“I’m not a feminst, but…” Continued

Woman's suffrage parade in New York City, 1912

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To follow up on my previous post on this subject, here’s something interesting from a more recent (2003) study by Pamela Aronson called “Feminists or ‘Postfeminists’?: Young Women’s Attitudes toward Feminism and Gender Relations”:

I have shown that the feminist identification without qualification and the “I’m not a feminist, but…” approach are associated with more privileged racial and class backgrounds.  The feminists were more likely to be college educated, and most had taken women’s studies courses.  Those who qualified their feminist identities and those who had never thought about feminism were disproportionately from less privileged racial and class backgrounds, but their life experience differentiates them from the other  groups as well.  The “qualified” feminists [“I’m a feminist but…” feminists] were college-educated, working0class women and/or women of color who came to feminism as a result of assumptions of equality when growing up.  Among the women who had never thought about feminism, two-thirds had become parents early in life, and none had pursued a college degree…

This study also suggests that having the space to think about political issues such as feminism may be a luxury that some young women, especially single mothers, cannot afford…

Most important, whether or not young women call themselves feminists, they support feminist goals.  In fact, the young women I interviewed were more supportive of feminism than had been found in past research, and none expressed antifeminist sentiments.

Well, it looks like some of the commenters on the last post were right on!  How do you feel about the excerpts from this study?  Are they closer tho what you would expect to find now, in 2009?

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5 thoughts on ““I’m not a feminst, but…” Continued

  1. Ok, so I am about to leave a small novel here, because there’s a lot to unpack, and I feel obligated to note, in the interests of full disclosure, that I self-identify as feminist.

    One of the things I would be really interested to see here, if it’s available, is what ideas were identified as feminist goals/values. Because, as your pull quotes illustrate, mainstream feminism tends to attract a very specific demographic, and in my opinion, feminism has always focused on the goals of that demographic, often to the detriment of other women. Indeed, I would say that some people who self identify as feminist are actually antifeminist, if you believe that the fundamental goal of feminist involves making steps for all women and not stepping on the backs of your sisters to accomplish goals.

    What’s interesting about the “I’m not a feminist, but…” debate is that it often seems designed to reconcile people who do not self-identify with feminism. The idea is to sort of chivvy them over into feminism. The “well if you have feminist values, you are a feminist” argument.

    Which brings me to this: Should be we labeling people as feminist against their will when they live in bodies which are marginalized by feminism? Should we push people into self-identifying when they are not comfortable with feminism because feminism excludes them?

    Obviously there are feminists within the movement who do not espouse exclusionary values (like feminists who condemn trans exclusion at Michigan Womyn’s), but they do not speak for the movement as a whole. And, unfortunately, the transphobic, racist, ableist feminists have extremely loud voices (and book deals, and speaking tours…)

    I feel much more closely aligned with womanism, as an ethos, but I do not identify as womanist because womanism is a POC movement created in response to marginalization by white women, so it would be gross appropriation for me to claim that label. Thus, I’m stuck with “feminist” for the time being, even though it’s a label which actually makes me deeply uncomfortable at times. But at least I claimed this label; I would be livid if someone forced it on me.

    • Ashley on

      I found myself thinking a few of the same things as I read this article – first and foremost that I wanted to know the questions Aronson used for her interview. I just looked back through the whole article, and all it says about the questions is this:

      “Interviews were conducted face to face, in a place chosen by each participant, and were tape-recorded and transcribed. They ranged from 45 minutes to 3 hours long, although most lasted 1.5 hours. The interviews were “structured conversations” (Taylor and Rupp 1991, 126) and allowed space for participants to bring up issues they found to be important. After each interview, I wrote field notes, including the main themes my reflections, and emerging research questions…

      “The interview guide covered a range of themes related to education, work, family, and feminism (Aronson 1998, 1999). The study relied on grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967). This inductive approach served my purpose well as I left open the possibility of multiple meanings of feminism. In the analysis that follows… I examine several key issues that emerged during the interviews. First, to provide a context for attitudes toward feminism, I consider two themes about women’s treatment by society: perceptions of opportunities and obstacles, and experiences with gender discrimination. I then explicate the five approaches to feminist identification that came out of my analysis of the interviews.”

      While I suppose it is beneficial for this kind of qualitative research to not have a totally defined wet of interview questions, I do think it would be necessary to have that in order to deconstruct and truly see differences in responses among the interviewees. It seems like Aronson was trying to do more of a case study than survey, but ended up trying to cross both of them together to no real end.

      We should absolutely not be labeling people as feminists when mainstream feminism has excluded them. I thank you for saying this because this is what I have been wrestling with in my own research – I so desperately want women’s rights bloggers to bond together under the label of “feminism.” I guess this is because I have no better term for us right now than “feminist bloggers.” (I, myself, have thought that I don’t have any place in the feminist movement since I really just blog about myself and theory.) I mean, feminist might not be the best word to use, but we do call ourselves that, don’t we?

      Ahh, this is all just making my head spin. Maybe I can come back to this all later after this paper is written. Hopefully some of that made sense.

  2. Very useful to know more about the study methodology; I agree that too much structure can be not helpful with studies like this, but it helps to know what people think of as “feminist” or not.

    It really is unfortunate that feminism as a movement is often perceived as dominated by exclusionary values; even working within it to try and address the issues is a challenge because you’re confronting classic stereotypes (“feminists are all manhaters,” etc) while trying to break down oppressive attitudes coming from feminists themselves.

    It’s a great discussion to have, I think. And it raises the inevitable: What if more people identified as feminist and took the movement over to force those exclusionary values out? Can we take over feminism like anti-oppression activists took over the #nestlefamily hashtag?

  3. I am intellectually wrestling with this entry, trying to figure out all the factors that make someone self-identify as feminist, with the intersections of class, culture and lived experiences.

    I’ve not come up with something I am happy with as of yet, but I do maintain that a majority of those belonging to the “I am not a feminist, but …” camp come from two different positions in life. The first, as the studies maintain, are those who have not gotten the chance to be exposed to feminism, as a result of their unprivileged positions.

    The second is the group belonging to those who are too privileged. More than once, I’ve heard college-aged and college-educated women say things like, “I believe in equal rights for women, but I think we’ve accomplished everything we need to.” For these women, their own privileged positions rendered them unexposed to the sexisms women of less privilege often face, whether economic or personal, that women often face.

    I am still trying to figure this all out. Thanks for the thoughtful post, and a great blog!


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