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Feminists Who Reject the Feminist Label

What follows is an October 1993 WMST-L discussion about women who hold feminist 
beliefs but reject the "feminist" label.  It also includes some discussion of 
whether men can be feminists.  Fifteen years later, in September 2008, a 
similar topic was discussed on WMST-L.  For the more recent discussion, see the 
file Feminists Who Reject the Feminist Label II.  For additional WMST-L files 
now available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1993 20:52:38 EDT
From: Kathryn Cirksena <ENCIRKSE AT ECUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: Feminist but not the label
As it happens, one of our women's studies students was in my office
today asking for help with a study on people, especially women, who
say, "Im' not a feminist but..." and then proceed to accept feminist
postions on issues.
Is there any research that tries to document who, under what conditions,
etc.?  The anecdotes are great, but does anyone know of a systematic
attempt to study this issue?  Isn't there an "Attitudes towards feminism"
scale?  Does it capture any of this phenomenon?
You can respond to me privately or to the list as you see fit.
Kathryn Cirksena
Dept. of Communication
East Carolina University
INTERNET: encirkse   AT   ecuvm.cis.ecu.edu
BITNET: encirkse   AT   ecuvm1
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 09:22:12 -0500
From: Caroline Brettell <cbrettel AT SUN.CIS.SMU.EDU>
Subject: What do we call ourselves/feminism
Who ever said that feminism was a narrow term and that it applied to a
limited number of concerns such as abortion or comparable worth. To me it
emphasizes euqal opportunities for women no matter what their "color",
ethnic background. Some feminists may think all religions are patriarchal
but there is nothing inherent in the term that specifies that thinking as
apposed to any other. There are a range of positions within the feminism
of the 20th century just as there were a range of positions within 19th
century feminisme. I repeat the invocation of Sojourner Truth "And ain't I
a woman"!
Caroline Brettell/Anthropology and Women's Studies/SMU
cbrettel   AT   sun.cis.smu.edu
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 11:06:43 -0500
From: Kristin Carter-Sanborn <KCARTERSANBO AT AMHERST.EDU>
Subject: Rejecting the feminist label
In reply to Caroline Brettell and others: Whether or not women who call
themselves feminists subscribe to a broader range of issues than equal
worth and reproductive rights, the impression nevertheless remains with
many women of color (and many young white women, for that matter) that
"feminism" does not address their needs, experiences, demands.  This impression
must be coming from SOMEWHERE.  And it's not just mass media perversions
of the "true" feminist program that are the source.  As a Latina I have
often felt left out in the cold at feminist/women's studies gatherings, and
find little space from which to voice my concerns in such a way that people
are really hearing them.  Many white feminists feel they already know what
women of color want, but that's not always the case.  Half the time I don't
even know what *I* want from feminism, so there's no point in someone trying
to speak for me.  In any case, I'm proud to be a feminist, but I always take
pains to let people know what that label means to me--not as a way of excusing
myself to conservatives; in fact, just the opposite!  If you want people to
understand your beliefs, they have to know what those beliefs are. Snide
"you just don't get it, do you?" comments will get us nowhere.
Kristy Carter-Sanborn
Amherst College English
(kcartersanbo   AT   amherst.edu) *these comments may not be exactly appropriate for
this forum, but they do raise issues that should be of some practical concern
to us as we decide how to present ourselves as feminists in the classroom,
how to reach women of color and crypto-feminists (that's my favorite suggestion
for what to call the Im-not-a-feminist-but crowd) without being condescending,
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 12:48:17 -0400
From: Marnie Bullock <mbullock AT UWCMAIL.UWC.EDU>
Subject: Re: Feminism
I  think it's an error to assume that "women who think 'feminist' thoughts
but won't call themselves 'feminists'" are out there somewhere, oppressed,
denying their oppression, etc.  My goodness--what if they're on the WMST-list?
I might serve as an example--I find that I call myself a feminist when I agree
with the feminists being discussed; I may not call myself a feminist at other
times, or if I do, I'll point out that I'm a different kind of feminist.
Am I in denial?  An anti-feminist?  An emerging consciousness?  A contrary
and persnickety individualistic southern woman?
Someone brought up Alice Walker.  I think she's an interesting example.  She
uses the term "womanist."  Would we accuse her of having a "false
consciousness"?  Of being a backlasher?  Of being afraid of anything?  I
certainly wouldn't, though apparently others on the list would.
Feminism is a wildly diverse movement.  Part of that diversity includes women
who don't call themselves feminists.  Could we stop, at some point, engaging
in the either/or dualistic error in thinking?   I don't feel comfortable
others weren't so comfortable implying it.
This relates back, somewhat, to the discussion of why we call it Women's
Studies.  During that discussion several suggested that what we mean is
"Feminist Studies."  I doubt if we all mean that, when we don't all seem to
mean the same thing by feminism....
