There's no doubt about it: Feminism can raise some pretty heated opinions. While some people identify strongly with the feminist label, others reject it entirely; meanwhile, still others might identify with the message of feminism, but shy away from the label itself. If you're a feminist, have you ever considered "coming out" as a feminist? Harvard University holds an annual "Coming Out As A Feminist" event, meant to educate students on feminism and raise awareness on women's issues — and I think they're onto something with it. Most recently, Harvard hosted their coming out as a feminist event on Tuesday, March 1. As Olivia Goldhill, a Harvard student, explained in her essay for The Huffington Post in 2011, the event took off in 2010, led by Harvard graduate Lena Chen, and it's been a hit ever since, giving feminism a positive and public face on the campus.
You may wonder, of course, why there is a real need to come out as a feminist. Sure, all on-campus groups love recruiting new members to participate in their activities and make new friends, but I think the notion of "Coming Out" day for feminists surpasses that notion. In reality, I think openly identifying as a feminist is an act of bravery and leadership: Studies show that women who identify as feminists are more likely to experience sexual harassment at work, while women writers who identify as feminists receive such intense harassment on the Internet that they sometimes quit writing entirely, or resort to using a pen-name for their own safety. Even when women don't openly identify as feminists, we're at a higher risk of domestic violence, sexual violence, and harassment than our male counterparts. To come out as a feminist exposes you to all of these issues and more — but it also both supports others and helps you find support for yourself, as well. It's a necessary act, and one that might ultimately be the deciding factor in whether we achieve gender quality.
While you don't need to participate in a formal "coming out" event to come out as a feminist, I think the cause is a great way to build community and continue the conversation about feminism. While everyone has their own reasons for identifying as a feminist (or not), here are four reasons it's beneficial to "come out" as a feminist:
1. Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word
There's a lot of speculation that when people shy away from feminism, it's actually the feminist label they're wary of, not the pursuit of equality. As Jill Filipovic over at Cosmopolitan points out, "When people learn what feminism actually means either through education or by simply hearing a definition of the term, they're more likely to adopt it." This makes sense to me, too: There are some terrible media representations of feminists out there (including, for example, the term "feminazi"), so for people who aren't exposed to feminism in a safe, educational setting, it doesn't surprise me they may be likely to reject the movement simply because of negative buzzword associations. The more people who openly identify as feminists, though, the more the "face" of feminism can change in a positive way.
2. There Is Power In Numbers
It's often easier for critics or skeptics to discount an organization or movement based on its low numbers. Personally, I've noticed if I'm in a setting (say, a classroom or the break-room at work) and people are discussing feminism as a topic, but no one is "out" as a feminist, skeptics will often say that feminism is a radical, fringe movement and one that "normal" people don't identify with. The more people who openly identify as feminists, the less room critics have to argue that it's a "fringe" group that should be written off or dismissed.
3. People Listen When Things Get Personal
As an LGBTQ person myself, I've noticed that even people who are, for example, against marriage equality or believe same-sex attraction is a sin, are often more receptive to listening to my perspective on queer issues when they learn that I, myself, am gay. Of course, this isn't a guarantee; I've also had people become more hostile and hate-filled when they learn my sexual orientation. When you "come out" as any kind of marginalized group, that's always a risk — but overall, I've realized that when people can attach a face they know and care about to a movement or issue, they're more likely to open their ears and heart because the issue becomes more human and personal to them.
4. You Set An Example For Younger Generations
The media has a huge impact on the way young people view themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of the representation women get in books and movies focuses on appearance, weight, and finding love, and not so much on equal wages or running for public office. When people openly embrace the feminist identity, however, it sends a positive message to younger generations that feminism is a real thing, and no, it isn't scary or negative. Much of the diverse, progressive initiatives within the feminist movement (such as embracing gender as a construct or non-binary gender norms) can also help young people feel less isolated as they navigate their way into adulthood.
So, there you have it! Feminism is a personal topic, so people are definitely going to have different perspectives on why "coming out" as a feminist is valuable. In terms of activism, I think "coming out" days are a great way to create a safe space for a conversation about feminism and get to know others with feminist beliefs. If you aren't a Harvard student, you can certainly still host your own feminist "coming out" day on your campus or in your local community! I can see something like this really taking off in a virtual event, too. In my opinion, no matter what way you slice it, identifying as a feminist is always a powerful, brave act, and when you're willing to educate others and raise awareness, you're stepping in the right direction for women's equality.