The other day I'm having a pint with my buddy at a bar in our neighborhood. It happens to be trivia night, but we ourselves are not participating (besides, we got there late, and the host refuses to play anything but "La Bamba" on repeat between questions because it's Cinco de Mayo). At some point during the game, the woman next to me leans over to ask if I know the answer to one of the questions — which I do, and tell her. We are now officially friends. Yay friends!
The night goes on, and we have a few more interactions, including a particular weird one that she brings up about the domesticity of Asian females (my buddy was talking about a colleague of his whose wife is from China, and how this colleague is having trouble getting time off from work to go on vacation with her in China, because we work in theatre).
The night goes on, trivia is wrapping up, and my friend and I get our tab to pay. Then the woman turns back to us and says with sudden seriousness, "Are you feminists?" Now, keep in mind that Jamaica Plain is like the Boston neighborhood for hippies, lesbians, artists, hipsters, weirdos, whathaveyou. It's the funky bohemian enclave of Boston (in addition to its Hispanic population, although that's not as relevant to this discussion), so more than likely, everyone who lives here is going to be a liberal or a progressive — especially at this bar, which is known as a popular gay hangout.
But to answer her question, I say yes, I do identify as a feminist. I explain that I didn't always identify as such because I didn't fully grasp the concept, although I did speak up for and champion causes for equality and women's rights my entire life, even before I made the choice to identify as a feminist — which I do now, because I understand that it's not enough to just say you support things, and that vocal allies are important in advancing any cause. This seems to satisfy her (I could have probably been more articulate but I felt like I was being put on the spot by two suddenly accusatory lesbians).
Meanwhile, my friend says "No." She is disengaged before he has a chance to finish saying, "I'm actually an Egalitarian." The look of disgust on her face is horrifying (maybe she heard him say "Libertarian?"). My friend tries to explain that he believes in equality between genders, and that there are systemic patriarchal problems with our society, but that he believes in Egalitarianism rather than the advancement of a single gender. He says that, to him, the fourth wave of feminism has not gelled into a single cohesive movement, and that there are some strands within it that he feels are problematic, so while he does actively champion for women's rights and breaking down certain societal structures, he prefers to identify as an Egalitarian because it means equality for all genders without allowing someone to argue that one gender is or should be superior or advanced while another should be setback, and that it denies any gendered guilt-by-association.
Based on the response of the woman next to me, you'd have thought he said "All women belong in the kitchen on their backs because they are nothing but objects for having sex to and also minorities and homosexuals are evil" (for what it's worth, this friend of mine also identifies as pansexual, so despite appearances of two cisgendered white dudes at the lesbian bar, at least we weren't 100% heterosexual between us).
My friend tried to explain himself a bit more, but he had so enraged the woman next to me that it was futile. We finished paying our tab, he wished them luck on the rest of their trivia game, and we left.
I'm writing this now to essentially express my shock and confusion about why his decision to identify as Egalitarian rather than Feminist was so offensive. I'm less concerned about whether he is "right" in his statement — I have some friends who would argue that this definition of Egalitarianism is precisely the Feminism that they believe in, and others who might argue that men who claim to support women's rights and equality but do not identify as Feminists are part of the problem because they are not vocally involving themselves in the movement. Don't get me wrong, those are interesting intellectual debates to have, but they were certainly not the debates that we were primed to have at the bar at that particular moment. I'm more curious now to try to understand how the concept of Egalitarianism could be construed as being in such stark opposition to that of Feminism. I mean that genuinely; I want to understand the answer, beyond semantic hairsplitting. I totally get the idea of Feminism as a social movement, and how many Feminists might prefer that he verbally ally himself with their cause, if he does in fact support the same ideals of equality by a different name. While I still choose to identify as a Feminist (does that mean that I can't be an Egalitarian?), I feel that this woman's dismissiveness almost served to illustrate my friend's point — that an attitude of "You're either with us or you're against us" is in fact counterproductive to the cause of equality.
But then, I'm not so good with my social justice rhetoric, so I'm happy to let a more linguistically-abled person explain this to me. Anyone? Bueller?