The World, the Internet, and the Scourge of the Scary Scary Feminists

Sorry this is up so late. This is a big topic and I’m still not sure I dealt with it adequately, but I needed all this time.

Feminism as a Bad Thing

It’s an oft-repeated trope that feminism has become a dirty word, that there is an aversion to the term that is new in this young generation. The claim that the youth don’t care about political feminism is questionable at best, but the un-mainstream nature of feminism has much more compelling evidence on it side.

We see this everywhere. We see it in this video, where despite some excellent, totally rockin’ responses, we also have a socialist who refuses to call herself a feminist as well as someone who sees it as a thing of the past.

We see it in Lady Gaga’s response to the question. Lady Gaga, who sees herself as transgressive and boundary-breaking and who questions her interviewer’s sexist bias, demurs from calling herself a feminist, not because she doesn’t believe in the tenets or agree with the direction of the movement, but because she doesn’t want to be associated with man-haters, with those who hate the “male culture” of beer and fast cars and don’t ‘love’ and ‘hail’ men. What has gone so deeply wrong that this powerful, adventurous woman cannot bring herself to say loudly and proudly, “I have a deep appreciation for certain aspects of what it means to be a man in this culture, but there is no earthly reason why those should be restricted to men and damn it, someone whose gentialia have been as questioned as mine have should understand that at our core we must respect the flourishing and empowerment of everyone, and we are not there yet, especially not for women.”

We see it in this blogger, who conceptually pits feminism against love, baking and children, associating it only with careerism and an aversion to cleaning. She tells her readers that it is impossible for women to have it all, that in fact they must choose between jobs and love and family. In fact, if they are successful and capable, men will not like them, and thus, the empowerment that feminism offered was in fact a destruction of her chances at happiness. A competent, intelligent woman is repudiating feminism, not because she wants a traditionally feminine role or lifestyle rather than a career, but because she feels that feminism, as a political movement designed to open up choices, has given her only one that she didn’t want.

But these are common examples. Women who likely agree with all of the things that many political and theoretical feminists would deem feminist principles refusing to call themselves feminists are everywhere. More poignant is the example set by Randall Munroe, of xkcd webcomic fame, who took to Google+ recently to point out that making the name and gender of every user of the new social network not only mandatory but public is somewhat problematic. He noted that not everyone might want to disclose their gender, and that is not quite the same as Other, and furthermore, that there are power dynamics at play that disadvantage women in the social and internet spheres. Upon reading this, I braced myself for thousands of vitriolic, insensitive, misogynistic, transphobic comments, and was pleasantly surprised to see an outpouring of support for the silliness of a clearly unnecessary disclosure. But then, of course, someone had to ruin it. One commenter said,

“Let me TL;DR for you, “Gender shouldn’t be mandatory and/or public”.
Anything more descriptive beyond that is going to lose support, especially in the way you presented it. I’ll take the hit here, but if you weren’t XKCD (and I didn’t pick up on who typed this until AFTER reading it) it would appear very femi-nazi and I doubt you’d be getting the 99% positive comments you have on this post.
The main issue I have with it is that for your first paragraph you basically call women helpless vulnerable humans who are defined by what other people think about them (and nothing can be done about that, like say taking a self-confidence class) and that men are imposing, dominating sociopaths who will stalk and rape you because you put “female” on your profile.
It’s just stereotyping all around, and using some/most qualifiers to sort out people who can feel superior by not conforming to your statements would appear disingenuous at best.
I almost wonder if you posted this as a test just to see if people would agree with you just because you’re XKCD :?”

A man had the courage to, in this feminist-skeptical world, stand up for something which is not even, as I imagine it, particularly controversial, and he received back, from the wonderful place which is the internet, a reminder that he should really have kept it short because people might not like what he had to say. In fact, it might be offensive to men to hear that women might be scared of them, or might recognize that the internet is not always a safe place for them. It’s just “stereotyping all around” to point out that the world is not yet equal and not yet safe. How dare he. In fact, had Randall Munroe not been Randall Munroe, had he been, for example, a woman, or an unpopular man, he might be called a feminazi, and then what would he do? Only those who have an extraordinary amount of social cache can survive the impossible negative effects of calling out injustices. In fact, that brave act could be called nothing more than a test.

