Identify, Man!

In addition to being a spendthrift, I’m also a bit of an idealist. I don’t mean that I’m really good at upholding any ideals; I’m just in my head a lot. This makes it kind of hard to get things done, when I spend so much of my time thinking about possible implications and outcomes of my actions. How can people move beyond cloudy idealism to muddy activism? I think a part of it has to do with growing the ovaries to commit to an identity.

It sounds like you're working for your car.

And by “identify” I mean, if you care about the environment, call yourself an environmentalist! This is something I’m not always good at, as I have a residual fear of “isms” instilled into me by an old history professor. Beyond this, I don’t really like the implication that individuals can share a discrete, absolute categorization of moral and political beliefs. But at the same time, isms can give strength and cohesion to an idea, and make people feel like they’re a part of something. So it’s not all bad, right?

One “ism” I subscribe to readily is feminism. This is because I feel confident that I know enough about the theory and practice of feminism, and I believe whole-heartedly in equality and respect for people of all genders. I guess the waters are just a bit murkier when it comes to environmentalism. I never studied environmentalism in school, and I have a very limited understanding of Earth sciences. And on top of that? I never feel like I’m quite “environmentalist” enough.

A relevant tidbit I learned is that people who identify as feminists, for whatever reason, tend to be more active and outspoken about the issues affecting women than those who share their beliefs but choose not to identify. These people are commonly referred to as the “I’m not a feminist, but…” group. While I’m sure there are many reasons why people don’t identify with feminism (and environmentalism) it seems counterproductive for people to be alienated from a movement because they’re not “ist” enough.

There may be some exceptions.

The way I see it, there are lots of benefits to recruiting naive newbs into any social movement. Making it more “mainstream” might get some lifestyle activists pissed because they’re no longer as big of a thorn in the establishment’s tender buttock. But I think anyone with a deep commitment to the cause itself, not to just having a cause for its own sake, would welcome newcomers with a warm embrace.

So. If you’re an idealist like me, do yourself (and mother Gaia) a favour, and claim the identity of an environmentalist! Reject “I’m not an environmentalist, but… I care about the environment” in favour of “I AM an environmentalist, but… I’m still learning.”

12 thoughts on “Identify, Man!

  1. Yes, Erin! I was happy to identify with feminism, despite my hesitance about isms, once I understood the benefits of doing so. I thought that should translate to environmentalism as well. But I think strategic essentialism speaks much more strongly to the necessity to “simplify” things for political causes (or to get to the simplicity on the other side of complexity, as it were). Thank you for pointing my nose in the right direction! 🙂

    • “Simplicity on the other side of complexity” is the Catherine Ann Fuller thesis writing quote of the millennium!

      • You probs know this, but it’s not actually her quote; it’s attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and he said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Kinda kooky. How do people “give figs” anyway? Hmm. What a great quote.

  2. Thanks Jesse! I love feminism, and I love guys who get (or at least have the balls to try and get) feminism.

    In terms of what’s a good “feminism for dummies” read? I’m sure I’ve got some articles kicking around that I could suggest. One book does come to mind: Full Frontal Feminism, written by Jessica Valenti (founder of Although I haven’t actually read the whole thing yet, what I have read seems pretty honest and clear in terms of what feminism means today (and why it’s still important). And she’s a pretty sassy writer, too.

    I’ll try to suggest some others. And fellow feminists? Feel free to offer up some suggestions! 🙂

  3. Good stuff, Jan! I know what you mean. It’s like identifying as a writer. We feel that we’re not entitled to title ourselves – that there must be a test we haven’t passed yet, or something. Some test that actually doesn’t exist. Or that people are going to then test us – “Oh, you say you’re an environmentalist, well what is the square root of the diameter of the Earth, crossed with the parts per million of carbon in the air?”

  4. Leah, I feel that way about feminism a lot of the time. And probably so do most people who claim an identity that can be somewhat, shall we say, political? I’ve been learning that to claim any identity is to accept a certain amount of curiosity, sometimes even critique, from others. But this doesn’t mean we should expect a grilling – instead, we just have to decide when it’s worth engaging in an open conversation, and when it’s best to realize that it’s not our job to convince other people of anything. Really, it would be so much easier if people just accepted the fact that I’m right pretty much all of the time. Sigh.

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