Once as a bratty child, I said to my older sister that I wasn’t a feminist because I “believed in equality not female supremacy,” and she very patiently explained to me what feminism means: equality for everyone. Over 20 years later I’m a teacher of feminism, a social justice volunteer and an activist. As a feminist and a teacher, I’ve been belittled, challenged and intimidated by students and colleagues, though in the classroom I’ve rarely had the term come to an end with these attitudes intact. I was excited to continue teaching at Mount Allison. This is a great university, but we have our problems.
We don’t like to believe that Mt. A has issues with misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism and classism. Apparently this is a utopia where we’re shielded from the ugly truths of the outside world. However, of all the things I’ve been called, I’ve experienced the most hateful one for the first time here at Mt. A: “feminazi.”
The word feminazi is reprehensible, and its casual use is disturbing. Characterizing feminism as violent, feminazi aligns feminism with fascism, with Nazis. It trivializes experiences of genocide and mocks the ways that Jewish bodies, amongst others, were marked for eradication. It ignores white supremacy’s history and frightening resurgence, from formal neo-Nazi political parties to underground vigilante groups. Using the term feminazi is willfully ignorant, is dangerous and creates spaces where white supremacy can flourish.
Since September I’ve been called a feminazi twice (that I know of), once by a group of students who have never met me. When they see me in public, they don’t know I’m the one they called a feminazi. At first I laughed this off. As with most things that deeply upset us, it’s easier to trivialize such experiences. However, I recently had to be in a room with one of these students and I got angry. I wondered if she realizes that without “feminazis” she wouldn’t be at this university, that people had to fight for something as simple as her right to work out at the gym. Does she realize that people have been imprisoned, force-fed, beaten, sexually assaulted and murdered for fighting for her rights? Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. It doesn’t really matter though.
What matters is that it’s alright to call another young woman on this campus a derogatory name, that it’s easier to hurl hate rather than understand other people. Maybe they’re afraid of being identified as feminists because they understand the consequences of being labeled as such. Maybe they don’t know what feminism is and they think I want to force them to grow out their armpit hair.
Utopias are rare, and there isn’t one in Sackville. We have to dream better worlds and fight for them. We can’t shy away from the violent misogyny and racism here. We are part of the world, we have to face the problems of the world. This doesn’t make us weak, it doesn’t damage our reputation. Doing so demonstrates that we are smart enough to know better, smart enough to do something productive with our privilege and smart enough to know that none of us can survive the future without social justice.
Call me what you want, I won’t stop fighting for your rights. With the patience that my brilliant, feminist sister modeled for me I’d like to invite everyone who thinks that women’s and gender studies is “not real” or that I’m a “feminazi” to come by my office. I’d be more than happy to discuss WGST with you and address some of your concerns about my particular brand of fascism.