The question is why. Why feminism is a bad thing, and why no one is allowed to be one. Some ideas:

Feminism, at its best, is a broad criticism of a patriarchal society, which reaches everything from types of knowledge and understanding to institutional discrimination to subtle bias to divisive and damaging prescribed roles to norms of all kinds. And that makes it incredibly annoying. With wrongs all too pervasive in everyday life, someone committed to righting them must show a remarkable amount of commitment to being constantly on the offensive, never giving up or letting slide simply because it is convenient. The immense difficulty in engaging in that kind of project is enough to be a considerable psychological barrier that stops feminism as a project from being widely popular (though of course there are many other reasons, some more sinister). The flip side of that phenomenon is that someone not engaged in that kind of work can be made to feel constantly on the defensive, as if all parts of their lives, all of what they consider normal, is an injustice that must be eradicated, because all too often, it is. Unfortunately, what this almost inevitably leads to is a distancing from feminism, and a perpetual shutting down and dismissal of feminist discourse.

Certainly, there are weaknesses in feminism that have caused all of the bloggers here to ask some tough questions about where the movement is going. Feminism was incredibly hard on women through all times, asking them to give up what was comfortable and easy for the hope of something better. It had many successes and many failures. Feminism has been racist, classist and transphobic. It has been essentialist. It has caused women to question every aspect of their lives and being, wondering if they’re doing it right. At times, it put up a new dogma in the place of the old one, helping no one (for an example of this as relates to appearance and an all around fantastic read, I suggest The Politics of Appearance). Lady Gaga has somehow learned that male culture must be unacceptable to feminists (unless she is only using that as a cover to distance herself from feminism). The blogger was taught that she could only be a good feminist if she indeed managed to have it all, and any decision towards ‘traditional’ femininity was a repudiation of feminism.

The weaknesses are there, but more powerful are the strengths, and the fact is that feminism by its very nature will make it difficult to be a part of it. It is supposed to put forth a set of overwhelming and never-ending problems to overcome. It is intended to make us all uncomfortable with how we have acted and behaved, treated ourselves and each other, and how we have interacted to make the global society that exists today. How else are we to end rape culture and attacks on reproductive rights? How else are to to form a safe space for butch women and effeminate men, gays and lesbians, single women and married, religious and secular? There has been no insurpassable blockade of failure placed on feminism by the scary, critical, elitist intellectual feminists who constantly theorize about how wrong we all are to live the way we so, nor by the terrifying, ever-present, critical political activist feminist who is always asking us to change in ways we don’t want to. They have made mistakes, but they have not failed. They have done exactly what they were meant to.

Afterword

I have very few ideas for solutions, mostly because as a result of this opinion I hold I am reluctant to make feminism an easier pill to swallow, to make it palatable and easy. It has nothing to do with populism or elitism; feminism is for the masses. But I don’t know how much I want to change it to make it that way. I do want to acknowledge all people (cis women, who have always been accepted into feminism, as well as others) who proudly identify as feminist, and Randall Munroe and my co-bloggers and Sociological Images and all things like it which go about their work politely, gracefully but quite forcefully. Maybe when the waves subside, we’ll be leading the charge.

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15 thoughts on “The World, the Internet, and the Scourge of the Scary Scary Feminists

  1. Emmy says:

    Beautifully written, Queen Christina!

    I’ve been struggling with my own feminist identity lately because I feel like my kind of feminism is now a marginalized minority opinion that most people would either find too demanding, too personal, and I feel like these negative images of the “big bad feminist” have served to pressure people, not just me, to stay silent and not be too “pushy” about things when we in fact should be pushy. Another huge thing is the rifts in communication and solidarity that this negative image creates between women who ally themselves with the movement and women who don’t. Your post’s boldness is very encouraging and challenges me to look for ways to resist this silencing and division.

    Yours,
    Emmy

    • Christina says:

      Thank you, Emmy!

      I entirely agree with you, and while there is always a balance to be struck between stridency and diplomacy (both for the cause of respect and because careful decisions about which tone and tack are appropriate in which circumstances make us more effective communicators), I think it is absolutely the case that we often err on the side of inoffensiveness. Feminism branding itself as ‘easy’ and ‘simple’ (it’s just about choice, right? everyone can get behind that!) is to me not only undermining the cause by severely restricting what it is we are allowed to talk about. On a more personal level, this is probably also another example of women’s voices being crowded out, seen as unnecessary; that is, one of the very problems feminism is meant to address.

      Your taking encouragement from this post inspires me to stand behind it more strongly, to take ownership of this voice, which, even for the loud and obnoxious, is not always easy.

