Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

“I’m not a feminist, but…”

Ani’s not an angry girl, but it seems like she’s got everyone fooled. Every time she says something they find hard to hear, they chalk it up to her anger and never to their own fear. Recently, I was talking with a female friend of mine about various songs, and I mentioned Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl,” and she responded that she didn’t like the song and she’s not into “angry” music like that.

I’ve also encountered my fair share of women using the famous “I’m not a feminist, but…” line. My favorite was in college when someone came away from church and criticized one of the praise songs lyrics (“With you, fatherless I’ll never be”) as being sexist and reinforcing of patriarchal traditions. Of course, she prefaced it with the phrase I’m not a feminist, but….

Really? So why are you complaining about sexism and the patriarchy if you’re not a feminist? What is a feminist, then? Why don’t you want to be a feminist? Yes, of course, there’s the stereotype of the hairy, bra-burning, ugly, man-hating, anti-vaginal-intercourse loud lesbian (of course, in all the years I’ve been reading radical feminist literature, I’ve never come across any of these supposed embodiments of that stereotype). I don’t think these I’m not a feminist, but… women are really afraid of being mistaken for that stereotype.

I think they’re just afraid of appearing angry. That’s it. They just don’t want to be considered angry. They want, as many post-feminist millenials and generation-X-ers want, to be fun-loving, positive energy folks. They want to enjoy life and have others enjoy life with them. They don’t want to be downers. They don’t want to be complainers. So, in order to complain and not be considered a complainer, you have to preface your complaints with “I’m not a feminist, but….” The idea is that the person you’re talking to will think “Okay. If you were an angry feminist, I’d just tune out. Since you’re clearly someone who is generally positive about life, I’ll listen to your complaint.”

If you ask me, it’s a cop-out. It’s like in discussions about racism in America, when a handful of Asian-Americans will try to appease the White Americans by saying there isn’t institutional racism or White privilege, and there’s absolutely no need for affirmative action of any kind. That’s their special “I’m not an antiracist, but…” preface for race instead of gender.

Nobody wants to be a downer or a whiner. Nobody wants to be a victim. Feminists are people just like you. Feminists want to enjoy life, and they do. Feminists laugh. Feminists go skydiving, rollerblading, kayaking, and all those other fun things people do in the “I have herpes, but I don’t mind” commercials. The truth is that feminists, like everyone, just want justice. They want people to recognize injustice and do something about it. They’re not going to hide behind phrases like “I’m not a feminist, but…” because they want to be honest.

It’s okay to be a feminist. It’s okay to be angry. People won’t think any less of you as a woman, just because you advocate for equal rights and equal treatment. Own up. We’re all in this together… or we should be anyway.