7 Questions To Ask Someone Who Says They're "Not A Feminist"
We've all met someone who is otherwise reasonably minded who says they are "not a feminist." Our initial response, as feminists, might be to tighten our shoulders, and prepare the mental artillery we reserve for situations such as this, where with the articulate fierceness of Amber Rose we explain exactly why we should all be feminists. However, it might be more beneficial to, rather than go on the offensive, ask some questions of the person who has declared themselves "not a feminist." Because as you probably know by now, many people who say they're "not feminist" actually believe many of the things that feminism champions. They're just confused or turned off, for whatever reason, about the word "feminism" and identifying as feminist.
It's our responsibility to try to understand different perspectives, and of course, feminism is not supposed to be antagonistic. It's supposed to educate and illuminate and create changes that promote gender equality, and when we're competitive, sometimes that can reduce the point we're trying to make. An inclusive line of questioning can force us, and the people we're talking to, into a healthy dialogue that challenges perceptions, and yes, it could even change someone's mind about feminism (especially when they realize they already believe everything feminism endorses). Here are some questions you can ask someone who tells you they're "not a feminist":
1. "Why Aren't You A Feminist?"
Sometimes when we say the word "feminism," people hear "white feminism," and white feminism has been historically non-inclusive to many intersectional concerns, including those of race, sexual orientation and religion. Someone might not identify as "feminist" because they feel marginalized by one very specific, often dominant, iteration of feminism. That doesn't mean they don't believe in women's rights, so it's important to identity why someone doesn't identify as feminist before you jump down their throat. Unless this person is Donald Trump, try to get to the root of what they mean when they're say they're "not a feminist". You might find that you learn something about your personal feminism in the meantime.
2. "What Does 'Feminism' Mean To You?"
Engaging in a meaningful conversation about someone's personal "feminism" (whether they call it feminism or not), is important. You expect people to listen to you, and your interpretation of feminism, so you should be not only prepared, but willing to listen and encouraging of other people expressing theirs. Finding out why someone doesn't identify with your feminism can be really valuable, insofar as you grappling with feminism in a more inclusive way. (I'm not saying you're not already inclusive, just that no one can experience what anyone else has experienced, and being open to conversations about different perspectives and stories will make you a more dynamic person).
3. "Do You Think That Both Genders Are Entitled To The Same Social, Economic And Political Rights?"
There aren't many people out there who would say "no," and I wouldn't blame you if you got a little bit angry if someone did. But you should establish with the person you're talking to their position on equality. They might believe in gender equality, but have issues with feminism as a philosophy. You certainly don't want to be forcing your way into a fight with someone who has the same core belief in equality as you, so establish that you're on the same page. If you're not, you might have someone with some very backwards beliefs on your hands, in which case, your further line of questioning should continue to challenge them.
4. "Do You Have Another Belief System That Promotes Equality?"
Remember this could be a learning curve for you as much as it is for the person who has declared themselves "not a feminist". If you have begun a conversation only to discover that the person you're talking to doesn't identify as a feminist not for misogynistic reasons, but rather because they feel alienated by the movement, try to find out what other terms they might use to describe their beliefs. Humanism and womanism are popular terms to use in lieu of feminism, and although feminists have spoken out about these words undermining feminism, you might find that you can be more productive as a feminist by understanding why people feel the need to fall back on them in the first place.
5. "Do You Think That All Women And The LGBTQ Community Are Treated Equally To CIS White Men?"
There's going to be a time when you ask all the above questions, and find that the person doesn't identify as a feminist because they're looking for something more inclusive, but because they don't quite "get" feminism. And that's OK. If you want to get to the bottom of that, try to find out what they think about a woman's place (and not just white women, all women) and the LGBTQ community's place in society. You might find that some people believe that equality has already been achieved, and we might no longer need feminism because it's fulfilled its goals. People see women in the work place, being "independent" and taking control of their sexuality as cues that it's all good now. They might not be aware that just because that's the case for some women, it might not be the case for all women.
6. "Do You Believe In Equal Pay For Equal Work?"
If someone thinks that women are already "equal," I often find that the easiest way to challenge their idea of that is asking them about equal pay for equal work. When you talk about pay and work, that's a very tangible idea that anyone can wrap their head around. It's not subjective, and is a fairly blunt assessment of equality. It's also rare to find someone that answers "No". If they do answer "No," you might have a tougher mind to change than you initially believed — but it is possible that some people haven't thought about feminism in terms of quantifiable amounts, and breaking it down with conversations about pay can be a good way to have a conversation about the visible hurdles feminism is still looking to overcome.
7. "How Do Feminism's Achievements Affect Your Life?"
Even when you're being compassionate and trying to start a conversation rather than an attack, you might find yourself up against a wall. What if you are talking to Donald Trump? What if you're talking to someone who genuinely seems uninterested in women's issues? You can help them understand just how important feminism is to you by asking how it might be important to them. For instance, a woman's access to birth control and abortion might be beneficial to a man who says he's "not a feminist," even if he's never thought about it like that. Getting someone who is staunchly not feminist for no apparent reason to confront the way feminism benefits them is a non-adversarial way to challenge their perceptions about the value of feminism.