On Labels

In a recent text conversation (wherein I was ranting on gender inequality and women’s rights), a friend asked me if I considered myself a feminist. There was a time when I would have said yes without hesitation. After all, the simplest definition of feminism is one who desires gender equality, and what reasonable person doesn’t? It’s in everyone’s best interest.

But it’s not that simple. (It never is).

Labels are powerful things. They lump us into groups of people who may or may not represent what we believe, and do things that we don’t like.

Calling oneself a Christian, for example, can tie you to the Westboro Baptist Church, the crusades, the inquisition.

Calling oneself an American can tie you to McCarthyism, witch burning, slavery. Or, by golly, Donald Trump.

Calling oneself a feminist can tie you to a group of angry naked baby Jesus thieves. I never know whether to laugh or cry when articles pop up about this group.

The trick is to decide whether the benefits outweigh the association.

I call myself a Christian, because although there are terrible associations with that label, my choice is reflective of my covenants with God, and the fact that I promise every week to take His name upon me. It’s about Him and me, not Westboro.

I call myself an American because that’s what I am by birth and law. It’s about my lineage and legal status, not Trump.

But feminism? Not anyore. Perhaps it’s out of stubbornness on my part, but I’ve been thoroughly put off by the glorification of this nebulous and ever changing epithet, due in part to emotionally abusive recruiting approaches, such as:

I’d like every man who doesn’t call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn’t believe in equality for women. -Louise Bradley

Precious gems like this are more than just “bold,” or “confrontational,” they’re semantic bullying. Feminism has been defined a million ways, but unless you jump on the bandwagon and slap the label on yourself because of how I define it, you don’t respect half the human race!

No. No. No.

The narrative of emotional abuse says, “do what I say, give me what I want, when I want, how I want it. If you don’t, you’re a bad person. You hate me. You want to hurt me. You don’t believe in equality for me.”

Not going to participate in that, not even to the extent of accepting the label.

Surely feminism, which advances the truth women can do traditionally “male” things and still be women, which abhors those who would pressure and abuse and bully, can stretch intellectually and imaginatively enough to accept the notion that some people believe in gender parity and do NOT identify as feminist? Why must we be co-opted into the club to be considered decent people?

I love the basic tenets of feminism, including advancement of human dignity, gender parity, free choice, and empowerment of women, minorities, and all people. I love the celebration of speaking one’s own mind and choosing one’s own life. I love the rhetoric of inclusion (and wish it were more thoroughly practiced.)

But alas, as shown in the exclusion of pro-life feminists, so many practical applications of this title and movement, fall short of, or even countermand, the stated purpose and philosophy.

Once, my love of feminist ideas would have outweighed not wanting association with its representative who misrepresent what I believe. And I would have called myself a feminist.

I admire many who do call themselves feminists, but I am not among them.

So here lies the true test of feminism and they who call themselves feminists: if the movement is truly about acceptance and inclusion and empowering women (and men) to choose their own lives and beliefs, can feminism’s acolytes include and empower those who do not adopt their label, who do not join their club?

I certainly hope so.

As for me at this time, the labels are, for now, as few and utilitarian as possible. And feminist is not among them.

The End

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