Today, I’m not a good feminist.

Anti-feminist symbol. By Ahmadi (own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I think I haven’t been a “good” feminist for a while now.  I’ve been thinking about it, and maybe I’m just not cut out for this gig.  Oh, I don’t mean that I’m not into equality and I’ve suddenly gone backwards to the world of women having a proper place.  I just mean that I don’t really fit in with what looks sometimes like the Ideal Feminist.

When I stopped believing in the typical conservative evangelical version of Christianity, the first thing to go was the notion that there is some ideal standard out there.  This isn’t Jesus, this is Plato.  That’s not to say there isn’t “better” and “worse,” just that there’s not some magical fairytale Perfect Being with such an impossibly high standard that all of humanity disgusts the Perfect Being.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that this notion exists outside Christianity.  Evangelical Christianity is at least honest about it–if you don’t agree that you’re bad and repent (with the appropriate belief in the magical Perfect Being), you get a one-way ticket to Hell.  The rest of the world is not quite so open about what will happen to you.  From what I can tell, though, if you don’t get it right (there’s no Perfect Being to rescue you), you get ejected from the club and placed on the list of People Who Piss the Gatekeepers Off No Matter What They Say.  I have a feeling there are some people who could say, “The sky is blue” and they’d get an argument about the specific shade.

The reason I say I’m a lousy feminist these days is that I want to concentrate on the big picture and not the minutiae of precisely how someone said something or what an individual woman chooses to do.  I’ve been guilty of hair-splitting myself, and I think it’s time to be done with that.  I’m not convinced the right way to be a feminist is to demand that we consider every damn detail of the decisions we make, analyzing it all to make sure it conforms to the Feminist Policies and Procedures Manual.

There’s this list of rules (sometimes spoken, sometimes not) that exists somewhere, and I just don’t think I can keep up anymore.  This is by no means exhaustive:

  • Don’t do or say anything that could be construed as “what about the men” (the details of what that entails will be explained to you after you screw up)
  • Define anything men say that sounds corrective as “mansplaining,” even when it has nothing to do with feminism (because there’s no possible way you could be wrong if you studied it, read it, or wrote about it)
  • Grill women about the choices they make (taking husband’s name, having babies, working for pay, etc.) and tell them there’s a right answer for anything you think isn’t “feminist” enough
  • Police people’s methods of healing from abuse (but expect them not to do the same to you)
  • Make violent threats, use verbally abusive language, and do the same creepy things you complain men do, but say you can do it because your threat is “empty”
  • Find the most mild examples of your own privilege and say, “See? I check my privilege!” (this applies exclusively to white feminists and mostly to straight feminists)
  • Complain about “creepers” on social media but don’t bother blocking them the first time they make you uncomfortable
  • Do all this to others while claiming you have no issues to work on

I am not in either therapy or recovery, but I know plenty of people who are.  The steps above are aspects of what’s called “taking someone else’s inventory.”  The essence of it is that you’re finding fault with other people and assessing their motives without examining your own.  The problem with this approach when it comes to feminism is that it separates women from each other.  I’m not saying every feminist I disagree with does all of these things, but a fair number of them do at least two, one of which is usually the last item on the list.

A good example of this behavior is an article I linked some months ago about women’s reasons for taking their husband’s names.  The writer didn’t see any valid reason to take one’s husband’s name except for being religiously conservative and believing it was the right thing to do.  Any other reason, including “because most people do it and I didn’t think that deeply about it,” were game-show-buzzered automatically.

Name-changing is not a primary issue, yet somehow, it’s been put on the Throne of Importance.  If I’m not railing against the oppression of changing my name, I’m apparently an idiot and a faux feminist.  You know what?  I honestly do. not. care if you change your name to your husband’s, hyphenate it, make up a new name, give him yours, or drop the last name entirely, Cher-style.  You could insist on having your birth name (which may be your father’s anyway) and still be part of a complementarian marriage or have a husband who abuses you.  That’s because the name isn’t the real problem.

Another one I saw the other day was a tweet asking why people had kids.  No, seriously.  Because it’s totally invasive to ask people why they don’t have any but not at all violating to demand we explain ourselves as to why we had them.  (Before you ask, yeah, I answered the question, because I didn’t think anything of it until later, when I realized how much it upset me.)  Anyway, the tweet also said that “because it’s what people do” is not a valid reason.  Again, I’m not making this up.  I love the attitude that says someone else can evaluate my choices but God forbid I evaluate theirs.  As with the name change, I do not have any interest in whether you have kids or you don’t.  That’s your choice.  But it’s a super-duper privilegey thing to do to ask people why they reproduced and blast people you think didn’t consider it hard enough.  (Pro tip: it’s classist.)

