Am I a Woman?

My brave husband and I have just returned from the radical feminists’ anti-porn conference at Wheelock College. My reactions to this event were so complex that they’ll take several posts to sort out, but I’ll start with a question that’s preoccupied me since I became a regular reader of Hugo‘s blog: Am I a feminist? Why or why not?

Before I begin to address this, I recognize that I have the privilege to even consider this question because of the efforts of many other activists who have self-identified as feminist. My criticism of the term isn’t meant to discount their efforts, just to question whether “feminism” is the best theoretical way to frame my identity and beliefs.

Though I’ve always believed in women’s full equality in every sphere of life, I shy away from the “feminist” label. In college, that was because I identified it with political views I didn’t share: abortion rights, devaluing the homemaker role, and a general disposition to cast men as villains and women as victims. Now I’ve become aware of a much greater diversity within feminism, but the label still doesn’t fit comfortably. I’m groping towards some reasons why that might be the case:

I don’t primarily think of myself as a woman. Sure, my biological gender is female, and I like collecting dolls and wearing pretty dresses. I talk about my feelings all the time, and I take too much responsibility for the feelings of others. But I could do all that equally well as a codependent drag queen.

When I think about what makes me me, I identify much more with my mind than with my body. I resist efforts to draft me into a collective interest group based on unchosen characteristics. When I was converting to Christianity, it bothered me that some folks would urge me to be loyal to my Jewish heritage, for purely tribal or historical reasons. The fact that my parents and grandparents believed something has no bearing on whether it’s actually true.

Similarly, sharing a gender with 50% of people on the planet doesn’t guarantee that our similarities will outweigh our differences. The most heartbreaking aspect of this weekend’s conference was how efforts at feminist solidarity kept breaking down into hostility and mistrust as soon as we tried to articulate why we opposed porn and what our ideal society would look like. There were many reasons for this, which I’ll explore in a future post, but one factor was that for many of us, our very diverse experiences of religion, sexual relationships, class and ethnicity were at least as constitutive of our identities as being female, if not more so.

To the pornographers, of course, we’re all just cum dumpsters, just as the Nazis didn’t discriminate among Orthodox and atheist Jews. But why can’t we concentrate on our common interests to collaborate on specific political projects, without trying to forge a spiritual or metaphysical identity around our vulvas? I’d like to depersonalize feminist politics so that it becomes more task-oriented and less about our feelings.

In other words, I’m a guy.

I don’t see gender as the human race’s moral dividing line. In fact, I don’t believe in such a line at all. In my Christian worldview, we’re all equally sinners. I oppose the oppression of women for exactly the same reasons as I oppose the oppression of prisoners, African-Americans, fat people, and boys named Percy.

I don’t believe in salvation through politics. Feminism, of whatever variety, believes that utopia comes about by rearranging the distribution of power. For me, this is a second-order problem. There is no system that can’t be subverted eventually by the clever predator that is Homo sapiens. I can’t base my identity on a political ideology because I think evil is ultimately a spiritual problem, and one that we can’t solve by ourselves.

Feminism itself doesn’t generate a theory of the good. Men are oppressed by women; so what? Why should we be outraged? Answers to that question come from religion and moral philosophy, not politics. I’d rather identify myself in terms of the foundational religious/moral lens through which I see the world, which is not gender-based.

11 comments on “Am I a Woman?

  1. Alegria Imperial says:

    Thanks again! This entry verbalizes my feelings about the subject. The movement, for me, is more of an inner battle where it takes on more meaning. We do carry both sexes in our nature as we live or better yet, grapple with other polar opposites within and without. The movement for me seems thus a fight against the carapace. And perhaps this is the reason why as a political front, it has exposed women to needless ridicule. Yes, the movement has radically changed the way society has regarded women, though it merely accepted formally most of what women have long achieved, namely equality on many fronts. But other issues I believe are not really worth all that wagging of tongues and waggling of forefingers.

  2. Jendi Reiter says:

    A “fight against the carapace,” well-put. The political and cultural changes wrought by feminism have given us more freedom to express the masculine and feminine aspects within each of us, regardless of biological gender. But, paradoxically, the more it views gender identity as constructed and malleable, the more “feminism” as a term feels unnecessarily restrictive to me. Can feminism remain “about women” without hardening into gender-essentialism, Carol Gilligan-style?

  3. I agree too. Feminism is just a starting point for me: I want to see justice and equality for everyone like you. I wish there was a different word too.

    Sorry I haven’t been around a lot lately. I’m working on a book proposal and preparing to go on staff at my church.

  4. Alegria Imperial says:

    It hasn’t. And I don’t think it could transform outside of its built-in fixtures. The term “feminism” alone already restricts its routes and destination. I’d rather women go back to the first stirrings of their fight for equality–their banners screamed what it was they were fighting for instead of who they were who were fighting. But again, times have changed perhaps. Nature though has proved what it is. We can’t possibly work against it without suffering a step back and only if we work with it could we step forward. Life, indeed, is too full of paradoxes.

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