subtle sexism that pervades our media and everyday life. I wish it could be easy, but when is anything worth fighting for easy?

    • bogurk says:

      Hi Olive, I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone in not knowing where I sit. You raise a good point about things worth fighting for not being easy. I also don’t think that change like this ever happens overnight. Guess we’ll all just have to stick with it and hope we see improvements as they come.

  5. to me (as much as any bloke can credibly comment) Feminism is about rights but its also about creating space and conditions for a diverse gendered viewpoint, a leadership and contribution, a culture and a balance society needs. badly.

  6. Ann says:

    Recently I’ve become aware that some of my younger colleagues who are benefitting from the gains won by earlier generations of feminists are actually quite dismissive of feminism. One even criticised feminists while on maternity leave herself! (I have previously vented about this on Facebook and Twitter, as you may remember.) It worries me that women in their 20s and 30s may think the battles are won and there’s no need to continue pushing for equal rights.

    Given that experience I found this post very refreshing and a positive sign for the future. Thanks!

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