03/20/2015

I’m not a feminist – and that’s okay

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My name is Marga Buenaventura, and I am not a feminist.

This isn’t easy to admit. When I “came out” to my friends about this stance a few months ago, I was met with confusion and bewilderment. How could I not be a feminist, they would ask me. Do I not believe in gender equality? Do I hate women? I knew they were questioning my beliefs, and I also knew I had something worth saying. But I was outnumbered, so I chose to shut up about it instead. These are people who have known me for years, what more millions of strangers?

Some might say that non-feminists are uneducated, misinformed, and disillusioned by stereotypes. Popular culture shows us how many female celebrities and personalities have been maligned for renouncing feminist principles. Last year, Shailene Woodley came under fire for saying that she’s not a feminist “because [she] loves men.” There are many other examples of famous women who are strong and independent, but think that feminism removes them from that position of power for various reasons—reasons that can sometimes stem from ignorance.

These days, I’m more confident about speaking about the matter. I have done my research and reflected on it extensively, so now I’m more comfortable with saying that I’m indeed not a feminist. My politics and beliefs might say so, but I choose not to label myself as one. Naturally, anyone would say that I am simply speaking out -given the advantages I am afforded as an educated, middle class woman. I never had to toil and sacrifice things in order to gain opportunities in life. I am part of a system that supports my life choices and cushions me, should I ever falter.

They might be right.

My dislike of the feminist label makes me sound ungrateful. It makes me sound privileged. “If you were born in the 18th century, would you have been a feminist?” a colleague asked me. I probably would have. The early movements of feminism are important: the first cries for suffrage and reproductive rights have shaped human history forever. I don’t discount the efforts of these women. I’m not belittling their struggles. I’m not against feminism in theory, from the mainstream definition to the more specific ones that mesh with other political theories. I have nothing against feminists themselves.

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What I am against are labels, because I don’t want to be bogged down by the practices of people who call themselves feminists but may not be acting in the spirit of the movement. Feminism was never intended to be divisive, but it can be and continues to be so, in the same way that most organized religions are flanked by extremists on either end of the spectrum. Gender equality is not a trademark feminist concept—one can advocate for reproductive rights and universal education without being called anything. And when feminists demand that supporting gender rights is exclusive to them—as though it were a badge to be earned—I am irked by the need to be part of a squad just to validate my own beliefs.

And perhaps what disappoints me most about feminism is how some feminists have used it as a lens to focus on women and their bodies alone, in a very 2D way. We are more than just boobs and ovaries; women are also distinguished by sexual orientation, by class, by race, and by financial situations. By sweeping these ideas under the rug, by saying that these will all eventually come together under the huge umbrella of feminism, does a great disservice to every lesbian, transsexual, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, disabled or poor woman out there.

We are so angered by the gender gap between men and women that we forget all about the invisible lines that set women apart, in small but very important ways. We want women to be strong, but we see Muslim women in hijabs who religiously obey their husbands as oppressed. We want women to know that they are beautiful and smart, but we don’t want transsexuals joining the Ms. Universe pageant. We want women to be in control of their bodies, but we judge poor women for having “too many children.” We abhor rape culture, yet discussions on rape still criticize the victim. We encourage being liberated, but a woman who sleeps with multiple men might still be called a slut. We want work environments that are free of harassment, but we sneer at sex workers instead of pushing for laws that would protect their wellbeing.

Many of us are guilty of these thoughts. They make us uncomfortable, because it means that feminism exists comfortably with behavior that oppresses women.

I’m not saying that rejecting the feminist label would solve these problems. In fact, it would be easier for me to simply join the feminist cause, and perhaps aim to become a better feminist instead. If you can’t beat ‘em, might as well join ‘em. But isn’t that what feminism wants to defeat, ideas that divide individuals and suppress dissent? I see my stance as a proverbial picket sign, to point out the need to acknowledge practices within the movement that needs to be examined.

I respect feminism, and am grateful for all that it has done to give me the right to say these things in a newspaper. But I feel that it is time to move forward. One day, I want to exist in a world that no longer espouses these ideas out of a political movement. I want to grow up in a world where we are kinder to each other and believe in ourselves simply because we do. We are good people, aren’t we? That’s not feminism. That’s just humanity.

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