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I am a Feminist, but…

28/02/19
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last week a few of my wonderful colleagues organised a session for staff who wish to explore what feminism means to us. They opened the space by circulating slips of paper with I am a feminist, but… printed on each and encouraged us to write our responses. I wrote:

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I am a feminist, but… I became a housewife on maternity leave. (As I write about in Maternity leave and my short stint as a housewife – why it had to end.)

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Other responses you might hear include:

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I am a feminist, but… following the birth of my daughter, I decided to work part-time while my husband continues to work full-time.

I am a feminist, but… I took my husband’s family name when we married.

I am a feminist, but… I allow my daughter to play with Barbie dolls.

I am a feminist, but… I sometimes cry at work.

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Graphic: Libby VanderPloeg

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I am a feminist, but… has gained notoriety as the opening statement in each episode of The Guilty Feminist podcast. One of my personal favs is:

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“I’m a feminist, but… when my four year-old nephew insisted on me putting on my wedding dress and watching Beauty and the Beast with him, I also put on my tiara, which he had not requested.”

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What this demonstrates is that our values and behaviours can seem contradictory. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be human. Yes, of course, it’s important to behave in line with your values but feminism is often presented as an either or – and at the extremes. You’re either a real-life Barbie living in the Playboy mansion or you’re a bra-burning, man-hating fanatic. ‘Feminism’ is a loaded term. Over decades portrayed by mass media as militant, anti-men, anti-children, anti-all things ‘feminine’ or ‘girly’. I know women who are reluctant to call themselves feminists. This initially irks me but then I begin to question my own contradictions and wonder, can I truly call myself a feminist?

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I’ve arrived at the discomfort that I’m not the ideal, in fact I’m a crap feminist at times but I can call myself a feminist because I fundamentally believe that I am equal to a man. No doubt about it. All women are equal to men; girls to boys. That is what feminism is for me; an innate belief in equality and specifically, equality between women and men. As we approach International Women’s Day on 8th March, I’d like to share these excerpts from three feminist writers who inspire me, reassure me, and reaffirm the importance of being a feminist in 2019 – even a bad one.

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We should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Gender is not an easy conversation to have. It makes people uncomfortable, sometimes even irritable. Both men and women are resistant to talk about gender, or are quick to dismiss the problems of gender. Because thinking of changing the status quo is always uncomfortable.

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Illustration: Lina Ekstrand

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Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that.

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Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxanne Gay

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Image: Wealthsimple.com

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Maybe I’m a bad feminist, but I am deeply committed to the issues important to the feminist movement. I have strong opinions about misogyny, institutional sexism that consistently places women at a disadvantage, the inequity in pay, the cult of beauty and thinness, the repeated attacks on reproductive freedom, violence against women, and on and on. I am as committed to fighting fiercely for equality as I am committed to disrupting the notion that there is an essential feminism.

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At some point, I got it into my head that a feminist was a certain kind of woman. I bought into grossly inaccurate myths about who feminists are – militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating, humourless. I bought into these myths even though, intellectually, I know better. I’m not proud of this. I don’t want to buy into these myths any more.

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No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

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Why I am a Feminist by Srilatha Batliwala

The full article was first published in the Indian Post in 1988- 30 years ago!

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Feminism has never been against men, but against the discrimination or subordination of any person merely because of their gender. But like any other ideology and movement, there are tendencies and differences of opinion and strategy within feminism. Just as there are a score of left and right-wing parties, each with its own deviations or interpretations of Marxism and capitalism, so also are there different streams in feminism. But no one strand or group can claim to be the real or true feminism, or speak for all.

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Photo: Srilatha Batliwala

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There are, however, certain basic principles which the vast majority of feminists, both in India and abroad, do stand for: The right of all human beings – whether male or female – to an equal share in social and economic life; the right of each woman and man to self-determination and a realisation of their talents, strengths and aspirations, rather than rigid, gender based roles and biologically determined destinies; the sharing of responsibility for domestic work and child-rearing by both parents and support services for these; the need for social and economic recognitions and valuation of the work done by women, which has so far been invisible; and freedom from the exploitation and oppression of women because they are women, whether through rape, dowry demands, prostitution, wife-beating, or denial of control over their own reproductive systems. Apart from these, feminism has always opposed violence, war and militarism, and supported all movements that promote social and economic justice for the poor or downtrodden in every society.

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None of this sounds terrible to me. In fact, I cannot see how any person of principle, possessing common humanity, would wish to dissociate his/herself from such a healthy, well-rounded and humane ideology – unless, or course, the person is firmly committed to the notion that the world cannot survive unless half of its people are enslaved.

But I believe that the world cannot survive if half its people are enslaved.

Which is why I am a feminist.


What do you think?

Hey Mama!

I’m Jen Murphy, award-winning blogger and wellness advocate for working mothers. I created Working Mother Wellness as a platform for mums to share our wellness experiences. Sign-up to build your own Working Mother Wellness toolkit. You will receive updates on Kundalini yoga practices, wellness tips, and info on upcoming workshops and programmes.