Emma Watson identifies as a feminist, and that’s ok.

I start from a starting point of being critical of the feminist label.

I’ve written before about how I don’t identify as a feminist (amongst other things).

I don’t buy the argument that ‘feminism is simply a set of political beliefs that encompass advocating equality between the sexes’. If it were, whether one identifies as a feminist or not, wouldn’t be controversial, as it was when Meryl Streep said that she doesn’t identify as a feminist.

I would say that any argument that dismisses the personal identity aspect of the feminist label (like this Jezebel argument does) , is a No True Scotsman fallacy. 

In my experience of online dating, in particular on OKCupid (which tends to have a more political and pro-kink ambience than Tinder) it’s common to see the label feminist used, or even specific mentions that ‘I only want to date feminists’.

In one of my OKCupid profiles, I mentioned that I think there’s a cult-like pressure to conform – to adopt the feminist label. I think that attitude is reflected in the Jezebel article I mentioned.

What I’m critical of here, is the pressure to adopt the label and associated political beliefs at the expense of critical political reasoning.

So that’s my starting point – I’m critical of pressure to adopt the feminist label.

With that starting point, let’s take a step back and look at someone who arguably is the world’s most famous contemporary feminist – Emma Watson.


Emma Watson has been an outspoken proponent of feminism, notably being the UN Women Goodwill ambassador and creating a feminist book club.

Emma Watson is in a position of influence. If her statements identifying as a feminist, as well as her actions, inspire or enable women around the world to be more empowered then that’s a good thing. Emma Watson has the position of a role model – in this case encouraging women to be empowered women, which I can only see as a good thing.

I see this as the same kind of goodness as if Emma Watson spent her efforts advocating healthy eating (like Michelle Obama has done) or encouraging people to get in to tech.

If then, it’s ok for Emma Watson to identify as a feminist – I don’t think it’s any different for a woman on OKCupid. A woman on OKCupid identifying as a feminist may either empower other women reading her profile, or influence men reading her profile to respect empowered women.

I’m still critical of dogmatic feminist attitudes, but sending loud feminist social signals, in itself, I don’t think is a bad thing.

Why I don’t identify as a feminist (or an environmentalist, or a men’s right activist).


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.

At the same time, I’m critical of some of the commonly touted feminist arguments. For example I believe the commonly cited US 78% median income gap argument shouldn’t be taken at face value.

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:

  1. Applying an objective, if not always black and white, categorisation of things.
  2. 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.