Call me what you want, I call myself
Marnie Bullock
Assistant Professor of English
University of Wisconsin Center
Richland Center, WI 53581
(608) 647-6186
mbullock   AT   uwcmail.uwc.edu
P.S.  I think Brett Butler is a hoot.
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 13:54:17 -0400
From: jim boyce <boyc5031 AT MACH1.WLU.CA>
Subject: Using, Not Refusing, Labels A Problem?
> Feminism is a wildly diverse movement.  Part of that diversity includes women
> who don't call themselves feminists.  Could we stop, at some point, engaging
> in the either/or error in thinking?   I don't feel comfortable saying IF YOU
> DON'T AGREE WITH ME YOU'RE PART OF THE BACKLASH.  I wish others weren't so
> comfortable implying it.
good point. i've often talked to my women friends about this aversion to
being labelled a feminist. what seems evident to me is that on the one hand
feminism is touted as being diverse, yet on the other hand many who call
themselves feminists want to control that diversity by labelling anyone who
disagrees with them as anti-feminist. for instance, some of my female
friends consider camille paglia a feminist yet paglia is constantly being
labelled the opposite. perhaps this is part of the reason for the aversion:
why should you consider yourself a feminist when those you admire are being
called "anti-feminist"?
my friends in women's studies [just to make this relevant to this list!!!!]
have similar concerns. when they're told you should be a feminist, there is
an automatic reaction against being controlled. no one likes to be forced
to *be* anything, they like to *become* it or even be it without the label.
as elliott butler-evans wrote in a related message "behaviour is far more
important than labels." anyone can call themselves a feminist but this does
not make them one!
final point (i promise!). nothing seems to irritate people more than people
who call themselves "feminist" and then act in the most unegalitarian ways.
these so-called feminists remind me of christians who lead the most
un-christian lives but believe if they show up to church on sunday they
will be going to heaven. just as the hypocrisy can make many otherwise
christian-thinking people averse to that movement, so too can so-called
feminists make people averse to the feminst movement. in other words, the
problem may not be those who do not call themselves feminists as it may be
those who do!
j. boyce
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The alternative media, Jerry. ~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ That's where you hear the truth." ~~~
~~~~boyc5031   AT   mach1.wlu.ca~~~~~~~~~~~ Kramer on Seinfeld ~~~~~~~~~~~
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 14:53:41 EDT
Subject: Feminism
The important thing here is perception. No matter what you think, if those
who reject the label of feminist do so because THEY PERCEIVE the movement
as white and focussed on narrow concerns, then your definition is
irrelevant insofar as it will not convince them to identify themselves
with it.  I am not convinced that there is a canon of feminism, and I think
that when one considered where resources go, the priorities of mainstream
feminism can be seen as being fairly white and mainstream.
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 12:59:13 +0800
From: West Joan <jwest AT UIDAHO.EDU>
Subject: Re: Feminism
I would hope that this discussion of "is there a name for it" is not
patronizing.  Rather the efforts of women who call themselves
"feminist" (in US, white
woman cultural terms) trying to approach women of other cultures whose
and activities are different in order to establish a friendly and fruitful
dialog on issues that concern them both. Personally, I'm looking for ways that
will open the broadest possible dialog.  And if truth be told, my second
motive (beyond the first, which is my own enriched understanding) is to try to
establish a bridge between cultures precisely because I have observed that
too many of my US colleagues do not stop often enough to consider that
pro-active women in other cultures do *not* define their activities and
attitudes by the US term "feminist".  Nor should anyone expect them
too. And that this is not bad, nor a reason to ignore them.  All in all I find
current efforts at evolution and definition of whatever "feminism"
is fascinating and exciting.
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 19:44:24 -0400
From: arabella the arthropod <misc079 AT CSC.CANTERBURY.AC.NZ>
Subject: Re: What do we call ourselves/feminism
While I have met women who say that they have always thought of
themselves as feminist, we already know that many others become
feminist. If women, who after considering the available information in
their environments relating to what feminists write/say/do, choose to
accept the 'label', then presumeably their definition of 'feminist' fits with
their definition of themself - so, if a woman who fits my definition of
feminist vehemently rejects the label, then either our definitions differ, or
she has not yet picked up the issue of working through 'what is a
D.Boyask   AT   csc.canterbury.ac.nz
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 20:17:48 EDT
From: "Marlen R. Hancock" <SOCAW059 AT EMUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: LABELS
Regarding the use or non-use of the title or label feminist, I DON'T
NEED any more labels.  I'm working hard enough trying to maintain
a number of others I have voluntarily acquired.  Please don't expect me
to accept or defend one so ambiguous as feminist.
