Feminism: Hesitation and Refusal


Are you a feminist? In my opinion, this question is very difficult. The reason for this difficulty is somewhat simple: I don’t speak the ‘language of feminism’. I have noticed that if I say I am a feminist – or even when it is somehow naturally assumed by others given that I am an «aware» and educated woman, as long as I belong to the crowd of cosmopolitan college students learning to become critical – I am expected to know how to speak feminism. I should know what word to use in which context. What I can say and what I should not. Political correctness, I agree, is perhaps recommended in some social settings. Language policing appears sometimes to be a duty in certain contexts. And feminism sounds like a good idea. But when I read that we need to use the «F*» word meaning feminism, I get confused. Or when one says «I hate the word feminism» or «I am an anti-feminist» woman, I hesitate how to react for a minute or two. Why is «No, I’m not a feminist» such a horrific answer? Without the knowledge and in lack of the “proper” words, I hesitate to identify with the « ism » of feminism. 

Feminism remains a hot topic of discussion today. So as to not to be misunderstood, I shall note that, here, “hot” is meant as a gender neutral attribute. You see… almost automatically, one begins to self-censor and police one’s word choice when issues related to feminism, sexism, or gender are brought up for discussion. Okay, maybe this is an exaggeration! So as not to exaggerate or generalize – and this topic needs to be treated with care and delicacy – I decided to do some research. In the cosmos of the internet, I found out that feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies. I looked into how many feminismS there are. I found black, cultural, Marxist, psychoanalytic, new-leftists, communist, liberal, anarchist, post-colonial, multiracial, post-structuralist, post-modern, trans-feminism, gender, socialist, queer, Chicana, Asian American, Muslim, libertarian, cyberfeminism, erotic, sexpositive, essentialist, lesbian, French, material, separatist, atheist, ecological… breath… wait – this is ridiculous, what is this chaos?

Feminism cannot be a mere tag added to various identities; a surname for political parties. All these taxonomies and protestations should not distract away from an idea of feminism. To be sure, if the word “feminism” has been thrown around in different registers, that does not directly imply that its referent is simply superfluous or that the concept of feminism – whatever that may be – is malleable or transparent. A more solid understanding is needed.

One could say that thinking and practicing feminism borrow and co-produce some of their words and methods from and in cooperation with other causes, ideologies, schools of thought and academic disciplines. The idea seems to be grounded somewhere. On the other hand though, feminism appears measureless. What is the mysterious criterion behind the legitimate application of the term feminism in largely differing contexts and for diverging ends? This lucidity with which the term feminism is used today extends its meaning in such a way so that each partisan, each understanding, and each meaning-attribution becomes increasingly unique. One can no longer make the connection. Moreover, it seems that difference and multiplicity are celebrated for their own sake giving on to an endless proliferation of distinctions, diversification of names, intensification of personalities and a refinement of what has been problematized.

The ever-exploding “Western” discourse of feminism, which in one way aims to liberate peoples from different, repressive structures is looking increasingly counter-productive. Feminism is so familiar to the extent that it is now a matter of taste – not of choice. It is a multifarious fact of social reality and you simply decide whether you like it or not. Now, if you don’t have a taste for feminism, you will be taught how to appreciate it. The feminist project, as any other emancipatory initiative – however it may be expressed and with whichever adopted name or slogan – has to confront the social reality which it claims it wants to change or “correct”, rather than reproduce it in prettier looks. The production of more accurate categories and labels, better determinations, and truer identities, along with the pedagogy of political correctness could empower “minorities”, which some feminists consider women to be. However, in this state, feminism does not aid women from remaining subjected to an inegalitarian or repressive structure. Only now, the fight of feminism might have gained more social power minority given that it is intermixed and in solidarity with other minorities and causes.

I am not calling for unity in the partisan field of feminist activism or scholarship, nor am I denouncing the significance of belonging to a group, forming a new identity, or achieving a scientific or theoretical discovery. I am merely trying to point out (and I do not know if I am succeeding) the complexity of making a choice when it comes to identifying with feminism and its variant representations. With this approach to the term feminism or to an idea of it, my hesitation to pronounce myself as feminist, as well as my confusion about what that would mean remain. Feminism has escaped intellectual and political language. In today’s global society, the term “feminism” google-links Ryan Gosling, Malala Yousafzai and British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Pussy Riots, Femen, and Tunisian “Islamic” Ennahda. Does this variety mean that anyone can join the camp of feminism?

