Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm not a feminist, but...

I've always had a fairly complicated relationship with feminism.

When I was younger, I was fairly proud to not be a feminist. Feminists were screaming harpies who demanded attention and were just causing trouble. Sure, I'd see things that were wrong with society, but I'd say something along the lines of, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

This attitude carried on for quite some time. I remember first coming up with this idea of "I'm not a feminist, but..." in high school--I don't remember the exact reasoning behind the words, but I remember having that attitude. I had that attitude in college, too. We'd discuss literature that obviously had sexist undertones (typical, to be fair, of European literature of a certain age), and that phrase would come up. When I participated in the semi-political professional organization of my state's branch of the National Education Association, I'd make arguments for fair wages and treatment and say, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

But we deserve equal pay.
But the society we live in isn't fair.
But not enough people are standing up for the rights of others.
But we deserve respect.
But it's not right for a woman to be judged solely by her gender.
But, but, but.

There are two things wrong with the phrase, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

First, it's wrong for me to couch my opinions with a disclaimer. Saying something like, "I'm not a feminist, but I feel like women deserve the same rights as men," belittles not just the idea of feminism, but also the idea that what I'm saying matters. I'm dismissing my own words before I even speak them. I'm giving an excuse for why I should be allowed to say the words following the phrase, as if the only reason I would say those words is if I had such an excuse.

The second thing wrong about that phrase is the fact that it exists.

Our society has turned "feminist" into a bad thing to be. A screaming harpie seeking attention and trouble. A thing that we should distance ourself from.

But we deserve equal pay.
But the society we live in isn't fair.
But not enough people are standing up for the rights of others.
But we deserve respect.
But it's not right for a woman to be judged solely by her gender.
But, but, but.

On my second Breathless Reads book tour, I remember very clearly a man from the audience asking us if we felt guilty that we had written books told from a female's point of view. "What about the boys?" he asked. "What about their voices?" Disregarding that myself and Marie Lu had written books that were half from a boy's point of view, I want to point out that word he used.

Guilty. For writing from a woman's perspective.

Guilty.

I'm not a feminist, but I should feel guilty for writing from a girl's point of view.

Across the Universe won an award from RT Book Reviews--the best YA of the year--in 2012. I told a friend about the award.

"What does RT stand for?" she asked.

"Romantic Times."

I can see the confusion in her eyes. "Like...romance novels?"

"Yeah," I said.

She smiled sadly. "Well, it's nice you won an award, even if it's from romance people."

Even if it's from romance people--a genre dominated by women. A genre entirely dismissed as being lesser. Is romance lesser? Of course not. There are some poor romance novels. But there are poor novels in every single genre in print. Had I won an award from, for example, SFWA--maybe an Andre Norton Award for YA SF--that, that would have been prestigious. There are just as many bad SF novels as there are bad romance novels.

I'm not a feminist, but an award in a female-dominated genre is regarded as less that one from a male-dominated one.

(By the way, I'm damn proud of that RT award, and I am freaking excited to accept another one for Shades of Earth next month.)

I'm not a feminist, but books written by women in YA tend to have far more gendered covers than books written by male authors.

I'm not a feminist, but when a book is written about a girl who's real and embraces herself for who she is, it's labeled as feminist, as if such a book cannot stand on its own merit and is somehow odd for being that way.

I'm not a feminist, but when an author is female and writes a female character, some critics automatically assume that the character is far more vapid and stupid than if a male had written a female character.

I'm not a feminist, but I have read book reviews of female authors which are focused primarily on the authors' appearance, giving the book less points because the author is either too slutty or not lady-like or too fat or wears too much (or too little) make-up.

I'm not a feminist, but when a female author is aggressive about her own marketing plan, she's dismissed as being pushy or bossy, but when she's not, she's dismissed as being meek and worthless.

I'm not a feminist, but JK Rowling has never published a book with an obviously female author name.

I'm not a feminist, but an actress in an upcoming YA film recently dismissed the entire YA genre for "diminishing a book's value."

And when I started adding up all these "buts," I realized something important.

I don't have a complicated relationship with feminism at all.

I am a feminist, and I am damn proud of it. Because all a feminist wants is equal treatment and respect. That's all. And the reason why we need feminists in society is because we don't have equal treatment and respect.

It's because even when we see these discrepancies in the world, we still say, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

But...that's changing. Slowly but surely. And part of the reason our society is changing is because more and more people aren't letting their voices fade to silence. From now on, I'm going to say:

I am a feminist, and I believe we're going to change the world.
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