I saw a headline recently to the effect of “Can you vote for someone other than Hilary Clinton and still be a feminist?”
I was completely appalled.
I’m not even a feminist and the very existence of this question offended me for every woman alive.
Sure, I think it would be great to have a woman president, for many reasons, but to vote for a presidential candidate simply because of her sex negates the whole principle of equality!
I should vote for a female presidential candidate ONLY because I feel she will do the most good (or the least harm; I’ve mentioned my views on politics tend toward a slight cynicism) in the role. I should think this would be all the more true for a feminist.
(Just for the record, if you’re new here, I do not think Ms. Clinton is the best candidate for this role. I would vote for her if I found myself with no more viable option, but at the time of writing I’m doing all I can to ensure the one candidate who I actually feel merits the role becomes our next president.)
The absurdity of the question though, brings up my problem with ists, and isms.
I have a lot of strong opinions, and I work to support progress on many issues that I feel are important, but I am not an ist. I also avoid isms to the best of my ability.
Let me explain.
There is a difference between being a strong and independent woman, and being a feminist. I certainly believe that women deserve rights equal to men, I believe that women are just as capable as men, I know many women more capable than many men, but I am not a feminist.
The reason for that is simply that to me, being a feminist obligates me to make too many decisions not on merit, but on gender.
It shifts the focus from what I value – equality, merit, truth, objectivity – to a narrow, and easily exploited paradigm I don’t necessarily value.
This is the essence of ism, and why am not an ist.
Added to words to form nouns denoting:
- a person with a particular creative or academic role (eg artist, one who makes art, violinist, one who plays a violin, botanist, one who studies plants)
- one who subscribes to a particular theological doctrine or religious denomination; (eg Calvinist, Baptist, deist. Note, these are related to -isms: Calvinism, deism)
- one who owns or manages something (eg capitalist; industrialist. Note, these are related to -isms: capitalism; industrialism)
- one who has a certain political tendency (eg Marxist, fascist, pacifist, activist, environmentalist. Note, these are related to -isms: Marxism, fascism, pacifism)
- a person who holds bigoted, partial views. (Eg Sexist, Racist) [note] Abridged slightly from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-ist [/note]
It’s those last four that tend to get us into trouble. And any of the first four combined with number 5 is a recipe for disaster.
Because, just as there’s a difference between supporting the equality and value of women and being a feminist, there’s a difference between being Muslim and being an Islamist. Or between being black, or white, or Hispanic, or Asian, or gay, or straight, or pro-life, or pro choice, or having family values, and being an activist in one of these themes.There is obviously a difference between belonging to a race and being a racist.
Men and women, just folks, we primarily focus on living our lives: our day-to-day activities, our families, our friends, our work, our hobbies, our concerns.
Ists focus on The Issue. Whatever The Issue is for them.
And dedication to an issue, while certainly valuable and often even commendable, necessarily involves a difference from simply living one’s life and interacting with The Issue as it happens along.
Once you become an ist, you run a great risk of losing freedom, and objectivity –
Can you vote for what your family really needs if it happens to come in a different package than your ism supports?
Can you wear the clothes you really feel comfortable in, if they don’t fit the ist image?
What about sharing a lunch table with that kid from the other ism? Or, God, forbid, falling in love with a Capulet!
I feel very strongly about many issues, but I value freedom and objectivity too highly to be an ist.
Ists get a lot more attention than just folks, however, which creates some confusion. It’s easy to assume that the most vocal ists speak for the whole ism.
It’s easy to assume that the well publicised views of ists, represent the real people for whom the ists claim to speak.
And that risks our no longer seeing those real people as fellow beings, valued neighbours, image bearers of God.
It’s easy to hate a vast and dangerous ism; to forget that isms are built up of a great variety of INDIVIDUAL human beings.
And that the declared stance of the ism, declared usually by Activ-ists, or Someone With Something To Gain, doesn’t necessarily represent the heart of those individual people.
Sure, just folks can get caught up in their ism.
I’ve been there. I’ve tried to bend what my heart knew was right to an ism that should have been about right, but wasn’t. I’ve gotten too caught up in an Issue and become an ist, instead of a person. I’ve caved in to the ism against my values and understanding.
And of course that happens to other people too. And people in dire circumstances with nothing but their ism to hold onto – whether that ism is a religion, a culture, a gang, a political view or a government – may not even know that the ists represent only one small, and perhaps even incorrect, option in the world.
But most of us, most of them, most of the time, are just folks, trying to figure it out, trying to do it right, trying to get by.
So, I for one, reject istism.
Some people should be ists. Not me, because I’m too naturally suited to autocratic dictatorship, but we do need people out there standing up for the rights of those unable to stand up for themselves.
It’s just important to remember People first; THEN ism.
Truth first; then ism.
To remember that the views of the ists are not necessarily the views of the neighbours.
Or the strangers.
And it’s super important to not confuse those views with the voice of God.