#TellAFeministThankYou -- But What If I'm Not A Feminist?

#TellAFeministThankYou is trending on Twitter. But is it a big deal to thank people who don't identify as feminists?
Publish date:
February 13, 2013
twitter, feminism, gratitude, feminist movement, not feminist, theory and practice

A few days ago, a tweet popped up in my @ mentions that was really super kind. It was thanking me and a few other people for the work we have done to further fat acceptance. And it was hashtagged #tellafeministthankyou.

It was a really nice gesture; I think it's always kind of wonderful to be recognized and appreciated. That's part of the heart of the hashtag, I think -- though it seems like it's also meant to publicize some of the "basic" things feminism has accomplished (like, you know, voting) over the years. At this point -- and I think this is pretty fantastic -- the tag is also being used to talk about the problems with mainstream feminism (lack of intersectional foundation and framework, for example).

(Mainstream feminism is often white feminism but it is pretty much always the feminism that intersectional feminists have to define themselves AGAINST. It's the feminism that gets the news coverage and the book deals, as a general rule. If that isn't your feminism, that's great, but you should be aware that this is how many people -- including many women who have been burned by feminists -- view mainstream feminism.)

Of course it's turned into an opportunity to troll. There are some really stunning examples of jerkwads in the hashtag, showcasing just how much hostility there is out there when it comes to the very concept of women's rights.

It's easy to say some of these folks have no idea what feminism actually is -- but that's kind of a cop out excuse. I tend to think these folks just don't want to have to think about women's rights.

And I think some of them just actively hate women who don't do what they want.

Sometimes Twitter makes me want to not leave my house ever again. Which would be difficult given my day job. And a tragedy given all of my awesome shoes that deserve to be worn.

But after a few more mentions, I got distracted from the grossness that I have, if I am being honest, come to expect anytime feminism is a topic on social media. (Also, for the record, critiques of feminism as a movement are not gross -- they are mega important. Gross = trolling like the above images.) I mean, that kind of thing is the way the world works at the moment, right? I can't be surprised by it, even when I am dismayed.

So, my dilemma: The thing about me and feminism as a movement is that I am pretty deeply conflicted about identifying myself as a feminist. The more I involve myself in discussions about gender, intersectionality, and embodied rights, the more I find myself flinching away from identifying with mainstream feminism.

Hopefully my interest in radically shifting our cultural paradigm is pretty apparent if you've read more than one or two of my articles here. Or, well, anywhere. Because I do try to be consistent if nothing else. When I think about sloughing off the label of feminist, it's not for the same reasons that Daisy doesn't embrace the label.

To be really frank and not at all nice about it, I think mainstream feminism has a white woman problem. As in, there are a lot of white women who refuse to center the needs of women who are not white -- who, in fact, resent having to acknowledge those needs at all. If mainstream feminism cannot acknowledge that a) not all women experience the same thing and b) those different experiences all need to be considered, then I don't even know where to start with mainstream feminism.

I only know that you don't have to identify as a feminist to be passionately involved in the struggle for gender equality.

Of course there are many different feminisms. I'm just not certain that supporting and engaging with those intersectional feminisms means the same thing, identification wise, as "I'm a feminist." And, on many levels, calling myself a feminist isn't worth alienating the women I want to work to support -- who have been alienated by mainstream feminism.

In Daisy's post, there are comments from people saying, basically, too bad, so sad, Daisy is a feminist whether she wants to be or not. And maybe that forcible application of identity also doesn't sit well with me or make me want to claim that I'm part of the mainstream feminist movement.

It's a touchy subject for me, forcing identity onto other people. When a movement that is supposed to be about supporting and empowering women does that, well. It kind of reeks.

While my own relationship with mainstream feminism exists in a perpetual tension (most of the conversations I have about feminism are actually about how it's fucking up as a movement and not at all serving huge groups of women), I know several people who simply do not identify as feminists.

And some of them were being thanked on Twitter as well.

s.e. smith has been pretty vocal about not being a feminist. Lesley doesn't identify as one either.

Reactions to this are a personal thing, of course. And I don't think any of them are WRONG. While s.e. has been using #NotAFeminist in responses, Lesley says she just assumed it was shorthand. For myself, I could only expression appreciation for the compliment and then come here to think about it and talk about it with y'all. Because on the one hand, I recognize the intent of the compliment. And that a lot of the conversations I have do work within a feminist framework. But on the other hand, does not clarifying align me with a movement about which I feel deep unease?

I don't know.

And I can't answer that for anyone else -- I don't think s.e.'s discomfort with ou's work being associated with feminism is unreasonable. But I also don't think Lesley's lack of concern is wrong. As with most things branded as feminist, I mostly feel tense and uneasy, a bit unsure.

As long as tweets like those up there exist, I think there is a need for the philosophy of feminism -- which is to say, I don't think feminism's goal of anti-sexism is by any means passe. But I give more and more thought to the gap between theory and practice these days, to the divide between what an actual struggle for equality would look like and, well, what it looks like now through the lens of mainstream feminism.

Maybe I'm just bad at joining things. There are, after all, plenty of labels I apply to myself: fat, radical, crazy, to name just a few. But none of those denote allegiance to a specific movement.

I want to talk about gender with you. I want to talk about rape culture and the need for social and cultural change. But I also want to talk about race and class and mental health and disability -- and I want to talk about how those things are all connected. For me, that connection of oppressions is at the heart of everything; I don't think that's centered in feminism in quite the same way.

#TellAFeministThankYou has been really fascinating to watch. And I don't mind if other people think I have helped feminism out -- after all, I've not disowned the label just yet. But I guess one unintended consequence of the hashtag has been to make me more seriously question if I want to be affiliated even in name with mainstream feminism. And that is actually something I would have to #TellAFeministThankYou for.