I've probably been headed in this direction for a while now. My sporadic habit of delving into feminist writing seems to have developed into an ongoing interest, and I've been finding myself more and more taking feminist lines in discussions I've been involved in. At the same time, I've been getting increasingly angry about sexual violence in various forms. I am not completely sure that feminism is the optimal way to address this problem, but there's not much else available in the way of movements organized around the issue, and it's important enough that I feel I have to do something. I can't just dismiss it as somebody else's issue when so many women's lives are constrained by the fear of rape, and when that fear has proved justified for so many of my friends.
There are undoubtedly some people who define themselves as feminists who are not at all nice or even rational people, but I've become increasingly aware of feminists I strongly admire. (Not just people I admire who happen to be feminists, but people I admire because of the way they live as feminists specfically.) It's never a good idea to judge an ideology by its worst adherents! Several people on my flist have influenced me in this direction, but redbird in particular has inspired me. Partly, in fact, by not being terribly evangelistic about feminism, but just being an example of someone who is compassionate and thoughtful and makes sensible and enlightening comments from a feminist perspective.
The immediate cause for making this decision now is to do with the discussion around and reaction to the incredibly stupid Open Source Boob thingy. I found myself following links and reading posts about it almost compulsively, and some of it was really amazing and insightful, but some of it was incredibly, crushingly depressing. I'm not going to talk about it much because really absolutely everything original that could possibly said has already been chewed over about five hundred times. But the point is I was feeling more and more strongly that I want to be on the side of the people who are making insightful and compassionate analyses all over the place, and not on the side of the people who keep coming out with crass and depressing comments.
I don't really expect the Sisterhood to welcome me with open arms, mind you. I still don't really believe in the Patriarchy or Privilege or eliminating the syllable man from English, and I'm still really not an enthusiast for abortion. I don't particularly want to police anyone else's gender expression or sexuality, and I get defensive when people try to proscribe mine. Also, I'm not generally terribly good at being a Sister, because I don't fit well into groups organized around gender identity. I think this is part of the reason why I was so reluctant to embrace feminism for so long: I don't really identify as a woman very much, either in the positive sense of thinking that being female is an important aspect of who I am, or in the negative sense of experiencing difficulties in my life because of being female. But I'm starting to realize that gender is a major force in society at large, even if it isn't a major force in my life. And, well, it's a moral thing to combat discrimination regardless of whether you personally are disadvantaged by it. To quote the inestimable synecdochic,
don't be an ally because you think it will get you something; be an ally because you don't want to be an asshole.So it's very much not about being liked and accepted by the feminist community.
Talking of the feminist community, I'm very much not interested in sitting around discussing whether trans women are real women, or whether disabled women should grudgingly be permitted to exist as long as they don't cause too much burden on their caregivers, or whether it's acceptable to appeal to racism in order to promote the feminist cause. The thing is, though, that activism for women's rights which isn't transphobic, ableist and racist is still called feminism. I think the danger with this sort of ideological movement can be that it becomes a mechanism for perpetuating its own existence, feminism for the good of feminism rather than for the good of women. That doesn't mean that all feminism is like that, of course, but it's an outcome I'm rather wary of. Even my religion is non-dogmatic and non-proselytizing, so I certainly expect as much of my political affilations. I want to commit myself to feminism as a pluralist, which means I don't want to waste my energy defining who gets to be in the club or striving to be in it myself.
What I do want to do is align myself with pro-women and anti-sexist causes. That's probably going to mean giving money at least initially, but I hope I can get to a position where I can contribute my time and effort as well. And more generally, I want to consider my decisions, opinions and actions in the light of whether they are likely to contribute making the world safer and freer for women. I want to notice what effects ways of telling stories may have on the position of women in society, and make sure that I communicate in positive ways.
Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm pretty arrogant and opinionated, but I will make a point of taking more experienced and knowledgeable feminists seriously if they criticize me for not living up to my newfound feminist ideals. I suspect this is going to make me uncomfortable; up till now, I would just have brushed off such criticisms by saying "who cares, I'm not a feminist anyway". But I am coming to think that from a moral perspective I need to deal with that discomfort and think seriously about whether I'm actually harming women or just genuinely have a different opinion about what is good for women from some other feminists. It might also happen that I'll get attacked by people who abominate feminism or think the whole concept is mean and unfair to men, but I doubt I'll ever be a major target for that sort of thing, and any such attacks would likely make me more convinced that affiliating with feminism is important.
Recanting a long-held opinion is a bit painful, isn't it? Last time I went through a process like this was in my early teens, when I realized that caring about the long term environmental effects of my lifestyle was actually morally important, and not just some stupid trendy bandwagon. It's a big part of my self-image that I am capable of changing my mind if I'm convinced by better evidence or arguments, and that allows me to overcome the cognitive dissonance and just general embarrassment of admitting, actually, I was wrong.