Liss Says Stuff #5: Feminst Noobs and Feminist Identity

[Content Note: Anti-feminist stereotypes about feminists.]

One of the most frequent emails I get is from people who are frustrated with a friend, family member, or colleague who says some variation on "I believe that women and men should be equal, but I'm no feminist," and ask me how to approach that argument. So, here's a quick video on what I've found is the best approach to that conversation. Ultimately, however, identification is an individual option, and the goal shouldn't be about forcing anyone to accept any label or identity at all, but to help someone who wants to have this conversation understand what those labels and identities actually represent to the people who do choose to wear them. After all, choice is central to feminism.

One of the most frequent questions I get via email is how to engage with someone who supports equality for women and men, but doesn't wear the label of "feminist."

And the first thing I wanna say about that is that there are plenty of women who are well-versed in feminism and choose not to wear that label. There are women of color who prefer to identify as womanists—and they may or may not also identify as feminists. And there are women who are also extremely well-versed in, ahh, the history of feminism, and choose not to wear the label because, um, they don't feel comfortable with the history of mainstream feminism, which includes transphobia, racism, and other bigotries.

So, it's really important to be aware that there are, ahh, people who don't wear the label of "feminist," even though they support equality for women and men—and it's not necessary for, um, for anyone to wear that label. Um, and any conversation that is had about this subject should be approached with that in mind; um, it's not necessary to wear the label of "feminist" just because you support equality for women and men.

Ahh, but mostly what these emails are about, uh, are people who say, you know, "I'm not a feminist because—" and then follow that with some, um, feminist stereotypes—some reason why they're not feminist that actually reflect a fundamental mi— misunderstanding of what feminism is. So they might say, "Well, I'm not a man-hater" or "I'm not angry all the time" or, um, "Aren't all feminists lesbians? Aren't they all ugly?"—you know, really, um, stereotypical antifeminist tropes.

And, um, so this is the conversation that people are really asking me about: How do I address that? And, um: How do I sort of tell this person, "Actually, that's not what feminism is, and thus you are a feminist."?

Um, really it's a—it's not a fair approach, and it's not an effective approach to impose on someone an identity that they don't embrace. So, responding to that by saying, "All th— all that stuff is wrong, and you're actually a feminist" is, um, not good. It's not kind to impose labels on people, or identities that they don't want to wear—and it's also just not effective, because it tends to make them resistant to the philosophy of feminism.

So the effect—ah, or, the strategy that I've found the most effective is to ask them: "Why is it that you don't identify as a feminist?" And then, when they sort of trot out these antifeminist tropes, that are really ubiquitous in our culture, I can challenge them and I can sort of sweep them away. And once those are gone, once I have broken down what feminism isn't, then I can introduce what feminism is, at least to me. Um, what does it mean to me to be a feminist.

And, um, I do that without hope or expectation that they will then themselves identify as a feminist at the end of it. Um, I think the goal is education, rather than, um, the objective of winning over someone and saying, you know, great, they identify as a feminist now.

Although, in my experience, once I've had that conversation with people, I tend to find that they say, "Well, you know what? It turns out I'm a feminist after all." That's a great result—but I don't think you wanna approach it with that as your goal. I think the goal has to be: Sweeping away antifeminist tropes and talking to someone one-on-one about what being a feminist means to you. And hoping that it gives them a better understanding of what feminism is.
A final thought: Speaking to feminist noobs always from a place of what being a feminist, or a womanist, means to you personally, why you value it and how you practice it in your life, is one of the best ways we break down the monolithizing of feminists. Making it personal is what makes it powerful.

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