Why Calling Yourself A Feminist Matters

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“I believe in gender equality and women’s rights, but I’m not a feminist.”

Time and again I hear versions of a statement that presents itself to me as a logical fallacy. To say that you believe in what a movement stands for but don’t believe in the movement itself is the equivalent of saying you think racist jokes are funny but you are not racist. It makes no sense because the entire reason a racist joke is funny is the racist stereotype propelling the humour. And similarly, to identify with the feminist cause but to not be feminist makes no sense, because the cause is propelled by the ideas.

The caveat, you argue, is that you don’t believe in the way the movement fights for women’s rights and gender equality. And that’s why you’re not a feminist. Because the movement is hypocritical — “feminists” call for equality but expect chivalry, support misogyny and female superiority and worst of all, denounce #NotAllMen and #Meninism while claiming that their fight is against the patriarchy and includes the rights and health of men.

It’s interesting that there’s a backlash when men as an entire group are blamed for violence, abuse or other forms of oppression of women, but feminists as an entire group are responsible for any kind of inequality championed by women as a group, or by self-proclaimed feminists. I mean, who champions #NotAllFeminists with as much fervour?

It is also very telling. When a group that is in power is challenged, the easiest way to maintain the status quo and power differential is to demonise the challenger and the oppressed. Oppressive men (please note I am referring to the set M∩O = {x:x∈M, x∈O}, where M is the set of men and O is the set of oppressive people) need to taint the feminist movement because it poses a threat to their existing position of power, and then this discourse spreads like a wildfire of disillusionment.

And for this reason, many people are afraid to identify as feminist, afraid of being seen as perpetrating a man-hating movement, afraid of being shut down before they even get to open their mouths, and afraid of being answerable for actions they have not taken and things they do not believe in. And so, the movement is successfully discredited.

What many people fail to recognise is that there is no singular definition of feminism; it is something of an umbrella term that refers to various diverging approaches to achieve similar aims. Being a heterogeneous movement, you can’t paint all its participants with the same brush. Your feminism doesn’t have to be the same as mine, but if we work to the same end, we both own the label fair and square.

Identification is an act of solidarity with all those people across genders who are oppressed by the patriarchal order, and solidarity is indispensable to any kind of change. One of the biggest hurdles in the way of equality is fractured loyalty. People are multidimensional entities with multiple identities. For instance, a woman may believe that women should be given a status in society equal to men, based on her identity as a “woman”, and at the same time due to other identities – race, class, caste, etc – may not extend this belief to a woman belonging to one of her out-groups. And this is a problem because then we are never able to cause change.

It’s also important for us to own the label so that the cause does not get discredited. A movement is made by its makers; each of our actions shapes and strengthens the movement. Feminism being discredited also discredits the cause it believes in, and that’s an urgent reason to label yourself a feminist and define your own version of the word based on your own beliefs. We need to change the discourse around gendered oppressions so that our voices aren’t drowned out under the mob cry of “death to the feminazis!”

By Sanya Sharma

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Sanya is a second-year undergraduate student at Ashoka University uncertainly exploring the inseparable realms of history, politics and literature. As someone with an insatiable curiosity who is always at a crossroads, she loves the interdisciplinary in every field of life and so she indulges creating various forms of art. She writes to make sense of the world. You can find more of her writings at: www.sanyasharma.com

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