Why I can not call myself a feminist

11 Dec
I recently happened across a short clip, where a comedienne pointed out that she is appalled that there are women who say they are not feminists. http://www.upworthy.com/finally-a-video-for-women-who-dont-consider-themselves-feminists
It is true that I can count with my hand how many times I know I have been discriminated against on a gender-based level. The point should be: why should anyone have less opportunities than someone else based on some arbitrary factor of life that they cannot control? And here is why I cannot call myself a feminist. Because this sort of polarization is subjective, a victim mind-state, and could be harmful to the real social dialogue we want to have.
I believe the term feminism, is inherently reactionary: it’s us versus them. It is inevitable that, at some point, the argument will lose perspective. In the field of reason, to claim certain absolutes is considered dogmatic, which can have horrible societal consequences (look at communism v.s. capitalism!). For this reason, I disagree with the canonization of feminism in the academic field as a study. I do believe, however, that women’s rights should be included in the the study of social movements and social phenomenon. It is part and parcel of the continued effort to make our communities more just, more reasonable, with equal respect and opportunities for as many people in a population as possible.
I am grateful for the women activists and social resistors who have insisted on (and are insisting on) our rights to vote, to property, to children, to family time, to equal pay…etc. I stand with them on every issue today. But I have a brother, I have a son, I have a husband and a father. And do I want them to be treated any lesser (or more) than a woman? No. The language is at fault. To call ourselves For One Side inherently says I Oppose the Other. Which can be facile and dangerous. And which will eventually work to undermine the greater picture that we want for our society. I believe that it is important for there to be people fighting for certain groups that have traditionally been vulnerable to discrimination, for women, for immigrants, for people of different skin color or beliefs that those generally in power… I believe it is more powerful to have individuals and groups dedicated to exposing the problems and showing support for one group of people. I believe in many of the work that self-claimed feminists groups do. But I do not believe that the message should be translated into : Because I am female, I am a feminist. Because I am African American, I am an abolitionist… it hurts the conversation because you are also saying Because he is male, he can be a masochist. Because she is Christian, she should be a pro-lifer… To say that absolutely, is to categorize people based on their circumstances. And you would be falling into the same habits as those you oppose.
People are diverse, with diverse inclinations, beliefs, interests in status/non-status quo. My challenge is always to live the world you want it to be. And if there is a name I have to define myself with, I would call myself a humanist.
~ Grace En-Tien Chang
update: Great article I came across that illustrates a female viewpoint without mentioning feminism Men Who Explain Things, by Rebecca Solnit
Update 2013/March 6th Recently came across this article explaining feminism as a civic rights movement. It seems to act as a good counterpoint to my thesis here.
On another note:
This also brought me back to my freshman year in University, when I was interviewed by a professor of gender studies. She wanted to understand what enabled me to study biology. But I was brought to her attention not only because I chose to pursue my undergrad degree in biology, as there were many many other girls who had been admitted to this major, but also because I have had a clear track record of being active in other fields. Of volunteer work, of starting a club to discuss international issues in my high school…etc.
On my part, choosing Biology was simply interest in the pursuit of knowledge in a field that emphasized evidence-based research, had clearer (compared to sociology) facts, and which helped me enjoy and understand life better. That is, I liked it.
I do not think I was a very interesting study subject for her. As to the various questions concerning repression of my interests, I consistently said no. I did not feel gender-based pressure in my high school studies of biology (our Biology teacher was, in fact, female). My parents did not feel the need to guide me in my chosen field (though my uncle did suggest that I should study English, but I thought it was silly as I was already proficient in English and it would be a waste of my time). Gradually I engaged her in conversation about what she was trying to accomplish through the interviews. She was not very clear (I suppose this might do with the fact that I was a study subject). But I was left with the impression that there was a certain bias she wanted to demonstrate, a struggle that females had to undergo in order to reach certain achievements. She wanted to find out why there were still more men in Taiwan going into the sciences than women, starting out from high school. I do not understand why she could not be satisfied that, in certain instances, it may be simply a matter of interest preference. And perhaps, this preference was guided by (or informed) a difference in capacity concerning certain studies such as math, physics and chemistry. Of course you can also say that this difference was enhanced by the way our high school system was designed. I have never claimed to do well in math, physics and chemistry. But I found biology interesting. And I was unwilling to be corralled into a high school class that would teach a less advanced form of biology (plus restrict my college application options) by choosing the humanities class (which, btw, put a greater stress on history, geography, and Chinese which was taught in memorization form in our curricula here and I found memorization very stressful for me. The system designed here in Taiwan is so that, even if you chose the sciences class, you could still apply for the humanities in college and have a reasonable (perhaps even better, because professors find it flattering and rare that a science student would choose humanities) chance of success. Whereas it is more of an uphill battle vice versa. So a third reason for her inquiry may be related to the way the system was designed… which did not do away with the fact that I was quite inept (and rather uninterested) in the other fields of hard sciences besides Biology. You could probably say I was not the proper study subject for her based on my chosen field. The point I want to make here though, is that: I believe her inquiry had an inherent bias towards wanting to put the blame on societal pressures rather than personal interest.

And is it not possible that gender can have an effect on interest? Why not also question why some fields in some societies are more well-regarded than others. For it is not ‘easy’ to be a teacher and guide young children. The challenges are different, but not less, than the rigors of being a physicist.


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