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Feminista? - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Whenever men describe themselves as "feminists," I feel excluded from the category. Indeed, I typically go out of my way to state, for the record, that I don't consider myself a feminist.

At the same time, though, I'm acutely aware -- even when I pretend not to be -- of the way my maleness, innate or socially constructed, impacts the women I know. I've found it almost impossible to listen to men who want to talk about their carnal exploits with the opposite sex, even when those men are friends. And I almost never talk about my own exploits, modest as they may be, with other men.

Almost all the lasting authority figures in my life have been women, from my mother through various teachers on to the women I've been intimate with, not to mention the female scholars I repeatedly reference in my work. And, as I often tell people in social settings, one of my most important experiences growing up was reading the original Our Bodies, Ourselves over and over, not only for the bits about sex, but because I was intrigued by the passages in which a women-only separatism manifested itself.

Why is it, then, that I fell compelled to distance myself from the name "feminism?" Am I merely miming the piedra of the Catholic Church, denying what I believe out of expedience and fear? Or is there another reason for my reticence?

Mode: ponderish
Muse: Pale Horse - John Vanderslice - Cellar Door

19 comments or Leave a comment
jakemacalister From: jakemacalister Date: March 1st, 2005 01:07 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Isn't hard for men to be feminist when we are the "other" to them, or rather, we are the reason they are the "other"? From queer theory to feminist theory to cultural theory, there is always this straight white male oppressor. Who is he? Where is he?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 07:39 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
"He is me," I can say without compunction. And I feel it, too, even though I know that I try hard to drain that me of its toxic juices.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: March 1st, 2005 02:57 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't claim to be a feminist but, I know damn well I discuss feminist issues in my classes. I've done that for a long time even though at least some of the Guerilla Girls taught at my grad school. It's a good place for them to teach since they (Vermont College) is about 60-70% female who are returning to school for MFA's. Most of them missed that feminist rethoric in college, guys too, but at VC visual art gets framed in various contexts and gets a serious critique.

Speaking of Vermont College, Steve Kurtz teaches there too. You know about his FBI case don't you? They're trying to make an example of him and send him up the river for 20 years. http://www.caedefensefund.org/
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 07:38 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yeah, the issues I have no problem discussing. It's the name.

I didn't know Kurtz. Thanks!
commonalgebra From: commonalgebra Date: March 1st, 2005 07:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
it always kinda makes me sad when anyone says they don't call themselves a feminist. Still, I understand. I mean, I don't really go around saying I'm a feminist. I mean...I am (I was asked in a job interview once if I considered myself to be a feminist. Ot was strange.) It's weird to label oneself at all... I hope for someday when the term "feminism" has lost it's grrrrugh. For everyone. Just a term meaning someone who recognizes the systematic oppression of women and believes it is not right. Sort of a specific type of humanitarian.

What if other people describe you as a feminist? What happens then? According to my definition, you fit. But is the power only in naming yourself?
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: March 2nd, 2005 12:10 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I've been trying to figure out what I wanted to say in response to Charlie's post, perhaps will post tonight, but what you've said about how it's weird to label yourself at all reminds me of how this girl I knew in high school said once labels are for canned food--and I thought I'd heard little else that seemed so dead on target in my life. I still remember. Anyway, I'm with you that it makes me sad when people feel they can't identify, and I admit as well that when/if I do say so I'm sure to say as well that it doesn't mean I agree with everything that everyone who's claimed to be a feminist has ever said.

So yes, I think more than anything, I like to think of being female/feminist-identified as one of many possible (or necessary) identifications one might have by which to try to behave more humanely in the present for a better future. Yes. Why label to restrict and so to live a sort of death.

And by the way, hello :)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 07:37 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
"Identifies with ______ " works better for me than "is a _______." Funny.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: March 2nd, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
So here's one case where doing may win out. Or rather, where we learn to remember being is a verb...

But what I was going to say is it's not funny at all, I don't think. A politics of identification often seems a lot more viable to me than an identity politics. Identification seems to grow into its plural far more easily than identity. But more later. I have to go finish reading Sebald.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 05:28 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Funny in a not-funny way, I suppose!

Speaking of growing into a plural, Sebald is all about that.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 07:35 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The term doesn't make me cringe or anything. I only object to the way it sounds coming out of other men's mouths, whether they deride it or endorse it. Self-naming is a problem for me in general. I still want to write "instructor" on my syallbi out of respect for those who teach without a Ph.D. in hand. But in the case of the term "feminist," my objections are more visceral. Thanks for saying I fit, though. It doesn't bother me at all to be named a "feminist" by a woman, especially one I hold in such high regard.
commonalgebra From: commonalgebra Date: March 2nd, 2005 06:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
aw. yer sweet.

So, I've been thinking about this issue in relation to my students. I think most of American doesn't actually think so much about labeling...but does use them with great frequency. This is certainly true of the vast majority of middle and high school students I've worked with.

My students (again, most Americans can probably be substituted in here) don't really have any idea what feminism or sexism is...some of them have heard of these terms, but do not really understand them. I am concerned about how to both teach students to deconstruct labels (have compassion & employ critical thinking) AND to understand people they have thoughtlessly labeled. Some part of me does believe that there is power and significance in standing where there is silence--being willing to say "I call myself a feminist (lesbian or environmentalist or pacifist) and this is why..."

