Coming out of the Feminist Closet

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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.

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Discussion4 Comments

  1. avatar

    ““feminazi” has become a household word, equating working for gender equality with mass genocide.”
    – The genocidey #KillAllMen hashtag probably helped that along a bit to be fair.

    “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.”
    -Vast majority of women in this society are White, so not getting the ‘not least’ bit. Probably best to stick to healthy ideals, somewhere in between the media’s “Great, but can you photoshop her down to her intestines” approach and the “WE’RE ALL JUST AMAZING AS WE ARE” anti fat-shaming approach.

    “So if you believe in equality, I can hit women then?”
    -Is that a thing people say? Or is it more of a ‘is there a separate criteria for when it becomes acceptable to hit a woman when compared to the criteria of acceptability for hitting a man (self-defense, defense of others).’ Which is probably a fair and engaging question.

    “I’ll tell the person maybe I’m gay, maybe I’m not and really, it makes no difference.”
    -You are no longer a homophobe. That I can get on board with. Thanks for being an ally.

    ““I believe in equality and all but…”
    NO, WAIT, STOP.”
    – OR…. let them finish and don’t patronizingly assume that you know what they are thinking or what they are about to say or that you know better. They may be about to say “I believe in equality and all but I believe feminism to be misguided in its interpretation of Patriarchy and I don’t believe women to be an oppressed group in Western culture; therefore–regardless of how some dictionaries define feminism–I prefer to term myself an egalitarian who is interested in both Women’s and Men’s human rights, and approaching these issues in a balanced manner.”
    You are generally/very almost right in saying that “equality has no quantifiers,” however feminism comes with a shed-load, and it seems a bit silly to shut people up because you would rather not listen.

    The other thing I might add, is that when you come out as a feminist, a lot of people are going to come at you with a bunch of facts and logic, trying to explain the pay gap with accurate statistics and stuff like that. Like with the person who tries to express their opinion, shut them down early with a “No, Wait, Stop.” It is really best to avoid listening and thinking to dissenting opinions on this one. There are plenty of safe spaces online where all these voices are edited out for you (like http://www.theechochamber.com). Seriously, you can prove anything with facts, they’re nothing but a tool of the patriarchy.

    And please god, do not read any Orwell. That stuff is poison. Organize a book burning if possible.

    PS. Mad props WessexScene if this gets through moderation.

    H.Ubris
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    This is phenomenal, thanks for contributing Dan

  2. avatar

    Had to come back after I realized that I had completely missed the most egregious example of feminist propaganda present in this article:

    “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.”

    This is in no way true, and as a male victim of DV who spent five years with a physically abusive female partner, I find it incredibly offensive that feminists would try to take credit for work that prominent members of their group try to dismantle.

    Here’s an extract from feminist.com:

    “Battering happens to women of every age, race, class, and nationality. It is done by the men we marry or date who beat us; by our sons and nephews who bully us and slap us around; and by male relatives who verbally harass and degrade us.”
    http://www.feminist.com/resources/ourbodies/viol_dom.html

    There is no mention of male victims anywhere in that article. This leads to feminist charities such as the National DV Helpline answering the FAQ “who can call the helpline” in this fashion:

    “1. Women and children experiencing, or who have experienced, domestic violence
    2. Friends and family seeking to support women and children who are experiencing, or who have experienced, domestic violence
    3. ‘Professionals’ supporting women and children experiencing domestic violence.”
    http://www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk/helpline-faqs.aspx

    The reason for this is due to the wide adoption of the Duluth Interpretation of why domestic violence happens, which explains DV as the enforcement of ‘patriarchy’ and the expression of male power over women. Here’s a Duluth Wheel for you to look at, make note of the gendered pronouns: http://www.theduluthmodel.org/pdf/PowerandControl.pdf

    If you read interviews with those who actually try to help male victims of DV outside of these feminist frameworks, such as those at the Mankind Project and Erin Prizzey (founder of the first women’s refuge in the UK), then they will outright tell you that it is feminism and feminists that present the greatest barriers when trying to help male victims.

    The entire concept of male victims is contradictory to the feminist interpretation of DV, and the few feminist organizations that are beginning to mention the fact that there are male victims are doing so under duress, and to suggest that they are ‘opening the dialogue’ is outrageous.

    The feminist movement downplays the fact that 40% of DV victims are male as it does not fit into their narrative. It will tell us that 2 women a week die at the hands of a partner, but will never mention the 2 men a month who are also killed (not including those murdered by proxy). It will ignore the fact that the statistics demonstrate that gender is no indicator of propensity for violence.

    As a feminist, I had a lot of trouble getting help for myself as I didn’t recognize my girlfriend kicking the shit out of me as DV, because, “y’know… patriarchy!”. Fortunately I realized that everything Feminists say about DV is false. And then I realized that I was wrong about a heap more too.

    Please stop claiming that feminism “opened the dialogue for men who experience domestic abuse and rape.” It is demonstrably untrue and you will find many, many male victims (and those who work for them) who find such an assertion troubling and insulting.

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