I’ve been friends with a lot of vegetarians (and some vegans) over the course of my life. They all have different reasons and different ideas of what it means, but there was one that baffled me. My vegetarian friend suggests my son and I stay for dinner and tells me she is fixing a salmon dish. “I’m in,” I say (because free homemade dinner with my friends, right?! – I love trying new things), “but aren’t you guys all vegetarians?” I’d never heard of a salmon replacement so figure it pretty much has to be real fish. She replies that they are, but it’s fish. Sometimes they have chicken, too.
“Words have power. TV has power. My pen has power.” —Shonda Rhimes
Words can be hard, and language evolves, but one would expect a word like “vegetarian” to mean “eater of vegetables” or “eater of vegetation” who “maybe has some fungus or nuts or seeds sometimes.” Whatever. Stuff that grows from the ground. What it actually means is a person who does not eat meat, an “anti-carnivore,” if you will. Said person might also not eat vegetables. Weird, but okay, so why does this ‘vegetarian’ family eat meat? It turns out they don’t eat beef. I think pork was also a no-no. Otherwise, they eat animals. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s just excluding something from my diet that I have decided not to eat. It’s not a whole thing like “gluten-free” for those with celiac disease or vegan where people will not eat anything that in any way comes from any animal (no meat, obviously, but also no eggs, milk, cheese, etc. hence their vitamin B12 issues). I avoid most pork, but I don’t call myself a “vegetarian.” I just avoid pork (because reasons). I also avoid eating bugs because they’re icky. I haven’t eaten any on purpose so probably not being fair, but eeeewwww.
“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” ―Gloria Steinem
I’ve done posts on choosing words before, but here is a new word (new use for it for me, anyway) I’m seeing a lot recently that baffles me: “intersectionality,” as in a person refers to themself as an “intersectional” atheist or an “intersectional” feminist. As for the “intersectional” atheism (I’ll lose the quotation marks on the term here in a minute), yeah, I got nothin’ so far, but I’m not giving up. I have, however, made some headway on “intersectional” feminism.
So, you’d think that a feminist is a person who believes women should have the same rights and opportunities that men have; basically, they’re a person who thinks that all people should be the “same” when it comes to getting a job, finding a place to live, etc. Our sex or gender should not matter in anything other than an intimate relationship. Otherwise, people are just people. If we’re not going to get intimately involved (and we have a personal preference about our partner’s genitals when we get to doing the nasty) then sex/gender are not an issue in any other area of our lives. Or anyway, that’s what I thought. I was wrong again. I’m wrong an awful lot lately. Like I said, though: words can be hard.
“Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity.” ―Martin Luther King, Jr.
It turns out that a feminist is a person who supports feminism. And when you look at what feminism is, it’s a whole thing. “Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.” (That sentence came from a Wikipedia entry, source: Hawkesworth, Mary E. (2006). Globalization and Feminist Activism. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 25–27. ISBN 9780742537835.)
It looks like it’s mostly what I thought it was, the goal being to “define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.” That is what I mean when I say I am a feminist. It’s what my boyfriend means when he says it. It turns out the word that has such a simple meaning to me doesn’t to other people. They’re the meat-eating vegetarians in my mind because, you see, they have exclusions to their “everyone should have the same rights and opportunities.”
Well, see, some people don’t include black women in “women.” Don’t ask me; I have no idea. . . And some people don’t think that transgender women should have the same rights and opportunities as other women. Even though they are women. They can’t, though, tell me what rights and opportunities these excluded transgender women should have. . . . those of men? because they were born with a penis? Well, isn’t that what women are working toward? society recognizing all people have the same rights and opportunities that the most privileged group has? If the most privileged group (in America) is straight, white, Christian men – and it most certainly is – then that’s what we want. And I want it for everyone. I don’t exclude anyone, not gay people or transgender people, not Muslims or Jewish people, not black people or brown people. Equal rights and opportunity for ALL people, no exceptions.
“For there can be no sustained sisterhood between women when there is ongoing disrespect and subordination of lesbian females by straight women.” — bell hooks
So, as far as I can tell – and I’ll be the first to admit I’m still working on it – this is where the word “intersectional” comes in as it relates to feminism. It would seem that to be a feminist implies that you might exclude some group – black women or transgender women or whatever. An “intersectional feminist” believes all women should have the same rights as men.
But then I wonder. . .
