Apparently I am a feminist. My wife informed me of this last night as I was ranting about Cosmopolitan magazine. I have never really thought of myself as a feminist, hell, I don’t really like “ists” in general. Always really thought of myself as something of an anti-ist, I hate labels and being labelled, and I try to avoid doing so myself. Not because I am a non-conform”ist”, or an anarch”ist”, but because I think that labels are too narrowly applied in the majority of situations, and because labels often stick to people. Label a kid in his formative years as a “geek” or a “jock” and you are pretty likely helping them to stick to that role for a long time. Likewise, labels like straight and gay, while convenient when trying to date, seem too narrow and too restrictive. One should not be defined by narrow words – those words put you in a box and leave you there. You can spend the rest of your life trying to throw off the metaphorical shackles that you were given – often against your will.
For example, people always ask want to ask “what were you like in high school?” First off, why is that relevant, but secondly, how do they want the question answered? Who we were twenty, thirty or forty years ago is rarely relevant to who we are today. If you are in your thirties or forties and haven’t changed much since you were seventeen, I am very sorry for you, but even sorrier for those around you.
And what people really seem to want you to say is what crowd did you associate with. Were you a metal-head, a jock, a nerd, a poser, a plastic – we all remember the labels. The catch is though that some of us, dare I say most of us, didn’t fit that mold all that well. I was a “nerd” because I did a noontime radio show, was in the debate club, hung around with “nerds” and liked computers. I was a “jock” because I played football and went to the “jock” parties. I was a “artsy” because I was in drama. I was an “activist” because I organized a couple of rallies. Jock, nerd, artsy, activist. None of those define who I was or who I am.
When we get older, people ask the same questions, and make the same assumptions, but now it is based upon what you do for a living. My work in the human rights field automatically paints me as a “bleeding heart lefty liberal.” This is largely inaccurate. While I am liberal in a lot of ways, I am actually fairly conservative in many others. Just because I happen to believe that we are all equal, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation or disability doesn’t make me politically liberal. Just because I am a firm believer in free speech doesn’t make me an Occupy member. I deplore hate speech and political correctness with almost equal passion. I like social programs, but hate that the government spends money. I am a strong advocate for the Canadian military, and for military forces in general, yet deplore warfare.
Sexuality and sexual activity are also things that people seem to want to pigeonhole others into. Straight, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, open relationship, swinger, fetishist… the list is long and intriguing. But so many of these labels are situational or misleading – I have a number of friends that have identified with more than one of them at different points in their lives, often ones that are supposed to be opposites. From straight to gay and vice versa. Kinsey scales aside, I have to say that sexual labels are about as useful as the label on a shampoo bottle - everyone knows they are there, but only a few idiots think you have to read and follow them. And sexual activity and preference (note, I am not talking about orientation here, but rather what you like to do in the bedroom, or on the living room floor) change as well. Our sexual selves and sexual desires change as we discover more about ourselves, as we are exposed to more opinions and experiences, and can change depending on our partners.
All of that to say that I don’t think I am a feminist. Not that there is anything wrong with feminism, but to quote a great man, “-Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.”
So keep your boxes to yourself, and take your labels elsewhere. They aren’t welcome in my home or my life.