I feel more in feminist spheres like I don’t measure up than I ever did in religious ones.  That’s probably owing to the fact that I wasn’t abused in church like some were, so I acknowledge that.  There are also some feminists (even of the more extreme sort) who don’t do this.  It seems to be, for the most part, limited to (strangely) Christians who claim the feminist label.  I chalk that up to the need to rebel against an anti-feminist system, but it doesn’t make it right.  You know what I want out of my feminism?  I want to work toward making sure that all people have opportunities.  I want equality and justice.  I want women of color to be paid the same thing as white men for doing the same job.  I want my son to be a ballet dancer and my daughter to be an engineer (if that’s what they want).  I want our culture to reflect the beauty and diversity of women’s contribution to the arts.  I want all forms of human-against-human violence to end.  I do not want to argue about names and babies and the definition of “job.”

There’s an attitude among some women that they are better than others because hey, at least they aren’t anti-trans like some people or at least they don’t use the word “c*nt” like some people.*  ‘Nother pro tip: taking other feminists’ inventories is also bad.  Stop doing it.  Stop nit-picking my decisions and asking me rudely personal questions in order to prove that you’re the better feminist.  If that’s what you want, then fine.  You can be the Queen Feminist.  I’m out, though.  I’m claiming my fourth-prize ribbon for being a lousy feminist and calling it a day.


*Last pro tip, I promise.  The word “c*nt” is really, really bad in the U.S.  Don’t use it if you live here or are visiting here.  I understand that it doesn’t have quite the same impact in other places, though.  So we in the U.S. really don’t have the right to tell non-Americans whether to use it or not.  For some reason, there’s a boatload of policing that particular word because “Zomg! Someone used it on Twitter and Americans read Twitter!  And they used it IN THEIR TWITTER HANDLE OMG I AM SO OFFENDED!”  Yeah.  Get over it.  We have words that are equally offensive to other cultures.


28 thoughts on “Today, I’m not a good feminist.

  1. This resonates so much with me. Thank you for saying all of this. You restore my faith in humanity and the future of feminism. I could quote so much from this post that I love, but I think this sentence you wrote sums it up: “The reason I say I’m a lousy feminist these days is that I want to concentrate on the big picture and not the minutiae of precisely how someone said something or what an individual woman chooses to do.”

    • So many things have happened lately to women in my life that it feels like they are more important than these little questions that somehow imply being less of a woman/weaker. It’s more important to me to keep them safe than to grill them on their life choices–as though picking a different last name or not having kids would have changed the abuse they suffered.

  2. Please don’t define feminism by some toxic spaces or people on the internet. Your refusal to go along with the fundamentalist feminists doesn’t make you a bad feminist–it makes you a bad fundie. (Yay?).

    I hate to see strong, smart, feminist women reject or waffle on an important label (feminist) that already gets a bad rap. Many, many people (oftentimes women) say “feminists are too angry” or “feminists are oversensitive” or “feminists have no sense of humor” which means that young women reject the label out-of-hand. I don’t want to cede that label to the fundie feminists. I really want women to know that feminist means fighting for the equality of women. That’s all. If you want that, you’re a feminist. The rest is just trappings.

    • You’re right. And I do make a lousy fundie–I always have in any sphere. Ha!

      I suppose that’s how I’ve always felt about the label “Christian”–I don’t want to have to reject it just because some people are fundies or because I’m pretty liberal (or progressive or open or whatever word people are using these days; I can’t keep up). I don’t want to reject the label “feminist” either, but I do reject the toxic version. Thanks for helping me process that. 🙂

    • “Your refusal to go along with the fundamentalist feminists doesn’t make you a bad feminist–it makes you a bad fundie. (Yay?).”
      Yes, “yay!”
      It seems one can apply the fundamentalist disposition to just about any ism, elevating rules over person. It also seems that fundamentalism gets us focused on the packaging instead of the contents. It strikes me as telling that Amy finds:
      “It seems to be, for the most part, limited to (strangely) Christians who claim the feminist label.”

      • Yeah, that was pretty telling for me, too. Like trading one kind of fundamentalism for another, rather than letting go of the mindset entirely.