Remember, I said I’m a feminist? and I believe all people should have the same rights and opportunities, regardless of any of it – their sex/gender, their color, their religion, their immigration status, etc. – all people. Suppose I call myself an “intersectional feminist” with the intention of being more specific and all-inclusive, does that now imply that I don’t include all men in my “ism?”
The words we use out loud and in our minds matter. They shape our thoughts and our intentions. And our progress.
Carnivores are meat-eaters, right? Why can’t a vegetarian be a person who eats vegetation? And the default on “person” be a human being who believes (and works toward) all human beings having the same rights and opportunities? with no disclaimers/exclusions? Then we can label people by their prejudice if we need to separate them for some reason? We can then “classify” the bigots as “sexists” or “racists” or “homophobic” or “xenophobic.” They’re still people, of course, but they are basing their own issues on things people generally can’t change – sexuality, skin color, for example – or shouldn’t have to – religion, for instance – this stuff is mostly private and nobody else’s business; keep it that way. Their prejudices are their problems; not ours. Let the bigots cope with and face their own irrational fears and deal with being the exception to the rest of society, a society that has a reasonable expectation that while we’re all different in beautiful, individual ways, we’re much more alike than they want to accept. Their problem, not mine or yours.
I’m not an exception because I’m a woman or because I’m not straight or Christian or whatever. I’m not an exception because I believe in civil rights for all people. I’m not an exception because I love all and want to include all. I’m not an exception at all; hell, I believe I’m the norm. I want more words in my vocabulary that include and embrace. These terms we use, these “isms,” shouldn’t appear to include all but imply exception. Perhaps if we live this inclusion and appreciate our diversity our language will evolve accordingly with less malice and ignorance and more positivity and acceptance. Living intentionally with these inclusive words and ideas could bring us closer to living the love we desire for ourselves and for everyone.
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” —Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Love to all. And I do mean all. No exceptions.
Photo of feminist in t-shirt (just above) is from May 2017 article at mic.com.
Graphic at the top of the post is from Emerson, Wajdowicz Studios in New York, 1999. It’s based on a quote from Hillary Rodham Clinton which, as far as I can tell, she first used publicly in a September 1995 speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing: “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” The phrase/idea wasn’t new when Clinton used it. In 1984, the The New York Times quoted the head of New York City’s Human Rights Commission, Marcella Maxwell, using the phrase ”My basic philosophy is that women’s rights are human rights” in conversation. (from Wikipedia: Lawson, Carol (June 1, 1984). “A Fighter for Rights”. The New York Times.)
Link: “Why Women’s March leaders are being accused of anti-Semitism” – by P.R. Lockhart at Vox
Link: “Intersectional feminism’. What the hell is it? (And why you should care)” – by at Ava Vidal at The Telegraph (article from January 2014). Includes a definition and context that I found helpful.
Link: “Has ‘Feminism’ Become a Redundant or Alienating Label?” – by Rachael Combe at Elle (article from February 2017). There are some excellent points in this article, not just about how much better we ALL do when we experience equality. I didn’t read it until after my post was done, when I was in the final proofreading stages, but this one is important, in my opinion, and supports my point about feminism encompassing equality for all. Book author Stephen Marche does not call himself a “feminist” for this reason (quote included in the article): “If feminism means women are socially, legally, politically, and economically equal, then feminism means ‘women are people.’ I don’t consider that an ism. If you don’t believe that, something is wrong with you. ‘Women are real people’ is a truth, like ‘the Earth is a planet.’ To say that I espouse it just seems absurd to me. It’s like saying ‘I’m a gravity-ist.'”
Link: “Donald Trump may unwittingly be a revitalising force for American feminism” – The Economist (January 2017)
Link: Uppity Woman – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters. On making excuses for men and expecting more from others. “You don’t praise a man for not beating his slaves. You praise a man for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you and fighting for the rights and dignity of every person, for fighting alongside you until every single human being has the same rights and opportunities he does.” This post was especially important to me. I hope you find it helpful.
Link: Through – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: International Women’s Day 2018 – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters (this is about the time I began seriously looking at the word “intersectionality”)
Link: Expect More (Part One) – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: Expect More (Part Two) – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
“Feminism is for everybody.” — bell hooks
As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read what I wrote here. I hope you found it useful or that it helps you to think about the words we use. I hope you use it to build on my observations. Love and hugs, E.
#IntersectionalFeminism #Equality #WordsMatter