Last month I needed to submit an author bio for a few pieces I’d written, which meant I first needed to write a bio. I had no idea what to say, but decided to begin with the sentence:
“Holly Kench is a writer and feminist.”
The first statement seemed important since it was a biography for pieces I had written, so I supposed (somewhat warily) that made me a writer. When I think of the word writer, I tend to imagine characters like Oscar Wilde, Charlotte Bronte and even J.K Rowling, so putting my name next to these seemed a little excessive until I decided that the term ‘writer’ could not be limited to such a minute definition. By wider definitions, the fact that I ‘write’ seemed enough for me to join the group. The fact that I write every day for enjoyment and/or as a profession, also helped, though I still couldn’t help but picture Virgil shaking his head at me and tutting “Do you really think you’re one of us?” (No, Virgil, I don’t, but please just let it go for now.)
The second statement is a basic part of my identity, and while it had no particular relevance to the pieces I was submitting, it was at least a truth. So, I chucked it in.
Then I took it out. Then I put it in again. Then out. Then I sat and stared at Microsoft Word for a few hours.
Then, with a flourish of fierce feminist rebellion, I put it back in, sent it off into the interwebs, and felt comforted by the knowledge that Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Simone de Beauvoir, and even Susie Bright would be patting me on the back.
I soon forgot about my bio trauma, until I received some feedback allegedly about one of the short stories I had written that went vaguely like this: “The story was good, but I don’t think she should have called herself a feminist in the bio. It’s not really considered a ‘good’ thing.” And then I received a few more comments along the same lines… and the more I thought about it, the more I started to get irritated. I spoke to some of my friends and discovered that, while they understood that I identified as a feminist, and they themselves believed in equality, some of them also believed that feminist is a dirty word.
My doubts over whether to include ‘feminist’ in my bio had been based on my concern that it would alienate readers who didn’t define ‘feminism’ in the same terms as me; those readers whose definition was as minute, if not as flattering, as my initial definition of ‘writer’, and which probably went something like this: a feminist is a bra-burning, man-hating, cat-lady. And while I have a cat, think penises are fine but would rather they weren’t shoved in my face, and don’t mind the occasional bra-less Sunday, this definition does not come close to explaining who I am.
The reason I included the term ‘feminist’ was partly because it’s essential to my identity, and partly because I want to contribute to discourse about the broader definition of what feminism actually means. So I guess I got my wish. And here I go:
For me, being a feminist means:
- Seeing that there are imbalances in community, societal and cultural values, and wanting to do something about them.
- Refusing the suggestion that any one person has a right to control any other person’s body, identity, or mind, or what that person chooses to do with their body, identity, or mind.
- Believing that everyone’s choices and views are their own.
- Accepting that everyone is different, and celebrating that fact.
I understand that some people will see these values as contributing to different definitions (equalist, humanist, etc), but for me, they are feminist values. This is because the imbalances that I’m most concerned about surround sex and gender, terms which are synonymous with feminist concerns. That is my definition, and it’s an important part of my identity. I choose to celebrate this identity, and I hope that by discussing this aspect of my identity it will help to expand others’ narrower definitions.
I’d also like to point out that my definition is pretty basic and not at all unusual. This is usually what the statement “I am a feminist” means. Feminism is not a dirty word. It is an empowering identity. Of course, any movement has extremist elements, as well as cultural stereotypes, which undermine the basic definitions in many people’s minds. However, we should be aware that these elements are not the norm, and these stereotypes are designed to undermine the basic definition.
Finally, I’d just like to say: If your definition is different to mine, that’s fine. If you don’t identify as a feminist, that’s also fine.
Because, guess what?! My definition of feminism means that I respect your decision not to identify as a feminist.
… though I reserve the right to try to change your mind.
Coincidentally, I was reminded of this wonderful video by Feminist Frequency this morning: WATCH IT