  3. I had to decide long ago that feminism meant exactly ONE thing: women are people, too. That’s it. Any of the other crap that the militant ladies throw around I just ignore. I’ve been told I’m setting a bad example for my boys by being a stay-home parent and I think that’s the point where I realized some people are just over the top. Let ’em go. 🙂

    • LOL! Yep. My son is soooo much like me (the creative/artsy/musical type). Maybe he’ll be a stay-at-home dad who works on his art like I do. So I’m setting a GOOD example, right? 😉 And why don’t we think dads are setting good examples? My daughter is definitely a future professional. My husband is advancing his career. How is that not helping her see she can do it too (if we tell her she can)?

  4. I know I don’t really have a speaking part in this play, but I stood up and did a slow dramatic clap for this: “I want to work toward making sure that all people have opportunities. I want equality and justice. I want women of color to be paid the same thing as white men for doing the same job. I want my son to be a ballet dancer and my daughter to be an engineer (if that’s what they want). I want our culture to reflect the beauty and diversity of women’s contribution to the arts. I want all forms of human-against-human violence to end. “

      • Oh, I know. I just mean in the discussion amongst women on defining feminism. I’ve found that’s a conversation where the most productive thing I can do is just sit and listen. 🙂

        What I loved about your description of your feminism is that it’s uncategorically intersectional. It’s a description that anybody can get behind, and an ideal that anybody can connect with. I think that universality matters, maybe even matters most of all, and it’s the forest that tends to get lost through the trees.

        Thanks for a great post.

        • Thanks. Yeah, as the mom of both a boy and a girl and as a person surrounded by lots of diversity (partly from our physical location in our town), I think that matters a lot. I hear a bunch of talk about intersectionality, but not a lot of what that practically means every day.

  5. I’m sure you’re a great feminist. Feminism, Womanism, Mujerista, Liberation, and many other movements besides should enable their members to reach the point where there is no questioning of decision or motive. Being forced to explain yourself for not living up to another woman’s ideals is no less oppressive or invasive than being forced to explain yourself for not living up to a man’s ideals. Just keep being you, and remember that the fight is for equality, and for not being beholden to the whims of others.

    (full disclosure: I’m a man. But I try to be a feminist man)

    • Aw, thanks for that. Honestly, as the mom of a son, I don’t want him to grow up thinking I believe men are less in any way. I want all the same good things for him that I want for my daughter. So it means a lot when I hear from men who are interested in furthering the work towards justice and equality, because that’s the kind of man I hope he becomes. 🙂

  6. Even though I don’t think the examples you gave are typical of the entire “feminist sphere” (if that’s a thing), I do know what you’re talking about. I think you would resonate with some posts I wrote about this previously, one on how there’s a “perfect activist” standard no one can measure up to and one on how saying “Don’t scream at allies trying to learn” really shouldn’t be considered tone-policing.

    I don’t think it’s fair to label an action as characteristic of “feminism” because some people who label themselves feminists do it. On the other hand, I think it’s fair to push back against the actions themselves and point out how they’re not consistent with the larger ideals of feminism.

    • Good points. I think I’m pushing back against the way some feminists try to claim that the rest of us are doing it wrong, but I probably could have used different language to convey that it’s not all feminists, just a certain branch or style. I loved your post on the “perfect activist” standard, by the way.

  7. AWESOME post. I’m starting to see, after coming out of fundametalist Christianity, that fundamentalism actually exists in lots of spheres, not just the religious ones – feminism, atheism, and the ‘clean food’ crowd are what have been on my radar most recently.

    I am seriously ready for us to all just start taking each other on face value, respecting and honoring everyone’s voices, and interacting with honesty and truth … which is probably a lot to ask, but I feel that YOU’RE doing it here. So thanks 🙂

    • Thanks! 🙂 And me too. I wonder if this is a U.S. thing or if it exists in other cultures, or if that’s even a fair question to ask.

      • Yeah, I was actually talking about this very thing with my parents last week. (they’re missionaries, and I grew up in the South Pacific). In the culture I grew up, the idea of ‘being right’ and identifying black / white is so foreign it’s not even part of the conversation. The endless search for ‘truth’ is a very Western thing, I think.

        • That’s more or less what I figured. So much of what we talk about is dependent on constructs specific to our culture. I don’t know that it’s bad, necessarily, but probably important to recognize.

