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Feminist discussions

A few years ago, a friend of mine, inspired by the 2005 AWID Conference, started a local feminist discussion group. We met regularly to discuss and debate a range of complex and controversial feminist issues. While our group has since dispersed, I don’t think any of us lost the desire to continue these conversations. While there was talk of reviving our local discussion group after our passions were reignited at the 2008 AWID Forum, it proved too difficult to get people together physically, with all of our time constraints.

I would like to continue these conversations here on PulseWire and invite all who are interested to take part.

One of the hot topics that came up in many of the conversations I had at AWID was this idea that “I believe in women’s rights, but I’m not a feminist’. It is with this statement that I would like to begin discussions. In contemporary society, feminism has become a bad word, and many women are hesitant to describe themselves thus, for fear of the stigma that is attached to being a feminist. Some people believe that feminism is outdated, that it has served its purpose and is no longer relevant. I would argue that as long as gender based violence and discrimination exists, feminism is relevant.

Here are some questions to ponder: why is feminism so stigmatised? Is it simply because feminism questions the status quo and dominant patriarchal ideology? Is it because some extreme feminist views skewed public perceptions about what feminism is and what it is hoping to achieve? Is feminism flexible enough to apply in this new era of struggle for women’s rights and empowerment?

I look forward to hearing the diversity of perspectives that will no doubt arise as our feminist discussions continue.



sasha's picture

I agree that feminism is

I agree that feminism is still relevant. Last night I listened to Cynthia Enloe speak about how war never ends for women, and she stressed the importance of feminist engagement with this, and indeed all issues. As feminists we ask the uglier questions, we ask why, and we look underneath the answers we are given. This is essential to ensure that the truth about all issues, not just those directly related to gender (although arguable all issues are directly related to gender).

But, on the same token, I think as long as these questions are being asked it doesn't matter what people label themselves, feminist, womanist, whatever. I think to a certain extent feminism encapsulates a wide range of perspectives, which is good right, because this is how it should be. But when women who do label themselves feminist are getting into powerful positions and advocating to maintain traditional subordinating structures for women, I can understand why some women are steering clear of being put into the same basket. But, as a movement we have come a long way, we have (to a certain extent) broken free of beginnings dominated by middle class white western women, and we are hearing powerful voices from all over the world. We challenge each other, learn from each other, and come up with solutions that are innovative, practical and inspiring. A friend once said, feminism is years ahead of the rest of the world, and it's frustrating waiting for them to catch up!

A bit of a ramble, but I'm keen to continue this conversation, be challenged and inspired!

Katie McDonald's picture


Hi Sasha,

Thanks for your ramble...I'm glad you are keen to discuss these issues - and like you said - I don't think it matters too much what labels we use (although in choosing or not choosing particular labels we are making political choices) - the important thing is that the hard questions are being asked.

I think it is important that we don't allow labelling differences to be a dividing force between women so that we can work together to eliminate gender based discrimination and violence.


LauraB's picture

What to call yourself


It's an interesting set of questions and I like that you pose them here. I'm curious about the term feminism being flexible enough to apply in this era....don't know that it is...doesn't resonate with me personally. I resonate with expressions such as women's voices rising from the ground up, witnessing women around the globe taking matters into their own hands. I am not sure why I don't really like the college I took many classes in women's literature, literary feminist critique. I experienced our conversations as black and white thinking at times negating many women's experiences who weren't radical in their thinking. Worldpulse has a philosophy that resonates deeply with me and clearly with scores of women around the world. Do you like the term feminism?

Good questions

Katie McDonald's picture

Whatever works

Hi Laura,

I do consider myself a feminist, but I guess it is my version of feminism - which may not mean anything to anyone else. I think it is a useful vehicle for raising these discussions - and like any other tool - something that can be used when it is effective to do so, but not something to ruthlessly abide by - otherwise it becomes a bit fundamentalist...

I can certainly see why it doesn't work for others and agree that we should all use what works for us - in terms of language and philosophy.

Thanks for your comments,


Jade M's picture

women who give feminism a bad name

This is a really important topic to have. I think the reason some women shy away from being called feminists is there are women who give feminism a bad name. There are women who call themselves feminists but they themselves stand for some views that are so anti feminist. When they are given the platform to uphold their women folk they go and perpetrate worse oppressions to them than the patriarchal system has. They judge and criticize their sisters, they stigmatize them on basis of race, religion,sexual orientation, dressing, class.

