interview: lena chen on coming out as a feminist
Feminist blogger and freelance writer Lena Chen talks to me about coming out as a feminist, as well as discussions and conflicts between feminists and how we can live out our ideological perspective.
Lena is a really thoughtful woman. I’ve been reading her blog, the Ch!cktionary, for a while now and she deals with a range of topics on privilege (particularly in relation to her alma mater, Harvard), queer issues and personal decisions like sex and marriage all under a strong feminist framework.
Lena, who says that she has ‘never been shy about her political views’ alongside Abby Sun, has set up a new initiative called “Feminist Coming Out Day”, where individuals (whether male or female) publicly declare their commitment to the goals of feminism and their belief in gender equality.
Why is such an event necessary? Lena says, ‘There are a lot of misconceptions about feminists: that we’re man-haters (false — gender equality benefits men too), that we’re ungrateful to mothers and women who occupy caregiver roles, and perhaps the biggest misconception of all, that we’re no longer necessary.’
But Lena describes feminism as still being completely relevant, which is the idea that lip has continued to explore since its inception. She says, ‘we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the problems of the second wave (equal pay, reproductive rights, etc.) are now solved. They’re not.’ Additionally, she makes the point that ‘as long as men are expected to pay for dates and engagement rings, as long as transgender kids are being beat up at school for wearing the “wrong” clothes, as long as survivors of rape are subject to character assassination for pressing charges, there’s a need for feminism.’
Perhaps it is interesting to readers that Lena relates the goals of feminism to the goals of dispelling homophobia. LGBT activists are sometimes considered to be separate from feminists, whose goals are meant to relate to gender equality. But more broadly, feminism can work to dispel all kinds of discrimination. Lena explains how ‘third wave feminism’ has opened up the movement to be more inclusive. ‘It’s not that the issues today are new; they’ve always been there. It’s just that until the third wave, there was very little attention paid to how women are differentiated by class, race, sexual orientation, religion, and other aspects of their identities… This inclusive feminism is evidence to me that the movement has evolved to become richer and more diverse.’
According to Lena, personal steps like Coming Out as a Feminist are crucial in living out one’s ideologies. Lena talks often on her blog about how ‘the personal is political’. ‘This means that our personal choices don’t exist in a vacuum. In other words, what we do on a day-to-day basis, how we feel about ourselves, the way we think about relationships to others are all affected by the messages we hear about gender and sexuality. There are a lot of examples of how people do this everyday: opting out of marriage, dating people of the same gender, being open about your sexual experiences—all of these things could be considered a political statement in a society that only validates romantic love that is recognised by the law.’ And certainly, coming out as a feminist is a political statement about how serious you are in regards to the aims of feminism.
But, of course, the case isn’t so easily open and shut. What is feminism? And is it not the case that feminists differ even in their definitions of what feminism even is? Recently, Lena also took part in a panel, hosted by Naomi Woolf, talking to and about young feminists (you can see the recaps here). One of the panellists pulled out a few days before the discussion because another panellist held views which she believed to be anti-feminist. This begs the question: how united can a feminist outlook be when one woman’s feminism is another woman’s anti-feminism? Lena talks about her opinion, ‘with such politically charged topics, it’s easy to assume that the other side is trying to co-opt your movement and do harm.
‘Sometimes, I catch myself thinking these thoughts too. But then I ask myself, “Is this person actually someone who wants to hurt women?” Nine times out of ten, when I meet someone who I disagree with, I end up concluding that they genuinely have women’s interests in mind. Even if I think that their logic and platform is flawed, that doesn’t mean that they’re an evildoer. And I think that recognising their humanity and well-meaning intentions is the first step toward making progress with the other side.’
Interested in coming out as a feminist? Read about it and spread the word by visiting the website.
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