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April 2013

I Don’t Like The Word “Unfeminist”

[TRIGGER WARNING: street harassment, rape]

I am not a fan of the word “unfeminist.” I see it used often by some feminists to call other women’s choices unacceptable because they do not meet the arbitrary definition of what the former thinks a “feminist” choice is—as if a choice type itself is what determines anti-oppression praxis, versus personal agency and the removal of social, cultural, structural and institutional barriers that prevent women from making choices for themselves.

The prefix un- means:

Absence of a quality or state. The reverse of (usually with an implication of approval or disapproval). A lack of.

The prefixes un- and non- both mean “lacking” or “not” but there is a distinction in terms of perspective. The prefix un- tends to be stronger and less neutral than non-.

Example would include “unacademic” versus “nonacademic.” The former is stronger language.

This is why this term “unfeminist” becomes incredibly dangerous. Notice the implication of approval/disapproval. Disapproval is inherent in the term “unfeminist.”

The problem with “unfeminist” is that it’s not a real concept in the first place, as it implies feminist absolutism as a destination, not the journey and praxis that it is.

This is not the same term as “anti-feminist,” which I ONLY use in reference to specific attacks on feminist theory and praxis, or on women who identify as feminist. (For example, an article I saw via Twitter, in a magazine in the UK mentioned how to “change” feminist women, and implied heterosexual sex “fixes” us. This is specifically misogynist, sexist, and homophobic, in addition to being anti-feminist.) Otherwise, the appropriate terms to use in regards to oppression against women include sexism, misogyny, misogynoir, homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism, ableism, sizeism or whatever terms speak to the specific situation at hand.

If an artist releases misogynist work, it’s not about him being “anti-feminist” at that point; it is about misogyny. (To say it is just anti-feminist is to imply feminist women are somehow more valuable than ones who don’t identify as feminist. Problem.) It might be about misogynoir, if specific to Black women. Women themselves > feminism. Feminism matters only in that it can provide women and men who are anti-oppression with a way to engage in critical reflection, deconstruct the oppression they face, name it, and educate themselves and others on anti-oppression praxis. The praxis itself and protection of it does not supersede women’s existences themselves. This is why it is important to name things to be able to speak about oppression, but also important not to allow said labels to further marginalize.

If a feminist does not understand why a heterosexual feminist woman might want to take her husband’s last name (and even the recent bruhaha about Beyoncé’s tour’s name speaks to this), and calls such a choice “unfeminist” without regard to context, she is actually engaging in an oppressive act. She is telling a woman what choice to make, versus supporting women having the agency to make choices without facing further sexism or abuse for that choice.

If a feminist does not understand why a woman does NOT want to have multiple sex partners or show her breasts in protests and calls such a choice “unfeminst” without regard to context, she is actually engaging in an oppressive act. (Imagine one feminist telling another [who is a rape survivor] to show her breasts at a feminist rally, and that demand actually functions as a trigger…) The myth that compulsory sexuality (H/T @adeerable for the term) is liberation is a construct of patriarchy, actually. Woman must have choice and agency regarding sex. They shouldn’t have to avoid sex to hope for “respect” in a patriarchal society, or engage in it, but not by desire, to appear “liberated” in a patriarchal society.

As I tweeted yesterday:

This would be like a feminist calling a woman a “prude,” a very patriarchal label. And, for Black women, @Karnythia explains why this is even more problematic:

Further, the implication is more dangerous for Black women. We are already deemed hypersexual, regardless of actual behavior, where hypersexuality is “bad” or “immoral;” thus, how can a stereotype lauded on our heads be deemed “liberation” anyway, IF we are performing compulsory sexuality just to be what some deem feminist?

We have to be able to speak about imperialist White supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sizeism and more, or kyriarchy at large, WITHOUT behaving as if feminism involves “teams” where anyone doing anything that (usually) deviates from what a thin, middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual American/Western White woman who identitifes as feminist says is “unfeminist” has committed some unredeemable action and should be harassed for it. Replicating patriarchal binaries in feminist spaces is not revolutionary. If freedom isn’t CHOICE but solely doing what someone says or the opposite of what someone says, it ain’t freedom. It’s a binary.

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