s.e. smith on not being a feminist

Alright, I’m ceding defeat on getting a full blown post up for tonight. I’m too tired and it’s too late for me to finish any of my drafts in progress. But! I can share some writing by s.e. smith, who’s an amazing gender equality, genderqueer, disability, and economic justice activist and whose writing I highly recommend. I’ve been thinking about writing sometime soon about why I identify as “feminist-with-qualifications.”  s.e.’s article on why ou* is not a feminist is good prelude to that future post, whenever it goes up (*ou = s.e.’s chosen gender pronoun). An excerpt:

The early roots of feminism are tangled in a lot of dubious origins. Some of the heroes of the movement were, sadly, the same people advancing arguments like that white women should have the right to vote to ensure that white folks could outvote Blacks in elections, and that birth control would prevent “the unfit3” from reproducing.

Classism, racism, and ableism were deeply intertwined in early feminism, even though people of all classes, races and abilities participated in emancipation marches and fought for civil rights.

This isn’t just history — these are issues that continue to the present day, an ugly fact that many feminists don’t like to be confronted with. It comes up with racist signs at Slutwalk, with casual ableism in feminist spaces, with classist comments about who should be allowed to “breed.” The concept ofintersectionality, of considering other lived experiences, is present in some forms of feminism, but it’s not universal, and sweeping these issues under the carpet both doesn’t make them go away, and, yes, alienates people who feel excluded by spaces where it’s made clear that they’re not welcome.

Feminism is a heavily sex and gender-focused movement. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sex and gender-based oppression are things that happen and need to be addressed. Unfortunately, my view of the world doesn’t split identities that way; I can’t just look at women, for example. I see the whole body, the whole picture, and that means that sex and gender aren’t one size fits all. That if you focus solely on these issues, you leave out other people, other bodies.

These things are about more than gender. When you focus on reproductive rights solely from the perspective of cis white women, for example, you miss the larger picture of reproductive justice, and the issues that impact people with disabilities, people of color, nonwhite people, low-income populations…and inevitably, you leave people out and make them feel excluded.



4 Comments on “s.e. smith on not being a feminist”

  1. Scott Madin says:

    I do have thoughts — which I’m still working on getting organized enough for a post on my own blog, and also I don’t want to be all “obviously what you need is a White Man’s Opinion!” here — but they pretty much boil down to thinking that philosophies and identities don’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, the same thing.

    • Grace says:

      Scott! Thanks for the comment :-D “Philosophies and identities don’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, the same thing.” – indeed. That’s one of the points my post-in-progress boils down to as well. We don’t all have to share an identity to work towards a mutually desirable goal.

  2. prairienymph says:

    I’m looking forward to your post on why you are a feminist with qualification.
    I came to feminism through womanist essays and then encountered a feminist community that talks much more about intersectionality and binaries than patriarchy. I naively assumed that most feminism focused as much on isms such as racism, classism, ableism, agism, etc, as sexism – or more so depending on the context.
    One of the first people I met in my Women’s Studies 101 (Race, class and gender) was an Asian trans woman. She is amazing. I thought feminism was about creating a safe place for people like her, not about keeping her out.
    Since I present as fully abled, cis-gendered, heterosexual, monogamous, and white, I have often felt too privileged to identify as feminist. While I’ve been accepted by visibly queer and minority feminists, I don’t feel I’ve earned the right to the label like they have.

    This form of labeling reminds me of how we labelled Christians. I am tempted to say that those feminists who reject trans people are not REAL feminists. I’d love to say that feminism was not a creation of white, middle class cis-women but that they were the ones privileged enough to force their views into public consciousness. Christians who hurt others weren’t Real Christians and the loud ones block the view of the truly humble shouldn’t be allowed to define Christianity.

    Maybe it isn’t so different.

    But, what if you identify with a philosophy even though you know you can’t live its ideals? I want to be anti-racist, but I know I am unaware of ways in which I am not. Am I hurting people by identifying as anti-racist but not being perfect?
    Is it better if I say, ‘I violently dislike racism and want to end it but am unaware of all the ways I may be perpetuating it’ ? That is a little wordy.

  3. sirgabe says:

    Good post. I think I prefer “womanism” as a belief, because it’s a reaction in part to default feminism (i.e. white/cis/abled/rich, ivory tower feminism). Frankly, I don’t care as much about feminist theory as I care about making things better and sitting around intellectually pleasing myself wouldn’t get things done.

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