OT feminisms (was Meredith Ann Pierce)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Thu Mar 11 14:25:44 EST 2004

On Wed, 10 Mar 2004 23:59:31 -0500 (EST), deborah wrote:

>Whether or not a word like "feminism" has positive or
>negative connotations is very very touchy, and can make some people very
>upset.  On the other hand, discussions of the use of language are about
>as on topic for Diana Wynne Jones as discussions of any social more
>could get.  So rather than shutting this discussion down, I'd like to
>ask everyone who's posting in this thread to think very carefully and we
>read their messages before they send them.  While it may be on topic to
>discuss whether it's society, the dictionary, society's leaders, or
>Humpty Dumpty himself who defines language, it's also very hard for some
>people to be told that a label they wear with pride is considered ugly
>by people they respect, or that political views they hold make others
>pin a label on them.

I hadn't thought of it in this light, actually.  I mean, of course you're
right.  But I've been looking at it from the other direction:  why people
might *not* choose to wear a label that someone else considers good.

A young woman on the other list I'm on brought this up a few months ago.
She identified herself proudly as a feminist and couldn't see why anyone
else wouldn't.  Specifically, she believed that if someone didn't want to
wear that label, it must be because they hadn't been sufficiently informed
as to how good it was.  The idea that someone might associate "feminist"
with a negative experience did not occur to her.

When I say that I don't usually call myself a feminist, it's not because I
think it's a bad word and it doesn't mean I look down on anyone who does.
It is simply because there are too many definitions of feminist for me to
feel comfortable applying it to myself.  Communication may be a bear, and we
never understand each other perfectly, but I like to go for the least amount
of misunderstanding possible.  *I* may know what I mean by "feminist," but I
can't guarantee that everyone else will share that meaning.

Here in Utah, it's particularly tricky.  We are a socially conservative
state, for the most part, and the history of feminist activism (particularly
in relation to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has meant
that when you say "feminism" you will not only get a wide variety of
reactions, you will get a wide variety of *extreme* reactions.  (Both
positive and negative, by the way.  We're not all reactionary polygamists
who keep our women tied to the kitchen.)  I find that I get further with the
women in my particular church congregation--most of whom think "feminism" is
the f-word--if I avoid the term entirely, but continue to act the way I
always have.  Ultimately, words have little meaning if there's no behavior
to back them up.

>So keep the discussion going, by all means.  But please be careful that
>your comments can't be easily misread as "I associate people who call
>themselves feminists with the following ugly sentiments, so I think that
>the word is a lost cause and we should never use it" or, alternatively
>"you believe X, right?  And Y, right?  Then you have no choice to accept
>the label I give you."

I also apologize if anybody took what I've said to mean the above.  I do not
have a great deal of respect for certain opinions promoted by certain
self-identified feminist organizations.  However, the whole point of saying
that there are many many different ways to be a feminist is that you *can't*
assume that someone using that identifier is automatically the kind of
feminist you dislike (or like).

I'd also like to point out that it goes both ways:  those who call
themselves feminists should not, conversely, look down on those who
don't--and this happens too.  In either case it comes down to a lack of
understanding of other people's positions...something that is easily
addressed if even one person is willing to ask "Why?"

Melissa Proffitt

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