I’m a feminist. I don’t think that surprises anyone.
What is possibly more surprising is that I can understand why people might not identify as feminists.
I first learned about feminism in high school when some of my classmates started identifying as feminists. I think I was always a feminist in terms of what I believed but I did not have a name for it until then. However, some of the people I went to high school with were so passionate about their brand of feminism that they made me worry about sharing my thoughts out of the fear that I was “doing feminism wrong.”
At that moment in time, feminism seemed like something exclusive. It felt like something I couldn’t quite be a part of because maybe I hadn’t studied it enough. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. Maybe my negative experiences that led me to being an advocate for gender equality weren’t negative enough.
The way I viewed feminism then, is different from the way I view feminism now. But was I doing feminism wrong? Was feminism an elite club that I couldn’t join until I mastered everything? No. But I can understand how to some people, it might feel that way.
We often are bombarded with comments like, “do you believe in equality for all genders? Then you’re a feminist!”
But why do we feel the need to slap labels on people who feel as though that label doesn’t fit?
If someone says they are not a feminist, people will be quick to explain to them all the ways in which they “just don’t understand what feminism is.” Feminism is just about equal rights, they say. Everyone should be a feminist, they say. But I wouldn’t blame people if they interpreted those words as something along the lines of, “The way you interpret feminism is wrong, even though I haven’t taken the time to listen to your perspective or understand your experiences.”
I would dare to say that women who don’t identify as feminists face this even more, receiving judgment like, “you’re a woman but you’re not a feminist?!”
The people who make comments like these usually they’re wrong for not identifying as feminists.
We should look at what might be turning people away from feminism, instead of assuming that they simply don’t understand.
We should invite more people to the feminist party, instead of telling them that they have to join. We should invite more people to the feminist party, instead of sending the message that they’re not good enough if they’re not already there.
I am not the same feminist I was back in high school. I didn’t understand many of the issues involved at that time. I was a learning, evolving feminist. I still am a learning, evolving feminist, and would still love to hear more about the issues that I might not have the best understanding of.
But instead of telling people they’re wrong or giving them a definition of the word “feminism,” we can share stories and have discussions. Besides, I’m not sure if the definition of “feminism” alone has ever suddenly persuaded someone to join the feminist movement when they felt it wasn’t a fit for them.
Some people might be misguided or misinformed when it comes to feminism. Some people might not identify with the feminist label but could still be advocates. Some people might be what are often referred to as “white feminists.” Some people might think feminism isn’t inclusive enough.
But anyone who is misinformed about what feminism is has the power to grow, change and understand other perspectives. We can facilitate that change by being more inviting and understanding.
And for anyone who believes feminism doesn’t include them, we can also be more inviting and understanding. After all, why would we spend all our time simply telling people about how inclusive feminism is when we could show them instead?