Thanks, Marni Hancock
(R.N., M.S.N., Doctoral Student, Nursing supervisor, wife, mother, etc.,
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 09:22:43 -0800
Subject: Re: feminists who reject the label
        As a historian I do not think there is a single "defined set
of feminist values"....yet when I began (years ago) to structure a
course on the "history of western feminisms," I needed some kind of
broad definition which could be used across countries/centuries/class/
race, etc.  - and distinguish certain groups from others.
        I decided, for purposes of historical analysis, I would
define as a feminist any individual or group concerned to promote
"the greater freedom, equality, and dignity" of women.  The issue
of whether they used the term of themselves is irrelevant from this
perspective since many of the women (i.e., Christine de Pisan)
lived long before the word or even the concept was articulated.
We also, incidentally, look at others - like the suffragettes or the
womanists who might consciously reject the label, yet fall within
the broad definition I have set up.
        Not much help in dealing with the question being addressed
by the list - except to suggest that those who reject the label
(for whatever reason) are probably dealing with a very narrow (and
possibly cariacaturized) definition.  By the end of the course, on
the other hand, all of my students (including the men) seem to have
found some "branch" of feminism with which they identify.
Sue Mansfield
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 16:52:00 EST
From: Christine Smith <CSMITH AT VMS.CIS.PITT.EDU>
Subject: Re: Feminist but not the label
Kathryn Cirksena asked whether any research was done on
predictors of the feminist label.  I am currently doing such
research with Irene Frieze.  Here are some preliminary results.
In our college sample, 38.5% of European-American women and
45.5% of African-American women labelled themselves as
feminists.  For African-American women, wanting a high level of
education, having a highly educated mother, taking women's
studies classes, and being raised as a Christian were all
predictors of feminist self-labelling.  For European-American
women, currently endorsing no special religion, taking
women's studies classes, and planning a high level of education
were predictors of feminist self-labelling.
     As for feminist beliefs (rather than the label), we found that
no differences for race, age, or parental level of education
(which tend to be related to social class).  Hence, in our
college sample, feminist beliefs did not seem to be related to
being white or middle-class.  As for the label, more
African-American women than European-American women labelled
themselves as feminists, although that difference may not
be statistically significant.
     These are college students from the University
of Pittsburgh.  These results are preliminary and may or may not be
to other samples.
     Christine Smith
     csmith   AT   vms.cis.pitt.edu
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 20:38:23 CDT
From: Lisa Auanger <C513024 AT MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: feminism (drivel
The discussion about whether or not persons call themselves feminists
has an amusing parallel: among persons who study antiquity there some-
times is concern about whether or not to call themselves "philologists."
In this rather more traditional discipline, the approach to the problem has
been, from what I have seen of late, to find out how the `great' men of the
past two centuries defined the term. The approach does seem to be somewhat
effective, but I'm inclined to think that description of 'feminism,'
what it means, even without names, dates, etc. would be a very useful writing
assignment.  There are those who just call themselves feminists, wear `cool'
clothes, seem totally apolitical and lazy with regard to matters of concern to
women; but there are also those who, not assuming the "label `feminist," can
explain clearly why issues such as breast cancer (e.g.) ,must be regarded
seriously, nationwide.  When I hear them, I like to think "Now that's what
I call a feminist." Does anyone know perchance if the first family
consists only of feminists?  Lisa Auanger c513024   AT   mizzou1  (P.S. Can
university professors call themselves feminists?)
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1993 00:20:06 -0500
Subject: who is a feminist
I've found the discussion on feminist who won't label themselves as
such fascinating.  I've taught women's studies courses since 1973 and
served in important positions in women's studies organizations for
over two decades, including secretary-treasurer of the psychology of
women division of the American Psychological Association, associate
editor of the journal, Psychology of Women Quarterly, and program
chair for the Iowa Women's Studies Association convention.
At the Am. Psych. Asso. meetings in August this past year I had the
opportunity to have dinner with three radical lesbian feminists from
England, along with other psychologists, including members of WMST-L.
The conversation turned, somehow...I don't remember...to whether
a man could be a feminist.  The women from the UK, the editor and two frequent
contributors to the journal, Feminism and Psychology, argued
vehemently that as a man I could not be a feminist, that one had to
experience societal reaction to being a woman before I could claim
that label.  Men, they argued, because they are men have a certain
status and privilege that gives them advantages and precludes the
label, "feminist."
So, I wonder, does it matter whether I am a feminist or not?  And
likewise, does it matter whether a lot of women who work for
"feminist" causes do not call themselves, "feminist?"  It seems to me
the issues are more important than the labels.
