Writer, Feminist.

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.

[sws_divider_basic]

Coincidentally, I was reminded of this wonderful video by Feminist Frequency this morning: WATCH IT

The Straw Feminist – Tropes vs Women

Author: Stuffed Olive

My awesomeness intimidates some people, others just point and laugh.

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24 Comments

  1. Just changed my bio on twitter to read feminist. Most of the time my hesitation is not wanting to be seen to be in any sense taking the place of a woman’s voice but on the other hand framing my position any other way just doesn’t seem to be forceful enough ie feminist ally etc.

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    • Yay! That makes me so happy, Sean! I don’t see why a man has any less right to be a feminist – it is great if you have a passion for equality and you shouldn’t have to diminish your role in the fight by being reduced to an “ally” of the cause.

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  2. I think the reaction you got means the word should stay in your bio, so next time those people see it somewhere else instead of thinking “Oh no, man hating cat lady,” they might think, “Oh interesting, tha stuffed olive is a feminist too, and she’s worth listening to, so maybe this person is too.”

    Well, it’s a good idea anyway.

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    • That’s exactly what I’m hoping, Jen. Who knows, maybe it will work for someone…

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  3. That’s why I love being a wizard so much. Wizards are pro-masculine, pro-feminine, pro-Orc, rainbow-friendly, and if you give them a time machine, they know NOT to mess with Hitler.

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    • YAY! And see, I love that you have wizard in your bio! Standing up for all things awesome!

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  4. I am pleased you identify as ‘feminist’ on you bio. We should all stand by what we believe. I am very proud to know Stuffed Olive and Holly. Always speak up, otherwise how can anyone hear? x

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    • Don’t worry, I have no intention of taking it out. I just wanted to explain why I thought it was important to keep it in.

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  5. I’m a feminist too! I like wearing girly 1940’s dresses, watching romantic comedies and baking yummy complicated cakes. I also like that I don’t have to do those things everyday. AND, I think if a guy wants to do those things (or do ‘feminine’ things I don’t want to, like be a stay-at-home primary caregiver for young children) then society should not just allow him to, but support him in living how he wants to. And not assume that means anything about his sexuality, his childhood, or his worth as a human.

    More importantly, I deeply value the rights I have as a result of my feminist predecessors. The right to never ever have to be mother, not even by accident. The right to an education and a job where I use my brain in a way that challenges and extends me. The right to sleep with whoever I want to. The right to not sleep with someone if I don’t want to.

    But, unlike so many girls my age I talk to, I think there is still a lot of work to be done. Because having rights, and having respect, acceptence and support are different things. I don’t think I should have to justify not wanting children (surely someone should have to justify why they are suited to be entrusted to raise a vulnerable human, not why they are not), but I’m frequently told I’ll change my mind, becuase of course, once my female biology kicks in I’ll want to be a “mother”. I don’t think I should have to view each and every man I meet as a threat, but apparently if I trust that nice young man is inviting me up for a glass of milo then I “deserve” whatever happens to me. I don’t think Chris Brown should still have a sucessful career; I do think that Rhianna can control her image in any way she wants, and if that involves raunch culture in a public reclaimation of her body, good for her – but I don’t think parents should necessarily let their children absorb her filmclips and lyrics without decontstruction and discussion. I don’t think using birth-control makes me a slut, I think it makes me responsible. But there seems to be an ever more vocal community in the USA who disagree, and that really deeply scares me.

    Wow, long rant. But that, all of those reasons, and all of the passion that lets me ramble so. That’s why I call myself a feminist.

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  6. Good on you for challenging the BS people believe. Your reason for hesitation in using “writer” is definitely one of the reasons I struggle with using any label at all. I’m not really worthy of that club. Whatever club it might be.

    But it does boggle my mind what people think “feminism” means.

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    • You are right. Labels are funny like that, so is self esteem…
      And yes, I’m constantly shocked by different people’s definitions of feminism. Each to their own.. but I hope to broaded some people’s views.. somehow.

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  7. Being a ‘feminist’ is not considered a good thing? I’m trying my hardest not to get in my car, find people who think this and shake my fist at them. And since when did feminist become to kind of word we have to put in quotes? Ugh.

    Feminist should definitely go in your bio, because it’s a defining characteristic of who you are. And it’s a beautiful characteristic about you. The fact that it might make some people back off is probably a good thing. Yes, beware, I’ll speak up about inequality if I see it. That’s [email protected]#$%ing awesome.

    It’s so sad that people associate feminists with extremists. ‘Cause it’s really extreme to want people to think about men and women, and to treat men and women the same. Great post, Holly. Oh, and you’re definitely a writer. Do you work at writing? Do you care about it? Then, you’re a writer. The end.

    (In my head, I consider authors to be published by another entity. I don’t know if that’s right, though, so take that with a grain of salt.)

    And wow, talk about a relevant video. Great share. Watch out for the response blog post you’ve roused in me. Heh. I think I’m going to follow Sean and add feminist in my Twitter bio, too. May have started something here…

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  8. My dear, as always you are not just “on” trend, you’re making the trend.
    No sooner do you write about feminism, perceptions, definitions and your choice to identify as one. But this discussion pops up
    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/the-new-feminism-if-its-girly-its-good-20120613-20aj0.html
    http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/should-you-be-ashamed-of-being-girly-20120615-20e1u.html

    I think the first article is much more interesting, but also much more rage inducing in parts (i.e, the bit where she says “I like writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage: tougher, edgier, stringier”).

