I think I've blogged about this before. I like the F word. I wear it on a t-shirt. I say it a lot. Freely. Gratuitously. Egregiously. With feeling. In appropriate and inappropriate contexts. Like this:
Feminist, feminist, feminist, FEMINIST!
So, I'm musing about this again because of a comment at a session I attended at the CSC last week. It was the first response to a question about what we can do on Christian higher ed campuses to support and promote scholarship among aspiring female academics, both students and faculty. And this responder made the case that we need to hear from women who don't identify as feminists if we want to make progress on this.
It was an odd and unexpected sentiment to hear--at least from my perspective--after the full-throated fem roar of the presentation itself, which did not shy away from the abysmal stats regarding female presence in the academy and the even worse data on female presence in Christian higher ed. Simply to state these things is a feminist act--so why is it that the solution is somehow to hide our feminism? How would you even do this? Are we supposed to privately encourage our female students, but not do anything to rock the boat because that would be "counterproductive?" Covert support like that is not exactly real supportive: it simply encourages more women to throw themselves into a hostile environment, without challenging the expressions of hostility. Here ladies, gird up your loins for battle--you're strong and smart, you'll survuve it. And hey, here are my battle-scars--pretty soon you'll have some great ones yourself. Come back in a few years and we'll compare. Good luck!
Okay, I'm being unfair. No doubt this was not the intended message. Though I'm pretty sure that, regardless of intent, this is what shying away from feminism gets us.
More than likely, the intended message was more something along these lines: "find something you want to do, and go be great at it." Ditch the feminist whining and just do your thing. Feminist whining will hold you back, distract you, brand you as troublemaker, make you depressed and angry... So don't bother with being "feminist," just go be what you want.
And "go be what you want" is a great message--one which I try every day to hand to my precocious 5-year-old (baby Z is a little young for indoctrination, though I do my best not to gender-code her onesies. It's the least I can do). But it misses something important. And that is, it's f-word hard to "do what you do" when what you do is something that, wittingly and unwittingly, you keep getting stopped from doing because you're a girl. Whether you're in that male-dominated math-and-science world, or getting an MDiv within a tradition that doesn't ordain women, this is what you face: a culture which has for so long assumed that a girl can't, shouldn't, and really deep down doesn't want to, do these things means that simply trying to "do what you do" makes you a walking-around in-your-face F-word. You can try to mitigate that by not labeling yourself with that offensive word...but I don't see how that helps you navigate reality. Instead, you've taken on the additional burden of resolutely not naming the problem you navigate. And if you can't name it, the boys can't either. And it will persist.
So I use the F word. Lots. And I think you should too. Until we get over that ridiculous Rush-Limbaugh-femi-Nazi caricature we've been indoctrinated with, and realize that feminism is, simply, about supporting women who are trying to "do what they do." We absolutely don't need women who don't identify as feminists. We need men and women who do.