Monday, May 16, 2011

Feminism and Atheism

I reconnected with an old friend of mine almost three years ago, and one of our first conversations brought up the concept of feminism.

"I have a hard time describing myself as a feminist," I said.

"But you sound like one. You believe like one." (paraphrase)

And I knew that, but it still bothered me to give myself that label. Not because I'm against labels (in fact I'm all for them, in a personal sense), but because I'm uncomfortable with the many negative connotations. It's one of those ideographs, words that make people stop thinking. That's not what I want.

Now I feel I'm unworthy of the label. I'm not activist enough. I'm not passionate enough. I'm not aware enough of misogyny in my life--aside from the church. I imagine that the more I involve myself in the outside world the more I'll feel it. However, I'm not expert enough to argue the cause very well.

But it's progressing. At the beginning of the semester, a class of mine was discussing Kate Chopin's short story, "The Story of an Hour." Because we had earlier discussed how the personal beliefs of the author can sometimes play a part in her work, I decided I'd bring up my observation that Chopin seemed feminist. My professor dismissed me.

"No. I've read excerpts where she professed a love for her husband. She doesn't hate men."

I picked up my jaw, but I said nothing.

I hated that I said nothing, but I said nothing.

And that is one reason I don't like to consider myself feminist. I'm hesitant to be "that girl." I am thinking about that, though--is it worse to remain quiet, or worse to chance annoying people enough that they'll completely avoid you and dismiss everything you say? I know one doesn't have to be a jerk to spark discussion of controversial topics. In fact, I've learned that changing minds is best done when you're assertive and confident--not aggressive and an asshat. But it's also a matter of venue.

Then there's the atheism.

I lean more this way, and I have for a while. I even changed my "religious views" on facebook to atheism for a little bit, but that was uncomfortable too. But "agnostic" didn't fit the bill either. It's set to "none" at the moment, but only because I don't fucking know.

And I would like to know. There's a peace and a power for me in being able to put a name to the feeling. I can't say I don't believe in god for some reason, and yet the logic of a god (specifically the christian god) doesn't pass the test for me. I'm not theist. I'm more atheist, but I can't say it out loud. I don't know why. Atheism doesn't mean I don't think there's a chance. I also know there are things we cannot explain, but there were things people couldn't explain years ago that science has now explained. Yet that doesn't mean science will ever explain everything. Is everything explainable?

So I don't know. I suppose "atheist" is the best classification. It's just very loaded, very negative. And that's a real problem--people should be able to be atheist without chasing others away in horror, just like Christians should be able to be Christians without other people shying away in horror.

For the record, I'm just as annoyed by militant athiests as I am militant christians.

These are strong terms, feminism and atheism. They mean different things to different people, and I tend to think I need to be all the way in, embrace it, before I call myself either one. As it is I run in with people who  think "feminist" equals "man hater" and atheism means "godless fucking asshole christian hater who arrogantly decides she knows everything." It just wears me out.

Because that's not what it means, but no matter how many times you calmly correct false perceptions, many people will never hear it. They don't want to. It makes things far too complicated. And even when I'm up for a debate, I'm not always prepared enough. I don't like debating unless I'm confident I'll win.

I wonder if a relabeling would be smart or even necessary--or if its just another way to dismiss important issues.


  1. A part of my brain imploded a little bit reading about a professor who not only thinks Kate Chopin isn't a feminist, but thinks this because Kate Chopin doesn't hate men.

    But what you talk about in the beginning about the negative connotations makes perfect sense to me. It's like pro-life/pro-choice, liberal, conservative, right-wing, left-wing ... they all mean really bad things to some people, but not all. And somebody wear them proudly. Choosing a label that fits you is hard.

  2. Also, you don't have to "argue" or be an activist to be a feminist either (at least in my opinion). You can be a feminist by putting the "Feminism: the radical notion that women are people" sticker on your car or something, wearing pants when you are expected to wear a skirt (that particular rule in Mormonism really irked me).

  3. Macha: Yeah, I know. I left the class just *pissed* In shock and pissed.

    As for the not having to argue thing--this is what I do ;)

    Thank you, though, for the support.

  4. My high school AP English teacher would be appalled by your professor. My English teacher was also a woman.......I don't think you have to hate men t be a feminist. What I DO hate is men acting like douchebags! I wouldn't label myself as a feminist either, but wanting to be treated with respect is not a radical idea! :)

  5. Everyone should be a feminist, men and women. Feminism just means that you believe that women should be given the same equal rights to men, if you believe this should be the case then you ARE feminist. It is sad that the term feminism has negative conotations because the fact that it is neccesary to coin a term as something oppositional to "normality" should not be a comment not on feminism, but on the state of the world we live in where women are still not regarded as equal. In a patriarchal society where women are still the societal "other" it is easy to see where the negative connotations came from, and it wasn't from feminism itself.

    I can see that your worries about labling yourself atheist come from similar issues. If, like me, you are sure there are no gods then it feels redundant to lable yourself as directly oppositional to those that do. It is not meant as an opposition, not as a battle, but almost as something so obvious it doesn't need expressing. The lable "Atheism" has suffered the same fate as "Feminism", but that is inherent in the two patriarchal powers that would try to oppress these points of view - society and religion.

    P.S I love your blog xxx