I myself love calling my self a feminist, and always describe my version of feminism. its not the radical, men bashing, fundamentalism kind of feminism. And most of all i love wearing the t-shirt written "this is what a feminist looks like". for me its important to show that feminism is not rough and unruly. but beautiful and feminine. My best MS magazine to date is the one with US president Obama wearing the t-shirt. Shows everyone who believes in women's rights can (if they wish to) label themselves a feminist.

for the sisters who are comfortable saying they are for women rights, but are not feminists, should also feel proud and occupy their space as such.

Katie McDonald's picture

Great shirt

Hello Jade,

Welcome to the feminist discussion group.

That is a great shirt - It shows that feminists are everyday people and not the radical man bashing stereotype that gives feminism a bad name... I have not seen the photo of Obama wearing it though - I will have to google it.



pagan les's picture


I tend to agree with Laura - I definitely call myself a feminist but to which "school" of feminism do I belong to? None really - would have to label myself an eclectic feminist as I am not definitively socialist feminist or radical or african...
I posted a question in my journal on african feminism earlier (before I discovered this discussion forum, technofool that I am!) as to whether one can be (african) feminist if one does not regard oneself as "feminist" and I guess I have some answers, from reading the posts. I still believe, though, that we need to look at "who we say we are not" and wonder why we are these negative identities - do they point to identity ambivalences?
By not naming ourselves as feminist (but as womanists etc) are we merely objecting to the label (not wanting to be labelled) or are we protesting/rejecting the identity of feminist. Two different things, I think.

Katie McDonald's picture

Good point

That is a really good point Pagan. A negative can be the absense of a positive or a rejection of a positive - and sometimes those two are tied up together.

I went to a great session at the 2008 AWID Forum on African feminism. As I remember the presenters all considered themselves to be feminist but were debating whether there is a feminism or feminisms unique to Africa... It didn't get resolved - but I think that is ok. I think in this space the questions are possibly more important than the answers. There is no right or wrong - as long as we continue to discuss the important issues.

(Also - this discussion group is new so it probably came after your post on African feminism - you might not be a technofool afterall).

Thanks for your comments,


asha's picture

STOP!Help me take a stand.

Well said everybody,
but can someone ,please, guide me to where I can find a clear cut definition for the term:
Feminism? People seem to have started the discussion from an assumption that we all know.....gently on second and foreign language speakers.
My English/Arabic bilingual dictionary says: The theory of political, economic and social equality between sexes. Is there any thing between the lines? If not, then who is 'still' a disbeliever?
Greetings to all,


Hi Asha,

I think that is part of the confusion around feminism - it can mean many things to different people in different contexts.

So if I say I am a feminist that could mean something really different to what someone else means when they claim to be a feminist.

Part of this whole discussion group is so that we can all learn more about what it means to us and our PulseWire friends.

As your dictionary says - one part of feminism is about equality between the sexes. However, I think of it as an analysis of power relations between (and within) genders.

So feminism looks at the different roles that men and women have in society, and how these roles are valued.

As well as looking at the relationship between men and women, feminism looks at relationships between groups of men and groups of women. For example power relationships between older women and younger women.

By exploring these power relations, feminism can be a useful tool for saying - hey it makes no sense that the things that women do are not as important as the things that men do.

I hope that has made feminism easier to understand and not more confusing.

But it is these kinds of issues we will contiue to discuss here, so hopefully we will all get a bit clearer.

Thanks for your comment.


asha's picture

Reassuring contribution...

Thank you Katie for contributing to 'clearing my mind'; I have been acting and reacting etc.. to issues with the sense of resuming my role as a feminist. And I identify with what you have cleared, so to me it doesn't matter what other interpretations are as long as they dont lead to a misunderstanding.


julia sawi's picture

Dear katie

Dear katie
To be honest I do not consider feminist at all ,and I can't figure out some relevance between feminism , discrimination and violence but as long as feminism exists there is some kind of violence exists too. and I think feminism changes according to the different environment and I think in this new era , women has more right than the past .
( I think I have to know more about femisin to have a clear vision )
wish you all the best and thank you for the nice post

Katie McDonald's picture

Something to think about...

Hey Julia,

Thanks for your comments. You make a very good point - ideally there would be no feminism - because there would be no violence or discrimination.

I guess that is something that feminists can loose sight of - that the goal is not to promote feminism but to end violence and discrimination - feminism is just one vehicle (of many) to get there.

In getting to a destination we can always choose to take one vehicle or another - a bus or train or car or bicycle - one might be more efficient - probably the most efficient way is a combination of car and bus - and sometimes it is just about personal preference and style - nothing to do with efficiency...

