KC Wednesday: Why I’m a Feminist
Today’s KC Wednesday post comes to us from the Men and Masculinities Knowledge Community and is written by Jude C. Butch, Leadership Programming Coordinator for the Center for Student Leadership & Community Engagement at the University of Buffalo.
There is a misconception that in order to be a feminist one must be anti-man. Likewise, there are people who believe that in order to be pro-man one must also be anti-woman. This dualist view of the world perpetuates sexist oppression and inhibits equality. As a man, I never really considered myself a feminist nor did I believe that I could be part of that movement. However, after I learned more about the feminist movement and what that means in society today, I am proud to consider myself a feminist. My hope is that after you read my short essay, you will stand proud to consider yourself a feminist, too.
In her essay, A Movement to End Sexist Oppression, bell hooks (intentionally not capitalized) (2010) discusses her views on feminism. In order to understand the concept of feminism, one must understand the history behind the movement. According to Kesselman (as cited in Kesselman, McNair, Schniedewind, 1995), feminism in the United States grew out of the anti-slavery and other reforms of the nineteenth century. Major historical events like the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention called for the end of subordination of women in all spheres of life. Although women’s suffrage was the first feminist cause, other nineteenth century causes including access to birth control, educational opportunities for women and improved labor and wage conditions soon made the feminist agenda. In the 1960’s, a renewed sense of feminism grew out of the civil rights movement when white, college-educated suburban housewives and young women of color turned their focus to equality for African Americans. Later, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the feminist movement focused on issues revolving around abortion rights and laws regarding rape and domestic violence against women. Regardless of the century, decade or issue, historically feminism has stood for:
The valuing of women and the belief in and advocacy for social, political and economic equality and liberation for both women and men. Feminism questions and challenges patriarchal social values and structures that serve to enforce and maintain dominance and women’s subordination (Cyrus, 1993, as cited in Adams, Bell and Giffin, 1997, 125).
With a better sense of what feminism means historically, I will now dissect and analyze the definitions, complexities and controversies bell hooks offers surrounding the topic.
In her essay, A Movement to End Sexist Oppression, bell hooks (2010) discusses the importance of defining feminism because “without agreed upon definition(s), we lack a sound foundation on which to construct theory or engage in overall meaning praxis” (337). Therefore, hooks defines feminism as the “struggle to end sexist oppression” (339). Although this definition seems simple, hooks goes on to discuss the many nuances of the term and the movement that make it complex, giving it a negative stigma. For instance, hooks explains that “feminism is often equated with the white women’s rights effort” (338). This is undoubtedly because its roots are tied to the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the white woman’s suffrage movement of the nineteenth century. Another reason hooks offers as to why the feminist movement lacks significant, wide-reaching support is because “large numbers of women see feminism as synonymous with lesbianism [and] their homophobia leads them to reject association with any group identified as pro-lesbian” (338). Hooks also wonders if women are fearful of the feminist movement because some women “shun identification with any political movement, especially one perceived as radical” (338).
When I consider the context behind feminism and the complexities that hooks discusses in her essay, I can understand why the term and movement may be problematic for some individuals. First, if I examine this concept through my male identity lens, I have, in the past, incorrectly equated feminism with an anti-male movement. I realize now that this is not the case and that feminism is a movement to end all oppression; however, on its surface, it may turn away individuals that see feminism as anti-male. I also agree with hooks in that some individuals simply do not want to be associated with what is seen as radical or politically liberal. Again, examining this through one of my identity lenses, I know Roman Catholic individuals who refute feminism because they see it as a movement to support birth control and abortion – two social issues in which the Roman Catholic Church is adamantly against. What these individuals fail to see is that one can be a feminist and not subscribe to every belief of the movement; however, this association is enough to completely turn people away from the feminist movement altogether. To this end, I agree with hooks and her definition of feminism because I believe it eliminates some of these misconceptions of the movement. hooks’ definition, albeit simple in nature, still gets to the core of the issue and that is the end of sexist oppression.
As a student of history, I believe that the context of the feminist movement must inform one’s understanding of feminism. Throughout history, feminists and the feminist movement have made strides to try to end sexist oppression; however, there is still much work to be done. Using bell hooks’ definition of feminism, I would consider myself a feminist and hope that I can stand united with other feminists to help to end sexist oppression and to educate others about what it means to be a feminist in today’s society.
Adams, M. Bell, L.A., Giffin, P. (Eds.). (1997). Teaching for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge.
hooks, b. (2010). A Movement to End Sexist Oppression. In Adams et al. (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice (pp.337-339). New York: Routledge.