What age were you when you knew? When was the first time you talked about it? Were your parents supportive? What was it like when you first came out … as a feminist?
Maybe you haven’t even told anyone yet. But you know. Deep down, a feminist heart beats. This is not an article to convince you that feminism is necessary. This article is for those who have decided to embrace the radical notion that women are people. And so, I applaud and welcome you, my fellow feminists. Sadly, you will not get such a warm welcome everywhere you go.
In high school, I was the only self-identified feminist among my friends. And they made it clear they wanted nothing to do with it. By not calling themselves feminists I thought my smart, beautiful, funny female friends were telling me that they didn’t think they were equal to men. In reality, these girls didn’t really understand what feminism was. And misconceptions about feminism are rife. Ellen Page said it best when she said “…how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word”.
SO WHAT WILL YOU HEAR UPON COMING OUT OF THE FEMINIST CLOSET?
“So, you’re one of those feminazi’s then?”
Thanks to the infamous American radio personality Rush Limbaugh the term “feminazi” has become a household word, equating working for gender equality with mass genocide. Although feminism is the furthest from a fascist regime there is, as the patriarchy tries to cling to power, the liberation feminism brings is the ultimate enemy.
“You’re just unhappy with your body”
When the majority of women do not fit society’s beauty ideals, not least because “white” is one of the key requirements, then society’s ideals are dysfunctional. It is about allowing the majority of people, men included, not to feel ashamed of their bodies. What’s so wrong with that?
“So if you believe in equality, I can hit women then?”
I am slightly alarmed that some men’s first reaction to my belief in equality is a gleeful request for my permission to assault women. I always however point out that assault is illegal, no matter the gender. Feminism, as well as being the movement which continues to champion domestic abuse services and rape crisis services for women, has also opened the dialogue for men who experience domestic abuse and rape.
“Oh I see, you’re gay”
Gay, hetero, bi, asexual or anything in between, feminism welcomes you. But this statement is usually used to undermine you. Just like feminism, gay is also seen as a bad word, sometimes literally becoming synonymous with bad. If you are heterosexual, you may find the automatic response to this is to take offence, as I did the first time this was said to me. “I didn’t know you were a lesbian Orla” sniggered a schoolmate. This person obviously meant this as an insult and so I jumped to defend myself against this accusation. I felt the need to reassert my heterosexuality, my privileged voice in the conversation. I was trying to form a bond with my schoolmate. I wanted to be on their side so I rushed to create a sense of otherness between myself and gay people. Only later did I realise what I had done. And I have never been more ashamed. To react like I reacted when I was sixteen, is to be completely homophobic and utterly offensive. No matter whether it is meant as an insult or not, being gay is not a bad thing. Nowadays I do not assert my sexuality when this comes up. I’ll tell the person maybe I’m gay, maybe I’m not and really, it makes no difference.
“I believe in equality and all but…”
NO, WAIT, STOP. Do not listen to the rest of this sentence. Equality has no qualifiers. And whatever comes next will no doubt be wrapped up in some quasi-academic rhetoric trying to seem reasonable.
HOW TO DEAL
Obviously this is quite a gendered article as I have no experience of what it is like to be man coming out as a feminist. I would love to hear about the experiences male feminists have. For women, this has been an introduction to the sort of comments you will undoubtedly get at some point after identifying yourself as a feminist. And I guarantee you will think at some point “Is it worth even saying it?” Firstly, yes it’s worth it. We need to own the term and get people talking about feminism. If feminists themselves won’t stand up and say “I’m a feminist”, there’s no hope to convince anyone else.
On the other hand it is not your job to represent feminism 24/7. If you don’t want to be the token feminist in a conversation, you do not have to engage. If you don’t feel like discussing feminist theory and just want to eat your lunch in peace, I say go for it. I really dislike the terms “good feminist” and “bad feminist”. There is no perfect way to be a feminist. So do what you feel is best. Not engaging will likely make any nay-sayers think you are scared of being beaten by their “flawless logic”. But sometimes you just have to leave them to their little bubble or you will end up exhausted.
Based on what you’ve read so far you would be forgiven for thinking that being a feminist is all doom and gloom. But while some of the responses may be negative, there are many positive ones too. You don’t always know who else around you is also a feminist. I have made new awesome feminist friends as they spoke up to defend me and feminism in a conversation.
And if the negative responses ever get me down, I rally around my local feminist community, Southampton Uni’s femsoc! At weekly femsoc meetings I find solidarity and understanding among an amazing group of people. I enjoy exploring my views, which in turn makes me better prepared for the conversations I have with non-feminists. And sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and have fun with a group of people who you know also believe whole heartedly and unequivocally that you are a human being and that you deserve the right to equality.