In the tradition of Mormon sacrament meeting rhetorical practice, I feel compelled to start with a definition. Feminism, according to my quick Googling, is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” This definition is a good start. Please note the use of the term “equality”, as the most common misconception about feminism is that it seeks to perpetuate the domination that is characteristic of the patriarchy by reversing it and creating a matriarchy wherein women dominate men. Matriarchy is not the aim of feminism, equal rights are the aim of feminism.
Advocating women’s rights means advocating for the rights of different kinds of women who have different kinds of privileges and experiences. For example, women of color experience sexism and misogyny in unique ways which means that advocating for racial equality is part of being a feminist. Mormon women experience sexism and misogyny in unique ways and advocating for gender equality specific to Mormonism is part of being a feminist. There are also plenty of people who are not women who also experience sexism and misogyny, such as queer and trans* people who do not identify as women, and being a feminist means advocating for their rights as well because their oppression often intersects with the same patriarchy that oppresses women. Taking this into consideration, We could also define feminism as a movement to remove sexism, misogyny, and other manifestations of patriarchy from our society.
Why Feminist? Why Not Egalitarian or Humanist?
I can understand why it seems counterintuitive that a movement with a goal of equality should have a name that connotes one gender. This is part of why I included a second definition in the beginning of this post. As feminists or people curious about feminism, we must remember not only who or what we are fighting for– women, girls, and other people who are oppressed by the patriarchy– but also what we are fighting against, which is the patriarchy. Calling ourselves “egalitarians” in a world dominated by patriarchy does not successfully communicate what needs to happen in order to reach gender equality.Because we must recognize who has and doesn’t have privilege as we fight to end privilege, “feminism” is appropriate in a world that oppresses femaleness and female people, so terms like “egalitarian” and “humanist” will not be appropriate until we no longer need feminism.
Why does it matter if I call myself a feminist?
I understand that labels (such as “feminist”) can seem limiting or like an oversimplification of someone’s complicated and multifaceted identity or ideology. However, labels can also be useful in helping people find each other. In calling myself a feminist I let other feminists know that we probably have some ideas and concerns in common and that I am a safe person to talk to about gender inequalities. Self-identifying as a feminist also helped me. I have a greater chance of feeling empowered to think critically something labeled a “feminist” issue or concern because I already know about myself that gender issues are important to me in the same way that I know that a news article about beekeeping or bees will be interesting to me because I know that bees are interesting and important to me.
Being a feminist does not mean agreeing with every feminist. Just as there are as many Mormonisms as there are Mormons, there are as many feminisms as there are feminists. This is a good thing, and one of the benefits of having a group or a movement is the ability to have intra-movement dialogue. If I didn’t have a chance to interact with feminists who I disagree with, I would never get a chance to grow as a feminist. Valerie Hudson and Judith Butler may have very different ideas of what gender even is or means, but that doesn’t mean that Valerie Hudson’s research on the status of women and girls worldwide can’t create beautiful dialectical music with Judith Butler’s theories on the ethics of cohabitation. In fact, I would suggest that disagreements between feminists is what makes organizing as feminists rather than acting alone so powerful.