I am not recommending any course of action...or trying to say it is a person's responsibility to open the eyes of others. But, I know, in my day-to-day life, most people I meet could do with a little (ideally friendly) exposure to folks they have many silent and debilitating (for all of us, ultimately) assumptions.
From: jodi3425 Date: March 1st, 2005 08:01 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)


this is a brave post--very rocky waters here. a junior white male colleague here not only teaches feminist and queer theory in a course one wouldn't expect to see it in (a good thing), but he very much identifies himself with all the causes, going to queer fac dinners and events and really puts himself out there on race, sex, kid stuff, etc. And, the thing is is that it seems like some sort of weird twists happens where not only is he supportive and demonstrating solidarity but he seems to want to be, completely, the other he is supporting so that he ends up always as some kind of victim, personally implicated. and so this sort of line strikes me as difficult to draw. a gesture of non-identification on your part, then, Charile, seems to me to be valuable insofar as it respects the space of another, others, the Other, however you want to draw it.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 07:32 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: brave

When I read about your colleague I thought A) I would totally support someone like that in public and B) I would worry about seeming too much like him in private. It's an odd thing, the resistance to identification. I have no problem admitting that I identify with women more often than men. But stating that I'm "a feminist" strikes me as a very different move. You're right: these are very rocky waters.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: March 2nd, 2005 02:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Have you considered that your hesitancy may be due to a fear of claiming 'ownership' over the feminist movement? That is to say, perhaps you're aware of the fact that you have not and cannot internalize it to the degree that a woman can, and so you feel you must avoid using such a loaded label...

I mean its really a question of how other people will receive the term. I think in this day and age you may have less to fear; only hardcore feminists with a very narrow understanding of the term would take offense to a male identifying themselves as feminist. I think nowadays the word describes a set of ideologies, not a condition. In other words, I think you're a feminist. ;>
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 07:40 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's part of it. But I have more general issues with the idea of being anything fixed.
hollsterhambone From: hollsterhambone Date: March 2nd, 2005 10:13 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This is hard, as others have also said. I think part of the awfulness is in appropriating someone else's identity: "feminist" is a qualifier that is owned by women for a reason--because they need a qualifier that defines themselves Other than "woman." Which is important, and should never be discounted. But I was once mentally chafed by a colleague at UK who, as a part of his opening salutation, counted himself as a feminist. I found his description of himself awkward, and I was unable to respond with appropriate light-hearted repartee. This is not to say I don't admire men who study feminist issues. I adore them, more than any other. I just resist the idea. Not because I don't want men to own the traditionally sacred-female space of feminism, but because it seems...presumptuous to say so. Perhaps in the same way I feel presumptuous when I entertain the idea of saying I'm a Lacanian, an Americanist, a psychoanalytic scholar, etc. I shall think on this issue some more and perhaps I shall have more answers later, when I'm older and wiser.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 05:30 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's really well put. You capture, I think, what I've been feeling without being able to capture. I have a subsequent post on the topic of self-naming coming.
derdriu From: derdriu Date: March 3rd, 2005 01:37 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

The best definition of feminism I have found

"Feminism is a critique of male supremacy, formed and offered in the light of a will to change it, which in turn assumes a conviction that it is changeable."
--From Linda Gordon, "What's New in Women's History," in Teresa deLauretis, ed.*Feminist Studies/Critical Studies* (Indiana, 1986): 29.

I think that the best part of this definition is its allowance for anyone to be a part of it. It takes many of the frightening implications out of the term.
tpratt From: tpratt Date: March 3rd, 2005 03:55 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Hey Charlie, interesting post. I've always had a somewhat facile (I'm afraid) reasoning behind considering myself a feminist. I think it was Faludi who wrote (and I most surely paraphrase) that a feminist is nothing more than someone who believes women should have the same rights as men and/or that women should earn the same wage as men for doing the same labor. I have no problem labeling myself as a supporter of such beliefs. Tell you what, though. I'm not much of a fan of dudes who throw that self-applying label around as though it is credibility currency, so to speak. I ran into a lot of fellows like that back in the UCSC days, and they always struck me as the type of douchebags who were first in line to check out the empowered womyn's breasteses at the Take Back the Night march on campus, but would have issues when a woman got a better grade, or maybe got the job that they so much more richly deserved.
Anyway, it's funny that the word "feminist" provokes so much discomfort in so many. My friends John and Patricia, solidly liberal boojie stock in other regards, made it a point to disavow feminism when they lived in jerkwater Suquamish, WA. I always got the impression that they were not comfortable having to argue with neighbors and co-workers in a place where cutesy neocon jargon like "feminazi" (thanks, King Oxycontin) got more laffs than shudders.
You've never struck me as one who avoids an argument if it's valid or important, Charlie. I realize labels others have placed on me suck as they are not of my own making:glutton, fatass, dropout, stoner, asshole, loser, knee-jerk liberal, poseur... Believe me, I'm not in a hurry to further pigeonhole myself with the feminist moniker, either, but I consider what I believe it to mean to be more important than what the perceptions of others, with whom I will most likely disagree about most everything else anyway, to mean.
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