Do Feminists Need A “Coming Out Day”?

Growing up is all about figuring out who you are, who you can call a real friend, and if you are really (really?) just going to turn into your parents. So, yeah, it’s a pretty crappy experience for everybody — and especially so if the place you call home does not embrace being “different.” In the past few decades, LGBT groups and their allies have made huge inroads helping gay young adults feel welcome with gay-straight alliance clubs and the like. In fact, Human Rights Watch’s nationwide event, National Coming Out Day, is next week, on October 11. The day doesn’t necessarily promote gay folks “coming out” of the closet, but it promotes everyone voicing their support for gay rights and equality. Given how just last month, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman jumped to his death after his roommate live-streamed his gay encounter on the internet, events like Coming Out Day are so important for visibility.

Later this year, there will be another coming out day: a recent college graduate is organizing “Feminist Coming Out Day” to take place on March 8, 2011, which also just happens to be International Women’s Day. So, full disclosure, the organizer of Feminist Coming Out Day is a gal named Lena Chen (who just happens to be a friendly acquaintance of mine — we had lunch together yesterday). But even though I think Lena is a cool chick (she works for!) who is wholly well-intentioned, I wasn’t sure about Feminist Coming Out Day at first. Isn’t that kind of co-opting Coming Out Day from the gays? Women around the world are certainly mistreated and killed, but feminists in America are not necessarily bullied or constantly living in fear the way many LGBT individuals are. Voicing feminist opinions in Bumblef**k, Texas, or Middle Of Nowhere, Alaska, or even Grandpa’s dinner table in suburban New Jersey might get you the stink eye, but it won’t (thank God) get you killed.

The more I think about it, however, the more it seems like Feminist Coming Out Day is desperately needed. There are always people who loudly proclaim themselves to be feminists (or even more annoyingly, The Most Feminist Feminists Of All), but the squeaky wheels are not necessarily representative. Not having visibility truly, truly hurts efforts to bring equal rights to women worldwide — and gay rights groups realize this. That’s why groups like GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) make such a fuss about the representation of gays on TV, for example. People with feminist mindsets, for reasons that depress me, are less willing to be outspoken. In America, we live in a culture of “I’m not a feminist but …” where calling oneself a feminist is almost painful to some people because of the negative stereotype — humorless, nagging, mean-spirited — associated with being one. (This stereotype, of course, does not represent who feminists are.)

I’m less concerned with making people prove their identity (whether it’s feminist or not a feminist, or a humanist, or a womanist) than I am with showing our numbers to each other. There were girls outside of my high school crowd who eventually revealed themselves to me as being feminist, or at least really interested in gender rights, and I wish I would have known that earlier. I would have felt less like a freak. My high school was not the type of place, though, where political activism was a common after-school activity. I would hope something like Feminist Coming Out Day would help both “out” feminists and “closeted” feminists to show each other, hey, they do exist and it’s OK to call yourself one.

On 2011 Feminist Coming Out Day, Chen and her fellow organizer, Abby Sun, hope that students, professors and campus leaders at colleges around the country will wear buttons and T-shirts that state “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like.” In later years, they hope to expand to high schools.

I wish them the best of luck with their endeavor and encourage anyone who is interested to check out Feminist Coming Out Day’s Twitter page, Facebook group, and (as of yet unused) YouTube feed. And I hope by March 8, I’ll be able to find that that “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” T-shirt I used to own, too.

[ Harvard University Activists Announce First Nationwide “Feminist Coming Out Day”]
[Human Rights Watch: National Coming Out Day]
[Facebook: Feminist Coming Out Day]
[YouTube: Feminist Coming Out Day]