"Feminist" Does Not Apply: On Conferring Labels Without Consent6/12/2013
by Tonya Ladipo, LCSW The Washington Post article by Alexandra Petri “Sorry Megyn I am pretty sure you're a feminist” is a perfect ex...
by Tonya Ladipo, LCSW
The Washington Post article by Alexandra Petri “Sorry Megyn I am pretty sure you're a feminist” is a perfect example of why I am not a feminist. In the article she commented on a television interview and declared Megyn Kelly a feminist. This is after Ms. Kelly very clearly said that she was NOT a feminist. What gives her the right to label or create an identity for someone else? What makes her think that she has the right to tell someone else who they are?
When I was 25 I rejected the identity of a feminist. It was something that I had considered and called myself since late adolescence. But at 25 after careful deliberation I renounced the label. I recall that I was cautious in its rejection and I left room open for the possibility that I may one day reclaim it. I was just out of college and was excited to be in an all-female space working to fight oppression.
Long story short, it was the most oppressive experience of my life. It took me some time to identify the oppression simply because I was baffled that women could be oppressive. I thought that we were fighting the fight of oppression together. I was wrong. After several months of hitting my head against the same wall from different angles I realized that we were not in this together. These women, and feminists, were not fighting my fight as a Black woman.
I left the agency in less than a year with a broken heart and a wounded head. Fast forward to another job where I had enough distance to begin to reflect on my first job. And I realized that all of the feminists I previously worked with were working for the equality and improvement of their own, of White women. They were not working towards or interested in all women, just their women. As I thought about the history of feminism and what I read in learned in college it dawned on me that those were not my people. And not only were they not my people but they were not fighting for my people. They were not concerned with the rights of my grandmother or the rights of my mother. And I certainly learned that they were not concerned about me.
And so I decided that the identity of 'feminist' did not apply to me. I remember having a conversation with a friend at the time and I said that I realized that I was hurt and angry but I also felt pretty certain that rejecting that label and identity was right for me. But I was 25 and I left it open in my mind that I could always embrace it again should it seem fitting. Well, it's been almost 15 years and I am no longer hurt or angry. But I still do not identify myself as a feminist. I have friends of all races who identify as feminists. We share political beliefs and beliefs about oppression and equality. But we do not share a label and an identity.
I take strong offense to others putting labels onto me or Megyn Kelly. Isn't the basis of feminism about the freedom of choice and the ability to have equal rights? Don't feminists believe in the right to name themselves rather than having others dictate their identities to them? Thank you Ms. Petri for reminding me that I made the right choice 15 years ago. Thank you for reminding me that oppression remains alive and well, even in the form of a woman declaring to another woman who she is. You've come a long way, baby.