What if one is not born, but rather becomes, a non-feminist?

As Simone De Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, notes, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” But, in the case of feminists, I think they are actually born and then ‘unmade.’ I doubt girls are born feeling they are ‘naturally defective’ as Aristotle argues they are. Likewise, I doubt boys are born feeling they are the superior sex. Rather, one is ‘made’ into a woman (and distanced from being a feminist) via a constant onslaught of messages that define one as the Other. One is ‘made’ into a man via living and breathing in a society that perpetuates male privileges. (for more on male privilege see here and here) Thus, this making into ‘woman’ and ‘man’ is societally constructed and maintained.

Bodies do not come in only two varieties although we like to act as if they do. Nor do they come in only feminine-women and masculine-men versions. If we did not learn before we even left the womb that woman are the secondary sex, perhaps we would not have to talk about ‘click moment’s’ with feminism because we would all still be feminists!

Although I am a card-carrying social constructionist, I think being a feminist may be one of the most natural identities – perhaps that is why they try to beat it out of us so hard! Is it such a stretch to think that humans might be born feeling they are not better or worse than any other human but equally deserving?

I have long joked that I was born a feminist as I can’t recall any one click moment, but a series of battles, arguments, and feelings of “what the f is wrong with this world” as I grew up. From questioning the unfairness of class inequality and the exploitation of migrant workers during elementary school (I lived in a migrant farming town divided along class/color lines) to wondering why I wasn’t supposed to play with ‘those Mexican kids,’ I was already flaunting my feminism cred in grade school. I refused to have a different curfew than my brother in high school – didn’t seem to me just because you had a penis you should get to stay out later. To the dropped jaws of my college professors, I wrote feminist essays in every single class, asking why anthropology acted as if the world was made of men only, why literature focused on DWMs (dead white males), and why psychology acted as if the female brain was substandardly different. To the chagrin of my family, I balked at the suggestion that mothering was more important than an academic career and refused to buy into the ‘women are meant to nurture’ crapola that culture hawks at us all the time.

Today, I frustrate my children’s teachers (and my students) by asking them to stop saying ‘you guys’. I hunt down principals and tell them they need to put a stop to the use of homophobic language on the playground. I annoy gym instructors by asking them to change their music selections (call me crazy, but I don’t like to work out to songs glorifying gang rape.) I call out people for their sexism, racism, able-ism, body-hating, xenophobia — and guess what? They don’t like it. I am ‘too opinionated.’ I need to ‘mellow out.’ “Do you always have to talk about feminism” they whine. Well, yeah. It’s like a religion. I live and breathe it every day. It is like nourishment – I would starve without feminism.

There are so many definitions of feminism that I love, it is hard to pick just one. Many of my favorites comes from The Feminist Dictionary by Paula Treichler and Cheris Kramarae.

I agree with Nawal el Saadawi’s claim that “as a radical feminist…you should oppose imperialism, Zionism, feudalism, and inequality between nations, sexes, and classes.” Feminism is not just about sex/gender but about all forms of social inequality and oppression/privilege.

I also like Peggy Kornegger’s description of feminism as “A many-headed monster which cannot be destroyed by singular decapitation.” Guess what crazy feminist hating trolls? You can’t kill feminism! It’s a hydra – as soon as you cut of one head, another will grow back. This ‘multiplicty of feminisms’ is another thing I love about feminism. There are so many varieties feminism puts 31 flavors to shame. From anarcha-feminism to eco-feminism to womanism to third wave feminsm to radical feminism, each flavor has something yummy. Try them all, pick one, or rotate! Hell, get a quadruple cone of feminism and delight your feminist taste buds!

The Combahee River Collective’s argument that feminism must be “actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression” and seek to develop “integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that major systems of oppression are interlocking” is another classic. The intersectional approach to feminism is one flavor I cannot live without – it’s my mainstay.

Charlotte Bunch’s argument that feminism is “an entire worldview or gestalt, not just a laundry list of ‘women’s issues’ is another favorite of mine.” As Bunch argues, “Feminst theory provides basis for understanding every area of our lives, and a feminist perspective can affect the world politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually.” Yes, it certainly can. And once you re-place your feminist lenses stolen from you by the culture/society/history/institutional white supremacist heteronormative imperialist patriarchal matrix that defines ‘reality,’ you will never look at the world in the same way again.

See, you were born a feminist, we all were, and if haven’t already done so, please find your way back.

*This post was inspired by a call at The Feminist Underground for feminism definitions and musings. Thanks for the inspiration Habladora!

Published in: on June 19, 2008 at 11:29 am  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
    Those were the very first words spoken to me at the first womens studies class that I ever attended. Since that day they have resonated within by being. It is the basis of my feminism and inspires me to act, revolt and sound the trumpet when I see or hear injustice.

  2. Renee,

    This is one of my favorite feminist quotes too! Thanks for your comment.

  3. Prof,
    Thanks for the link, we’re excited that we’ll have you as a guest-blogger next week!

  4. (here via The Feminist Underground)

    I think this is an awesome post. The part that I completely connected with was: “It’s like a religion. I live and breathe it every day. It is like nourishment – I would starve without feminism.” This is exactly how I feel whenever people ask why I’m always harping on about feminism. I usually say something like “because you’re not even acknowledging it… I have to work harder, thanks for that!” From now on, I’ll mix it up between those two responses to keep things interesting.

  5. you know…its kind of funny that religious fanatics and bible-toters of this country never take any slak for forcing there religious beliefs into the daily lives of others (dress codes, proper language, male/female roles) but the moment a feminist opens there mouth…there “being to sensitive” “always bringing up feminism” “why do you get so offended”!

  6. Indeed. Great point, Jesse.

  7. […] What if one is born a feminist? […]

  8. Aside from it being likened to religion, I agree to all of this. I couldn’t tolerate unfairness as a kid, no one had to tell me what sexism was. I believe childhood feminism is centered on the self, though – you hate sexism directed at you in particular, and will take any privilege you can get by allying with the other side. It took years for me to realize that standing up for and protecting myself by likening myself to the guys was not as good a tactic as standing up for all women and redeeming the female sex.

  9. Wow. I jocularly list “Feminism” as my “Religious views” on my Facebook profile, but after reading this, I guess there might actually be something to that.

  10. By dividing up the party at several peoples houses
    you make it easy on yourself. I’ve played Nancy Drew for years and even her saccharine personality is more 3D than Lindsay or ‘Linds’) as she calls herself. You Divide everyone at the party into two groups, or tribes.

  11. I’m excited to discover this website. I need to to thank you for
    ones time for this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it
    and i also have you saved to fav to look at new stuff in your site.


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