I don’t identify as a feminist, because I’m hesitant to identify as anything.
I support the personal empowerment of women, whether that’s becoming the CEO of a major company or choosing to be a stay at home mum. I support the free and safe expression of female sexuality, whether that’s pursuing casual sex, asexuality, committed monogamous relationships, or any variant in between. I support access to birth control and abortions.
I also support some of the concerns of what are commonly identified as men’s rights activists (MRAs). For example that men successfully commit suicide at rates higher than women (women actually make more attempts), and are more likely to be homeless than women warrants attention. I think the argument for the man’s right to a financial abortion is warrants consideration, without immediately being discounted.
I’m also concerned what can be considered shaming of male sexuality in the public sphere. For example I think there is a common cultural meme that in heterosexual sex the man is entirely responsible for the woman’s orgasm, and that a man coming quickly is a bad thing.
I also support various environment measures. I vote Green. I usually buy the carbon offset when I fly. I support carbon taxes / carbon trading schemes and think that meat and petroleum oil should be more expensive than it is. But I also don’t identify as an environmentalist nor a men’s right activist.
This post is about personal identity, and what it means to identify as something.
I do identify as a New Zealander, a Kiwi and a Pakeha. I do identify as male, and mostly straight.
But I don’t identify as a feminist, because I think the label means something beyond having a particular set of political values. I think the term feminist is more commonly used as a social signal.
I would argue that when assigning identities, we are doing one of two things:
- Applying an objective, if not always black and white, categorisation of things.
- Expressing a social signal to filter for a particular kind of person we want to associate with.
These identities are either self-assigned (eg. ‘I’m a feminist’, ‘I identity as pan-sexual’) or as a way of identifying others (‘That black guy over there’, ‘She’s a feminist’).
Simpler identities, like identifying as human, male, white, straight, a kiwi, a plumber fall in to this first category. Of course, there are always grey areas – is someone who moved to New Zealand when they were seven and have lived here for ten years a kiwi? (I would argue yes, though it’s more down to their personal identity).
Self-assigned identities that have political component, tend to fall in the second category. For example when someone says ‘I’m a feminist’, they’re saying more than ‘I have xyz political views’, there’s also the indication that ‘and this is a core tenant of my life’ or ‘and I want other people to know what side of politics I land on’.
Perhaps I have the wrong approach. Perhaps I’m assigning too much meaning to what ‘being a feminist’ means, beyond the view that there should be equal rights and opportunity between men and women.
But… I’m not convinced, I think this suggestion is disingenuous. The actress Meryl Streep attracted controversy, from self-identified feminists, when she said that she doesn’t identify as a feminist. That people are reluctant to identify as feminists clearly shows that identifying as a feminist has meaning beyond a black and white categorisation of political belief.
I would suggest that the term ‘feminist’ entails more baggage than any other political term. If someone one was labelled or denied the label as a ‘libertarian’, or a ‘conservative’, it would not attract as much controversy as whether they’re a ‘feminist’ or not.
Thus – I think that self-identifying as a feminist is a political act in itself, and in my honest opinion the act says ‘I’m going to err on the side of agreeing with popular feminist doctrine, without critical assessment’. This is not a stance I wish to take.
I would prefer to take an objective, measured approach, and then decide what political philosophies I agree with, than stake my claim as a particular brand, and subsequently adopt the corresposding political philosophies. Ultimately though, my politics do end up being progressive.