What Kind of Feminist Am I?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what exactly I mean when I say I am a feminist. 

The other day I participated in my first Feminist Hotdog-related interview where I was the subject, not the one asking the questions. Predictably, the interviewer asked me what feminism means to me. (I say “predictably,” but was I prepared to answer it? Of course not.) My answer was fine, I guess: The belief that people of all genders are equal and deserve equal access to resources and opportunities (or something like that). I followed this up by saying that this belief did not seem particularly radical to me but noted that some women distance themselves from the word feminism, not because they don’t believe in equality, but often because they don’t identify with what their stereotype of what a feminist is, does, or looks like. 

I wish I’d said more, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. There are a couple of things about that answer that I want to expand on.

One, some women who believe in equality and emancipation have very good reasons for not wanting to identify as feminists, and that is because the version of feminism that dominated the women’s movement for many years was neither inclusive nor intersectional. As my guest Lecia pointed out in Episode 5 of Season 1, beginning in the 70s many black women chose to refer to themselves as womanists because white feminism, in many ways, reproduced patterns of oppression and harm toward women of color. I hope that by guarding against white feminism and striving to be intersectional, Feminist Hotdog can support a version of feminism that is genuinely inclusive; but I also recognize that I have blind spots and limitations, and I actively welcome feedback on how to improve in this area. 

Two, often when I get into conversations with people about the term feminism and why people do or don’t embrace it, the phrases “radical lesbians,” “femi-Nazis,” or "man-haters" will come up (i.e., these are stereotypes about feminists that cause women to distance themselves from feminism). I don’t think I have to explain why “femi-Nazi” should be left out of any rational conversation on this topic, but I want to address "man-haters" and "radical lesbians.” 

Being critical of patriarchy and harmful male behavior does not make someone a man hater. I firmly believe that feminism is a good thing for men and people of all genders because it strives to break down rigid gender roles that prevent people from forming the kinds of social and emotional connections human beings need to be healthy. Because women demanding equal rights or being critical of male behavior falls outside those gender norms, it is often perceived as aggressive or entitled or even hateful toward men. But I would argue that, in the vast majority of cases, “man-hater” is a weaponized term used in attempts to discredit women or to silence their positions. 

There are (small) factions of feminists who want to live separately from men and believe that men are beyond redemption. This belief is intellectually grounded in some cases; in others, it is born of trauma so horrific that the desire for distance is hardly a mystery. (You know how reverse racism isn’t a thing? Not wanting to hang around with your oppressor, also not sexist.) I don’t believe that lesbianism or queerness automatically equate to radicalism or vice versa, nor does my feminism rely on distancing myself from radicals or lesbians (that’s just old-fashioned homophobia, y’all!) or radical lesbians or radical feminists or anyone who sincerely believes in the emancipation of anyone not born as a cis man. I may feel curious about or even critical of some of the more radical positions out there, but I can’t buy into a version of feminism that throws other feminists under the bus for living outside of prescribed gender norms. (I do take issue with trans-exclusive feminism, which I will unpack in a forthcoming post.)

When I started this show, I felt it was important to point out that I am not a scholar of feminism. I know a lot about certain figures and key debates, but I would be hard pressed to explain the different waves with much accuracy—and I think that’s OK. Feminist Hotdog was never intended to be a primer. It’s an emotional experience; therapeutic for me and, I hope, for the listeners. At the center of the show is an unwavering belief in the healing power of connection between people of all genders who experience sexism as we find our way through this fucked up time (recognizing that things have always been fucked up for a lot of us). So, while I’m never going to claim that the show is about feminism per se, but I’m also never going stop striving to learn more about what feminism means to other people and to be better at talking about it in inclusive and intersectional ways. Otherwise, there would be no point. 

I meant for this to be a short little post and it turned into a rant; if you’re still with me, thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts/comments. I love you.