Last week at an interview with BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis, Amy Schumer called everyone who doesnt call themselves a feminist; “Insane”. She then went on to define the word feminist as someone who believes in ” social, political and economic equality”.
The rhetoric Schumer is a spewing is sadly not uncommon these days. But it is wrong. Not only is this way of thinking bad for the legitamacy of the feminist movement, its also regressive and a disgrace in the name of the movement.
The term “feminist” or “feminism” comes from the French word “feminisme,” first used by the socialist Charles Fourier, and began to pick up popularity with English writers and thinkers in the 1890s, in association with an unnamed movement that worked for womens equal political and legal rights.
Early feminists didn’t call themselves feminists. Simply anyone who advocated for womens rights was labelled a feminist by others.
Today, some of us choose to embody the term “feminist” because it holds close to its roots soliderity with feminists that came before us (the history of feminism), feminists today (revolution) and feminists in the future (visionary).
However, “feminist” still doesn’t absolutely imply the BELIEF in equality for the sexes but rather it refers to the ADVOCACY of gender equality.
This doesn’t mean that feminism is an exclusive group. Advocacy comes in all sizes and anybody can do it. To be an advocate for equal rights you could be anything from someone who chooses to talk about gender issues in general conversation to someone who speaks on gender issues to a audience of thousands of people.
However, this is differant from belief because unlike just believing something to be true or accurate, advocacy requires that in some way you are actively making an interferance in the stream of normality.
Its like the differance between being a christian (someone who believes in christian doctrine) and being a preacher (someone who advocates for Christian ideologies).
If everyone called themselves a feminist, the word would lose its meaning. People who are not helping to enhance the movement who then call themselves feminists run the risk of draining the movement of any symbolic meaning. If everyone was a feminist, that would imply that everyone is actively practicing gender equality and there would be no need for feminism. The fact that sexism still exists logically tells us that not everyone is working towards a more egalitarian world.
Furthermore, nobody HAS to be a feminist. Its not a good or a bad thing. If you want to join the movement because you see it as useful you will and if you don’t want to you wont. It doesn’t say anything about you as a person. There ia no binary, you’re not either a feminist or a sexist. You can believe in equality for the sexes without wanting to call yourself a feminist.
If we are to look at feminism as a progressive movement than we also need to realise that progress is a natural process and therefore we can’t force it onto people. We can only hope to get more and more people to pick up the term by continuing to spread meaningful information.