What does feminism mean to you?
For me, feminism refers to a particular strand of the overall equality movement that strand being the pursuit of equality between genders. I think one needs to have a particularly blinkered worldview not to see that the dominant force in the world is essentially a very robust and pervasive heteronormative patriarchy, and to progress beyond that point and create a more egalitarian society requires a deep critique and analysis of gender roles and experiences; indeed, it will require a deep critique of the very concept of gender itself. Although feminism bears its name (and rightly so) in recognition of the deeply-ingrained injustices faced by women throughout history, it is important to note that a victory for feminism is a victory for people all along the gender spectrum; that’s the essential nature of equality.
When did you realize you were a feminist?
I grew up surrounded by strong women; they may not have always used the term “patriarchy” but they would certainly have wasted no time telling someone where to go should that unfortunate individual ever attempt to exert dominance over them or subvert their rights. That sort of upbringing left me with the ingrained values that one might expect, and as I was gradually more exposed to the world around me I discovered that other people who held these values called themselves “feminists”. Again, to an extent, “feminism” was not necessarily a term that was used during my upbringing – presumably when there is no non-feminist in your immediate environment there is less of a need to identify yourself as a feminist! But as I say, as I grew older and experienced more of the world around me, I recognized those who labelled themselves as feminists to be people of similar outlook and belief to myself and so I adopted the label too.
What issue/area is the most important to you?
In all honesty, I feel deeply uncomfortable in trying to highlight one particular feminist issue as being more “important” than any other. It’s been said elsewhere that the most important issue for any given person at any given time is the one that faces them directly in the immediate future, and I think there’s an element of truth in that; I’d certainly never criticize anyone for focusing their efforts on a particular issue that affected them most directly. However, in a strategic sense, I don’t think there is any “unimportant” issue in feminism because what’s really needed is a seismic shift in how society views women (or indeed, how society views anyone who is not a privileged middle-class able-bodied cis-gendered straight white male) and for such a shift to occur, feminism needs to fight a war on all fronts; every issue of dominance needs to be pressed. Unless such a shift occurs, any individual gains will be limited in their efficacy and not particularly secure. I mean, you only need to look at what’s happening in the US at present where many of the right-wing are waging a war on women’s rights in a country that has traditionally been viewed as “good” on reproductive rights – that’s the consequence of an individual gain not being part of a broad victory over the patriarchy and it’s now hanging in a very precarious balance.
What do you say to people who say “I’m not a feminist but…”
It’s easy to get frustrated in those instances, but it’s important not to let that frustration rule you in your response. In my own experience, there are two types of people who will say that: those who support the women’s rights movement (or are at least not opposed to it) but have a particular negative view of the term “feminist”, and those who are outright hostile to the movement. In the case of the former, it’s an unfortunate fact that some people do have this negative stereotype associated with the label “feminist” (to borrow a term from another contributor, they do seem to think that feminism is merely the attempt to replace a patriarchy with a matriarchy) and attempting to argue with them over it can often just be a frustrating waste of time, as well as possibly resulting in the disenfranchisement of an ally who just doesn’t use the same label as us. At the end of the day, while it would be nice for them to realize that the label “feminist” is something to take pride in, it’s unlikely that their view of the term is an impediment to the strategic goals of feminism; one must hope that in time they will come around to it themselves. As for the latter camp: frankly, these people will never agree with the term (until, possibly, it becomes the main stream of thought) so there’s no point wasting time on them…
Where do you see the feminist movement going in the future?
I think, and hope, that we will continue to see a progressive focus on intersectionality. It’s vital for the future of the movement that feminism never regards itself as insular or exclusive or separate from other movements in the equality sphere. Alliances with LGBT campaigns, anti-racism movements, trade unions etc. have always been a source of success for feminism and I hope we’ll continue to see further integration in this regard; it’s simply better for everyone if we work together. I’ll also be interested to see how feminist activists as a whole will view the use of their label by people who aren’t necessarily working in the best interests of feminism; I know that we’re a broad movement and not everyone will agree on all points of principle, but I’ve been glad to see a trend of criticism where the most egregious offences are concerned. Two recent examples in particular come to mind: the first was the massive feminist backlash against a “radical feminist” group in the US for its transphobia; the second is the critique being applied to some feminist groups who on a political level have advocated supporting female candidates for election regardless of the candidates’ policy stances or political affiliation – while combating the disproportionate absence of women in the political sphere needs to be a priority, it is good to recognize that electing women who will then pursue anti-feminist policies is an own goal. To paraphrase Laurie Penny’s remarks on one particular example, being a woman did not make Thatcher a feminist; rather, it made her the living proof that being a woman doesn’t automatically prevent you from being an agent of the patriarchy. While we need to remain a broad movement and not get paralyzed in nit-picking, some self-critique will be beneficial for feminism in the long run.