*Trigger Warning: Female with unpopular ideas & penchant for long-winded-ness.
I know this might seem strange, given that we live a world where we are encouraged to trample over women’s bodies/needs/ambitions/thoughts/spaces, where it is perfectly fine to colonize women’s experience, but the meaning of Feminism (a movement by and for women) is not “whatever you want it to be.”
Nor is feminism “for everyone.”
There’s a popular myth (and a particularly misogynistic one, at that) that “real feminism” incorporates everything: whatever your fetish, whatever your hang up, your quirk, your kink, your personal philosophy — according to mainstream culture, feminism is supposed to embrace you, protect you, and be ABOUT you.
This line of thinking reminds me of the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal of the late 1990s (one that has conveniently resurfaced again, but that’s for another blog). Back when the scandal broke, the Right often mused, with a sneer, “Well! Where are the feminists? Why are they not standing up for Ms. Lewinsky?”
Suddenly, there was this presumption that feminism was “about” supporting every act – no matter how sad or unscrupulous – that involved a woman. By this logic, feminists should have come out in support of Imelda Marcos or, more recently, Sarah Palin (and indeed, people in the media have, at times, asked why “the feminists” don’t support her, or help her, or something . . . ).
This may come as a surprise, but Feminism is not about “loudly celebrating every fucking single thing a woman does, no matter what.” (That, rather, would be called “madness.”)
Feminism is not one big “whatever floats your boat.” Feminism has a rich history, a solid philosophy, and it is about women; more specifically, it is about women’s liberation from patriarchy. (*Trigger warning part deux: I will repeat this phrase, because it bears repeating.)
The “feminism belongs to everyone/is for everyone” trope furthers the (erroneous) assumption that women are everyone’s mommas, that our purpose as women (biological females) is to indulge your special feelings, embrace you, coddle you, console you, to be selfless at all costs – this, of course, is a misogynistic conceit promoted in damn near every corner of patriarchy, and one that women have paid the price for dearly. (We need look no further than the recent firing of Jill Abramson to confirm this; prior to her dismissal she was accused of — and I’m liberally, but not inaccurately, paraphrasing — “lacking in the ‘warm-and-fuzzy’ department.”)
Secondly, and perhaps even more insidiously, this absurd notion that “feminism belongs to everyone” waters down, obscures, pollutes and destroys the true aim of feminism – women’s liberation from patriarchy.
When feminism is “for” the pornographers, the transgendered, the BDSM crowd, the fragile feelings of men, when it is about upholding and celebrating gender roles designed to subjugate women, then it is no longer about women. And when it is no longer about women, it is no longer feminism, but something else entirely – Queer Anarchist Theory, maybe? Whateverian Studies? Fuck if I know.
The hard fought and few gains women have made – economically, socially – are the result, expressly, of the feminist movement – particularly the Second Wave, which many self-professed “real feminists” (read: feminists who don’t know what that word actually means) are all too keen to deride.
Women that I know often lament the fact that women’s progress, women’s gains seem to be unraveling – Machiavellian reproductive rights laws, profound pay inequity, brutal exploitation, deeply sexist representations in the media . . . And mouths agape, we wonder, “What the fuck is going on?”
Indeed, the rights of women have begun to erode. (I’m talking about the US here –obviously, there are many, many places across the globe where women’s rights are absent altogether). And this, I would argue, is because feminism – at the hands of those who have bought into the ridiculous notion that “feminism belongs to everyone” have diluted, and damn near destroyed the movement. “Feminism for everyone” has no common goal. “Feminism for everyone” debases (and has debased) this essential and urgently needed socio-political movement.
“Feminism for everyone” is lazy activism, and we cannot afford to be lazy.
And is it any wonder many young women are reticent to assert that they are feminist? They don’t even know what it means anymore, for fuck’s sake. Feminism has been misrepresented, redefined, twisted and hijacked by just about every “special interest” group under the sun. What does it mean to say you’re a “Feminist” if feminism is “about everything”? I mean, many misogynists and even and even some virulently anti-women women on the far Conservative Right have claimed the term for their own. (I was going to go hunting for some quotes, which I could easily find, to prove this point, but that’s just far too depressing for a Saturday night.)
B-b-but what about men? You might be thinking. Can’t men be feminists, too?
Sure. Anyone can be a feminist, but that doesn’t mean feminism is for everyone and everything.
First we need to get clear, get back to basics and remember that Feminism is a movement FOR women, designed to improve the lives of women – not men who decide they are women, but women who were born into the female sex caste. We need to remember that Feminism works to end, not support, patriarchy. We need to remember as women, as feminists, that the movement is not about delicately handling the fragile feelings of others (usually men). We need to remember, as women, as feminists, that we are not obligated to welcome everyone who demands entry into the ranks of our movement.
We need to remember that those who claim to be “feminist,” must put in the work – the work of standing up for women, the work of ensuring the safety of women and girls, the work of decrying any and all cultural outposts that degrade the personalities of women and girls. Feminists must prioritize women – and I’m talking about biological women here, I’m not talking about those who have conflated sex and gender. Let the latter start their own movement, create their own safe spaces, let the latter figure their shit out on their own, let the latter fight their own battles – the way actual women have had to for centuries – do not let fetishists, manipulators, and men twist and snarl the meaningful, the hard won word, “feminist” to suit their own interests.
We are under no obligation to be accommodating.
We must remember that it is okay to be seen as strident, unpopular. We must remember that it is okay if others take offense to the work we are doing to ensure women’s liberation from oppressive constructs and ideologies, and they will. They will take offense. They will tell us to “get fucked,” they will wish us “slow deaths.” They will liken our gatherings to KKK rallies. They will call us “ignorant bitches.” They will attack our looks. They will use every tool in the “patriarchy playbook” to dissuade us from speaking out, acting out – but these objections, however terrifying and ugly, should only serve to remind us why our solidarity as females, as feminists, as a movement is more necessary now than ever.