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Do I have a place at this table?

S. Yaeger's picture

Since our discussion of Goblin Market this week, and the related question of whether each of us is a feminist, I have been stuck on my answer to that question.  My intial response was that I am, of course, but then I began to wonder if that definition is too narrow.  In fact, I'm kind of stuck wondering if feminism is too narrow in general.  Until recently, I accepted the dictionary definition of feminism as being about equally for both genders, but it is that binarism that has me stuck right now. 

It seems to me that, historically, feminism has relied on the notion that there are two distinct genders, and that those genders are at odds with one another.  While there's definitely a tradition, especially within 3rd wave feminism, of making room for women who don't strictly adhere to gender norms, there is still the problem of erasure of women who were assigned male at birth, and the errasure of men who were assigned female at birth, inherent in much of the rhetoric surroundng feminism.  From the second wave movement of loving one's vulva, to recent events, including the "Womyn born Womyn" event, feminism still seems stuck on the idea that having a vagina = being a woman.  To me, this is too narrow a definition.

However, I still do identify myself as a feminist.  I do this because I hesitate to self select out of a category that I would like to change.  I think that it is possible for us to change the way that we define female and, by extension, feminism, but we must do it from the inside. I'm looking forward to seeing how this class further complicates these ideas for me.


rayj's picture

community membership

I think I have been similarly wondering about what it means to call myself a feminist, the power of that act of naming, and while I dislike some of the connotation associated with feminism, the binarism as referenced by others and exclusionary slant that is somewhat indicative of the second wave of feminism, I do think it is important that I label myself as a feminist.

To name is to create boundaries of membership to a certain community, that is to say, calling myself American or a citizen of the United States is rooted in an understanding of what it means to be outside that definition, as well as within, and can create a sense of essential characteristics. To point to a more current debate to this community (Bryn Mawr), what does it mean to label myself as male/female/other? As gay/straight/queer? Expectations about who I am and how I will act are unavoidable reactions to this self-declaration (or labeling by others), and this is, at times, limiting, it seems. But in this exclusionary act is empowering potential, which brings me more directly back to feminism and definitions of the movement, as well as feminist as an identity. 

Calling myself a feminist allows me to tap into a community that is strong, diverse, and widespread. It is a community with a history, with legitimacy, and with a shared language (to an extent) that can facilitate activism for change. For all my post-modern ideals of identity, I still cling to these incomplete and imperfect categorizations like feminist to define my identity, my politics, and my way of life, because of the community such an identification entitles me to. 

aybala50's picture


S. Yaeger, you make a very interesting point in your questioning of feminism in relation to gender and sex. Personally, I believe that anyone can be a feminist, especially considering the fact that the definition of feminist alone has a variety of meanings. Today, we are faced with defining feminism, again, because of the changes that have taken place since the first wave of feminism. In class we all tried to define feminism and were asked about what problems feminism should try to overcome. I believe that the first thing we need to do is define what a "woman" is. I am not referring to the biological make up of either males or females, but rather defining a "woman". In an ideal world I would get rid of most labels and categories used by society to define what a person is like. Being labeled a woman comes with a variety of expectations and while I don't necessarily want to continue this tradition, for the time being, I believe that there needs to be a change in the defining of women. Could it be that the biological make up of a person can have no bearing on gender? That a person can be free to identify as anything they want? Or that women can be free to define themselves, without being shunned by other women (or anyone) for not fitting criterion that have been limiting from the start? 

j1377's picture