One of the earliest posts I wrote for this blog was one where I proclaimed quite proudly that I identify as a feminist. I like to think it was a good post, outlining a lot of things that I figured were important to being a good feminist. A couple years later, it seems prudent to revisit the subject and offer an update as sort of a way to record my own growth into a more complex understanding of feminist ideology.
Probably the biggest thing that’s worth noting is that in the intervening years between this post and my original one, a lot of things have happened in America that have shifted the cultural conversation to make feminism a less fraught topic for popular conversation. We’ve gone more than a year since the travesty that is #gamergate happened. Multiple mass shootings where the express motivation of the shooter was to punish women have occurred. The litany of unjustified police shootings of black people has become a regular part of the monthly news cycle. Caitlyn Jenner, in the wake of her public transition, has cast a spotlight on the cause of trans rights. Planned Parenthood, a program that offers the most vulnerable in our society access to a variety of healthcare needs, is the latest popular punching bag of that confluence of social and fiscal conservatives who want to punish women while making the government less effective so they can continue to complain that government isn’t good for anything.
The way that feminism has intersected with my life in the last couple years has been a weird mix of liberating and frustrating. I’ve practiced engaging with the media that I consume through a feminist lens so often that it’s become a reflexive way of looking at the narratives I’m interested in, and at the same time I constantly find myself overlooking points of criticism simply because I’m still so heavily steeped in my male privilege. It’s a constant uphill battle to not let my sense of masculinity get in the way of learning important lessons about how to better respect less privileged persons. My failures always feel particularly egregious to me, even though I’m sure there are multiple ways I’m failing without realizing it (one notable area of struggle that I recently realized I hardly ever pay close enough attention to is my habit of using ableist language in everyday conversations; considering that I work with a population who have disabilities, I should be more aware of this issue and do more to be respectful of those people with whom I work). Even worse, there’s the fact that becoming aware of my own failures often leads to a pointless pity spiral where I focus more on how I feel bad for failing rather than actively seeking ways to do better; this isn’t helping anyone, and it’s frankly pretty solipsistic of me.
Beyond all that, in the last couple years I’ve learned a lot more about intersectionality as an ideal within feminism. Intersectionality notes that there are multiple different axes of oppression, and these axes enable people to have varying levels of privilege in varying contexts, which requires a more careful consideration of our interactions with everyone; the long and short of it is to remember that other axes of privilege, like whiteness, straightness, cisgenderness, or Americanness (just to name a few that apply to myself) can lead to behavior that devalues the experiences of others even if you personally experience some kind of oppression (it’s intersectionality that’s the catalyst for criticism of the strain of white, middle class feminism that’s led to some particularly tone deaf moments in the popular discourse on feminism in general in the last few years).
Perhaps the most complicated aspect of adhering to a feminist outlook is the disconnect between practice and ideology. Saying that I believe in pushing for equality for all people along all axes of identity is a great thing here, but the real challenge comes in those small moments in my life where I’m confronted with a real social cost for putting ideas into action. It’s not fun being the person who points out sexist language or actions among my friends, and that social cost is often enough to get me to hold my tongue when I really shouldn’t. This inaction isn’t fair; it’s me resting on my privilege, which means it’s not a luxury in which everyone can indulge. That’s a failure that I struggle with, and it leads to a lot of internal discomfort.
One last thing that I want to touch on here is that though I’ve been less vocal regarding Christianity and the ways that the American, evangelical brand create a space that’s hostile towards feminist causes, that’s still something that concerns me. My feminism is rooted in my own faith, and I feel like it’s worth saying here that it is because I am a Christian that I try to promote feminist ideology. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount speaks directly to the values of intersectionality and elevating the most socially disadvantaged as a way of spreading the Kingdom of Heaven.
In short, I still identify as a feminist. I still think it’s a worthy label, and it represents an ideal that’s worth working towards.