Feminist Coming Out Day: Appropriation and more hierarchies
- Published: 12 December 2010
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Feminist Coming Out Day is appropriative of the experiences of queer people and looks to be repeating the same old feminist mistakes, writes Claire Martine.
13 December 2010
In the US, 8 March, 2011 is Feminist Coming Out Day. This day is dedicated to feminists declaring that they identify with the political label, and in addition are invited to: ‘Join the Revolution’.
Instead of feeling excited or inspired by this project, a red flag appeared. This red flag speaks to how this day and project appropriates the queer experience of coming out. I also feel unsettled with the lost nuances in this clear appropriation of queers and coming out.
However I first decided to do some reading. A woman who is an ally to LGBTQ folks was inspired to come up with this day through her allyship. I also found out that a queer organisation and a feminist organisation have collaborated to create this day.
I discovered I was a feminist when I was 24 years old and had no feminist role models or overtly feminist comrades, yet had developed a liberal feminist politic from years before.
I know that being a young woman (or any woman really) who discovers she is a feminist and qualifying this is pretty powerful in a misogynist world. In coming out as a feminist, you may feel a buzz, it may be important to the self and you get to meet other feminists and feel less alone.
But my first question still lingers: What does coming out as a feminist achieve?
As feminists, we can still work on our projects and kick arse without having to have a day dedicated to coming out. There is so much animosity and sometimes downright hatred between us feminists that a ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt is probably more meaningfully worn by the feminists who are excluded, diminished and appropriated in places where feminists who have easier access can see it.
So yes, feminism can be important to identity and lived experiences, but do we as a group have to appropriate the queer coming out in which there are explicit dangers, threat to life and exclusions which stem from this coming out?
(After the red flag was raised, I noticed that someone else also expressed this concern but after the co-ordinator used analogies between what queers and feminists face, she then dismissed it with a basic ‘let's not argue over who is more oppressed’.)
Yes, naming yourself as a feminist can have bad consequences, but feminists are not oppressed on the basis of being feminists unlike LGBT/queers who are oppressed because of societies that are structured through really rigid gender binaries, cis supremacy, transphobia, heterosexism, and queerphobia.
Feminists are oppressed according to a number of axes that coincide with the -isms but not really because feminism is a marginalised identity. (There is also a problem when feminism is reducible to identity and how one lives one life.)
In terms of surviving, there are lots of jobs – especially in some sectors of the public service, some NGOs and unions where feminism is at least respected. While feminism is often pilloried in the public sphere, there are also a lot of opportunities for discussion about gender issues in very liberal feminist ways.
Moreover I am a tired of this ‘everyone hates feminism’ meme. I argue that the problem isn’t that misogynists hate feminism; the most pressing problem for us feminists is how we organise, and specific feminisms that exist on the basis of exclusions, and that are based on problematic notions of equality which involve the state and uncritical engagement with institutions.
One could also argue that there is something wrong not only with the appropriation itself but what is being appropriated.
I know a hell of a lot of my fellow queers think coming out is important, I support that for them but I don't believe in coming out personally. Queer pride is very important. I will support anyone who describes the experience as coming out – but it doesn't suit everyone.
You can still be proud to be who and what you are and not have everyone know that you are queer. I think the idea that the truth will set you free if everyone knows this or that about you is wishful thinking in certain respects.
However, my problem is not with coming out per se but with the idea that coming out is the best way and even the only way to achieve change.
All this ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ malarkey (and I’m sure that Gandhi meant it in the exact way it has been appropriated – forget society: focus on changing the self and get a t-shirt or bag to show it!)
Coming out (and I exclude queer coming out from this, although if you know of other arenas please tell me) is not going to revolutionise our activist practices, our thinking, how we engage with institutions and each other, and how we work to change the local.
I don’t care if you’re a feminist if you still believe in rampant individualism, capitalism and hierarchies – which manifests in particular ways of organising, competitiveness and using others for one’s own ends or the cause.
This project is also marketed around the idea of feminist leaders. Besides the idea of one-to-one inspiration, which I have no problem with, feminist leadership is enabled through certain talented people having access to opportunities that other talented people do not have.
Although Naomi Wolf is part of the project, I'm generally not sure why this type of model is still being promoted. We don't need these formal hierarchies. We can organise in collectives, support each other and as one of my comrades Warren Roberts said: “We need to invest in each other’s dreams.”
Even though there is encouragement to organise a group and commit to some type of project for the day itself, just because one is part of a group, it doesn’t mean that hierarchies will not exist or that fighting for equality means that equality automatically exists among us as organisers, writers, bloggers, and whoever is contributing productively to feminism.
We need to keep on critiquing how organising unfolds. In addition hierarchies are not necessarily broken down through a turn to individualism and a rejection of collectivism. Being well organised and getting work done are not processes and a possible outcome that are predicated on hierarchies.
We also don't need The New Feminists as a kind of marketing exercise linked to individuals and feminist leadership.
Why does something have to be marketed as new and young for it to be seen as invigorating or exciting or attractive?
Feminism belongs to people of all ages, and while I find many younger people so inspirational, marketing a new feminism as belonging to young women is a little circumspect. People of all ages can be open to feminist ideas and can work toward an anti-sexist world.
Instead our consciousnesses around all the -isms need to be challenged, renewed and so on, and while knowledges change and experiences accumulate all the time – in terms of how we think – well a lot of that knowledge is already available on blogs and in books.
There are big differences between ‘coming out’ as a feminist and coming out as queer, which need to be acknowledged and not dismissed in a utopian and uncritical manner.
Moreover Feminist Coming Out Day looks to be repeating the same old mistakes that current and past feminists have critiqued and rallied against: individualism and hierarchies, promising a type of newness instead of understanding a more inclusive feminist history and most of all, reinforcing the hierarchies which feminists should be breaking down.
Claire Martine is a feminist who blogs at http://www.leonineclaire.tumblr.com.
Image via Feminist Coming Out Day.