Why I Am a Feminist.
(Written July 2005)
Due to a heated discussion this past weekend about a marriage ritual whereby one family gives their girl to another family and the receiving family sends their own girl as collateral, I thought it necessary to explain in full detail why it is exactly that I feel that culture, the background social experience that is usually taken for granted, should be questioned and re-questioned. I feel it is necessary to explain why I am a feminist.
What is Feminism?
A feminist can be male or female. A feminist is someone who believes in women’s rights in all aspects of life. These rights directly affect a woman’s quality of life. The most fundamental right is the right of a woman to make her own choices. For myself, this is the cornerstone of feminist thinking – that a woman lives by her own principled and informed choices rather than by the dictates of culture or men (where the former is usually constructed by the latter).
Feminism itself is not one ideology. In feminist philosophy there are three major perspectives: Feminist empiricism, Standpoint feminism and Postmodern Feminism. There are also so-called radical, liberal, socialist, Marxist, queer, Third World, Black, Chicana, Asian feminists, etc. Feminism means different things to different people. This is a good thing because feminist theory can never be all encompassing. If it was, it would undercut one of its major assumptions – that a woman’s personal experience is valid. Therefore, each personal experience is worth as much as any other and deserves representation and description.
However, privileged & white women have been criticized as putting their experiences in the center while marginalizing other experiences.
Will Feminism Change the World?
It depends. Change in this world, as most people are well aware, is slow and controversial. There are always problems determining in which direction the world should change because of the normative assumptions inherent in the word change. Change could be better or worse but each of these situations depends on the person experiencing the change and how they feel about it. That seems like a rather subjectivist view, as though negative/positive change is only negative or positive based on the way people perceive it. This leads us into philosophical “relativism” which is something that I do not normally subscribe to because it leads us down a slippery slope and forces to accept many absurd conclusions. The important thing here is to realize that the evaluation of change is contextual. For example: A village (let’s call it “A”) ends up getting access to clean, running water. For the first time ever the people in the village do not have to walk 2 miles to the nearest well to retrieve water. The only problem is that the developers designed village A’s sewer system so that it drains into village B’s water source, which is a river that they have been depending on since the oldest villager can remember.
Of course, clean water is a great improvement for village A but its implications for village B make it not such a positive change. This is what I mean by context relative. Change is positive for village A but negative for village B. Their contexts make all the difference.

Furthermore, each culture perceives change differently. Liberal cultures embrace and foster it while conservative cultures are wary of change. But it could also be said that liberal cultures are wary of change when their “liberal” assumptions are questioned. In this sense, liberal culture can be just as dogmatic as the cultures we typically think of as uncritical and hesitant to change.
If a woman desires to change her situation, then being a feminist puts her in a suitable position to do so because of the importance it puts on personal agency. However agency cannot be created, it needs to be fostered and supported. Feminists can help to do this even if the woman in the situation does not necessarily see herself as a feminist.

The ideals feminists adopt include anti-oppression in the broadest sense:
Anti-racism
Anti-sexism (most obvious)
Anti-agism
Anti-ablism
Anti-classism.
The ideals encompass almost every form of human oppression and attempt to subvert them. It is the case that feminists, having their own personal privileges, could oppress other women without being aware. My job as a feminist is to question my interventions at all stages. In each word and action, I should keep in mind how I might affect my sisters (and brothers). But this is not just heart-felt compassion because I would want others to be aware of how they might affect me as well. So it is rather a self-interested principle – to critically analyze our words and deeds.

Why Do People Have Problems Saying They Are Feminist?
It’s been my experience that some feminists disown their label. In many cases it is not a matter of disowning but a matter of not knowing fully what a feminist is, or can be. A feminist is critical and so it is viewed as threatening to the status quo. New ideas are threatening but the best way to view feminism for me is to look at it historically to see how it is not at all a new phenomenon. It is not a phenomenon at all. In fact, there have always been women and they have always had their own interests it was just a matter of women being able to express them. When a feminist sees a woman in a situation where she is unable to express what her interests are, then it is her responsibility and, in my view, moral obligation (capacity-building), to help her help herself. Sometimes people do not want to say they are a feminist because they think it is male-bashing/hating when in fact it is really the opposite. Feminism represents options for living with men – our husbands, brothers, uncles, harassers, lovers – in a more authentic way so that woman say and do what they really feel rather than pretending they are happy with the way things are. In this sense, feminism is a type of liberation and can therefore be uncomfortable for a lot of people, men and woman alike. What successful revolution has ever been comfortable?

Can Illiterates be Feminist?
The core of this question asks: is feminism restricted or limited to theoretical/Western/privileged women? The answer is No but it must be qualified. It is true that feminist thinkers cited in classes are Western woman because of the western predisposition to written communication over oral communication but for the most part the most fervent feminists are women who live their lives in resistance without any theoretical background. In fact, the practice informs the theories (since experience is first). The feminist writer Gayatri Spivak wrote in 1989 “Can the Subaltern Speak?” with the above question in mind. The question is, are western thinkers/activists/feminists silencing Third World people? Do we represent them wrongly? Does representation do an injustice to their causes (namely economic and political oppression). Do they have a say in how we view them or do we construct their realities as we are documenting them? The answer Spivak gave was that indeed the subaltern (economically disadvantaged) cannot speak. This is a huge problem and there seems to be as of yet no solution. The only thing I see as necessary is for feminists to constantly question culture but to constantly question themselves as to why, how, and for what purpose they are questioning culture. Self-reflexivity is the most important feminist trait.

Why I Am A Feminist?
I am a feminist because I love my culture and I want every person to enjoy it equally. I am a feminist because I see the hardship women are faced with in this world and am determined to do my part in making sure this does not go unnoticed and unchecked.
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