My Feminism

I call myself a feminist.

However, I think that the words “feminist” and “feminism” mean a great range of things to a great range of people, and it is important to explain what I mean when I say it (and refer to it on this blog).

One website offers this definition of feminism:

“Feminism is a range of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women.”

I care a lot about those ideas, but when I think of “feminism”, those are not exactly the words that come to mind. In fact, there are many more words that come to mind, and the word “feminism” doesn’t always seem to capture what I care about.
Feminism is a somewhat exclusionary term, I find, due to its root being “fem” and its beginnings being based in advancing the rights of women. However, I do embrace the term and the way I have come to understand it as something much larger than an ideology that focuses on women’s rights.

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When I break down what “feminism” means to me, this is what I see:

  • Gender equality (for women and for men and for non-binary folks)
  • An end to racism
  • No more patriarchy
  • Deconstructing systems of power and oppression
  • Understanding colonial histories
  • My positionality with regards to ethnicity, gender, class, physicality, and as a settler
  • Challenging “the way it is/the way things are”
  • Being thoughtful, critical, and celebratory more often
  • Asking people what their preferred pronouns are
  • Unlearning, relearning, repeating
  • ETC.!
When I think of my feminism, I do NOT see these things:
  • A hate for men
  • Being angry all of the time
  • Saying “man up” or “lady-like”
  • Making any essentialist assumptions based on someone’s physical appearance (i.e., assuming things because someone is male- or female-bodied in appearance)
  • Recommending people/activities/places based on someone’s race/gender presentation/income (i.e., not saying “you would like this movie with this [ethnicity] actor” because that person’s ethnicity matches)
  • Thinking that Indigenous peoples are solely responsible for negative aspects of living on reserves or the disproportionate number of crimes associated with Indigenous peoples
  • Accepting information at face value or letting mildly sexist/racist/classist/etc.-ist comments slip because it is tiring to always challenge people’s thinking (and my own)
  • Being silent because it is easier to do so short-term
“Feminism” doesn’t seem to fully capture my mindset for the world – my studies in “gender, race, sexuality, and social justice” seems to be a bit better, but that’s also very long. When people ask if I am a feminist, I say “yes” and if they get to hear more, they’ll learn about what I’ve described here (and more). If those people are satisfied with my response and make assumptions about my personality, beliefs, and behaviours as a result of that response, then so be it.
Simply put, I really care about people. 
I want the world to be a healthy place (mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally) where anyone feels welcome to go in whatever direction they choose in life.
Unless the direction they choose makes the world a less healthy and welcoming place. Then I don’t support it as much, but it makes us all a little more well-rounded, right?

Thinking about Caitlyn Jenner

There has been a lot of stir (already dying down now) about Caitlyn Jenner making her debut in her new body and with her new name, which she appears to feel are finally in line with her mind after all of these years.

I follow many intersectional and anti-racist feminist thinkers and groups online and read about others in books and news articles – most of them have felt compelled to comment in one way or another on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair unveiling. As I am making an effort to critically think about and share my thoughts about these increasingly relevant and important and talked-about occurrences, I thought I would add my small voice to the online conversation.


My thoughts on Jenner’s move are, in short, these: She has done what is fulfilling for her in a way that allows her millions of fans to be aware of this change in her appearance and name, and I think that those are good things.


When I consider the conversations that have occurred, I return to a recurring thought that I have after having studied gender, race, sexuality, and social justice, and in my own non-academic life: There is no 100%, sure-fire, make-everyone-happy way to do anything, particularly in circles of critical, feminist thinkers. 


That’s a good thing! 


Usually.

Critically analyzing events and approaching them with an intersectional frame of mind (intersectionalitythe study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination) challenges us to not take information at face value, and to consider the deeper meanings and implications of what we have seen, heard, or done. It can be mentally tiring to think of the world this way on a regular basis, but it is important to do so because it makes us more able to connect with others because we do not merely assume that our experiences are the same as someone else’s. Further, we become more complex and empathetic to others by allowing ourselves to open up to new ways of knowing, living, thinking, and experiencing the world.

