politics

Bad feminists and worse feminists.

8 April, 2012

I haven’t written much in a long time due to poor cognitive happenings, but this wouldn’t stop buzzing around my head so I wanted to write it out! Please note, that this is not a feminism 101 type post and many of the concepts deserve further reading. I’ll provide links throughout and at the end, do click and learn from the sources!

[Trigger warning: some of the links do lead to places that contain transmisogyny, racial violence and slurs.]

“Feminist is a bad word and everything they stand for is bad.”
– Phyllis Schlafly

Is this ripped from an Internet meme? I doubt it; leave it to a conservative to deliver such a droll line without nuance. Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative white lady partly responsible for taking down the Equal Rights Amendment in the USA (but I’m sure she’s nice aside from all that), recently lectured young impressionable male minds and warned them away from dirty feminist ladies who probably have abortions every weekend, even if they are pretty.

“Feminists are having a hard time being elected because they essentially are unlikable.” I picture Schlafly nodding sagely as she proclaims this, largely dismissing the effects of male privilege amongst other factors. Passionate women politicians, even conservatives like Margaret Thatcher, have been howled down for their “shrill tones” and locked out of opportunities because they don’t pee in the same bathroom as the boys’ club. But no, that has nothing to do with it; those feminist killjoys are just too damned unlikeable with their commitment to equity and fair access to reproductive services.

An illustration of a brown skinned woman in a white rose trimmed frame. Text says "Duanna Johnson 1965-2008." Illustration by vizzz, part of a series commemorating trans women who have been killed in hate crimes.

My goodness, imagine if the greater public had the occasion to make acquaintance with a feminist just as committed to the intersection of gender violence, anti-racism, cissexism, transmisogyny, disability, classism and sexuality! Forget unlikeable, brains would divide by zero, yeh? Well, no. How about the cheer that would be sent up from the
• trans people and families
• queer people and families
• gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and asexual people
• poor families and individuals
• people of colour
• people with disabilities
• carers
• pregnant people
• people who identify as any number of the above.

It’d be a loud cheer, because that’s a significant heft of Australian society, and I’d wage it’d be pretty similar in the United States. Considering that conservatives want to maintain the status quo, because it directly benefits them, it makes sense they’d find a hoard of people calling for the dismantling of their hurtful, murderous and unsustainable systems a bit unlikeable. Schlafly doesn’t need to tell these young men to stay away from feminists because we live in a culture that has already trained them to be suspicious and defensive of anything that challenges their privilege.

It’s not hard to jump to the assumption that these men, taking a class called “Conservative Intellectual Tradition in America” at The Citadel, South Carolina, are rather privileged types. Most of them would be white, middle class (or higher), heterosexual and cisgendered males, but Schlafly’s (and wider cultural) warnings really don’t take into account male feminists, gay feminists, transgendered feminists, non-binary feminists as well as people who don’t identify as feminist but sure as hell want to destroy the status quo. I’m certain there might have even been a few in her audience feeling rather pissed about their erasure. Upon a bit of research The Citadel even appears to have female students, but were they not present at this lecture and if not, how are they ever going to learn about the Importance of Conservatism and the Badness of Feminism? (Apparently women students weren’t allowed to have locks on their barracks doors until 1997…!)

I identify as a feminist. I think I’m a nice person most of the time, and I don’t like to think that I stand for anything bad. Most of us feel like that, even the privileged and conservative and I get it, we all want to believe we’re doing what’s best for ourselves and our own. Here’s the actual truth: a lot of the stuff we stand for is actually harmful, especially in feminism. In fact, feminism has a racist, classist and transmisogynistic history that reaches deep and is still practiced today. I once thought that with each “wave” we’d overcome the shortcomings of our feminist ancestors, but I have been incredibly short sighted because I am privileged as well. I’m a white cisgendered woman in a heterosexual relationship, speaking the dominant language of the country I live in, I would do well to quit being so optimistic and start listening to the lived experiences, and often horrors, of others who live dealing with intersecting oppressions.

A pen drawing of a female gender symbol with the following text written in it, "Fight for women of all colors, fight for trans women, fight for women of every class. Not just white, middle class, cisgender women. We all need to back each other up and fight for equal treatment. (Source needed!)

Many feminists do not believe an intersectional approach (like the one outlined in the list above) is central to their own feminism and maintain a feminism focused solely on dismantling (white) patriarchy is the best way to achieve gender equality. I disagree. In fact, I believe a feminism without nuance, a feminism that focuses predominantly on white middle class women is a violent ideology because it specifically throws trans women under the bus and negates all the work POC have invested in human rights amongst other exclusionary acts.

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear it is the task of women of Color to educate white women-in the face of tremendous resistance-as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought. In light of these facts, the women decided to forge their own movement, the Black Feminist Movement.
– Audre Lorde

Hell, the vicious rhetoric I’ve seen spew from the keyboards of Radical Feminists in the last week (seriously, explore this tumblr post for the some disgusting radfem displays of hatred) should be evidence of how feminism can be not just bad, but as violent as conservatism itself. It’s no wonder many activists reject a feminist identity all together. Who’d want to be associated with people who seek to erase, exclude and sometimes even murder their existence?

If Phyllis Schlafly is warning virile and tender male minds away from the siren call of feminist women because, and I paraphrase, “feminism is bad and abortion is bad and blah blah I got nothing else” well these young conservatives are going to be flummoxed (perhaps to the point of violence) when they meet say, a fat gender queer feminist, or a black disabled womanist because even radfems quiver when they encounter these magnificent specimens of humanity who are working tirelessly just to survive.

In conclusion: conservatism is a bad idea and feminism can be bad too, but it’s a hell of a topic that deserves nuance and nothing less. I don’t even think I’ve provided enough nuance in this post, and I can only hope to learn more about my own privilege so I can continue working on absolutely wrecking the status quo.

What Transmisogyny Looks Like by Tobi Hill-Meyer
Push(back) at the Intersections: How About Some -isms with Your Feminism? by s.e. smith
Trans-Formative Change – Meaghan Winter interviews Dean Spade
things i need white feminists to do before i will take you seriously by so treu
Why I’m Leaving Feminism by s.e. smith
On feminism, part 2 by The Angry Black Woman

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  • This is a brilliant post, Natalie. x

  • Isabelle Gardiner

    Totally agree-great post:)))
    Natalie you need a one way ticket to the white-house…..
    GO SORT THEM OUT GIRL LOL!!!
    Best wishes
    Issyx

    http://www.hookytime.blogspot.com

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have anything particularly insightful to add but I wanted to let you know I think this is a really great post!
    -Andi x

  • A great post indeed. Well said. I think I need to post something along these lines myself.

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