SOCIAL STUDIES "I'm Not a Feminist, But…" Cézanne Colvin

“As you know in fashion, one day, you’re in, and the next day, you’re out,” Heidi Klum has ominously told the cast of Project Runway with every new episode.

The reality of being loved one day and hated the next extends far from fashion to nearly everything — we are, after all, a society collectively obsessed with trends and fascinated by the delicate art of staying relevant. And now it would appear as though feminism has joined the unfortunate graveyard of Uggs, landlines and Myspace — decidedly “out”. It simply isn’t “in” to be a feminist anymore, so why bother?

These days, well-intentioned suggestions of equality often follow in the footsteps of the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…”, as if feminism is a disease we want to ensure everyone we don’t have before proceeding. As if feminism and being a feminist is something to be embarrassed about.

Perhaps to some it is, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the privileges feminism has granted us, including our sexual and reproductive rights, which are slowly being taken away by conservative politics while our backs are turned and our mouths are denouncing the very movement that lets us speak so candidly. We have a situation.

“I’m not a feminist,” Lady Gaga declared in 2009. “I hail men, I love men.”

God forbid that loving ourselves ever get in the way of loving men.

I don’t know where the notion began that feminism and loving men are mutually exclusive, nor why the natural choice between choosing equality for yourself or “hailing men” would be the latter. Like many women, I have a boyfriend. Despite popular belief and his mysterious inability to replace empty toilet paper rolls, I do not hate him. I have no desire to exert power over him; I merely want to stand beside him instead of in his shadow where social, economic and political matters are concerned.

This will most likely never happen in my lifetime. I will most likely never walk through an unlit parking lot, or even down the street, with the same confidence in my safety that a man does. I will most likely never not remember what it feels like to be sexually harassed. I will most likely never not feel a unique burden to keep my body looking a certain way. I will most likely never be assured that the reason I am paid less than a co-worker or stop advancing in a career is not due to my sex. I will most likely never have the same stigma-free sexual escapades as a man. I will most likely never not be seen as “too emotional”, when what is really meant is that I am more visually emotional than a man, the “default” from which women as a whole deviate. Also, that movie was really sad and you weren’t there, so you don’t even know. Please.

Despite this, I still have opportunities and privileges that some women in other countries — some women in this country — will also most likely never have. This is why it is important that we recognize the need for universal equality and never stop fighting for it, never stop informing ourselves about what’s happening in the world, never stop learning and never stop teaching. Just because we are more equal than we have been in the past does not mean the battle is over and we can all go home to our overpriced studio apartments. Just because we are mostly comfortable in our day-to-day lives does not mean that everyone enjoys that luxury.

Even femininity in its simplest form is societally looked down upon in favor of its superior counterpart, the almighty masculinity. (Insert curtsey here.) Women today have the opportunity to choose between a more feminine skirt or more masculine pair of pants to wear, whereas men in skirts are widely shunned. While this might seem like a female privilege, it’s more of a testament to the universal acceptance of masculinity. It is more acceptable for women to seem masculine (but not too masculine, so watch your step, Hillary!) than men to seem feminine, because femininity at its core is simply not respected. It’s coveted, glamorized and sexualized — for the ultimate pleasure of men, of course — but not respected. There are very few worse blows to a man than to call him a “bitch”. There are very few worse blows to a man than to be thought of as feminine. There are very few worse things than to be likened to a woman — to be a woman. I know. How rude.

For some women, it seems different. Most of us like being women, whether we prefer pencil skirts or pantsuits, but the strife between wanting to embrace both femininity and feminism seems difficult at times. Questions like “I like wearing make-up, so am I really a feminist?”, “I’m really into fashion, so am I really a feminist?”, “I like to cook for my husband, so am I really a feminist?” or “I want to stay home with my children instead of work, so am I really a feminist?” pop up, and the answer is always yes. The interesting thing to note is that make-up, fashion, cooking and childcare are all traditionally female interests and activities. The reason they are often trivialized — not valued as highly as men’s work or men’s interests — is because, again, masculinity is the ultimate trump card.

Feminism is anything but the rejection of femininity. It is about embracing that femininity and demanding that the world embrace it the way they have embraced masculinity for most of our history. It is about ensuring that women always have both a choice and a voice. It is about not being devalued because we happen to be women.

It’s not a bad thing to be a female, to be feminine or to be a feminist. There are no buts. If as women we don’t believe that, then who will? And frankly, why should they?

Featured image via José Gómez Fresquet, “Lipstick” c. 1970.

