Thoughtful Revolution

Feminist Self-Definition

(or, a post in which I do it.)

My feminist awakening, I admit, took place mostly via the Internet — that grand, interactive, fragmented world of thought — and as such, I’ve never quite been allowed to be “just” a feminist. One is a Feministing type, or a Shakesville type, or an IBTP type, each with their own connotations, styles, and set strands of belief. And I’ve flirted with each of these categories in chronological order, then had difficulty with each and moved on to the next. Right now, my feminism seems to be floating in cyberspace, often-but-not-always found via Natalia Antonova or various tumblrs, not always streamlined to any given style. And in real life, folks generally take it for granted that, when I say “feminist,” I’m referring to whatever belief set the listener associates with the word. Suffice it to say, I’m rarely asked to define my feminism.

My feminism is fluid. It’s sex-positive (mostly), empathetic (hopefully), and thick with analysis (though not always well-phrased).

My feminism is staunchly pro-choice, even if the choice you might make in any given situation is a different choice than mine.

My feminism is predicated on intersectionality, even if you or I are most passionate about non-identical areas of that intersectionality, even if I may sometimes be clueless enough not to see the intersections as they reveal themselves.

My feminism is a constant flow of learning and maturation, even if that means that I will make (and that I will have to politely correct) dreadfully stupid mistakes.

My feminism is always in favor of sexual autonomy and pleasure, even if your route to that pleasure is unappealing to me, or vice versa.

My feminism wants to move beyond the gender binary, both in allowing me to define my own gender and persona and by inviting others to enjoy that same freedom; my feminism is conscious of the ways in which the patriarchy oppresses cis men, and cis women, and trans men, and trans women, and the many of us who don’t fit cleanly onto one point of the spectrum, and my feminism wants that vast party of people under its umbrella.

My feminism does not inevitably dress its mouthpiece in sleek blond hair, a wasp waist, a delicately tapered middle finger — my feminism knows how alienating it can be to enter a supposedly progressive world where I (in all my stubby frizzy bespectacled Russian Jewish glory) am no more accepted as a “face of the movement” than I would be on the staff of Vogue. My feminism can be painted in many skins, and many textures, and many lengths and breadths, on many diverse canvases.

My feminism can be all of my life or a sliver of it; I can be, say, a proud feminist activist who does some calculations on the side, or a mathematician whose feminism is only one integrated part of my wide-ranging identity.

My feminism is about conversation over rhetoric, open ears over closed-mindedness.

My feminism can’t help but chant that old slogan — “The personal is political” — my feminism is rife with raw emotion and the power of one’s own experience, and with the close-knit bond that comes of hearing someone else speak.

My feminism understands the limitations of the computer screen as a means of consciousness-raising.

My feminism grapples constantly with cognitive dissonance, with the pernicious effects of internalized sexism, and allows for myriad solutions to that cognitive dissonance without assuming that anyone has “just not thought deeply enough.”

My feminism is shaped by family and friends, by lovers and writers, by harrowing experiences and empowering ones, by Sleater-Kinney and my mother’s yellowing sheaf of folk songs, by the front page and the editorial page, by self-education and the mentorship of others, by a literary culture that doesn’t know what to make of women and a feminist world with its own rich reading list, by vegans and omnivores and childfree folks and mothers of three, by the figures I love and loathe, by the pants that never seem to fit and the knapsacks that always do, by the burden of understanding that I will never be beautiful enough or bright enough, thin enough or moral enough, by the struggle of accepting worlds of privilege, by the chill that runs down my spine when I see something change within or without me.

My feminism is not my own. It’s shared by individuals and organizations across the world, by people of all ages and experience levels coming into themselves. It’s sometimes flatly wrong, it’s sometimes well-meaning and still wrong, it’s still developing and riddled with the confusion of a baby-duckling philosophy finding its feet. And sometimes my faith in it flags, sometimes I question it until it’s punched full of doubtful holes, and then I’ll wake up the next morning and find it welcoming me back, altered slightly but suffused with its own strength. My feminism scares me sometimes, and sometimes it weighs heavy when I’m trying to balance it with the minutiae of my life, and it’s radiant even when it’s napping at the back of my mind. My feminism is one of my many homes, its threshold always open to me, and even in my darkest days I find myself coming back to the door.


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  1. * Hannah says:

    🙂 This made me happy. I’m still right at the beginning of this process, I think, and it feels good to see it defined as a process, fluid. In the 3 or 4 months since I read The Purity Myth and started identifying myself with conviction as feminist, I have made probably a thousand and one mistakes/faux pas/statements I realized later that I didn’t believe/thoughtless comments/forgetful comments/frustrating rants that alienate the people I want to empathize with/etc… And I felt like the worlds biggest moron afterwards. I’ll probably make two thousand more. But I’m starting to realize (especially after reading this) that that’s okay. Thanks for the always enlightening posts ^.^

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 1 month ago

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