From One Survivor to Another

October 16, 2011
“To emphasize [the] engagement with feminist struggle as political commitment, we could avoid using the phrase “I am a feminist” (a linguistic structure designed to refer to some personal aspect of identity and self-definition) and could [instead] state, “I advocate feminism.” Because there has been undue emphasis placed on feminism as an identity or lifestyle, people usually resort to stereotyped perspectives on feminism. Deflecting attention away from stereotypes is necessary if we are to revise our strategy and direction. I have found that saying “I am a feminist” usually means I am plugged into preconceived notions of identity, role, or behavior. When I say, “I advocate feminism,” the response is usually, “What is feminism?” A phrase like “I advocate” does not imply the kind of absolutism that is suggested by “I am,” It does not engage us in the either/or dualistic thinking that is the central ideological component of all systems of domination in Western society. It implies that a choice has been made, that commitment to feminism is an act of will. It does not suggest that by committing oneself to feminism, the possibility of supporting other political movements is negated.”

bell hooks, Feminist theory: from margin to center (2000)

This perfectly explains why all of the “this is what a feminist looks like” type of things have always bothered me. Even if we don’t mean to, it implies a certain lifestyle that is superior to or more “right” than others. It draws attention towards an individual identity rather than a comprehensive and sometimes conflicted canon of history, theory, and other political ideas. Instead of “this is what a feminist looks like” shirts (making it seem as if it’s some sort of secret club), we should have shirts which read, “ask me about feminism”.

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