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There’s no such thing as a “bad” feminist

Why do I so often feel like I’m about to be told I’m “doing it wrong”?

As a direct result of being opinionated, I regularly feel the need to check what I say/write/Tweet/whatever, in order to avoid accidental and unnecessary offence. Which is fair. Sometimes I hold back, and sometimes I don’t.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed something that pisses me right off: of all the things I could possibly offend, I find myself tiptoeing the most around feminism. At least once a day, I get this nervous feeling that something I’m about to write, say or think will render me a “bad feminist” and apparently as a natural consequence, unsupportive of gender equality.

Something isn’t right here. In fact, fuck that.

Lena Dunham said in an interview:

Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my greatest pet peeve.”

I want to talk about this. Well, first of all, let me stand on a table and say that I have SO MUCH love for Lena and her work. More than you could probably imagine with a regular human brain. Potentially creepy levels of the stuff. Anyway, she’s not the only one with this “pet peeve”. It’s a valid one, in my view, but I think it’s worth considering what causes it to be an issue to begin with.

I am a woman, I ultimately do identify as a feminist (though I’ve felt conflicted about it before for the reasons I’m about to discuss). I am a determined, strong-minded, motivated, independent, hardworking woman. I believe in my right and every other human being’s right to have equal access, choices and opportunities. I love to watch women succeed. I love to watch anyone that works hard succeed, particularly those that do so despite some kind of disadvantage. I am educated and compassionate; I am not always right, and I make mistakes. I believe in equal rights for women, and for all human beings, as well as the continual efforts to correct imbalance and injustice when it comes to race, gender, sexuality, class, and culture. I think that makes me an “equalist”, which I see as more or less synonymous with the true definition of “feminist”: someone who believes in equal rights for women and men  equal rights for all people  equality.

So, why do I so often feel like I’m about to be told I’m doing it wrong?

I’ve spent the morning scrolling through various commentaries on sites that I adore, thoroughly respect and read daily, by writers that I look up to and admire immensely. Commentaries about the way various women in powerful positions have answered questions about feminism, and – specifically – those that apparently didn’t do it right. I found a lot of what I read pretty unnerving.

Subjective opinions re: cream-gun nipples aside, Katy Perry is a woman who is strong, intelligent, and has achieved immense success. She stated that she believes in “the strength of women”, but is “not a feminist”, and has since been criticized no end. It’s not that Jezebel was by any means inaccurate in the following note to her, but I’m not sold on the productivity of their tone: Hi Katy Perry! At its most simple definition, all feminism means is that you think that women should be equal to men, okay? Cool, thanks, byyyyye!.

Taylor Swift, a very young woman also navigating the tricky, swampy, male-dominated music industry and doing extremely well, was told she’s in fact “a feminist’s nightmare”.

Lena Dunham’s work is “not enough” for this writer in a critical piece about “the problem with white girl feminism”.

Another piece about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer opened with the headline “Please Tell Me This Is A Joke: Marissa Mayer Says She’s Not A Feminist”, which kicked off an array of criticism. Again, let me re-iterate that I completely comprehend the frustration that fuels such commentary.

Mamamia discussed this a while ago, talking about why we need to maintain the value of the “feminist” title, and I don’t disagree. I agree entirely.

However, I do not think it’s OK that so many women are so often smacked down with such aggressive and condescending rhetoric. For what? For doing it wrong. I find this entirely disappointing.

Every woman’s success should be fucking celebrated.

They’re not superheroes, they’re human. Every woman’s success is a contribution, in some form or another (whether it’s your preferred way or not), towards strengthening the collective understanding that women are just as awesome as men.

Each time a woman achieves success on her own terms, she’s re-enforcing capability of the gender and she should be met with a round of applause. Why does it seem like the biggest critics of women are other women?

I surveyed a number of my friends today. Friends that I consider to be incredibly strong, admirable, forward-thinking, independent women. One told me she considers herself an “equalist”.

Others said something very similar to what Perry and others have been condemned for saying: that they absolutely believe in equal rights and the strength of women, but that they don’t specifically call themselves feminists.

I think Amanda Hess said it well in a piece she wrote for Slate: “…I’m beginning to realize that the question “Are you a feminist?” tells us much more about the feminist movement’s own branding failures than it does the beliefs of the women prompted to respond.” Thank you!! Can we think about this? (I loved this piece.)

Yep, the definition of feminism is nothing more or less than believing in and striving for equal rights for women and men. Yep, that renders the above women feminists. Yep, it sucks that from time to time, women with profiles and loud voices aren’t inclined to use the word “feminist” to describe themselves (yep – I agree, Clem Bastow). Yep, it’s important to figure out why.

However, whilst a number of potential reasons have been thrown about, we have to acknowledge this tendency of so many smart women to embrace the definition of feminism without hesitation, yet take issue with the term itself.

Surely this suggests that the real problem (or one of them, at least) may reside in the pudding itself: (a) a genuine issue with the popular image and branding of the “feminist” title, and (b), which is often directly related to (a), the condescending and critical approach that feminist rhetoric so often takes towards other women who don’t phrase it the way they apparently should.

Salon suggested that “Nobody enjoys it more when a woman says she’s not a feminist than a misogynist.”

You know what I think a misogynist loves even more? Women bitching with each other about each other. You know what I think is a real field day opportunity for them?

Women debating about how we’re supposed to be women, properly.

Women criticizing each other for doing the very thing they ought to be thoroughly congratulated for – kicking ass.

Condescending disdain for another woman’s success, because they’re “doing it wrong”… instead of thoughtful and productive re-adjustment of the collective understanding of what feminism really means.

Can we perhaps think about this in an attempt to solve our “pet peeve”?

What do you think?

shanrah feminstThis post was written by Shanrah Wakefield, an Australian born writer, social commentator, comedic performer, lover of travel and incidental law graduate who enjoys a solid debate. Twitter: @shanrahw


15 thoughts on “There’s no such thing as a “bad” feminist

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  6. Women are womens own worst enemy & women are lying to themselves if they think feminism is about equality, its about trying to put themselves in positions of power by shouting louder about all the ways they are “discriminated” against


  7. From a semantic point of view, “feminist” is nothing more than an arbitrary label. I was quoted in this piece a while ago:
    At the time I said: “Feminism to me has always been more about action than ideology and ultimately I think we can get too caught up in discussing the semantics of the label ‘feminist’, which we are never going to agree on. While discussion is obviously very important, we demonstrate being feminist in our everyday actions- by working hard, by negotiating and fighting for equality at work and within our relationships. And by demonstrating compassion and acceptance of human difference.”
    I still stand by that and think it is just a distraction to have a bunch of in-fighting on Twitter about whether one woman or another does or doesn’t identify with the “brand”
    of feminism that we are familiar with in the 21st century.
    Thanks for writing :) xx

    Liked by 1 person

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