Arnie Kahn, Psychology, JMU, Harrisonburg, VA 22807     (703) 568-3963 - day
fac_askahn   AT   vax1.acs.jmu.edu                             (703) 434-0225 - night
fac_askahn   AT   jmuvax                                       (703) 568-3322 - fax
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1993 00:32:06 LCL
Subject: Real Feminists Don't Eat Men
Why is the question, "Who's a Real Feminist?" such a persistently
fascinating question?  I find it uninteresting, and (frankly)
increasingly annoying.  Every time I teach a feminist philosophy
course I have the students keep intellectual journals (as do I).  I
feel as though I work hard to make available a huge assortment of
readings, standpoints, issues, information and in-class experiences
which, it seems to me, couldn't HELP but provoke a wide variety of
responses & reactions.  But when I read students' intellectual
journals, instead of the interesting outpouring of diverse responses
and reactions that I keep HOPING for, I rather find myself reading a
boring and repetitious drone of person after person struggling with
the question of "Am I really a feminist?"
I may be getting mean and cranky in my advancing institutional
enmeshment, but I'm sorry: I just find myself having less and less
patience with listening to folks' angst over this issue.  Out of all
the possible issues deserving of folks' physical, intellectual,
political & emotional energies & attention, I cannot imagine a
lifeworld in which this genuinely is the most pressing issue from
amongst those competing for our attention.  The amount of individual &
collective energy focused on this question in its various forms and
guises seems (to me) like either the self-centered ruminations of the
collectively overpriviliged, or else like a desperate attempt to avert
our gaze from more important things which are too painful to see (in
ourselves or our world), or else like we are allowing those who
deliberately wish to sabatoge our ability to transform the world to
win -- via the tactic of creating confusion & infighting amongst us.
Is this issue REALLY what WE most want to focus our energies on?  Or
is this someone else's agenda, not ours? (And, no, I'm *NOT* going to
define who I mean by "we" -- for purposes of this post, let it mean
"me and anyone else who has read this far, here, now.")
Ruth Ginzberg                                      /^ ^\
Philosophy Department                             / 0 0 \
Wesleyan University                               V\ Y /V
Middletown, CT  06459-0081                         / - \
(203) 347-9411 x2268                              /    |
rginzberg   AT   eagle.wesleyan.edu                     V__) ||
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1993 04:56:30 EDT
Subject: Re: Is there a word or concept?
The "I'm not a feminist but..." has been around since the beginning of the move
ment, and probably before.  Jane Mansbridge, Political Science, Northwestern, i
s examining the survey data which asks one to lable oneself as a feminist or no
t.  About a third of respondents do so.  Down from one half.  Write her directl
y for more info.
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1993 23:46:47 EST
From: Margaret Susan Thompson <THOMPSON AT MAXWELL.SYR.EDU>
Subject: Re: who is a feminist
I was disturbed by the assertion of the British feminists who told
Arnie Kahn that one "has to experience societal repression as a
woman" (or something like that) in order to "earn" the title of
feminist.  First, does that mean that all those women who experience
this oppression but don't acknowledge (or recognize or claim) it are
automatically feminists???  Second, as a historian, I am in a
discipline that is founded on the conviction that one CAN understand
that which one does not--CANNOT-- experience directly, since most of
those we write about are dead.... Thus, just as all women under
oppression (i.e., all women probably) aren't feminists, one does not
require direct experience in order to identify with or understand
Margaret Susan Thompson
thompson   AT   maxwell.syr.edu
Dept. of History, 320 Maxwell Hall
Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY 13244-1090
315-443-5882, 443-2210
Date: Sun, 24 Oct 1993 08:48:38 -0400
Subject: Re: Using, Not Refusing, Labels A Problem?
A core set of beliefs for feminists seems to be: the personal is political
ie there's no clear division between the private and public spheres; male
domination exists world wide and this is a situation that is not to the
advantage of women; male domination (discrimination, patriarchy, sexism)
has lead to an unrealistic view of women which must be corrected
(overthrown) before women can gain their full potential; gaining their
full potential means gaining equality (in law, social activities,
religion, income-however equality may be defined by Marxist, Liberal, and
Radical Feminisms.) Feminism is, in fact, the study of these tenets, pro
and con. A feminist, no matter what she calls herself/himself, would be
someone who accepted these positions, but these positions give lots of
leeway for differences.
One of the reasons people don't want to be called feminists is that it is
associated in their minds with the women's movement. To be a feminist is
to engage in public, political activity, not to believe per se in equal
rights. Thus the political agenda of the women's movement in its various
phases defines who or who is not a feminist in media presentations.
Indeed, political/social activity may be one of the tenets of feminism
since feminism takes the position that consciousness is raised by action,
the click experience, and rejection of male dominance. That was discussed
on the list when I first joined. Have we as feminists lost our roots,
become to intellectualized now that wmst is a discipline? One should also
remember that the women's movement, when it began, was, by definition, a
minority position, an Other, outside the mainstream. Who wants to be
associated with those who are excluded, ridiculed in the press, and
scorned by authority figures? Of course, one says, I agree with their
ideas but not their methods, not their leadership, not this specific goal.
