That surprised me, Indra, if for no other reason than the word “feminist” is a huge catch-all term for a great many issues. I would ask, because I am not going to assume, what it means to you? To me, this speaks more to what it means: a person who says they are a feminist believes this:
the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.
Feminism wears a multitude of hats. If your experience of feminism is negative, I would wonder what that person’s behavior was. I believe in things like equal pay for equal work. That kind of thing. When someone comes after me on Medium for speaking about my experience as a woman, that comes across as sexist. However you’ll not see that word in my writing unless someone else used it first. In the context of my response to the good doctor, he used the term “sexist” to refer to the commenter’s self-description of mansplaining. I am simply echoing their choice of words. I dislike the term sexist, but that behavior exists. In all fairness, Indra, when others introduce terminology, I am likely to lift their choice of words in return. But in this discussion I didn’t initiate the words sexist or mansplaining. Both men did. I didn’t use the term feminist, you did. It’s instructive to me that those words didn’t originate from my writing as a woman but from gentlemen commenting on my writing. That’s neither right nor wrong; it’s simply a fact in all three cases. Kindly don’t hear this as a criticism, for it isn’t.
For me, the terms feminism and sexist and mansplaining can be seriously loaded, depending on who is wielding them and for what purposes. I disagree with anything that is militant in nature, for the intent all too often is to damage and destroy. Many have referred to feminism as “militant.” When I was growing up, there were, and still are, segments of the feminist community whom I could consider militant. I don’t identify with them.
I had a terrific and very positive exchange with a white man in his sixties who was troubled- and rightfully so- by the online behavior of a woman who summarily blocked an intelligent comment he had made on her story about sexual assault. He identifies himself as a feminist, in the highest sense of the word, which as he describes it, the rights for women to be treated as equal humans. The woman’s behavior was absolutist, and to my mind and in that particular situation, came across as militant. We agreed. Later I reworked his comments into an article and he was delighted that I heard his heart.
Feminism, at its highest levels, at least to me, has nothing to do with the at times equally-loaded term “a lady,” which can in its own right be interpreted very differently due to cultural norms and traditions. Those varying interpretations are all legitimate in their own right, but each can also be a jail in their own right. Being a “lady” may well convey that being outspoken (my hand is up) or using spicy language (my hand is WAY up) are inappropriate. Inappropriate can be controlling- what’s inappropriate in my world is when we try to do harm, or are unkind or rude or condescending to each other. That doesn’t make me right. Those are my opinions only.
We all look through cultural lenses at certain terms, Indra, and what some words mean where you are may well mean something very, very different from where I sit. I know how those words feel to me, and how I use them in my writing, but typically I don’t use them at all. I would repeat: the men in these exchanges chose to introduce both mansplaining and sexist in their comments to me. You, as a man, introduced the term feminist. I didn’t. My Medium profile notes me as a top writer in Feminism but that is because I write about my experience with sexual assaults, which unfortunately, are a little more numerous than I might have wished. I have no control over what Medium does with what I write or how it tags me.
Our behaviors are invariably situational. I can be a lady, as I see and experience the term, and an outright badass, as I see and experience the term, where those behaviors fit the situation. Being a lady where appropriate (meeting the President at a reception line at the White House in 1976) doesn’t take away from being a badass (riding a half-wild horse across the dunes in Hurgadah, Egypt) or the other way around. I am a human, in full, as are you, and prefer not to be labeled as anything else. Labels limit. Depending on how others experience those terms, like feminist, they can be damaging, reducing, and monumentally unfair. To wit: if someone decides that X is a feminist, and their experience of a completely different person as a feminist was terrible, it is human nature for that person to automatically paint this other person the same negative color. That’s not inclusion or diversity. That is how we separate ourselves, that is how we make unfair assumptions about others, and that is how we can close the door on the richness of our immense variety. I’m making a general statement here, Indra, not addressing you.
You have every right to your impressions, your opinions, and your assessments. I would respectfully ask that you not use labels with me or anyone else, for I fear that they limit our enjoyment of each other. My writing, as does yours, speaks for itself. Some of my writing lands in the feminist sphere, but again, Indra, the way I experience the term feminism is that at its highest level, it asks, and needs to demand, that women be respected and valued as equal humans. It’s unfortunate that we even need such a term, but that is our world.
Thanks for your comments, as always.