Can I Call Myself a Feminist?

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Ellen Bravo writes in her book, Taking On the Big Boys: Or Why Feminism Is Good For Families, Business, and the Nation, about a student of hers who wrote in a paper: “I don’t think I can call myself a feminist, because I haven’t been an activist.” Bravo demurs:”…taking action… encompasses an enormous range of behaviors, both individual and collective.” Thus, sticking up for yourself in a discussion, not putting up with demeaning behavior from a boyfriend and encouraging your daughter to take physics, are all feminist acts. Besides, we all have to start somewhere, and the first step is always to take on the feminist mantle.

It’s like my calling myself a writer. I used to think I wasn’t a real writer, because I hadn’t been published. But once I realized that I was a writer, because I wrote, no matter what the outside world could see, I got up the confidence to send out some submissions, and they were published. So now am I a “realer” writer? No, I was a writer to begin with: the act of writing made me a writer. But I had to start with realizing that I indeed was a writer before I was ready to take on the outside world.

That’s why consciousness-raising groups were so revolutionary in the Women’s Liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s. That process is still necessary; it’s just not called by the same name. Most, if not all, women come to feminism by having their consciousness raised about the inequities in the system when it comes to being female. I didn’t come to feminism in a consciousness-raising group per se. I was taking a class on the Women’s Liberation movement, and it suddenly dawned on me that feminism made sense. I would venture to say that a lot of young women–and some men, too–come to feminism when they take Women’s Studies courses.

But you don’t have to have taken Women’s Studies courses to call yourself a feminist. What you do need to do is examine feminism and measure your own values and beliefs against it. If you find that you agree that women are discriminated against in any area of life–just because they are women–then you are a feminist. If you believe that women have the right to call their own shots, then you are a feminist. If you are searching for a relationship in which there is equality, then you are a feminist. You may not be ready to take to the streets in protest of anything that smacks of gender discrimination, but you are still a feminist.

You don’t have to join an organization, any more than you have to join the ACLU to signify that you are for civil liberties. You don’t have to read Ms. magazine to prove that you’re a feminist. You may not even want to call yourself a feminist. A lot of women and men are feminists in their outlook and behavior, but they wouldn’t put that label on themselves. In cases like that, I think they should be “outed.” They should be called on the carpet for not identifying with feminism, when they obviously have feminist principles.

After all, if a person says, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died to save me from my sins,” then that person is a Christian and shouldn’t be afraid to call herself one. Some people would argue that you’re not really a Christian if you don’t act like one. There is something to that, but I would argue that you’re not going to act like one until you know in your heart that you are one. It’s the same with being a feminist. Start with the beliefs and the actions will follow. I guarantee it.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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