Why I call myself a feminist

Published: March 22, 2016
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The writer is a student and freelancer. Her areas of interest include social issues and literature.

The writer is a student and freelancer. Her areas of interest include social issues and literature.

The word feminist always garners a variety of reactions, a sad majority of them negative. One of the most common responses is, “If you’re lobbying for gender equality, why do you call it feminism?”

Many of these people, I think, just relish reducing a global movement to a question of semantics, but some are genuinely wondering. They often suggest that I call myself a “humanist” instead. The reason I do not call myself a humanist is that humanism is a philosophy that attaches greater importance to human matters as opposed to divine matters. It is not a philosophy I feel very strongly about. I do identify as an egalitarian, because to be a feminist you must be egalitarian. Feminism is simply a branch of egalitarianism that focuses on the promotion of gender equality. So when I say I’m a feminist, egalitarian is already implied.

There are multiple reasons we refer to this branch as feminism. Firstly, although as a feminist I want to dismantle the patriarchy for the benefit of both men and women, one of the impositions of the patriarchy on men is the pressure to conform to some ridiculous ideal of hyper-masculinity. This stems from society’s inherent disdain for traditionally feminine values. So I call myself a feminist because it is feminine characteristics and beliefs that are shamed — and therefore, that need supporting. Secondly, the burden of feminism as a movement has always fallen, for the most part, on women. The term was coined in the 1890s, when women first began an organised struggle for legal and social equality — a fight that continues to this day.

Feminism is a word that is deeply rooted in history. Asking for us to change it is asking us to ignore a huge part of our past. Men can and should be feminists; they can and should be more involved in a struggle for the greater good of both sexes. But historically, they have not been. Historically, women have shaped this movement since it began. We have been involved in the struggle against oppression for a long time, and it has frequently been a violent struggle. The word feminist honours all those who braved that struggle before us, at a time when it was much riskier. Every time we use the word, we’re acknowledging their sacrifice. I’m a feminist because the people behind the suffragette movement were feminists; because bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) was a feminist; because the people who drew attention to the glass ceiling effect were feminists; because what I have now, I owe to feminists.

The patriarchy is damaging to men because a system of oppression can never benefit anyone. But (white) men are not systemically targeted. This is not a matter of debate, this is a fact. So, really, it’s churlish to complain that the movement is called feminism because, not to put too fine a point on it, women have needed a safe space more than men for a long time now.
Lastly, I have never understood why people object to “feminism” being used as an umbrella term when they don’t balk at words like “mankind”. We still often use male pronouns when the gender of the person we’re discussing is unknown. Why is feminism so difficult to accept while these are not? Language is a direct product of our beliefs and ideas, and that society is reacting so viscerally to the word “feminism”, highlights its internalised misogyny. This is not something we can dismiss with an airy “what’s in a name?” Shakespeare will have to forgive us, because in this case, there is something in a name.

Feminism means something in a historical, political and social context, and that we are essentially being bullied into abandoning it by people who are either ignorant of or in denial of its significance, is really a tragedy. Every time someone says, “I support equality but I’m not a feminist”, they are allowing others to invade a sphere that the predecessors of this movement sacrificed much to create. We need to claim that name — we need to say: “I’m a feminist because I’m lobbying for gender equality.” 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd,  2016.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Parvez
    Mar 23, 2016 - 1:01AM

    I thought that was interesting. The female ‘ mobility ‘ has been restricted to such an extent that in many cases especially in the middle east ( Arab world in particular ) it has been been completely dominated by the male……regaining this must basically be done by women and it will be an uphill battle. Incidentally just finished reading a thought provoking book on the subject by an Egyptian author Mona Eltahawy ‘ Headscarves and Hy… ‘ recommended. Recommend

  • Khaqan
    Mar 23, 2016 - 9:29AM

    I wish people would read up on how feminisim bacame a part of media. We see feminists mention movements like suffragette but never Gloria Stienman, known as the mother of feminism in modern media.

    No, I can’t call myself a feminist. The reason for me is simple. Majority of feminism claims feels like they’re disregarding biological facts in order to present men and women as identical. We need to start celebrating women. With all their diversities. Rather than stay stuck up over the same debate on whether we’re equal or not. Femisim is NOT helping us celebrate women at all. And it was never intended to do that. Recommend

  • Khaqan
    Mar 23, 2016 - 12:22PM

    I wonder why feminists mention movements like suffragette in such articles but never Gloria Stienman. Have they even read on how and why the feminism agenda was introduced in the mainstream media?

    No, I can’t call myself a feminist ever. It’s against my beliefs. The reason? It’s simple. Majority of the feminism claims disregard biological facts in order to present men and women identical. We need to celebrate women with all their diversities. Feminism does NOT help with that. Nor was it ever intended to do. Recommend

  • Gulelala Khattak
    Mar 23, 2016 - 3:46PM

    Dear Amman Bari.
    I would like to do some constructive criticism on what you mentioned as “lobbying for gender equality” and I hope this would not fall under the guillotine of male chauvinism. Women should not be oppressed; agreed. They should be able to live a free and fair life in the realms of morality; I would love that. But I propose that you use the word “equity” rather than using equality because division of equal rights between men and women means equal responsibilities. Every time there is a debate about feminism, there comes an argument of separating human rights from women rights. That is because rights of women are different than the rights of men and so are their respective responsibilities. Men and women are different and they have the right to different sets of opportunities in their sphere of lives, although there spheres overlap at a lot of areas. All I say is that women should get their complete sets rights and men theirs and we should not sabotage the male-female team on meagre arguments of pronouns; because, together they mean life and everything in it.Recommend

  • echoboom
    Mar 23, 2016 - 8:57PM

    learn to read and write in urdu, so that you do not get mistaken as an uneducated person. No one is anymore in awe of those who flaunt english in Pakistan. knowing arabic and farsi also helps to attain some respectability.Recommend

  • dr. ahmad bhutta MD
    Mar 23, 2016 - 11:41PM

    @Khaqan:
    Cmon. Be a feminist. Its great actually. I make women stand in queues like men, and do not let them jump their position in line. I hope ET shall not remove my comment.
    At my workplace, I do not let women take some time off or shirk. My bosses are not able to ‘accommodate’ them for any reason whatsoever. Obviously, luckily, my male colleagues cooperate. We make exceptions for paramedical staff only, because they are underpaid.
    Similarly, these feminists should work like we do, and contribute properly/equally towards the financial matters of the household. I am all for feminism. They demand equality. Give it to them right away graciously and honestly. And make them keep it then.Recommend

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