I’m just going to ramble. This blog post will not have a cohesive structure or argument. I’m just going to try to put things I’ve read into context with each other. I’m part of a really awesome queer women’s group, and we do really great things like have board game nights, camping trips, general get togethers and so on. We also have a book club, and the book we’re reading for August is Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. I’m going to write about some of the things I thought about when I read the introduction.
In the introduction, Gay talks about why she embraces the label of bad feminist. She says:
How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement (x).
This really resonated with me because I feel like mainstream society views feminism as a monolithic thing, that they view feminism as having one goal or only doing one thing or only having one vision.To say that feminism is only about creating equality between the sexes is too simplistic; it doesn’t capture the full picture of what’s going on. Feminism as Gay says “can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us (xiii).
Rowan Blanchard, the star of Girl Meets World, recently answered a question about feminism on her Instagram. She calls out “white feminism” by saying, “with as many issues as feminists have succeeded in adopting, many of us seem to have not accepted the fact that police brutality and race issues are our issues too.” Feminism can’t just be about one thing. Audre Lorde said “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single–issue lives.” People blame feminism for not living up to their expectations without recognizing that it’s our fellow people who are not living up to our expectations. Blanchard acknowledges the flaws of feminism while trying to “minimize the fractures”. She acknowledges the good that feminism has done while saying we can do better, that the battle is not nearly over yet. She doesn’t totally disavow feminism as I see people do all the time when they don’t see feminists or feminist groups responding to issues they care about.
Roxane Gay also talks the anger she feels when “women disavow feminism and shun the feminist label but say they support all the advances of born of feminism (xii).” This made me think about Lisa Hogeland’s essay, “Fear of Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies”. This was one of the first essays we discussed when I taught an intro to women’s studies course during grad school. Hogeland’s essay was written about 20 years ago, and it was written in response to the political climate of the time. Parts of it are still relevant today. Hogeland draws a distinction between gender consciousness and feminism by saying:
Feminism politicizes gender consciousness, inserts it into a systematic analysis of histories and structures of domination and privilege. Feminism asks questions–difficult and complicated questions, often with contradictory and confusing answers–about how gender consciousness can be used both for and against women, how vulnerability and difference help and hinder women’s self-determination and freedom. Fear of feminism, then, is not a fear of gender, but rather a fear of politics. Fear of politics can be understood as a fear of living in consequences, a fear of reprisals.
When Hogeland talks about the “fear of reprisals,” she’s talking about how it’s not in the interests of heterosexist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy for people to be questioning how these intermeshed systems of domination are at the root of the violence that happens to us. It’s the people who most benefit from these systems of domination that are the most vocal opponents of feminism. Pat Robertson, a ultra-conservative televangelist, is the one who said “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Yet, it’s not only from his mouth that we hear that rhetoric. Gay said, “I was called a feminist, and what I heard was, ‘You are an angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person'(xi).” Gay explains that her fear of feminism came from her fear of being ostracized (xii).
Both Hogeland and Gay express that fear of feminism is about fearing consequences. For both Hogeland and Gay, fear of feminism is about fear of being held accountable. Hogeland says
The central feminist tenet that the personal is political is profoundly threatening to young women who don’t want to be called to account. It is far easier to rest in silence, as if silence were neutrality, and as if neutrality were safety. Neither wholly cynical nor wholly apathetic, women who fear feminism fear living in consequences. Think harder, act more carefully; feminism requires that you enter a world supersaturated with meaning, with implications. And for privileged women in particular, the notion that one’s own privilege comes at someone else’s expense–that my privilege is your oppression–is profoundly threatening.
Feminism forces you to acknowledge when you are benefiting from or actually further perpetuating systems of oppression, and that’s a very hard thing. It requires you to exam all aspects of your life.
In my own life, I like stuff. I like buying new clothes. I like buying knick knacks. I like electronics. I must acknowledge that I have economic privilege; I buy and throw away stuff that most people around the world can’t. I buy stuff that was probably made as a result of labor exploitation. Feminism has given me the tools to recognize the systems at play when I drive my car to go to Target to buy some arts and crafts supplies. I’ve always felt guilty about stuff like this, but my guilt does no good. I just have to live my life as the best feminist I can be while recognizing that there are some areas of my life in which I am a bad feminist.
Feminism has given me the tools to better understand the factors that influence who I am and how I move through the world (Gay xiii). About a year ago, I got the following tattoo.
I go this tattoo knowing there are going to be tons of people I encounter who will look it and think I’m a terrible person. I go this tattoo thinking “I don’t want to be friends with anyone who will judge me negatively for embracing feminism.” For me, embracing feminism means embracing complexity and challenges. Feminism is not a single issue movement; it the lens through which I view the world.
*While I was thinking about what I wanted to write, I read this article, “Black Feminism and Intersectionality,” and I think you should read it too if you want to learn more about intersectionality.