    Article two is pretty basic, but more articulate about what I think than my first draft response, which went something like:
    RAGE! Anyone who can straight out say she doesn’t read female writers because they’re BORING and not sufficiently intellectual! Grrrrr. If you need to list women writers who don’t count as woman writers maybe there is something wrong with your premise!!! Why does she insult Margret Attwood?!? Yes, the Blind Assassin is a domestic tragedy – but as a prism for a wide sweeping epic of American attitudes and industrial relations and global conflicts in the early 20thC and social change! And the plight of women. And really, isn’t domestic tragedy with social backdrop what Madame Bovary, and Anna Karenna, and the Dollhouse (the play, not the tv show) are? No one (nowadays at least) calls Flaubert, Tolstoy or Ibsen narrow and trivial.

    Also, what is wrong with a sewing circle! I don’t want to belong to one but I think it sounds cute and ironically twee.

    Then I calmed down, and reread the bits that don’t just dismiss female writers as lacking in intellect. And it is thought provoking and maybe helps me understand the perspective of Geer and the “misogyny” of some old school feminists a little bit more.

    I don’t agree with her, especially the bit where she dismisses men discussing “fashion, babies, relationships”, as “neo-boys chatter” because I think that men being free to engage with these things without it being a slur on their “masculinity” then they understand that things like housework, childrearing, emotional connection, are tasks to be shared, not “women’s work”.

    But, I found her comments, particularly down the bottom about a website for female architects called Parlour – I’m torn between thinking it’s a beautiful name that captures a sense of beautiful spaces, female discourse, and the cultural richness of the French Salons as a breeding ground for intellectuals; and agreeing that it’s limiting and restricts female architects to “female” spaces.

    Anyway – a little off topic perhaps? I just thought this discussion might have a place in your discussion.
    I like your definition of feminism best though.

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  9. You’re drawing of the feminist looks amazingly like a stuffed olive.

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  10. You go girl! Everyone should stand up for what they believe in. It is unfortunate that the word ‘Feminism’ has gained a negative connotation due to the actions of a minority. Then, the same can be said for many beliefs and religions. Such is life!
    I consider myself an equalist, though I do agree that women have been stomped on for the past 5000 years and are overdue some balance. I refuse to travel to the middle east, or any country where womens rights are so clearly abused, as a matter of principle. No tourist dollars for them.
    From the other side of the fence… I was most dissapointed when my son – at age 5 – had to abandon the colour purple as his official ‘favourite’ because it was considered a ‘girls’ colour. He defended his choice for years but the problem stemmed when trying to purchase clothes, toys, lunchboxes or anything in his favourite colour. I felt for him. He was forced to compromise and his favourite is now Red, of which he can buy clothes and accessories in abundance.
    Just saying… Inequality can be found in the strangest of places.

    And for fun…
    Q: A female catholic priest, a unicorn, and Jesus are walking down the street when they see a $20 dollar bill on the ground. Who picks it up?
    A: Jesus. The other two don’t exist.

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    • Hi ElleyGirl,
      First haha at the joke.
      Second of all, I don’t think that is a strange place at all. This is one of those things that I really get my back up about – and is part of my feminism. Children should not feel as though their sex defines their gender or that their sex or gender defines what they should like. It is ridiculous that children feel pressured to enjoy certain colours or toys based on whether they are a boy or a girl, and this is SUCH a pressure at school. Feminism is not just about making girls feel empowered, it’s about undermining dichotomies between the two sexes so that boys can feel empowered in ways that may be typically considered feminine and therefore apparently less. If we can help boys to see feminity or feminine attributes as good things and support them in such areas, this also plays a part in securing the idea that masculinity is no more important than femininity, and that girls and boys, no matter their preferences and enjoyments, are just as important, worthwhile and as special as each other. I hope that makes sense. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t see any part of your comment as from the other side of the fence – you have basically just written what I would considered a fully feminist response. xx

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      • StuffedO,
        Thanks for the response. You make perfect sense. I was half asleep when I wrote that, and you isolated the point I was trying to make well. As an equalist I am, by definition, also primarily a feminist simply because that is where the greatest inequality exists. But I believe that everyone should have the right to live as they wish and be treated fairly and equally, whether male, female, homosexual, hetrosexual, bisexual, black, white, asian, religious, atheist, pagan and many other definitions that exist. My single caveat is that they respect everyone else’s same right, even if it limits their freedom. As a simple example – I don’t mind if you choose to smoke, but don’t do so in any places where non-smokers (esp. children) will be forced to breathe in even a whiff of your toxic fumes.
        Equalism is a nice theory but, like communism, can fall down in the implementation. Ie. I respect an individuals right to believe in a religion but things get difficult when considering children whos views are unformed and can become biased based on the indoctrination of their parents or their society. An unsolvable paradox.
        Your approach of focusing on one particular angle alone, and one with less sensitivity than religious or racial issues, might mean you make better progress.
        Sorry about the joke – it was in rather bad taste really – but it is appropriate, seeing as religion in general has been primarily responsible for the subjugation of women.
        Oh! I cannot help but wonder exactly how different our world might be today had we been ruled predominately by matriarchal systems rather than patriarchal. Sadly, our past is littered by war, subjugation and greed.

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        • Awesome.
          I don’t think I focus on any one angle more than others, sexual, gender-related, disability, racial inequalities, these things are all equally important to me, which is sort of what I was trying to say in my bold definition bits. “Accepting that everyone is different, and celebrating that fact.” This is not just about gender, neither is “Seeing that there are imbalances in community, societal and cultural values, and wanting to do something about them.” I want to change the world and make it better for EVERYONE. I define this all under Feminism because for me Feminism is about undermining dichotomies and heirachies. It might have started as being about sex and gender, and these things remain so important, but it isn’t limited to these issues.
          As you said though, that doesn’t mean people should be able to do things that hurt others. People should have control of their own bodies and minds, but this doesn’t give them the right to affect others’. That’s all part of the same issue.
          Thanks so much for your thoughts! You are a wonderful person!!!!

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