The other day I was having a conversation about Beyonce’s feminist credentials when the topic of labels came up.
‘If you need to label yourself,’ a very smart woman in the conversation said, ‘then maybe you’re not really that thing.’
At the time I nodded, yes, this makes sense. But the more I mulled it over, the more convinced I became that sometimes we need labels.
I have a label, etched into the inside of my right forearm: the words ‘feminist killjoy’ worked in a purple cross-stitch.
There are problems with being a visible feminist, like there are problems with being any kind of visible ‘other’. People make assumptions when you label yourself ‘feminist’. People make connections when they label you ‘feminist’. Unfortunately a lot of these assumptions are spread and supported by women. The following images all come from the site http://womenagainstfeminism.com/. Do some yoga before you browse.
So why, if the label carries so much baggage, would I get an almost always visible label? And why pair ‘feminist ‘ with ‘killjoy’?
I suppose I’ve always been a feminist, but I haven’t always felt like a feminist. Growing up in the white bread Australian cultural wasteland that was Woy Woy in the 80s and 90s, I didn’t know anyone who ‘was a feminist’. Around my early to mid teens I started to notice the word on the periphery but it meant as little as ‘apartheid’, ‘bohemian’ or ‘politics’.
At my Christian school, girls were ranked according to appearance, wealth and social status. By half way through high school they were pairing off with boys, making cow eyes and planning bouquets. Some girls were smart, super smart, but they didn’t talk about University or careers – they talked about which boy they were going to build a life around.
I was different. I didn’t want to settle for one boy (wasn’t even sure I liked ‘liked’ them). I wanted to get out of that town, write stories, drink wine, take drugs: experience life. If we’d listened to anything but Amy Grant and her compadres, I would have idolized Patty Smith, Janis Joplin, Courtney Love. At the time I thought I was responding to my abusive upbringing, and I probably was. After all, having a mother as a perpetrator probably does get you thinking about how women work in the world.
My mother was a ‘good Christian’ wife, she didn’t work, ran the house, did crafts with floral fabric and read the Bible. The only real hole in the picture was her tendency to rage, her habit of beating us kids and our step father. She was a powerful woman, but powerful in all the wrong ways. She’d trained to be a teacher and then a cop but ‘gave up her career’ when she got pregnant with me. ( I was never allowed to forget that.) The way I conceptualize it is that she had no real power she in the real world and so she emphasised the power she did have by abusing us.
This is the message we got about women:
So I was told I had no power but at the same time was living with an example of out of control female power? No wonder I started thinking about women, power and what we do when we’re denied it.
One of the first visible feminists I encountered was Roseanne Barr.
I didn’t know she was a feminist, but I knew she was different. Roseanne looked a bit like my mother, laughed a bit like my mother, but the words she said were so different to my mother. We weren’t allowed to watch a lot of TV (cos the devil would get us), but we were allowed to watch Roseanne.
This was a TV show where a woman was the central character (you could tell because it was named after her), she ran the family and the businesses, she kept things stable(ish) and didn’t spend all of her time blaming
It was years before I found out how much of a feminist Roseanna actually was, and suddenly it all made sense.
I’ve been dealing with some nasty stuff over the last six months or so (can’t write about it right now, but by golly, when I can I so will). The nasty stuff has involved a very big imposition on my body and my power. It’s involved several people who have called themselves feminists, but who have supported and justified actions taken against me that are, at their root, designed to remind me of ‘my place’. They’ve tried to re-situate me as a sexual commodity, despite many protests on my part.
And right in the middle of this, I got the new tattoo by Amber Kelly at Dee Why Tattoo.
It works for me. I’m enjoying being a visible feminist. It’s a shorter, easier way of identifying myself. In my first year classes, when things drift close to the misogynistic, all I have to do is tap the tattoo.
It’s also a handy way of challenging those ideas about feminists that we saw from Women against feminism. I’m a friendly, approachable, courteous and accountable human being. I make jokes, laugh a lot, hold doors for people and pick up things when the people who drop them have full hands. I talk to men, women, children and animals. I cook, crochet, use power tools and build stuff. I don’t whine, blame all my problems of men, the patriarchy or my upbringing.
More people than I can count have reacted to the tattoo by saying ‘but you don’t seem like a feminist’.
‘Why “killjoy”?’ they ask, ‘You’re the most joyful person I know’.
‘Oh,’ I reply, ‘it’s just what they call us feminists, so I might as well prove it wrong.’
And that, dear readers, is the number one reason to be a visible feminist.
Well good luck to you, I have to say there are many label wearing feminists that triggered my misogynist induced trauma as they insist on wielding shame onto others who disagree with them as a weapon in the name of feminism. I am not sure what this shamefest accomplishes nor do I really think Beyonce has a full understanding of where her false self meets her true self hence the need to put feminist in BLINKING HUGE LIGHTS. My life with narcissists and people like Ike Turner whom her spouse paid homage to give me a different perspective on a lot of currently hailed “brilliant” treaties in alleged feminism. I tend to think the very smart woman in your conversation was onto something, but then again so are you. We need feminism, even those of us who think for periods of time that we do not. Thank you to all the women who worked for it when I was in the dark and did not know better. It saddens me to see all the women in your pictures who are desperate to show the world how much they dislike themselves, those pictures are cries for help that will not be answered by “nice” men just because you turn on your gender. Oh well. I liked the Roseanne show, I liked it did not need wealth to support feminism. Women of all educational backgrounds and socioeconomic classes were worthy of the title as well as equal rights. Great post. Congrats on your tat, you wear it well. Maybe some day Beyonce will see beyond the glitz and get red-pilled. Until then, I wish her all the best with her Blue.
Thank you so much for your comment, betternotbroken. I think it’s important to approach this topic, and those who have different opinions, from a space of compassion and understanding and it sounds like you’re taking the same stance. Nice to meet you.
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I am Angela, nice to meet you too. Good luck with helping women in the world establish equal rights.
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Ha! Right now it’s all about struggling for my own rights, I just hope that sharing the stories helps/inspires/influences.
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