Why I am Afraid to Call Myself a Feminist

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I’m a feminist, but I’m growing shy about saying that.

I have a lot of friends who are survivors of abuse and sexual trauma. I spend a lot of time advocating for and supporting them and others like them. Many of these survivors demonstrate very deep trust in me. Because of the work I do and hope to do, my reputation is hugely important to me. Being a feminist is a big part of that.

Every time I hear stories about James Deen and other “feminists” who are being exposed as predators and misogynists, I become extremely angry. Let me make this abundantly clear: I believe the women who say they were abused, raped, and traumatized by these men. I support them. I want these men exposed for who they truly are. My shyness is because I’d rather not call myself a feminist than have anyone think I’m like them.

I have no fear of being falsely accused, nor am I worried about being similarly exposed. I even have an unspoken rule against dating anyone I meet through my support work and activism. I am not a predator, but I still have to stop sometimes and review my behavior. I’ve made loads of mistakes with words and touch, even non-sexual touch with friends. I invite them to set boundaries with me, but some of them are trauma survivors who are too afraid to do so. Some of them have never learned how.

I’m a man raised in rape culture, which has taught me to just do and maybe ask questions later. Impact vs. intent, that’s something I hear in sexual harassment classes. As long as there’s no sex involved, I’m supposed to be fine. I don’t feel fine, though. I’ve had some very unintended impacts with non-sexual words and touch, and some of these events have happened recently.

More and more education is moving toward affirmative consent, and this is a very positive step. We’re learning that we need a yes and not just an absence of no. The work doesn’t stop there, though. It doesn’t stop with sexual touch. We have to extend it to all touch. Sexual trauma is never a predator’s first misdeed.

I’ve fallen into enough rape culture traps with non-sexual touch. I’m scared to death of letting that go any further. I am so incredibly lucky to have friends who are able to call me out on these things. But what if I didn’t? What if I became a celebrity and built a feminist brand that made people afraid to call me on my behavior?

I used the wrong name earlier. I stand with Stoya. Hers is the name that needs to be in headlines. Stoya is the one we need to focus on. Stoya is the one who has been hurt. Stoya is the one who will help me learn to be a better man, a better feminist. Stoya is the one who can help me feel proud to call myself a feminist again.

Stoya, I believe you. I support you. It’s not your fault. I stand with Stoya.

Drew Sheldon

Drew Sheldon is a feminist, disabled veteran, PTSD sufferer, and adoring cat dad. He watched a lot of television in the 1980's and remembers most of it fondly. He blogs about his personal journey of discovery and improvement at www.swmseeks.wordpress.com.

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