The same phenomena showed up among blacks and whites during the Civil
Rights Movement. It is to the credit of both movements that they have
attained the acceptance they now have, which isn't, of course, mainstream yet.
Date: Sun, 24 Oct 1993 18:23:41 -0700 (PDT)
From: Victoria L Herring <vlherring AT IGC.APC.ORG>
Subject: Feminists and Labels
I have to agree with a number of the posts - (1) Feminism, like
may titles or labels, can run a gamut of positions and some will
be the middle class white type and some of color, etc.  (2) it IS
much more important to judge by the nature of one's actions not
one's title (otherwise we would all be in a monarchy and happy
about it, right?) and (3) I truly believe that part of the
disaffection for the term "feminists" comes from the Rush and
conservative bashing that "feminists" have had - when a word is
used as a dirty word by a good part of the media and persons
using the label are attacked (justifiedly or not) for actions and
beliefs then it is harder for some persons to use the label - I
like to call myself a Democrat with a capital D, a Feminist with
a capital F and a Liberal with a capital L and tough beans about
what others think about it - althought I know that D/F/L are all
labels not liked by many persons - but again, back to the basic
idea - that a person's actions are what are important, not the
cut of their cloth nor the spelling of his/her label.
thanksVictoria L. Herring vlherring   AT   igc.apc.org.
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 14:17:18 -0500
From: Caroline Brettell <cbrettel AT SUN.CIS.SMU.EDU>
Subject: what is feminism
I was looking over the weekend for a copy of an interview with the
Chilean writer Isabel Allende that I had saved. I was struck by her
particular approach to feminism. "I'm not very aggressive or judgmental. I
don't declare war on anybody. My novels are definitely feminist, in the
sense that the female protagonists stand up for their rights, despite the
risks entailed. They take care of themselves and they're strong, but they
also allow themselves to be sentimental and emotional, and they love
people and take care of the people they love. In my opinion, feminism
means that you do everything that men do, but without sacrificing
everything that makes it so wonderful to be a woman."
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 14:01:00 -0800 (PST)
From: "Judith E. Jacobs" <JEJACOBS AT CSUPOMONA.EDU>
Subject: Ain't i a Feminist
I have just returned from a conference at which I presented a paper on
 Feminist Pedagogy and Mathematics Instruction. Though the content
 was well received, I got two comments/questions from several different
 sources. The first asked what was uniquely feminist about my approach,
 because it sounded like just good teaching. The fact that my basic
 assumption was that women bring strengths to the classroom that
 teachers need to address and build on rather than the usual approach of
 changing women to be like the men who research show do better in
 mathematics seemed to carry no weight.
The second position, which was expressed in many different ways, was
 why did I insist on using the F word, feminism, since it so obviously
 turned so many people off. I was told to just ignore my identification as a
 feminist and my belief that feminism is a positive force/philosophy.
The issue being discussed on the list is not what do we call people who
 hold feminist beliefs but choose not to use the label. The hidden issue is
 their refusal to allow me to call myself and my work feminist because it
 might offend "them," whoever the "them is.
Judith E. Jacobs
California State Polytechnic Univeristy, Pomona
jejacobs   AT   csupomona.edu
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 14:50:44 -0700
From: "Marilyn P. Safir" <safirm AT U.WASHINGTON.EDU>
Subject: Feminist but not the label
Robin Rolands published a book about 8-9 years ago about reseach she had
done.  The book was called: Women who do (and Women who Don't [call
themselvesFeminist])  I am sorry but I am not sure of how much I included
in parentheses were part of the title.  Robin is from Australia - maybe
one of our sisters from "down under" can supply more details - I think
the book was published in GB.  Marilyn Safir
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 17:46:54 -0400 (EDT)
From: Rosa Maria Pegueros <PEGUEROS AT URIACC.URI.EDU>
Subject: Feminism label
I realize from both publicly-posted and private e-mails that I hit a nerve
in my statement about the reasons why some women may reject the term
feminism. I think that it is indeed true that some women are intimidated
out of using it: That feminist baiting is as universal as lesbian-baiting
or red-baiting.  However, still think that there can be solid reasons
why women reject the label that have little to do with male intimidation.
What I object to about the tone of the original discussion on wmst-l is the
assumption that there are no legitimate reasons to object to the label, or
to prefer the label womanist.  Moreover, even though I admire Isabel
Allende's  work, I must point out that she is not the only Latina thinker,
and that she doesn't speak for all Latinas.  I consider myself a feminist
(despite my role here as a devil's advocate) but I recognize that I do
not speak for all Latinas.  In the context of the classroom, where in
order to get a cross-section of multicultural contributions to the discourse
in women's studies, the contributions of bell hooks, Alice Walker, Cheri
Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua are also considered,  we must take care to ensure that
not only those who follow the party line, ie., calling themselves feminists
are read in depth but that the objections to that term by these thinkers are
considered as well.