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  1. you dont walk home on dark streets? meh, im pretty fearless. tonight for example i went to town on my own, caught a train home, then a bus and then walked 3 country blocks in the dark on my own at 1am. never really been afraid of stuff like that.

  2. This was a FANTASTIC piece. I HATE that people don’t want to label themselves as feminists. Sarah Bunting wrote a great piece on this, as well. http://tomatonation.com/culture-and-criticism/yes-you-are/

  3. Finally, someone says what I have been saying since I was 16. My friends in high school laughed at me when I told them I was a feminist just because I loved fashion and wearing dresses instead of pants. Ladies should never hold back on saying they are feminist. Say it loud and proud. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Thank you for this….Almost bring tears to my eyes!!!!

  5. Love it, sums up how I feel in such an articulate manner : )

  6. As a Women’s Studies prof, I wish you were one of my students. Thanks for this. Ani Difranco sings it best…”like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind…” and kudos to all of the above feminists…keep making some noise while wearing my fav, MAC makeup…

  7. Totally agree on your post. I think masculine skills on women tend to be praised while if a man has feminine skills like cooking or taking care of kids or knowing about fashion is sometimes badly seen (or believed to be gay). I think times are changing and that now more men are showing more this skills although I think it is happening slowly. Just today I was having a conversation with my boyfriend about men wearing make up to cover his pimples. He said if boys did that they would made be fun at school and sadly I think that would be true. However, I don’t see anything wrong in that although society makes it look bad because it is a women thing and women’s things shouldn’t be adapted by men. However, a woman that likes to wear suits and put on masculine perfumes is seen as something good. Why?!

    I loved your post and I hope to read more posts like this in HelloGiggles and other sites. I think we’re so lucky to live in times of the Internet which allows people to give and share their opinions on topics such as this. Thanks for sharing your opinion with the world! :)

  8. Rock on, kitty-cat! I was once at a feminist art conference and a when discussing Gen-Y’s hatred of the phrase feminism, someone suggested that we make up another more “user-friendly” word in its place. Artist Martha Rosler said, “”Why? No one’s ever suggested we use another word for “humanism.” Get over it.” I’m a pencil skirt-wearing, long term married to a loving but macho man (who is also toilet roll challenged), and adore my sports playing son. But I know that the privileges I and my ice-hockey playing daughter enjoy are only and entirely due to those women (and men) who have chosen to espouse the feminist belief that we all deserve equal rights and protections under the law.

  9. Maybe I’m just lucky and have run in extremely progressive circles all my life, but the vast bulk of places I’ve seen sentiments like feminism and makeup being mutually exclusive were websites that label themselves (and are generally accepted as) feminist.

    I’d say that, switching out the person of pronouns, my experience much mirrored what Michelle said a couple posts up.

  10. What’s great about feminism is that it gives women the right to express themselves, e.g. in this comment thread. We’ve got a real philosophical discussion going here, with people coming in from different sides of the feminist spectrum, and it’s great – but what I think is REALLY INTERESTING is that without feminism, we wouldn’t be ALLOWED to discuss important issues in comment threads like this in the first place.
    Without feminism, we wouldn’t have access to computers, books, jobs, an education, opinions; a gathering of women would be closely monitored; women wouldn’t be considered as separate entities; we wouldn’t be able to express ourselves through our snappy dress sense; we wouldn’t date who we liked – we’d walk behind men. We wouldn’t be able to be WHO WE ARE.
    I don’t know about you, but I like being me. I’m opinionated and rash and shy and awkward and I love to read Roald Dahl, and it’s all part of my identity. Without feminism, we’d lose our identities. Feminists don’t want men to walk behind women, and we’re generally not pro-women or anti-men; we just want to be able to walk beside each other, hold hands and eat ice-cream.
    And girls who say “I’m not a feminist, but…”, if you like being able to walk in the street on your own without fear, then you’re a feminist, at least a discreet one. And if you don’t care for being a world-shaker, if you’re perfectly content looking after the kids at home and cooking meals for your bread-winning husband, you’re still very much welcome to feminism. So are the girls who like fashion and love hair products, have too much make-up and spends hours on the phone (like me). Feminists welcome you with open arms.

    And just for the record, some people said here that women have already got what they wanted so we should just give it a rest. This is, of course, not true. With a new era, new trends and new feminist issues arise. Some may not think that things like botox and too high heels aren’t feminist concerns but I disagree. The little things reflect what we and society think of ourselves, can cripple us and keep us locked in little ‘socially acceptable’ boxes.

