Who needs feminism?


By Lana Friesen

SFU needs a feminist campaign.

Not because SFU is crawling with sexists, but because many people are afraid to identify themselves as feminists. Given that feminism has a fundamental focus on equality, it is surprising that so few people on a Canadian university campus support it.

I don’t want to just deem this situation crazy and leave it at that. I want to invite people to profess themselves as feminists, and to actively discourage another anti-feminist backlash. I have not yet taken a GSWS course, and a past version of me may have hesitated to write this article before doing so. But feminism (or any issue of equality, at that) should not be limited to those who have studied it and know the differences between the different waves and theories of it.                                                                                           

Without an all-encompassing idea that can describe  modern feminism, the label should lend itself to a variety of people with a variety of viewpoints — so long as their viewpoints are in line with the value of equality.

Below are some of the common excuses that people use for not calling themselves feminists.


a) The “I don’t know a woman’s/a discriminated woman’s plight” argument:

I have heard this argument first-hand from a friend who refused to call himself a feminist. He thought it would be offensive to women if he claimed to empathize with their plight, just as he would be offended if someone of different circumstances claimed to understand his experiences. The problem here is the expectation that all feminists have homogenous experiences of discrimination, and that other marginalized groups can’t identify in the same way. Although experiences between people belonging to different groups differ, even within in the groups themselves, this is not reason enough to refrain from calling yourself a feminist. Feminism may focus on experiences, but it can also focus on values. So long as the drive for equality is there, different experiences — or lack thereof — should not prohibit someone from calling himself a feminist. Furthermore, feminist concerns include a variety of issues that include other genders, including the gender roles that face men.


b) The “I don’t want to be confused with those bitchy dykes who hate men” argument: 


There is just as much variety among GLBTQ people as there is among heterosexual people. To worry about being mistaken for a person of a different orientation exhibits some homophobia. We want to broaden the application of the term “feminist” and break stereotypes that are wrongly perceived. It is not inherent to feminists (nor to lesbians, for that matter) to hate men. Feminism is about furthering the rights of women, not about hating those that aren’t women. So wear your label with pride.


c) The “I hold very specific feminist views and don’t want to be mixed up with other feminists of other views” argument: 


A movement cannot progress without the active participation of those concerned. If you feel that other feminists misuse the label and don’t represent your experience or your values, then speak up — and not just in a backlash. Make sure your idea of feminism is being represented. This is an important part of ensuring that the term “feminism” includes what you espouse as well. If you don’t agree with everything that this term includes, that’s no reason for your contribution be left unheard. By professing your views, the discussion can stay relevant to your concerns. You just have to be patient and open-minded to participation.


The recent “Who Needs Feminism” campaign that began at Duke University addresses this issue. The social media campaign has attracted a variety of people from different backgrounds, and continues to build its online presence. It was started by a group of women’s studies students at Duke.  “[It] is reclaiming feminism as an umbrella for dialogue on issues that affect all of us,” Rachel Seidman — visiting lecturer to the responsible group of students — said of the campaign. The image of the umbrella perfectly describes the new usage of the term “feminist:” those concerned with a variety of issues and coming from diverse viewpoints, who can proudly fit together under this umbrella term. Seeking to eradicate the myth that feminism is now irrelevant, obsolete, or outdated, this new direction of feminism is just what we need: to keep the conversation going, and to take it to new levels and new issues via new mediums like Facebook and Tumblr.


The movement has grown, and on Sept. 6 and 7, students at SFU held a discussion on the topic: Who Needs Feminism? After hearing other stories from feminists who attended the campaign at SFU, the need for this campaign was more strongly and sharply felt.


“My students are convinced that reclaiming the word ‘feminism’ is key to any future progress on important issues concerning women — and to gaining greater acceptance and equality for everyone,” Seidman wrote recently. “They want to reach out to a wide variety of people, including those who have never before identified as feminists, and increase their sense of comfort with the word itself.”

Photos by Lana Friesen