Something to think about...



kelsperry's picture


I would venture that a major reason "feminism" can be controversial is because it so often has a negative connotation. I've always felt slightly concerned/anxious whenever anyone calls me a feminist, because I'm not sure what "kind" they mean, and the majority of "kinds"are, let's be honest, not complimentary. Nicknames like "femi-nazi" make you feel like being called a feminist means you're the nightmare-ish feminine version of the patriarchal leadership that feminists so often fight against. Also, I feel like feminism can become controversial because it is essentially cuts out half the population-- men. It doesn't have to, of course, but the way it's been constructed in the past tends to eliminate male participation. I mean, I've never heard a man call himself a feminist. What we need is to embrace a school of thought that doesn't focus merely on women for women, or women against men, rather, we need a mindset where men and women can come together in hopes of creating equal empowerment for both genders. Whether feminism has room for that in the future... I'm not sure! It's hard to say, but I would guess that it would be hard to accomplish that. Perhaps a wholly new school of thought is more appropriate, and has a better chance of lasting and being embraced by both genders and all peoples?

Juana K's picture

Conflicted and need clarity!

I am really conflicted about the behaviour of some of the women ex-pat's working in gender. Recently a group of ex-pat and Mongolian women attended a local strip club for a night out! Now, I am not a prude when it comes to issues of sex and sexuality but I am appauled that these women visited a strip club in Ulaanbaatar! There are multiple reasons for my anger, for one all these women are urban and from the middle to upper classes, while most if not all the dancers are from poorer and/or rural backgrounds. This is not including the fact that the ex-pat women come from wealthy Western nations and they are attending a strip club in one of the poorest countries in the Asia Pacfic.

Secondly, most of the women attending the club also work in the area of gender equality and call themselves feminists!Even though these women looked through the female gaze at the dancers, I can't get past the fact that strip clubs are sexist institutions that objectify women and are primarily set up for the male customer. The strip club this group visited is particularly notorious as a gathering place for miners in town on the weekend, with a lot of money in their pockets, not enough sense in their heads and nothing to loose! I certainly don't judge why the dancers do what they do; at the end of the day women do what they have to do in order to survive. Nevertheless I judge the broader patriarchal context that limit women's employment options.

Anyway my broader question to you all it OK if (so-called) feminists or women in general attend strip clubs (regardless of which country the strip club is situated) on a girls night out? Or does it come down to the intentions for why feminists or the women are visting the clubs? Your thougts on the subject would be fabulous!!!!

pawani_rasmus's picture

okay,so regarding the

okay,so regarding the previous post,....i feel it is okay for the women to attend the strip club if it is what they wish to. i am a feminist and my idea of feminism is that a woman should be able to do what she wants to without having anyone judge her.....although i do agree with your point that so many women turn to this profession due to lack of other employment opportunities.It is sad and the lives of women in such professions are miserable. i too am a little confused on this topic and it's a very good point that you raised.

loyce's picture

Interesting discussion

I have enjoyed the discussion on feminism, who is a feminist and who isn't! What is radical feminism?And do we have conservative feminism?

Follow me on twitter:@livelyloyce

thazin's picture

agree using feminism

Dear all
I am Thazin from Myanmar (Burma). i am still learning about feminism and feminist. it is really interesting for me.
My perception, Feminism is not bad word. it is positive if you see. it just describes how women are strongly as human being. On the world, we have just two, Men and Women. if people see men are masculine, why women can't be feminism or feminist?
I love to be called me i m Myanmar woman feminist. But it is really struggling in my community and my country. but it is really lovely for me and i believe a person who really love and value women life and women rights, he or she loves feminism word and feminist women.



Insha Allah's picture


"I would argue that as long as gender based violence and discrimination exists, feminism is relevant.". I strongly agree with the statement. At the same time, we need relevant feminism and approaches according to particular community's social and cultural context. Based on my experience, a famous author and feminist activist from my country brought many feminism ideology through her writing and books. No doubt that she is my one of my aspirations but her views are not accepted by most of the audiences. In this case, personally, I feel if she can advocate in a more culturally relevant approaches, that would bring more success. Here, in my country, many people especially men see feminism and feminist as dangerous and evil concept and creatures. I have faced such bitter experience very often. As an example, my male collages treated me very badly and they said the reason why they do so is it is because I am a feminist and I must be able to resist all such treatment. I wish we could advocate more for equality with men and boys.

Best Regards,

Shwe Wutt Hmon

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