We’re back with round 2 of Ten Things Feminism Isn’t, numbers 6-10. Here we address issues beyond the stereotypes of feminism included in numbers 1-5, getting into more complex issues. If you missed round one, you can find it here.
6. Supportive of women candidates just because they’re women.
This is a tough issue. Feminism believes all women have a right to equity, bodily autonomy, and so forth, including women who speak against it (point 4 on the original list), but that does not mean we support women who run for office and the like just because they’re women. It doesn’t mean we publicly support all women just because they’re women. Women who campaign on principles aligning with racism, sexism and homophobia have a right to what feminism represents, but will (generally) not be supported by feminists. See, for example, the recent Georgia run-off race. Had I been a resident in that part of Georgia, I’d vote Jon Ossoff in a heartbeat over Karen Handel, as he is far more representative of my beliefs in a safe equitable world for all people than Handel, whose platform was homophobic and the like. Assuming women feminists vote for other women just because they’re women is biologically essentialist and insulting.
7. Globally focused on primarily American values.
I’ve talked about this before on Tenacious Feminist—what we call colonial feminism. Feminisms are varied, and particularly varied by geography and culture. Feminism here in the states has an ethos and goals particular to our location. Several other feminisms share elements of it. But we as American feminists should never assume our goals are the be-all-end-all of all feminisms, and let feminists in other places determine their feminism. This approach is particularly problematic when American feminists assume, for example, that women in predominantly-Muslim countries feel religiously oppressed, and then give advice accordingly. That’s not feminism—that’s colonialism.
8. Unwelcoming to nonbinary and trans folk.
This can’t be further from the truth, though I suspect theory and practice are two different things. It’s not an experience I can personally speak to or presume to speak to, but feminism as a movement has a vanguard that tends to be much better at merging practice and theory, and others who tend to be, um, slower. For example, well known global feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author, made the following comment: “When people talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is that trans women are trans women. … If you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
Adichie justly faced a tremendous response, as her comments implied trans women aren’t women; her comments also suggested that growing up desiring to change genders still placed those boys in a privileged category, which denies all the pain and challenge those boys faced as gender dysmorphic. In any case, her clarification of her remarks insisted this was an argument about language; trans women and allies felt otherwise. Adichie might be a very well-known and articulate feminist, but she’s not at the vanguard on gender issues at all. As Teen Vogue author Morgan Jenkins in a stellar response piece noted, “Despite her international literary acclaim, her knowledge, just like everyone else’s, has its limits; she may be an incredibly accomplished woman whose work speaks for itself, but she is human and will fail, just like the rest of us.”
I’ve heard this one a lot, particularly from younger women who—mercifully—have grown up without overt harassment. But the problems feminism addresses—patriarchy, inequity, pay disparity, health care disparities, rape culture, and so on—are all systemic. One can indeed get through life without experiencing catcalling, though I’ve yet to meet that woman; but one who grows up in America is in the American system, and patriarchy is pervasive in our economics and culture. When I start drawing this stuff out with young women, they often begin to see their own experiences differently. In some cases, they experienced catcalling as complimentary; over time they come to see it as part of a structure that gives men power over public spaces. We all need feminism.
10. Full of cat ladies.
Actually, that’s probably true, though we love dog people, too.