I believe that too often, the women's movement gives lip service to women of
color, inviting them (us) to be keynote speakers, and celebrating them, but
not reading their work in depth and understanding that there are real
differences between them and white mainstream feminists.
Rosa Maria Pegueros
University of Rhode Island, Dept of History
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 21:25:59 -0400
From: Joan Korenman <KORENMAN AT UMBC2.UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Feminist but not the label
> Robin Rolands published a book about 8-9 years ago about reseach she had
> done.  The book was called: Women who do (and Women who Don't [call
> themselvesFeminist])  I am sorry but I am not sure of how much I included
> in parentheses were part of the title.  Robin is from Australia - maybe
> one of our sisters from "down under" can supply more details - I think
> the book was published in GB.  Marilyn Safir
        The book Marilyn refers to is WOMEN WHO DO & WOMEN WHO DON'T JOIN
THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT, edited and introduced by Robyn Rowland, and published
in 1984 in London by Routledge & Kegan Paul.  I haven't read it, but I have
it sitting in front of me, and the back cover gives this account of its
        "Robyn Rowland asked a variety of women--some of whom chose to align
themselves with the current women's movement, others who chose not to--to
write about their lives and the reasons for the choices they have made.
There are 24 contributors, drawn from five countries.  They differ in
background, race, age, and sexual preference, and their comments make up
the major part of the book.  Robyn Rowland prefaces the women's own words
with a discussion of the women's movement as a social movement, and an
analysis of the antifeminist backlash."
        Joan Korenman        Internet: korenman   AT   umbc2.umbc.edu
                             Bitnet:   korenman   AT   umbc
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 14:29:58 -0500 (EST)
Subject: who is a feminist
In response to Arnie Kahn's posting about whether men can be feminists, I would
point to  Rosalind Delmar's essay "What is Feminism" in Annie Oakley and
Juliett Mitchell's book What is Feminism?  She argues that the notion that men
cannot be feminists is very recent and that historically there have always been
men involved in the women's movement.  Historically there have always been men
who have called themselves feminists.
                                    (o o)
|        Laurie Finke, Women's and Gender Studies, Kenyon College            |
|                  Gambier, OH 43022       phone: 614-427-5276               |
|        home: 614-427-3428, P.O. Box 731     mail: FinkeL   AT   Kenyon.Edu        |
                                   ()   ()
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 14:24:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: naming feminism
I can't help but think that our current discussion of what to call people who
don't call themselves feminists has become somewhat circular and not very
helpful.  My first inclination was to think that it was a trivial concern to
think about names for things and that the deeds were more important, but then I
began thinking about what kind of an act categorization itself is and what it's
political implications are.  At the same time I was reading an essay by Judith
Butler called "Contingent Foundations:Feminism and the Question of the
'Postmodern'" in _Feminists Theorize the Political_.  I couldn't help thinking
that poststructuralism (however dreaded and hated) might offer some useful
guidance in this question.
In speaking of women as a category, Butler writes: "Within feminism, it seems
as if there is some political necessity to speak as and for women, and I would
not contest that necessity.  Surely,that is the way in which representational
politics operates. . . But this necessity needs to be reconciled with another.
The minute that the category of woman is invoked as _describing_ the
constituency for which feminism speaks, an internal debate invariably begins
over what the descriptive content of that term will be. . . .I would argue that
any effort to give universal or specific content to the category of
women,presuming that that guarantee of solidarity is required _in advance_,
will necessarily produce factionalization, and that "identity" as a point of
departure can never hold as the solidifying ground of a feminist political
movement.  Identity  categories are never merely descriptive, but always
normative, and, as such, exclusionary."
I would argue the same problems occur when we talk about feminism.  But to
assent to Butler's argument does not mean you cannot meaningfully use the term
feminist (I call myself a feminist without too much worry).  But it requires
that we think of "feminism" as a "undesignatable field of differences," a "site
of  permanent openness and resignifiability."  I would think of feminism as an
arena of contest and conflict, as well as of alliance and associations,
networks.  Borrowing from cybernetics, I would call it a "black box," a term
that "stands in for" a whole network of ideas, associations, alliances,
conflicts, struggles,material practices (like this network), bodies, etc. that
are too complex to be articulated each and every time you want to evoke them.
The same Iwould argue holds true for more recent formulations like "third world
woman," or "women of color" (the term itself is often contested).
I guess for this reason I feel fairly comfortable calling people feminist who
might not out and say they were feminists or using the term in a fairly loose
way to designate a whole field of heterogeneous "stuff."