Well, celebrities have joined the camp. Again, internet with the help of the ultimate cosmic authority, namely, Google, came handy. My research presented to me figures like Beyonce, Tailor Swift and Emma Watson. Google search selected these women as the representatives of feminists today. For Beyonce once asked: who runs the world? And the crowd of women participating in this spectacle of ‘female power’ replied: Girls Do! Although the song is highly catchy and – one must admit – very empowering on the dance floor, I do not think that men or women run the world. To put it blatantly: it is rather capitalism and its ideological formula. Feminism now is an attractive discourse; it sells. But the “media and capitalism are evil, evil, evil”. What about “the good people”? What about the UN, for example?

A less commercialized version of a feminist representative is actress Emma Watson, the UN’s «Women Goodwill ambassador». To be fair, Emma Watson makes a more complicated point than Beyonce. She debunks the myth of feminism as a “men hating” activity. She resolves the compatibility of feminism and men through Human Rights. Of course, her UN speech and campaign were not only welcomed with cheers and adoration, but were also met with criticism. The greatest thing in the universe of media and the internet specifically – however misleading, manipulative and explosive – is that you can always find gossip and controversy. A «black feminist» criticizes Watson’s naiveté for misjudging the utility of a feminist initiative which is ignorant of race and color. What about «white privilege» she asks. Its seems that powerful women or feminist celebrities are not enough. Feminist activists and scholars maybe have valid reasons to worry. The fight of feminism should not be captured and reduced to roles and performances.

Feminism is not the free market of trends and styles, dress codes and attitudes: an economic model for taste production and consumption. The elaborated laws of language and behavior for the sake of justice, equality and fair social recognition of women should not mask the problems that lie in both the production and consumption of feminist personas and reactionary «-isms». At the same time, saying: «No, I’m not a feminist» just continues to sound wrong.

Enough small talk and gossip. Maybe we should just stop talking about feminism? Here, I would say “No” confidently. Speaking about feminism, however institutionalized or merchandised, is still necessary – for it could have the power of critique. Moreover, repression shall be fought in whatever mode it exists in. That is to say, if society is systematically patriarchal and institutionally unjust towards women whether in material, physical terms or via symbolic and latent forms, a critique inspired by the subjective and objective conditions of women in history could indeed be necessary. But what emancipation if critique becomes trendy and dogmatic? Critique is not a mere task of reorganization and the making of new legislations to account for identity and difference. It is rather a task that necessitates research and questions; the orchestration of a fierce debate, a mise en abyme, of the specter of feminists partisans for a reinterpretation of what it means to be a feminist today and for what reasons.

This would still remain insufficient and would not constitute a solution for the «problem» of women, if I dare say. Should not a solution be found? Again, my answer is “No”. To be critical is not to repeat the same assertions about the unprivileged status of women. In other words, the solution of the problem does not reside in discovering and refining the reasons for which women have been historically (and to this date) subjugated. Women have not been subjects to a world ruled by men. The politics of identity is incomprehensive by default and it is indeed radical. However, critique, in the final analysis, has no identity. When critique starts with «as a woman» or «as a feminist» it is no longer critical but is rather the embodiment of the «problem» of women. Therefore, one has the right or at least should have a space for non-partisan protest – a moment of hesitation. Am I feminist? Yes, but who cares? And so I am, but now what? The non-solution is in the capacity of refusal; in the possibility to reject the question of “Are you a Feminist?” itself and the reality which it reiterates. This needs courage, not the teaching of new vocabulary.

2 replies on “ Feminism: Hesitation and Refusal ”
  1. I thought this was very insightful and give me more insight on what feminism is about. I feel like some women use feminism and make it dogmatic as you say and sometimes take it too far where it becomes about saying why men are worse or why all men are such evil human beings. They start to lose focus on what feminism should be about, and that is making the sexes equal in society. Although these kind of feminists really are trying to make society more equal, I think there is a better way than being so negative about all men. Then there are other feminists who are about equal rights for both sexes, not just women, since this would really make one sex not above one another and make them at par in society like it should be. This kind of feminism I believe can change our society most effectively as it is critical of the injustices, but doesn’t point fingers or “hate” anyone or a group and give blame somewhere. While both kinds of feminism I described are striving for an empowering cause, I think the latter I mentioned will be most successful and get those most support in having their voice heard and real change made so both sexes can be completely equal in our world like it should’ve been.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I just want to emphasize that the whole point of the article was to question popular opinions like yours and these “bad” feminists that you are talking about. I believe there is no one “right” way about doing this so allow me to disagree with what you have written.

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