We hear passing statements all the time like “feminism is about choice” or “feminism is about equality” but then we see images of people portraying an act of empowerment for women that you may not agree with – like eating a cake naked in the bathroom or publicly showing their menstrual blood – all in the name of feminism. These days these shock-value stories are deterring people from identifying as feminists, or even using the word “feminist” as an insult. And, to be honest, I can relate. When I was 16-19 years old I felt everything I saw tied in with “feminists” was just not for me, and felt more comfortable saying “I believe in equality not feminism”. But I gained a new perspective on feminism during my final degree year when I read an essay by Susan Stryker, and she says:
“Neither feminism nor queer studies, at whose intersection transgender studies first emerged in the academy, were quite up to the task of making sense of the lived complexity of contemporary gender at the close of the last century. First-wave African-American feminist Sojourner Truth’s famous question, “Ain’t I a Woman?,” should serve as a powerful reminder that fighting for representation within the term “woman” has been as much a part of the feminist tradition as has asserting the value of womanhood and fighting for social equality between women and men. “Woman” typically has been mobilized in ways that advance the specific class, racial, national, religious, and ideological agendas of some feminists at the expense of other women; the fight over transgender inclusion within feminism is not significantly different, in many respects, from other fights involving working-class women, women of color, lesbian women, disabled women, women who produce or consume pornography, and women who practice consensual sadomasochism. Just as in these other struggles, grappling with transgender issues requires that some feminists re-examine, or perhaps examine for the first time, some of the exclusionary assumptions they embed within the fundamental conceptual underpinnings of feminism. Transgender phenomena challenge the unifying potential of the category “woman,” and call for new analyses, new strategies and practices, for combating discrimination and injustice based on gender inequality.”
From Stryker I realized that in the images and passing comments around us we are only taught a very short-sighted view of feminism. The reason I felt I couldn’t identify as a feminist originally is because I believed I had to subscribe to an idea that was “out there” and led by people that I don’t relate to. But the above passage inspired me to go deeper into thinking about what equality means to me as an individual, or what equality means to other people with their own unique layers of their identity - which led me reading into intersectional feminism. From this I gathered that intersectional feminism aims to show how it is the impression that you give to other people of who you are that can restrict your opportunities, self-confidence, and how those around you respond to you - due to social stereotypes and presumptions associated with your identity. Your cultural background, your sexual orientation, how you express your gender etc. are factors that interact to portray who you are, and also result in your unique experience of being a woman.
So, although I didn’t relate to some form of activism it does not mean I am not a feminist. If you believe in social equality – you are a feminist. If you have a particular experience of being patronized or discriminated against due to who you are and feel this was unjust – this is your feminism. You are entitled to choose for yourself your values, what campaign is important to you and how you oppose inequality.
My feminism is speaking out for LGBT+ rights when talking to someone homophobic, my feminism is speaking up to university management for the lack of ethnic minority representation in postgraduate research courses, my feminism is fiercely opposing any attitude of superiority from men – what's your feminism?
Thank you for reading
Vice President Education
Hertfordshire Students’ Union