Can you be a feminist and write “can you be a feminist and” articles?

Writing an article examining whether one can be a feminist and do whatever the article’s about seem to be all the rage at the moment. From working certain jobs, to having certain sex, to liking certain media, to standing with your hands on your hips, all is fair game to be examined through this lens. It makes for an easy article and you can go home with your ninety quid fee from Comment Is Free and enjoy a nice cup of whatever beverage is still feminist to enjoy.

This whole format is asking the wrong questions, from the wrong perspective. To ask if one can be a feminist and positions feminism as a question of individual choices and identity as a feminist rather than movement. It’s hardly a surprise that this format has erupted to popularity within comment journalism, which typically focuses on a watered-down liberal model of feminism, devoid of the radical kick we need to Get Shit Done. It elides asking why things are as they are, and proposing solutions, instead lumbering blame on the unfortunate women who commit unfeminist acts, or lauding those who act adequately feminist.

Positioning behaviour and feminist identity as sometimes opposing factors that need either reconciling or boycotting inevitably leads to bollocks. It leads to vehement declarations that something must be feminist, because the author as a feminist enjoys it, or, conversely, that something must be unfeminist because the author as a feminist does not like it. It neatly sidesteps asking the awkward questions, such as, where does this all fit in with a model of dominance and power? It is a study in egocentrism: the author’s views as a feminist suddenly become the definitive feminism by adopting this position as judge.

Issues are oversimplified. If something is unfeminist, then all we need to do is not do it to make the world a better place. The boycotting model works just fine and dandy for the most privileged of women, but for many of us, bargains are required for survival in this violent system. Such can one be a feminist and articles fail to examine why one would possibly do these things, in favour of a very basic proclamation that this is unfeminist. On the flip side, something deemed feminist is considered above criticism, no matter how problematic it may be.

Ultimately, one can be a feminist and full of conflicts and nuance. One can call oneself a feminist and do things which are horribly harmful for other women, such as becoming a CEO, being anti-choice or being a galloping bigot. Feminism is a broad church, and a lot of our sisters are wrong. The sort of feminist who writes opinion pieces as to whether one can be a feminist and, the one who lacks the vision to ask the right questions–and, indeed, lacks the vision to even examine the right problems–she, too is a feminist.

Our attention need not focus on individual behaviours and our own personal identity as a feminist. Instead, we need to think bigger, think broader. This is the sort of thing that will not get published in the mainstream, for it poses a genuine threat to patriarchy.

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7 responses to “Can you be a feminist and write “can you be a feminist and” articles?

  • meredithmwilson608

    Hey Stavvers, I liked this piece a lot, and think you’re right preference-feminism. But, thinking about this ‘what is a feminist’ and ‘does that question even make sense,’ here’s something I kick around a lot: if it’s not about behavior, or choices, or something demonstrable, does feminism as a movement have any kind of practical identity or definition? If someone can just ‘be’ a feminist, what does that being mean?

  • Anne Powles

    As in most matters, I think one is defined in life by what one does, how one lives, not what we claim to be. Labels mean little. Actions speak loudly.

  • illuminaughtyboutique

    It seems like most of these articles need some schooling in intersectionalism. Instead of asking if you can be both at the same time, they’d be better served to examine the deconstruction present in the binary they’ve just set up. Yes, we’re lots of things at once. Yes, this is kind of messy sometimes. But identity always is.

  • Elizabeth Moon

    Good post. Back when I was in college (’60s) I arrived thinking I was a feminist because (as the daughter of a divorced and very hard-working mother) I knew first hand the struggle that women had, economically and politically. I thought all women should have equal opportunity in education, employment, pay, reproductive choice, etc. But I was told by the “How can you call yourself a feminist if…?” group that I had to be Marxist, atheist, pacifist, lesbian and vegetarian to be a “real” feminist. Since being scolded and yelled at to change didn’t work with me (doesn’t work with a lot of women from my background–water off a duck’s back; we were always being scolded by someone already) we parted ways pretty early and very definitely.

    Being excluded for not being the perfect (by that definition) feminist meant that not only did I lose contact with the movement for years, but the movement lost my energy and determination–and that of many other women who also supported the “big picture” goals but were disqualified as “real” by feminist orthodoxy. Many of us pursued those goals as individuals, with much less effectiveness, and with a lingering sense of disconnection. We missed a lot. I think the movement missed a lot too, by not having us in it. We would have contributed to a grasp of intersectionalism, including the wide range of things that can combine to make life tougher for an individual.

    While I agree that behavior matters, behavior can be (is) judged differently depending on who presents the behavior and who is judging it. Without nonjudgmental listening, motivations will be misunderstood. All women do not have the same background, the same opportunities for choice, the same risks to face, or the same innate characteristics. IMO we need more inclusion and less perfectionism…and a lot more “What was it like for you?” and “What are your goals?” than “How can you call yourself a feminist if you are/do/eat/drink/wear/say X?”

  • cabrogal

    See how good your analysis is when you’re not trying to justify something the legal system does?

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