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I Call Myself a Feminist

Genevieve Chan

Feminism has become the new, dirty ‘F’ word.

Does this sentence sound familiar?

“I’m not a feminist, but [fill in this gap with some reason that still supports gender equality, such as equal public rights, opportunity, pay, etc].” Here’s a recent example.

I certainly uttered this sentence a few times when I was younger – and I believed it. This was despite having acquired a university education majoring in gender studies, a subject heavily based upon feminism.

I would mutter this sentence because I didn’t want to be associated with Feminists (with a capital F). You probably know the Feminists I’m talking about; those not uncommonly described, by both men and women, as angry, extreme left-wing, hairy-legged man haters.

But the more I traversed my career path, travelled the world and looked around me, I realised that there were many feminists who were not Feminists. Many women who, like myself, wanted to make and see a change in our world’s gender equality, but did not want to be associated with the ‘F’ camp.

Then, I came across Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Here was a woman who was quite obviously passionate and angry about the gender issues in her home country, but was able talk openly and bluntly on this topic with humility and humour. I was struck by how she claimed ownership of being a feminist unapologetically and in her own way.

And, suddenly, it clicked. Feminism itself consists of hugely diverse schools of thought that all strive for different interpretations of gender equality.

My take on this difference is that feminism can be whatever you make of it, so long as gender equality is honoured in the process and is the end goal. This inevitably means that you will meet people on the feminist path with whom you may disagree. Disagreement among feminists has been rife since long before feminism was even named – particularly around issues that compound race, class and gender – so it is nothing new. It simply means there are differences in interpretations of feminism, identification of issues, or the actions that should be taken. In some cases, the difference will be in all of the above. It is really important to remember that disagreement does not mean that someone is wrong. We only ever learn something new when we are shown a different perspective.

Disagreement among feminists has been rife since long before feminism was even named – particularly around issues that compound race, class and gender – so it’s nothing new. It simply means there are differences in interpretations of feminism, identification of issues, or the actions that should be taken. In some cases, the difference will be in all of the above. It is really important to remember that disagreement does not mean that someone is wrong. We only ever learn something new when we are shown a different perspective.

Instead of putting your fellow feminist down as someone ‘failing to understand’ or ‘wrong’ about feminism, let’s pause for a second and practice some self-love.

Did I just say self-love?

Yes. Self-love can do just as much for others as it can do for you.

The first step to furthering gender equality is to practice self-love. Love yourself enough to expect respect. Love yourself enough to expect courtesy. Love yourself enough to not apologise for being as you are. Loving yourself is a long, tumultuous journey. On this journey, I found that through expecting respect, courtesy and acceptance of myself, I was more conscious of giving the same to others. It is this conscious act of sharing self-love that can make a difference; it may be small at first, but it tends to have a snowball effect.

Feminism is a wonderful example of that snowball effect; an example with a long lasting legacy are our suffragettes (although there is still a long way to go when it comes to women in politics). These women courageously loved themselves to expect the right of having a political voice and in turn, inspired other women to find and use that courage. Similarly, Adichie inspired Beyoncé. Bell Hooks inspired Emma Watson (if you have not seen her HeforShe speech by now, you should). Both of these women with prominent positions in our popular culture proudly claim to be feminists and both of their unique efforts to strive for gender quality have connected with a wider audience. But before sharing the message of feminism, they first had to find that courage to love themselves enough to expect that their access to rights and opportunities be unaffected by their gender.

And men, this feminist self-love rhetoric is applicable to you too, a point which Michael Kimmel aptly demonstrates. Ask yourself; do you love yourself enough to acknowledge your emotions? Do you love yourself enough to expect a flexible workplace that helps you nurture those relationships that are important to you?

If there is only one message you take away from reading this article, let it be this: take courage and love yourself enough to expect gender equality for yourself. Because your children, partner, family and friends will see that expectation and might find the courage to love themselves enough to expect the same. Self-love certainly is not a fix-all solution to the world’s gender equality issues, but it is a small step of many towards a world where both women and men can find they are certain of receiving the same rights and opportunities.

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Genevieve Chan

Genevieve is a happy, go-lucky, free-spirited woman who is always on the lookout for a new adventure to whisk her away from her public servant day job. She loves Canberra and was well aware that it was the best place to live, long before this beautiful city came to the attention of the New York Times or the OECD. When she’s not expending excess energy through dancing, running, walking or cycling, you’ll find her helping her husband in their courtyard vegetable garden, cooking or eating (or both), reading and – of course – writing. More about the Author

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