Feminist Trajectories

In response to this post at Feministe, Julian Sanchez has an interesting post about the “feminist” label and the tension between using it in an accessible way (feminist = supporter of gender equality) vs. a more selective way (feminist = be versed in theory from Beauvoir to Daly and be actively engaged in praxis).

As long as “feminist” is treated as a line, dividing the in from the out, these problems are unavoidable. Everyone debates where to draw the line. Meaning creeps over time, so people feel left behind or betrayed. People tend to cluster on either side of the dividing line, doing just enough to gain or avoid the label.

Moreover, I don’t think you can ever really “get it” with feminism — I mean, there are intelligent new books on the subject every year! Living within a patriarchal society means there’s constantly new shit to be challenged and deconstructed, and anyone who claims to be the perfect feminist is dillusional.

This is a problem if feminism is a yes/no identity, but isn’t if feminism is viewed as a destination. With the latter, I can say that I am on a feminist trajectory; that I’m actively trying to understand and enact feminism in my life. This actually tells you a lot more about my beliefs and life goals than my telling you that I have met my own arbitrary definition of “feminist.”

Note that I’m not saying that any behavior can be excused as long as the perpetrator claims to be “working on being more feminist.” Regardless of trajectory, it’s straightforward (if not without controversy) to agree to standards about what actions should result in legal or social sanction. And you can always kick someone out of your feminist club for not being enlightened enough.

However, for meta discussions about the feminist label, trajectory is the way to go.

3 comments to Feminist Trajectories

  • […] August 9th, 2007 If you want serious discussion over what it really means to be a feminist, look here, here and here. If you want a silly discussion of what it means to be a feminist, look here.  I […]

  • tigrejones

    I don’t the feministe writer (I almost wrote “chick”-haha) was trying to say you had to be grad-student-in-gender-theory up-to-date in order to “get it”, because the example she uses with Current Guy is that he understands why dudes who would otherwise never go to a strip club would go for a bachelor party, and that he would regardless, never go. Her example is action, not theory.

    And she knows dudes can be honestly against gender divisions, as she says part of what made her start the wondering was “I began trying to figure out how to be a political ally myself, primarily to the trans/genderqueer community and in the struggle to undo racism. I started to understand what it meant to work and work for what you believe in and always, perhaps deservingly so, be a suspect outsider.”

    Also, I am being presumptious, but I am betting that Jaclyn (the author) is quite well educated, and perhaps financially comfortable and (by the above quote) white? From discussions and history lessons, this type of boundary discussion (and perhaps blogging in general? feel free to disprove this, i have no proof or idea, just speculation) is largely by smart types, not necessarily working class women (and men) on the ground who are more concerned perhaps over lived prejudice than specifically laying out theoretical definitions. I suspect then the important question would be “are you an asshole?”

  • tigrejones

    Oops like, “are you an asshole? no? ok good” not “are you an asshole” being synonymous with “are you a feminist”. To clarify :)

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