Ever since I declared myself as a feminist when I was about 15, I've found that name poses a whole heap of problems.
When I was about this age, like many 'feminists' I know, this was merely an identification with beliefs I already held, a chance to align myself with the powerful, intelligent and outspoken women I'd always had the privilege to know personally, and looked up to publicly. I remember feeling as if I had just walked into the best party, happy to draw eyes towards me, I wanted everyone to know not just what I believed, but who I was proud to be seen with.
What I failed to realise at the time however, was that it was not so much that I would be seen as with feminists, but rather as a frightful amalgamation of the all the women who had ever walked into that party, quite the opposite of strengthening my image, it was the beginning of a life-long conversation with almost every non-feminist I should ever meet as to what I was; I found myself a stranger to even friends. (N.B, I wrote about the damaging effect of labelling in an earlier blog Freedom and the Dialectic, should this be interesting...)
The term feminist was probably too monolithic in its seriousness, too much of permanence for most of my friends at the time; despite attending a private girls' school, I have no discernible memories of anyone else declaring what I had. This gave me much confusion, as the matter was painfully simple to me, my 'feminism', and my soon followed up Marxism was only me saying: 'Women do not have it equally, and neither do the lower classes', the implication of which being that something really ought to be done about it. My feelings on the declaration always had, and still do hold a hovering footnote of a whole plethora of other wrongs in 'equality', gay rights, race inequalities, disabilities; I'm still yet to find a term which I believe fits all these terms, for then and now however, Marxist Feminist at least presents an ideological stance where these other injustices can be explored.
What I felt I could do as a 15 year old was very little; I had just left a state-school education where I had suffered a breakdown resulting from years of daily abuse, unnoticed through wilful ignorance of teachers and students at the school, which had thoroughly taught me to be voiceless - to show intelligence was to invite ridicule and alienation. At the very least, once I had entered an educational environment where the opposite was closer to the truth, I began to relish in any chance to make up for these lost years, and the immense inner strength I found in declaring my ideologies felt revolutionary, I finally had the chance to combine my private injustices with the public injustices I had always been made aware of by my family and inquisitive nature to build lasting strength and character.
At this point I had no idea that, to some 'feminist' was a dirty word. To be feminist, I learnt, was to be a man-hater, to be charged by your ovaries more than your brains, to wish for supremacy more than equality. Of course, this is not the honest meaning of the word, but a lazy media-white-wash created to diminish any voice which challenges something which legitimately challenges society; but apparently I should be observed carefully if I happened to have a lighter and a bra to hand.
One of the chief problems I believe there is with the term 'feminist' is that it encompasses more than any non-feminist believes it does. Ask someone who isn't feminist to name a few types, and you will probably first hear 'radical', maybe 'second-wave' if they know a little more, and perhaps 'Wollenstonecraft' if they've taken history at some point, but much more than that and they get stumped. I don't blame them. If you haven't aligned yourself to feminism, why would you? Even The Guardian aren't about to start publishing separate columns for all the feminisms that exist, so what hope does the non-committing potential supporter have? Nevertheless, for as long as there is ignorance on the matter, the term will still stand as the monolithic testament to every angry feeling of injustice that has ever been recognised by Woman, a frightening idol to even women who do agree with what they have encountered.
Therefore, I have decided to include a list of some of the many feminisms I have encountered, and the woman who have spoken the most famously (although I hesitate to say the best, for as Germaine Greer said at Warwick of her own work, other feminists had done her work better, but a 'feminist' topic never makes publishers hands rub with glee) in their respective fields. This is by no means the definitive list, and please, if you think anyone is unfairly missing, comment, but I feel it is important to try and ascertain; as Audre Lorde once wrote on the differences in Woman's experiences:
'The oppression of women knows no ethnic, nor racial
boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those differences.'
Sister Outsider (1984)
First Wave Feminism
Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby, Simone de Beauvoir, Rebecca West, Olive Schreiner, Ray Strachey, Virginia Woolf,
Second Wave Feminism
Helen Gurley Brown, Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin, Shulamith Firestone, Germaine Greer, Susan Griffin, Kate Millet, Robin Morgan, Alice Rossi, Valerie Solanas
Michèle Barrett, Johanna Brenner, Barbara Ehrenreich, Clara Fraser, Emma Goldman, Heidi Hartmann, Donna Haraway Catharine MacKinnon, Alexandra Kollentai, Juliet Mitchell, Sheila Rowbotham, Gayle Rubin, Sylvia Walby, Nellie Wong, Clara Zetkin
Asian, Black and Women of Colour Lesbianisms/Feminisms
Gloria, Anzaldúa, Angela Davis, Combahee River Collective, Joyce Ladner, Audre Lorde, Amina Mama, Rosario Morales, Alice Walker, Mitsuye Yamada
Charlotte Bunch, Mary Daly, Sheila Jeffreys, Adrienne Rich, Sarah Waters
Roxanne Dunbar, Elana Dykewomon, Marilyn Frye, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, Lisa Leghorn
Zillah Einstein, Betty Frieden, Rebecca Walker, Mary Wollstonecraft
Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva
Phyllis Chesler, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Sarah Kofman, Jean Baker Miller, Juliet Mitchell
Nancy Chodorow, Anne Koedt, Sherry Ortner, Rosalind Petchesky, Gayle Rubin, Mary Jane Sherfey
Feminism and Peace
Philosophical and Scientific Feminism
Sandra Harding, Evelyn Fox Keller, Dorothy Smith
Joan Kelly-Gadol, Gerda Lerner, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg
Gisela Ecker, Teresa de Laurentis, Laura Mulvey, Griselda Pollock
Linguistics and Feminism
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Ros Coward, Elaine Showalter, Barbara Smith
Gloria Hull, Marcia Westkott