I, Romy-Michelle Unger, student of Scripps College, hereby acknowledge and accept the shortcomings of feminism. Despite the best efforts of post-wave feminists everywhere to distinguish the term from the wrongly-associated signifiers “feminazi” and “manhater,” I understand that the term “feminist” inherently suggests a separation and subordination of one gender over the other. For example, if a man declared himself a “masculinist” but insisted it only meant that (1) he believed in equal rights for the sexes and (2) men should identify as men and women should identify as women, I would scoff at him and decry his stance as backwards and nonsensical. While some may feel that the oppression of women necessitates the upholding of women’s rights over men’s, I strictly believe in equality—that’s what makes me an equalist.
One of the biggest challenges of the present-day feminist movement is getting straight males who believe in equal rights for men and women to identify themselves as feminists. A male calling himself a “fem” + “inist” linguistically signifies his belief that women’s rights should somehow be above men’s. It is impossible to make feminism appealing to men if the male position is demeaned and demoted. I am in no way suggesting that men deserve to continue their long history of patriarchy and dominance over women; I am merely stating that in order for feminism to be appealing and practical, it must concentrate on equality rather than revenge.
Some argue that the fact that women have been marginalized, oppressed, and discriminated against means that some elevation of women over men is necessary to balance out the playing field. But this is an impractical contention: if our ultimate end goal is equality, then placing women’s rights in a more important position than men’s is not only contrary to the goal but also extremely isolating for the very demographic we need on the side of equality.
At Pomona, we have an example of how feminism isolates straight males who believe in gender equality: Pomona’s (unofficial) “Men’s Union.” The Men’s Union holds all-male retreats where they “celebrate their masculinity” and discuss and debate “men’s issues.” While it is seen by many as a joke, I believe there are some very pertinent lessons to be learned from the formation of such a group. That is, it seems to be a reaction against the alienation felt by those who don’t identify with the “fem” in the word feminist, yet are intrigued by the gender debate.
Why must we exclude those who identify themselves as masculine from being a part of the movement for gender equality? As far as I’m concerned, the Men’s Union’s members are not sexist chauvinists. The disgruntled feelings a feminist may experience from being excluded from their club are analogous to those felt by a male facing a feminist group. When equality wears the mask of a specific gender, it loses its very message of equality by becoming instantly exclusive. That’s why I’m not asking for a change in the goals or methods of feminism—just a name change.
What would a nominal shift do for feminism? Well, it might end the discomfort felt by people who don’t identify with the word “feminism” when trying to support equal rights. After all, most feminists today are not asking for a separation of genders—they’re only asking for equality. So why not call the movement what it is?