When is the label “feminist” useful?
I hadn’t heard of antifeminist “feminist” Megan McArdle until I came across one of her silly columns today (in which she bashes Feministe—good work, guys!). However, I’ve long been acquainted with Christina Hoff Sommers, Katie Roiphe, Cathy Young, Camille Paglia, and their ilk.
All of these women spend their lives bashing feminism, with one thing separating them from your average conservative: they preface their sentence by saying, “as a feminist…”
So, for example, “As a feminist, I think feminism is a terrible idea. Also, feminists are hairy and mean and not pretty.”
You know how it goes.
So on one hand, we have a bunch of stealth conservative assholes muddying the waters when it comes to an actual, positive definition of feminism. It kind of freaks me out that in situations like this, the word is so amorphous as to be virtually meaningless. As stealth conservatives have figured out, anyone can call themselves a feminist. What good is a word if it’s that easy to fuck up its meaning?
On the other hand, we have serious, bigtime, ginormous problems with the marginalization of all kinds of people by mainstream “feminism.” For this reason, I have sometimes found myself struggling with whether I could identify with the word, especially lately with the outright racist apologism I heard during the primary election from some of my fellow “feminists.” If that is what feminism is, take my name off the list.
I know that some random racist doesn’t get to define what feminism is for me, but at what point has the movement become so tainted by racist/transphobic/ableist/classist/Islamophobic etc. etc. etc. individuals that we alienate entire swaths of the population and erase our own identities just by identifying as “feminist?” We can try to tackle it when someone does something offensive, but people are going to keep doing offensive things. Even if every existing feminist magically poofed away our blind spots (which ain’t gonna happen), the culture is still what it is. There would be brand new feminists with all the same blind spots, perenially presenting themselves and causing pain and division. This problem isn’t going away.
On the other hand (I realize I am on my third hand), isn’t it important to have words to describe the movement against gender oppression? How else do we find each other? Maybe most of the time we can just organize around an issue and forget the labels (and most of the time, we’ll be more effective if we do), but sometimes in order to be effective we need to recognize gender oppression as something larger than one specific issue. We need a framework. How do we do that without a word?
I know this is a can of worms. I’m asking commenters ahead of time to be civil, please.
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