      Queen Christina

  2. Cookie Monster says:

    As someone who agrees with feminism (on many fronts) but does not personally identify as “feminist”, I’ve been dealing with what exactly it means to be “anti-feminist” or “patriarchal” recently. Particularly if there is a difference, and what it means if the “anti-feminist” action/mindset is coming from a realistic or experiential place rather than a philosophical one.

    One experience in particular stands out in my mind (which will be the subject of a future blog post), but part of it is deeply relevant here. After observing my chaotic classroom quiet down immediately for a male substitute (all their “regular” teachers are female), I pulled out one of my (male) students to ask what was different about that lesson that had so impacted their behavior. The student immediately responded “well… he was a guy, you know, and he had the PowerPoint-” and then froze. I watched him mentally replay his comments, and then immediately begin doing damage control. “Miss, I didn’t mean that. I mean, we don’t disrespect you because you’re a girl–woman! I respect women. It was just different, you know? Having a male there.”

    Here’s the problem with the way most people perceive feminism: As someone raised by feminists, my student’s comments strike me as deeply wrong, hurtful, and anti-feminist. The “feminist” sympathizer part of my brain says “Just because he was male shouldn’t make him better or more interesting! I am just as good a TEACHER as him! In fact, he didn’t do anything all that different than what I do on a daily basis.” Realistically, though, I know that my student wasn’t coming from a place of hurtfulness or sexism. He doesn’t see me as a “girl teacher” usually; I’m just his teacher. But when a male teacher came in, he noticed the difference and changed his behavior in response to the fact the sub was “different”. The fact that gender difference is salient to most of us, even when we aren’t drawing conclusions from it or thinking about it consciously, feels out of whack with feminism, as if we’re moving towards dangerously “sexist” turf just by noticing. More importantly, it feels very awkward and disrespectful to be “feminist” and want to AVOID gender. I don’t want my students to respect me for being an empowered, professional woman-teacher. I want to be those things to such an extent that I’m just a “great teacher”. It seems contradictory that a movement focused on gender equality for women could be okay with either of those trains of thought.

    Ps. Whew – sorry for the long response! I hope it made some sense.

    • LadyG says:

      Cookie, I haven’t actually read your response yet, but I promise I will soon. You always say great things. It’s just that your PS stood out at me.

      YO LADIES, STOP APOLOGIZING FOR HAVING LONG OPINIONS. I fully recognize that I am loud and obnoxious and unafraid to shout down any idiot, male or female. I also recognize that not everyone wants or needs to do this.

      Cookie happens to be the third person this week who has apologized for having something to say that wasn’t TL;DR. TL;DR is always relevant, particularly when dealing with chauvinists with goldfish attention spans, but NOT ON A FEMINISM BLOG. HAVE YOUR OPINION AND HAVE IT LONG, DAMMIT.

      I am really getting tired of hearing women apologizing for having something to say. As long as you don’t talk out of turn, you absolutely get to talk. And if you’re more knowledgeable than the other person, you SHOULD correct injustice or inaccuracy if you can do it without insulting them.

      Finally, not every lady needs to be loud, but more of them should be.

      BITE ME, BOYS
      Lady G

      • Christina says:

        Yes, yes and yes. Long opinions are thoughtful opinions! No, not always, but the correlation is there, and with our readers, I trust that they will go hand-in-hand. I’d never noticed before the gender disparity at apologizing, but I think you’re totally right.

        One correction, if I may:
        “As long as you don’t talk out of turn, you absolutely get to talk. And if you’re more knowledgeable than the other person, you SHOULD correct injustice or inaccuracy if you can do it without insulting them – and even sometimes if you can’t”

        Queen Christina

      • LadyG says:

        Good catch. 🙂

    • Emmy says:

      Sexism doesn’t always take its typically portrayed angry and anti-woman expression, it often involves the over-valorization of males, based on this “difference,” Doesn’t this reflect a series of sexist paradigms that require un-learning by your student?

      “as if we’re moving towards dangerously “sexist” turf just by noticing.”
      Since when is consciousness of gender and its social baggage not a feminist value?

      Also, I don’t think the goal of feminism can be properly described as “gender equality for women” – that’s only liberal feminism. There are plenty of different types of feminism, including difference feminism and radical feminism, in which equality is not the goal.

      • Emmy says:

        Sexism doesn’t always take its typically portrayed angry and anti-woman expression, it often involves the over-valorization of males, based on this “difference,” Doesn’t this reflect a series of sexist paradigms that require un-learning by your student?

        “as if we’re moving towards dangerously “sexist” turf just by noticing.”
        Since when is consciousness of gender and its social baggage not a feminist value?

