Friday, July 20, 2012

The Feminist Identity: An Endangered Species? by Alex Snider

What was it that Hamlet lamented? To be a feminist or not to be? Something like that. I hear you, bro. It's hard, on one hand feminism is why women (of a certain social standing, in certain areas of the world) get to do pretty sweet things like have jobs and drive and vote and use birth control and own property and have access to abortion and have the right to not be raped, even by husbands and have their own bank accounts and get divorced. But on the other hand, ugh, feminists! Such boner killers! They are the worst! YUCK.

There are a lot of reasons to not identify as a feminist. For instance, if a woman doesn't believe with feminism's mandate of equality and bodily autonomy. Or if she is one of the many, many, many women who's issues and struggles have been dismissed by the overall White suffragette and feminist movements: Women of Colour, Trans women, poor women, women with disabilities and non-Western women to name a few groups for whom feminism has traditionally overlooked a little thing called intersectionality

I've certainly struggled with the label myself at times in the face of mainstream feminism's attachment to its historic racism and transphobia and other isms to such comic* extremes that there might as well be a clubhouse with a 'White Rich Gurlz Only' sign haphazardly slung out front (*not actually comic at all). That shit turns my stomach and when I get over my "screw you, feminism" feelings, I resolve to fight that much harder to make my feminism about fighting for equality for those women that have historically been (and are currently being) ignored by mainstream feminism. 

But when I see a White, privileged woman eschew feminism all while embracing its tenants, well, that just sticks in my craw. Many of the women who lead me to feminism won't accept the label themselves. The brilliant PJ Harvey won't. From her biography: "I wouldn't call myself a feminist because I don't understand the term or the baggage it takes along with it. I'd feel like I'd really have to go back and study its history to associate myself with it, and I don't feel the need to do that. I'd much rather just get on and do things the way I have been doing them." : ((((( POLLY JEAN! Neither Patti Smith. PATTI SMITH, GUYS, PATTI FUCKING SMITH. That sound? That sound is my heart breaking. The reasoning for Patti is that she is concerned with all human rights, not just women's. To quote 50 Shades of Grey, ARGH! Feminism helps everyone! Men and boys, too! Don't drink the Kool-aid! *Sob* (I still love you, PJ and Patti! But you all need to read some bell hooks and Judith Butler and Audre Lorde – if you're feeling alienated by the more extreme parts of the second wave or rad-fem, their writings might help!) /end tangent. 

Then there was this article that popped up in my FB feed this morning, shared by These Pamphleteers, 'Why Would Marissa Mayer Identify as a Feminist?' written by Amanda Marcotte for Slate's XX Factor. When faced with the question that would serve as an example to countless other women and girls, Mayer, the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo, responded: 
"I don't think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don't, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it's too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word. You know, there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that than comes out of negative energy." 
Cool story! As These Pamphleteers wrote, "Yeah, why WOULD Marissa Mayer say she's a feminist? Because she's benefited from the hard work of feminists in her rise to tech stardom? Because women in her position still make less than a man in the same position? Because she doesn't want to be seen as "militant" with a "chip on her shoulder"? It makes sense that Marissa Mayer wouldn't identify as a feminist because as a succesful woman it's easier for her not to". EXACTLY. It is infuriating to me that a woman of her stature would stand on her (and my) foremothers' shoulders to get where she is only to then kick them in the face. Mayer is an incredibly powerful, important woman. She is in a position to claim feminism and her denial not only of the label and the history but also of the ongoing struggle that women all over the world are still facing does not absolve her of not wanting to seem like a feminist bitch. Fuck that shit. 

Marcotte says "with a lot of successful women there is a psychological toll that comes from aligning with feminism" and I completely agree with that. I would go further and extend it to all women, regardless of success. Whether you are an 'out' feminist who is open to misogynistic abuse over the internet (and IRL) to whether it is just the heightened state of awareness that social activism demands, being a feminist is intense and exacting. But so is being a girl, so is being a woman. The more women who reject feminism because of the 'feminazi' stereotype, the more girls and women (and people of all genders) will suffer. We, feminists, cannot let women like Mayer off the hook.

When celebrity lesbian women and gay men and bi-sexual people are coming out in the public realm to protect LGBTIQ youth and to show them that there is nothing to be ashamed of. On the other hand, women, feminists are bending over backwards to say it's ok that extremely prominent women shun one of the only means of empowerment available to young girls and women? And for no reason other than powerful men find feminists icky? The patriarchy has won. 

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