I am a feminist.
I can’t remember when I first heard the word. “Women’s lib” was discussed in the 70s, but even in the middle of it I recall it sounding vaguely insulting. I was well aware of the different expectations society had for men and women – mostly because I failed utterly at being a “proper” girl – and thanks to some of the boys in my high school, I was aware that there were boys who felt they were better than me simply because they were boys. That I was brighter than a lot of them – that I was exponentially more likely to get through high school, to get through college, to get a job that paid a decent wage – didn’t connect with them. They were boys; they were better.
It was always, to my ears, utter nonsense, and apart from being irritated, I gave it no credence.
That the world was screwed up when it came to women was always obvious; but it was also obvious that I was a person, and therefore deserved to be treated as well as any other person. To differentiate rights and respect based on sex never computed in my head. Of course I was human. If people wanted to treat me differently – well, they were wrong, or there were things they didn’t understand, or something of that sort. I put it down to a perception problem.
Some people – usually people who have had experience with someone unpleasant – try to attribute all sorts of complex and unfortunate things to feminism. I’ve been told flat-out it means I hate men. I’ve been told that it’s dead, that it’s been dead a long time, that we’ve moved beyond it. I’ve been told it’s emasculating, or that it means I want to become a man, or that I think men are obsolete. All of this is silly, silencing rhetoric. I’m sorry for people who have had horrible experiences with people who have identified as feminists, but feminists are individuals, encompasing all the good and evil in the world, just like any other group of humans you choose to define.
Feminism means, quite simply, that women, just like men, are complete human beings deserving of complete human rights.
There are some things that flow naturally from that definition. One is that feminists might be inclined to point out social and political structures we think could do with a change. There is a lot of variety there, of course. One always interesting debate is around pornography and sex workers; but it’s worth remembering that the individuals on all sides explore the issues with an eye toward treating women as complete human beings deserving of complete human rights. Subjectivity of solutions – even of problems – does not change the basic definition of feminism.
Another schism seems to be whether or not men can be feminists. To me, it seems obvious that they can. I can’t always fault a man who chooses not to embrace the title, because I have seen them catch hell for it from all sides. But if a man treats me with the same kindness and consideration as he treats himself, then I consider him a feminist.
There are a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels being written these days that explore the themes of sexism and sexuality. They push the limits of the status quo, invert tropes to show their absurdity, reflect both the good and the bad of our society in gorgeously realistic fantastical settings. They are beautiful and entertaining and often important. Nothing changes if it is not challenged, and literature can be an incredibly effective way to challenge.
I’m not doing that, at least not consciously. What I write is the world as I think it ought to be, as I think it would be if most people stopped worrying about it and acknowledged that we were all, regardless of sex or gender, fully human. Sometimes I think I’m a little cowardly. After all, I do like to rummage around inside of human psychology when I write, and sexism is a fascinating manifestation of many aspects of human psychology. But I’ve decided I don’t really care if I’m a coward. I don’t write to be brave.
Writing is an escape for me. I write stories I like, that I would like to read. I hope other people will like reading them, too; but my first audience is myself. I can watch the ways sexism plays out in the real world every day – and some days it’s depressing almost to the point of paralysis. Writing about a world like that – even if my characters are railing against it, even if they are winning – is draining. That may not stay true; but for now? For now, I write my own version of utopia. There are still politics and war and poverty and people breaking each other’s hearts; but what you do and what is expected of you has to do with your ability, not your chromosomes or how you choose to present your gender to the world.
Is that subversive? It doesn’t feel subversive to me. It feels like a world I live in sometimes, when I’m surrounded by people who believe I’m as human as they are. I feel like that at home, with my chosen family. Sometimes I even feel like that at work, when we’re all hashing over a problem and nobody seems to care whether some of us discussing the issue are female. I feel like most of the people I get to interact with every day are feminists, although many of them would probably never choose to describe themselves that way.
I never adopted feminism. It’s a word that describes what I always was, what I have always been: a whole human being. I don’t remember when I first heard the word, but I do know all it did was name what was already there.