Sometimes, it seems that the tendency to think this way leads to a nearly constant problematization of the whole world, and no event can escape our minds unscathed by considerations of all of the ways it could have a negative impact. This is where I have found myself frustrated by certain conversations about Caitlyn Jenner. An incredibly wealthy, famous, and Caucasian individual choosing to transition is not a representative experience of most trans* individuals. For that reason, the publicity received by Jenner and the widespread praise are difficult to embrace by anyone who has struggled with similar or related experiences.

Despite the unlikely circumstances of being able to transition in a very expensive and widely-praised manner, Jenner’s experience is her own and is one unique experience in the world that happens to be very public as well. While I do not think that Jenner should be the standard of what trans* individual is expected to be, I think that the publicity of what a transition entails for one individual is important in normalizing the experience and concept of transitioning/transgressing overall. An individual who was born in the most privileged body there is – a White male’s – chose to act on a life-long knowledge that the body they were born into was not the one that matched their mind and spirit, and left that incongruent body behind to pursue greater self-fulfillment.

Jenner’s transition does not represent the extremely diverse range of transitions that many individuals go through, but it is an example of one person’s multi-decade struggle with the feeling that their body is not the one that will lead to maximizing her sense of wholeness.


While we cannot assume that all experiences will be the same based on this one example – in the way someone looks when transitioning, what it means to transition, how easy it is for someone to transition in a practical and psychological sense – I think that it is important to embrace it. Embrace the conversations that have started, the acceptance of Caitlyn Jenner expressed by so many, and the figure that many other, younger trans* or queer individuals can look to and think, “She did what was right for her, maybe I can do what is right for me.” Those things are worth embracing, I think. The only downfall could be that Caitlyn Jenner assumes her experience is representative of all experiences, or that she does not embrace the powerful position she is in to make change possible for so many others who do not share her resources in life.


My hope is that Caitlyn will take full advantage of her powerful new role as a figure in the trans* community, which has been thrust upon her by virtue of being in the spotlight, and make life better for many others who have struggled, are struggling, and will struggle.

Hairy Woman, Walking Down the Street…

I have a feeling that “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison is far more successful than my Hairy Woman rendition would have been.

Hair is an interesting thing for us human creatures – the way it grows differently across our bodies, the way that we can change its presentation with chemicals and tools, and the unique ways we socialize people to think of their hair in gendered, racialized, and negative ways.

In November of 2014, I participated in Movember by not shaving my legs instead of growing a moustache (simply because I cannot grow one – otherwise I am certain that I would). This act snowballed into a personal project of leaving hair on other areas of my body to just be for a little while. It has taken time for me to adjust to my legs having hair, since I have been socialized to enjoy the aesthetic and feel of bare, smooth legs – part of me wants to say, “I actually just like it that way, though! I wasn’t socialized to.” However, I know the power of socialization, and that it is the reason that I, along with with many other female/woman-identified individuals, feel that it is the best way my legs could look. Simultaneously, most male/man-identified individuals do not feel self-conscious about having hair on their legs (even the ultra-hairy fellas – though they do sometimes get flack for chest hair).

The opportunity to bring it up with people has been enjoyable, as some that are closer to me have been comfortable enough to point out, “So you’re not shaving your legs?” or, “Are those hairy legs I see?” and I am able to say, “Yeah, I’m challenging the discourse that my legs are unattractive with hair on both a personal and societal level.”

It is still something that makes me a bit shy, but I am gradually becoming used to my new-kind-of-soft legs – it is the fear of people I know more personally thinking strangely of it that gets to me, but strangers can think whatever they like – hopefully they’ll think, “Whoa, that’s awesome, I should also not have my decisions dictated too much by cultural norms!”

Of course, choosing to do whatever you want is what I think you should be comfortable doing when it comes to your body. This post is about how I’ve chosen to challenge the reasons behind my previous habits and figure out what I truly want and not what I’ve internalized as others wanting.