On Coming Out of the (Feminist) Closet
How old were you when you knew?
Did you feel different from other kids? Did you try and keep it a secret? Did you tell some friends but not others? Did you tell your parents? What about your office?
And what about their reaction? Did people treat you differently once they found out that you’re one of… those people?
That you’re… a feminist?
For me, I started to get a reputation as a feminist around my final year of high school. I had aspirations of majoring in women’s studies at university, and I unselfconsciously argued feminist viewpoints with many of my less enlightened classmates. Already being one of the least popular kids in my year, I didn’t perceive that my opinions had any effect on my social standing and I was not at all embarrassed to defend my beliefs whether they related to an English text or to modern-day political issues. Not only were my grades excellent that year, but I had the feeling that I had genuinely educated some of the people around me. Being an outspoken feminist felt, on the whole, pretty rad.
Of course, that changed when I actually got to university and found that in-your-face feminism tended not to be celebrated or encouraged much outside of the wom*n’s department and those certain women’s studies subjects I never ended up taking. I was surprised to find that many people I liked and respected outside of specific women’s spaces tended to regard feminists as, invariably, hairy lesbian fun police who were unable to take a joke. As a lonely newcomer to campus I obviously did not want to be tarred with that ill-regarded brush, so I tried to “tone down” my feminism in order to feel accepted, while secretly channeling my frustration into various writings. Of course, that didn’t work at all and eventually a particularly irate Facebook Note of mine (remember those?) commenting on the sexist culture of a male-dominated club on campus caught on with some of the younger women in that club. Suddenly I found them coming up to me at various events, thanking me for putting into words what they had experienced but had been too afraid to say. While I was chuffed to make a difference to them, I was concerned that I had effectively outed myself as one of them.
My note was only a small act of rage, but it ended up being, for me, a very powerful example of the importance of being a visible feminist. While trying to keep my views on the DL may have won me (male) friends in the short term, it had also been contributing to the silence of other female members of the group and ultimately, the continuance of a hostile environment for women. Outing myself as a feminist, on the other hand, led more people around me to engage with the concept of feminism, as they tried to figure out what exactly about their behaviour was problematic, or as they tried to reconcile my feminist views with my non-stereotypical appearance and ability to joke around. While some people did become noticeably less friendly, over a few years the male-dominated club I disrupted became much more welcoming of women. And while I can’t claim all the credit for that, I don’t regret for a second making my life slightly less comfortable so that other girls could succeed. Not only was I true to my feminist beliefs, but my visibility made me able to express them in a more tangible way, and made it easier for others to identify with theirs too.
“Coming out” as a feminist perhaps does not seem to be as important or as meaningful as what we would normally associate the term with, i.e. identifying as one of the QUILTBAG. But by specifically admitting your feminist beliefs to those around you, you can truly make a difference to the feminist cause. It engages your audience, forcing them to think about their views. It normalizes the concept, allowing people to see that feminists are part of their everyday lives, rather than existing as some scary, mythical special interest group. Finally, it increases visibility, allowing feminists to be seen by society.
There are many ways to get seen or heard as a feminist. Go tell someone you care about that you’re a feminist, or maybe write an almost incomprehensible feminist rant just to get the rage out. You could speak up at work when someone makes a broad generalization about the sexes or just generally try to get feministy up in someone’s face. But whatever you do, be loud and be proud. Who knows, you might just inspire someone to make the world a better place.
Header image from here.