                                    (o o)
|        Laurie Finke, Women's and Gender Studies, Kenyon College            |
|                  Gambier, OH 43022       phone: 614-427-5276               |
|        home: 614-427-3428, P.O. Box 731     mail: FinkeL   AT   Kenyon.Edu        |
                                   ()   ()
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1993 08:54:39 -0500
From: Caroline Brettell <cbrettel AT SUN.CIS.SMU.EDU>
Subject: feminist label
I recognize that there may indeed be real differences between "women of
color" feminists
and "white mainstream feminists." But there are also differences among
"white mainstream feminists." In fact, I am not so sure there is a
mainstream feminist anymore given the diversity of issues and positions. I
am not a Latina, but I was rather attracted to Allende's position as were
many of my white, middle-class students in a Women's Studies class. Above
all else we must not fall into the trap of stereotyping that the media
constantly reminds of us by taking the radical position and applying it to
everyone. This movement should provide space for everyone.
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1993 11:24:09 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Feminism
Regarding persons who do not call themselves feminist (at
least publicly) but truly are...... how 'bout 'closet feminist'?
Donna C. Phillips
Director, Women's Studies program Advisory Council
Morehead State University (KY)
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1993 13:16:03 -0500 (EST)
From: "<Elena Leonoff>" <Elena=Leonoff%Soviet%UNIMELB AT MUWAYE.UNIMELB.E
Subject: male feminists, que?!
Quick anecdotal note for the files of anyone sorting out definitions and
categories of men identifying as feminists:
In Nov. 1992 I was in Russia at the Second Independent Women's Forum,
attended by 500 women and half a dozen men. There I met one Takhim Khairullin
from St Petersburg, who said he was leader of the Radical Women's Initiative
group (together with his wife, who was at home translating Dale Spender into
Russian). He explained to me at length that he was a feminist, that feminism
was a movement for the whole of humanity, NOT just for women; became
increasingly critical of the Forum's female organizers, and ended up saying
(direct quote): "Women just don't understand feminism!" i.e. to him it seemed
there were a lot of diverse women's groups running around not getting
anything done, what the movement really needs is strong leadership and
organization... At this point I got a tension headache and excused myself.
My tentative conclusion is that male feminists are fine, but one pre-req is
that they understand and support the concept of "women's space"; otherwise
the results can get bizarre. - FWIW (For What It's Worth)
Elena Leonoff
University of Melbourne, Australia
Elena%Soviet%UNIMELB   AT   muwaye.unimelb.EDU.AU
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1993 23:54:01 -0400 (EDT)
From: Rosa Maria Pegueros <PEGUEROS AT URIACC.URI.EDU>
Subject: Feminisms
I have been thinking about why this discussion has rankled me so and it finally
occurred to me. It is very reminiscent of discussions over whether we
should be called Latinos or Hispanics or Chicanos. There are sections of these
populations who are rankled by the use of one term or another, or who hate
being called one or the other, and then there are U.S. govenrment officials
who have decided that one term or another applies.
Basically, I think people should be called what ever they choose to be called
and that means that others, for whom they do not fit into a neat category will
be uncomfortable.
Rosa Maria Pegueros
Dept. of History
University of Rhode Island
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1993 00:57:25 -0500 (EST)
From: Margaret Susan Thompson <THOMPSON AT MAXWELL.SYR.EDU>
Subject: male feminists, que?!
As the person who posted a message early on in this discussion
defending the legitimacy of male feminists, I wanted to respond to
Elena Leonoff's posting--to say that I completely agree with her
about the need for men to "respect women's space."  Further, I would
also argue that the need for such "safe space" is essential for most
of us!
    Elena's message also points out the very important reality that
there are "women's ways"--or, should I say, FEMINIST ways--of
organizing and deliberating.  How I wish, for instance, that my
department meetings were as unstressful as the meetings of the
various truly feminist groups I'm involved with!  This has taken me
some time to fully appreciate--having been socialized (probably like
most of us over 40) into a masculine/patriarchal model of "acting
professional."   But, in any event, her account of the run-in in
Russia resonated strongly with me--including (especially?) the tension
headache part!
Margaret Susan Thompson
thompson   AT   maxwell.syr.edu
Dept. of History, 320 Maxwell Hall
Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY 13244-1090
315-443-5882, 443-2210
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1993 09:26:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Robert W. Jensen" <rjensen AT UTXVM.CC.UTEXAS.EDU>
Subject: male feminists, que?!
Because this list strikes me as women's space, I am hesitant to
post this. But here's a thought about men-as-feminists. I have
been doing feminist-inspired academic work as a grad student and
faculty member for five years. I don't refer to myself as a feminist.
I usually describe myself as a man working with feminist theory.
In political work, I tend to call myself a man working with feminists
or working toward feminist goals. Those descriptions suit me fine.
I don't do this to avoid being labeled or marginalized; everyone in
my world knows my commitments and scholarly interests. I just don't
feel right claiming the label "feminist." In part, this follows the
example of men I respect who work in feminist groups. It also feels
right to me. I think it makes sense to embrace feminist theory and
goals, try to explain to other men why it is both just and in their
interest to do the same, but not demand to be called a feminist. I may
be arguing a somewhat confusing position that feminism (the idea) is for
all of us, but that only women are feminists.