        Also, I don’t think the goal of feminism can be properly described as “gender equality for women” – that’s only liberal feminism. There are plenty of different types of feminism, including difference feminism and radical feminism, in which equality is not the goal.

        Yours,
        Laz

      • Cookie Monster says:

        I’m not sure it is a valorization of men. I think my student recognized that, in my school, male teachers are rare and therefore their attention is a scarce commodity. Is it sexist to respond different to respond differently to men and women in that scenario?

        As to the second two, I wasn’t trying to suggest those things ARE true about all or any kind of feminism. I was describing feelings which I think goes on in the less-philosophical/educated majority of the population, leading to the pop culture demonization of feminism you noted in your post.

  3. LadyG says:

    I love all of this, and plan to respond in greater detail once I’ve digested your opinions.

    You already know my thoughts on Randall, who has entered the realm of Internet Celebrity and therefore is subject to these kind of attacks NO MATTER WHAT he says or does. I do think there was actually someone who took your cited commenter to task for it farther down.

    And wrt your careful challenging of Gaga: A THOUSAND TIMES LOVE. Somebody print it out and send it to her, seriously. If I have time in August, maybe I will.

  4. Yamyo says:

    Hello!

    I’m going to possibly write a longer response to this article, but I quickly wanted to point out that Lady Gaga no longer distances herself from feminism and clarifies (possibly unknowingly) the point you make above regarding her initial reasons for not stating she was a feminist:

    “I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good,” [Lady Gaga] said. “I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.’ ”

    Gaga’s casual use of the term “feminist” was interesting; like many female pop stars, she’s rejected the term in the past. But she’s evolving. She is growing “more compassionate,” she says, and focusing more on ideas of community, especially the one formed by her core fan base, a mix of gay men, bohemian kids and young women attracted by Gaga’s style and her singable melodies.

    Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/13/entertainment/la-ca-lady-gaga13-2009dec13

    • LadyG says:

      Thanks, Yamyo! As soon as I started reading the comments on Bitch Magazine I noticed that several commenters returned several months later to say the same thing.

      I find Gaga very, very fascinating. Her music is excellent, her fashion taste not as groundbreaking as she thinks, and her feminism is…scattered. But commendable. In the next few months I might do a Wednesday post on her. I think she’s more complicated than Beyonce but way less than Rihanna.

  5. Queer Jewish Dandy says:

    A reply to the most eloquent Cookie Monster.

    Re: Is it sexist to respond different to respond differently [sic] to men and women in that scenario?

    As you well know, I am no gender essentialist. That said, one of the primary indications of the existence of gender is played out in relationships. We react to people of different genders and gender presentation differently, and I notice that both in the reactions of people who read me with differing genders and the way I interact with others. I am much less careful with my language around men in a way that puts me at ease. On the other hand, I make myself (and thus feel) much more presentable when I am around women, at least for the most part.

    Regarding teaching specifically, I think we pay attention more to teachers we feel are invested in us as people. For some people, I think that manifests in perception of shared gender. I think your student probably realized that the substitute was a “boy teacher” much more than he realized that you are a “girl teacher.”

    I agree with Emmy that consciousness of gender difference is part of feminism. However, I don’t think that paying attention is a reaction that needs to be unlearned, least of all by students. Rather, we need to build a society in which gender is simply one aspect of how we relate to others rather than the first aspect. Let us teach people to pay attention more, not less. Otherwise, we risk systematically dehumanizing even larger portions of society.

  6. MZ says:

    I think the problem is that we all try to compartmentalize ourselves. We see a term and we think “all or nothing” when the beauty of Feminism, Equalism, etc., is that there isn’t one “us”. There is the fundamental idea that “women should be equal” that Feminists share, but what that means is different for all of us, and that is what makes Feminism great. And that is why I am not ashamed of calling myself a Feminist.

    The very idea that people see “Feminist” and already have a narrow view on what that means is what Feminism should be fighting against. It started with the idea that women aren’t just suppose to be “pretty” and “stay at home” and “clean and take care of children” and nothing else. That women could be something different if they choose. That the word “woman” didn’t automatically mean a set of things. This is how I see Feminism. When I say I’m a Feminist I want people to engage me and find out what I mean by Feminist. When you tell me you are a Feminist I don’t want to just leave it at that. I want to get at your core beliefs. What you think and what you want to accomplish.

  7. […] issue I presented a few weeks ago was a clash that arose as a result of a culture unwilling to accept the criticism that feminism was […]

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