Feminism: It’s Not About You

Angela Davis Portrait. Photo by Thierry Ehrmann via Flickr.

I am a feminist. I have a feminist perspective. Immediately after typing these words, I also feel the need to type: “I do not hate men.” Often, when I proclaim a feminist perspective, this leads many men to roll their eyes and assert that I’m declaring my hatred of men. The words “I am a feminist” seem to come with flashing red lights, a loud horn, and an announcer yelling “Warning! Warning!” when in reality, it should only shed light on the way I process everyday activities. Feminism is basically a perspective that informs my worldview, not an acknowledgment that I have an inherent bias against a group of people.

For example, a non-feminist person would hear someone say “since you’re a feminist, does that mean you hate men?” and they may either simply wait for the answer to the question, or attempt to answer the question. A feminist will hear that same question and immediately cue in on the way that sentence shifts the perspective from the women the word represents to the men the word does not even acknowledge. She or he will then question the need to insert maleness into something so obviously female.

Being a feminist means that when I watch the news, I immediately notice gendered stereotypes that make my life harder. It means that when I see someone passionately debating the need to stop the wrongful prosecution of black and brown men, I wonder when we’ll remember that women are also victims of injustice. It means that when I hear about the negative stereotypes that make us have an irrational fear of certain men, I can’t help but be reminded of the irrational fear, intimidation, and hyper-sexualization of certain women.

Being a feminist means that when a man stops me on my way into church and demands that I smile, I am inclined to explain to him the inappropriateness of his request. It also means that I can’t help but smile when I see the look of exasperation on his face as I smugly think to myself, “that feeling of annoyance you have when I talk about street harassment is the exact feeling of annoyance I have when I get harassed.”

Feminism is basically a perspective that informs my worldview, not an acknowledgment that I have an inherent bias against a group of people.

Being a black feminist means that I get frustrated when black men and black women try to convince me of the need to ignore issues that affect me as a woman for the “good of the race,” when the race has yet to take up a single cause that specifically impacts our women. Being a black feminist also means that I get equally frustrated when women of other races declare a feminist agenda that negatively impacts black men and completely ignores black women.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am very aware of the fact that there are many feminists out there who actively engage in male-bashing under the guise of feminism. I am also fully aware that some feminists are racist and/or would prefer that feminism remain white and middle-class. However, being aware of these things does not change my personal feminist perspective, and I feel no obligation to answer for these ill-informed people.

In short, I am a feminist because it’s who I am. It’s about me.

By Sandra Miles, Ph.D

Dr. Sandra Miles is the Immediate Past National Director of the Black Female Development Circle, Inc., and a student affairs professional. She currently resides in Indiana, but will always be a Florida girl at heart.