Mainly I fear that devoting even this small amount of space
to the question is an unnecessary diversion.
But I am posting it.
Bob Jensen, Dept. of Journalism, University of Texas.
rjensen   AT   utxvm.cc.utexas.edu
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1993 12:26:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: dl81 <Deborah_LOUIS AT UMAIL.UMD.EDU>
Subject: Is there a word or concept?
I'd like to interject into this "multilogue" the suggestion by Gloria
Steinem that "a woman is either a feminist or a masochist."
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1993 00:11:58 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: definitions of feminism
I teach an Intro to women's studies class to an audience that, in the
beginning at least, is often at least a bit hostile to feminism,
and certainly ignorant about it.  We have a "women's perspectives"
requirement as part of general education, so many of the students are
taking it merely to fulfill the requirement.  I have been relatively
successful in overcoming that hostility, through a variety of readings
and discussion activities.
One of the most successful this semester was this:  First, I had students
read the several definitions of feminism offered in Sheila Ruth's
_Issues in Feminism_.  Then, in class, I had them break down
into small groups and try to come up with a definition of feminism
acceptable to all members.  Then we gathered back and jointly
tried to come up with the class's definition of feminism.  I wish
I could remember exactly what it was (I have it somewhere filed
away), but that really doesn't matter.  The next thing I had them
do was to write for a few minutes beginning with their choice of
the following, and taking into account the definition we had written on
the board:  I am a feminist because . . . ; I support feminism because . . . ;
I am not a feminist because . . . ; I do not support feminism
because . . . .  Students did NOT have to identify themselves by
To a person, they all said either "I am a feminist because . . . " or
"I support feminism because . . . "  Some didn't support or identify
with all elements of the definition, but were mostly supportive.
I wish I had done a "pre-test" of this so I could have had a
better idea of what they thought about feminism before the class
started.  However, judging from the way many of the earliest discussions
started, usually following the theme of "this is male-bashing," I
have a suspicion that a goodly number of those who were identifying
with or supporting feminism would not have done so at the
One idea I had for starting class that, unfortunately, I didn't
have time to develop, was a survey on what people's positions
were on various feminist issues, including, e.g., whether they
supported women's right to vote, run for office, get an education
(all that stuff that historically was denied to women until
very recently, but which everyone seems to take for granted
now), as well as more contemporary issues.  Then I would discuss
the results with them and talk about the extent to which they
supported feminist positions whether they identified them as such
or not.
What is most important from my point of view is that we remember
that this is all PROCESS.  One fellow in the class in particular
is always asking questions that reveal his ignorance about what
is going on in the world, particularly with respect to women.  His
questions are really innocent.  His heart is in the right place,
but he just doesn't know much or have much experience.  At least,
that's how I respond to his questions.
I make the point on the first day of class that ignorance is nothing
to be ashamed of, and that my first pedagogical principle is that
I have to start from where students ARE, wherever that may be, and try
to open them to new ways of thinking.  I've taught this course
only twice, so it's hard to generalize beyond these two classes,
but I have not encountered any significant hostility since the
first few class meetings.  A few really hostile students dropped
out -- I'd like to think because they saw early on that they weren't going
to get any support from their cohorts, who rather rapidly became
enthusuastic explorers of the new worlds I laid out for them.
There is a principle from tae kwan do operating here: instead of
confronting the opposition directly, you absorb your "opponent's"
energy and then redirect it.  You draw upon your opponent's
strength as well as your own.
Georgia NeSmith
Communication Dept.
SUNY Brockport
Brockport NY 14420
gnesmith   AT   ascpr1.acs.brockport.edu
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1993 06:28:46 -0600
From: Caroline Cole <ccole AT UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU>
Subject: male feminists, que?!
Having just joined the list I did not see the entire conversation regarding
male feminists. Nevertheless, I want to applaud Bob Jensen for his
Many times I've seen/heard men say they're "feminists" on one hand while
reinforcing many "women = subordinate" attitudes with the other
(unknowingly, I hope). That is not to say that all men who adopt the label
"feminist" are like this, but I think Jensen makes an important
distinction: adopting feminist positions/goals/ideas and adopting a feminst
Caroline Cole                                           office: (217) 333-1006
Department of English                             home:   (217) 351-5970
U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign                ccole   AT   ux1.cso.uiuc.edu
Urbana, IL 61801
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1993 13:20:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: male feminists, que?!
I don't think Kimmel and Mosmiller's collection _Against the Tide:
Pro-Feminist Men in the U.S., 1776-1990_ has been mentioned in
conjunction with this thread.
Not surprisingly, many definitions of feminism emerge from these

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