    If you guys are interested try and read “How to be a woman” by Caitlin Moran. It’s a great read, she has such interesting ideas, and details in such a brilliant way things I hadn’t quite formed into words yet. It’s also very funny, it was #1 on Amazon for a while. (And no jokes on needing a manual to be a woman, because as the wonderful Simone de Beauvoir once said “one is not born a woman, but becomes one.”)

    There. Now I’m off to get my ‘I am a strident feminist’ tat. :P

  11. I was just looking up the feminist position about abortion and found this…
    http://www.feministsforlife.org/news/commonw.htm
    I found it interesting and inspiring…

  12. I LOVED THIS POST!
    when I was around 12 years old I read this book about feminism directed to young women and felt really appealed to the idea of calling myself a feminist. The book (too bad I can’t remmember it’s name!) spoke about assuring our place as women, making ourselves respected , but, most of all it spoke that feminism really is fighting for a world in which bothe MEN and WOMEN are seen as equals, not as in identical, but in their dignity.
    As I grew up I become discouraged by the idea of feminism, I saw many groups defining themselves as feminists thrashing men, renouncing to their femininity, discriminating institutions such as the church, fighting for abortion to be legal, etc.
    I Love being a girl and expressing my femininity, I am strongly pro-life and a Catholic(many feminist groups have been quite strong about critizising my faith), as well as this I LOVE men.
    But I guess you could say I am a feminist. In philosophy. I believe that these women (with all do respect) who fight discrimination with more discrimination. do feminism a disgrace, and prevent true feminists of building a world in which all are seen as equal.

  13. Just for the record, I have no shame in saying I’m a feminist.

  14. Look, the issue of pro-life/pro-choice is only about what’s legal, and the fact that if abortion is legal it can be regulated, to keep it a safe procedure for those who choose it. I don’t think there’s anyone who is actually “pro-abortion.” It’s always seen as a last resort, and until people stop having sex altogether, rape becomes non-existent, or we come up with a birth control option that is 100% effective for those who have intercourse (voluntarily or not) reproductive rights are going to be an aspect of feminist discourse. And frankly, in a safe relationship with a man, it’s his responsibility as much as it is the woman’s if they have decided as a couple not to procreate.

  15. You all need to read ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran. Feminism may be dead Stateside but over in the UK we’re entering into a new field of debate and way of thinking thanks to this book. Order it now!!

  16. Great article – I corrected someone just today for trying to insult a man by turning his name into a woman’s – but I would agree with Valerie’s post above.

    Feminism does NOT mean accepting the ideology that abortion is a fundamental right and that to be against abortion means to be against women’s rights. In fact, the pro-life stance is the truest fulfillment of feminism.

    Feminism at its core is about respect for human life and human rights. It is about protecting the weakest of the weak, those who cannot defend themselves. It is not about classifying which form of human life deserves more rights than others. While I agree completely that women should have autonomy over their own bodies, I believe there should never be a situation that pits a woman against her pre-born child in the first place.

    The early feminists were overwhelmingly pro-life. They viewed abortion as a symptom of, not a solution to, women’s inequality in society.

    Please don’t pass judgement on us pro-life feminists unless you’re prepared to claim that these women – who did more for women in the U.S. than most of us could ever dream to do – were also not feminists.

    http://www.feministsforlife.org/history/index.htm

    • Sorry, but I don’t believe you can be a black and white no exceptions pro-lifer AND a feminist. It’s an issue with a LOT of complications (shades of grey, if you will) , but if you believe someone must undergo an incredibly stressful, damaging and even sometimes fatal experience because YOU don’t like the alternative, you are not a feminist.

  17. Aaaaamen sister! I don’t know why everyone thinks that feminism is about having hairy legs and hating men – it’s not. It’s about self respect (or, if you’re a man, respecting the opposite gender) and demanding equality. It’s about knowing what you deserve and demanding it. Being a feminist is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s something to be proud of.

  18. Good article!

    I completely agree with what you said. The problem with how people view feminism is that, I think, people tend to polarize things. It’s always all or nothing.

  19. you expressed so much that has been on my mind. i feel a little less crazy. thank you for standing up, thank you for writing this.

  20. “Feminism is anything but the rejection of femininity. It is about embracing that femininity and demanding that the world embrace it the way they have embraced masculinity for most of our history.” Thank you for pointing out that women don’t have to be like men to be feminists. I’d like to see the day when stay-at-home moms are respected for their choice to stay at home and women don’t have to have high power jobs to be taken seriously.