Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: I'm not a feminist, but ... what?

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Why has feminism become a dirty word?
Photo / Thinkstock
Why has feminism become a dirty word? Photo / Thinkstock

The first group I ever joined on Facebook - aside from 'I nearly explode when I'm stuck behind slow walking people' - was, 'People who say, "I'm not a feminist, but..." make me want to bang my head against a wall."

Possibly because I only seemed to join groups struggling with impulse control, it was a bit of dud, really. No one discussed the statement, linked to any relevant online articles, or posted any interesting comments. Updates consisted solely of exclamatory announcements of group membership numbers.

Still, there was a simple joy to be had in the knowledge that other people felt the same creeping sense of despair when those words come tumbling apologetically out of yet another woman's mouth. To be instantly followed by a statement that - for all intents and purposes - sounds suspiciously like a feminist view.

"I'm not a feminist, but my male co-workers shouldn't get paid more for the same job."

"I'm not a feminist, but why do they hardly ever show women's sport on TV?"

I'm not a feminist, but ... oh, I appear to be a feminist.

Of course, I'd need a whole separate post to debate the varying interpretations of 'feminism'. There are those, for example, who eschew the term because they feel it applies overwhelmingly to white, middle-class women; overlooking the additional struggles faced by female minority groups.

However, for the sake of a word count, let's be clear that I use the term in its most overarching form: the belief that all women everywhere deserve absolute equality with all men everywhere, in every facet of society, even the tiniest, as a matter of course.

So then. I'm not a feminist, but ... what? I'm afraid the guy I'm crushing on might sense I'm less submissive, and therefore less appealing? That I'll suddenly be cast into mouth-frothing, military boot-stomping, I-Need-a-Man-like-a-Fish-Needs-a-Bicycle territory?

In my experience, smart, ethical men actually prefer a strong, feminist-minded woman. Because they know instinctively that she has standards; that 'feminine' attributes and feminist views can happily co-exist. Importantly, they know women can love men and themselves both at the same time, which makes for a pretty good package, all up.

Who'd've' thunk it?

Of course, there will always be lunkheads whose glazed eyes roll when women insist they're more than vaginas on stilts. Who proffer 'Feminazi!' or 'You got the vote, didn't you!' as their witty response. (Warning: it's a trap! If you don't laugh along, you're a feminazi!)

But, and this is no revelation, insecurity informs said lunkheads' minuscule world view. At least, I'd wager it's more likely that than the outcome of close consideration of feminism's validity in today's so-called 'post-feminist' society. Just to really go out on a limb there.

(Perhaps show them this, if they can read? Or hijack their Facebook and sign them up to this.)

Anyway, here's a silver lining to everything. As star blogger Amanda Marcotte notes, maintaining feminist ideals can actually be a good way to dodge predatory guys:

"Young people are fed a bunch of lies about how feminism precludes getting laid ... What they need to know is that not only do feminists get laid, they find ways to do it that don't involve cruising around with sleazy guys who aren't any good in bed anyway. Once you clue into that advantage, being a self-identified feminist becomes much easier."

Am I a bad feminist, emphasising that feminist ideals can be attractive to men (or a good way to filter out the creeps), as though this were the key objective? Maybe. But there's no denying 'I'm not a feminist, but...' comes from the tension between a woman's actual beliefs and management of her external appeal.

So how about we try calling a spade a spade, and a feminist a feminist? Or, at the very least, stop ruining the word for the rest of us, with your disclaimers. No buts about it; you might not feel it's for you, but it's not a dirty word.

Something clearly lost on many, including those in a position to do some good.

Like Lady Gaga. "I'm not a feminist," she snarked in 2009. "I hail men, I love men." (Because, you know, the two are mutually exclusive.)

Cue thousands of young female fan-brains absorbing the underlying message like fresh sponge: Loving myself must never get in the way of loving men.

Thanks, Lady. Don't mind me. I'll just keep banging my head against this wall here.

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