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Being Feminist and Being Activist

I’ve got an awful lot going on that I’d love to talk about, and an awful lot of deadlines looming, but something else is on my mind.

And it’s my blog, so damnit, I’m using it.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. Yes, I’m president of a feminist non-profit, and yes, I work for a company of mostly women. This: This is me and only me. I just want to make that clear.

I am a feminist. I’ve identified as a feminist since I had an inkling of what that meant–and that was around when I went from a single-digit age to a double-digit one.

I’ve also always identified as female. Oh, and human.

And you know what? Even though each of those categories covers a larger category of persons, each hosts an infinite amount of ways in which people define themselves with those titles.

And sometimes those definitions don’t match.  Okay, a lot of the time, those definitions don’t match.

Why am I bringing this up now? Well, there’s this fight/kerfluffle/terrible, evil act of sexist oppression that has lit the flamethrowers of many of my friends. It’s about the SFWA bulletin and some articles that were published that offended a lot of people.  There are links and such about it all over the place if you haven’t heard of it, but if you’re not familiar with it, check out my (yes, biased, and definitely NOT complete) referral to author Jim C. Hines blog for some good info and an awful lot of links on stuff written about this, some of which have scans of some of the original articles. From there, you’re welcome to get pulled into all sorts of stories on the issue.

I’m not talking about that, though. There are plenty of better-informed folks out there who can give a more comprehensive opinion.

Okay, there are also some very angry people out there who will make you want to cry in fury at humanity. Or guilt because you’re not “doing something.”

I hate that feeling. I don’t like “disappointing” people. Goodness knows I’ve put more people’s needs above my own for a while. Shoot, I’m catching up on my own writing deadlines and feeling awful about which of my authors is waiting for what edits from me–even though I’ve just seen their deadlines and we’re actually doing pretty good…mine for my writing are the most behind!

But, you know, other people are depending on me.

Also, most people don’t know what I do do to help women. To help individuals…most of which are human. Nearly all my authors are women. I have a significantly higher percentage of women who I’m helping get published, get recognized, get paid, get the credit they deserve. I do that for my men authors, too. But, if we’re looking at numbers, my statistics of whose stories I buy, who I submit for awards, and so on is very different from the industry standard not only for the genres I work in (science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.), but for the industry as a whole.

Whether or not I’m someone’s editor, I still am quick to give other women leads on work, references, critiques, and other help. I’ve put myself in a position where people, mostly women, feel comfortable talking to me so I can help them.

But I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like pointing my finger and saying, “You’re wrong! You must change this!”

I prefer more subtle methods. I prefer individual activism.

Among horse rescues, which I’ve also worked with for over a decade, we know how big the problems are with equine abuse, slaughter, and more. We know how expensive and how hard it is to make huge changes. When things feel overwhelming, I’ve heard from many places a quote along these lines: We may not be able to change the world, but we changed the world for that one horse. Or ten horses. It’s a small number compared to the millions of equines just in the U.S. alone. But the horse doesn’t have that concept.

Humans can have that concept. And many of us can and do sacrifice our own dreams and world on the altar of Big Change for the better.

But I don’t believe one of those lifestyles is better than the other.

For me, identifying as a feminist is part of identifying as a humanist–all persons deserve equal rights and fair treatment. Feminist is the part of that definition when I’m specifically doing work that promotes and helps women. It’s the part that specifies that I consider women and woman-identifying people as persons.  It’s the part where, in an intimate conversation, I make choices in my speech to show this–even if those choices mean I don’t use the term “feminist” because it will close down the conversation, the potential for change.

I received advice from someone not to call a particular piece of my own writing “feminist” because it would hurt my chances of selling it. I don’t know whether following that advice had anything to do with getting the piece published, but it’s out there now. And it’s making that conversation happen, regardless of what I call it. It’s still a feminist, an activist, decision.

In my heart, I know I’m a feminist and an activist always. But, if I can get more people to hear me, consider new ideas, and make theirs and others’ lives better by not loudly waving that flag or demanding, that is what I shall do.

I prefer being inclusive. I prefer not driving people away with strong emotions, but drawing them with a mutual chance of listening and empathy. Even if I don’t agree with them.

I don’t have grand illusions of changing the world any time soon, but if I can help change a few individuals’ worlds, I have done good. And as small as that is, it is still a change for the better.

I may not be the feminist or activist that some people want to see or that fits their definitions, but I am a feminist and an activist. And as a feminist, I believe we have the right to own our own definitions.

So long as we are not hurting or oppressing others.

And that is the hardest part: Owning our own definitions means owning our own pain. And difference can hurt or oppress.

So I also listen. And I choose to tread softly. Because when you’re talking about freedom: freedom from oppression, freedom from pain, freedom to live our lives to the fullest, you’re talking about people’s hopes and dreams–and those are delicate.

My quiet feminist and activist points are just that:

If we choose our words with intent to hurt, belittle, insult, and oppress, how are we working towards true freedom and equality?

And why would anyone even listen or consider change if they are on the end of such attacks?

I am a feminist, I am an activist, and I do believe I’m changing the world for the better…even if it is in small steps.

At the very least, if I have changed the world for the better for some individuals, I am happy for that.