  8. i’mma just put this out there: if you are viewing anything from this or that gender’s point-of-view, it isn’t feminism. this entire article goes to show you are still working with retired gender roles: release them and you’ll see what you’ve been missing about the ideas behind ‘feminism.’ at any point where you have to say “well i’m a man but” or “respect woman’s xxxx!” you’ve left feminism in the dust because you’re working in a ‘vs.’ capacity instead of a ‘with’ capacity ~ and that doesn’t apply only to gender, but religion & politics as well.

    “The reason I say I’m a lousy feminist these days is that I want to concentrate on the big picture and not the minutiae of precisely how someone said something or what an individual woman chooses to do.” ~ this is feminism. you’ve just been taught that ‘feminism’ is something else.

    • Yeah, unfortunately you’re right. I’m so used to the gender constraints applied by culture. It’s hard to break out of them. I’m still in process, but I want to really get to the “with” capacity you’re talking about.

      I’m grateful-ish that I have met some of these feminists, because I was even more caught up in “proper” gender dynamics before. But now I want to move on. You’re right, of course, that, I’ve been taught some pretty wrong things about feminism.

  9. Yes there is a lot of Fundamentalist Feminism – as well as Fundamentalist any-isms. They are all trying to say “This is the way you SHOULD behave”. I try no0t to succumb to these – any of them. Yes, I listen to what people say, I make a lot of effort to not offend people, if someone tells me that I have offended them then I will listen and see if I can adjust my behaviour.

    But I believe that “In Christ I am free”, and that means free from being told how I have to act and behave to be considered acceptable. I consider myself a feminist. If people want to tell me I am not, because I don’t live up to their definition then tough – I will take the label whether others like it or not.

    So yes, do what you believe is right. Listen to others, find ways to behave appropriately to others, and take whatever labels you want. If people refuse to accept your label, that is their problem, not yours.

    • Yup. Obviously, when it comes to a group I’m not part of, I’m more likely to listen and do what’s asked. I’ve changed a lot in the way I act as an ally to my LGBT friends, for example, based on what my friends have told me they need. But since I *am* a woman, I feel that I can decide exactly how I want to be a feminist. As long as I don’t start acting like a fundamentalist myself, I think I’m ok.

  10. I came to feminism on my own, long before I knew there was a name for what I believed, and long before I developed an intensive analysis of patriarchy as a graduate student. I’ve never been part of a group that decided “x is feminism,” “y is not.” I’ve never looked to other feminists to define me as a feminist or not.

    In my studies I came to understand that there are many different ways of “doing feminism.” Radical, socialist, Marxist, a blending of all, and so on. So I could never say that if someone does x or y she must therefore not be a feminist.

    One thing for sure that I do know is that deeply conservative women — those who trot out feminist arguments when they think it will be useful (e.g., Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, etc.) as a way to clobber people on the left who are deeply critical of the right wing war on women — they are not feminists. They aren’t about improving the lot of women but rather about using feminism strategically to win political campaigns. Thank the Goddess they have been so miserably unsuccessful!

    I say you are a feminist if you believe in the value of what women have to offer — whether it is in equality or in whatever special traits you believe are associated with being a woman (such as, e.g., the general tendency toward privileging the community over the individual). The two approaches appear to be in conflict with each other (women are the same as men, vs. women have special qualities that need to be respected and valued), but in the long run each has a contribution to make to the advancement of women generally. If you look at those special qualities women seem to have in abundance relative to men (but actually can be traced to culture), you can say, well, men can learn to acquire those qualities, so in the long run it is ALL about equality.

    Feminists need to keep a BIG TENT that includes all women who see the structural constraints that hold women down and keep them in their place, wherever that place may be. You can love taking care of children and still be a feminist. You can take your husband’s name out of convenience and still be a feminist. You can do “femininity” and still incorporate masculine characteristics in order to compete in what is still a man’s world.

    I was born in 1948, and I’ve lived long enough to see an evolution in feminism over the years. We’ve lost a lot of ground to the conservative war on women — it slipped in while many were sleeping. We are still fighting cultural wars we fought in the 1960s, only the fight is even more difficult because the conservative media have created such a stronghold…which, thankfully, is starting to crumble as Rush Limbaugh has begun his slide into oblivion.

    We need ALL women who claim the category feminist to keep fighting the good fight together and stop sniping at each other. Indeed, more than anything else, the tendency to snipe at women who “aren’t feminist enough” gives loads of ammunition to the opposition!

    • Wow. Yeah, this:
      “We need ALL women who claim the category feminist to keep fighting the good fight together and stop sniping at each other. Indeed, more than anything else, the tendency to snipe at women who “aren’t feminist enough” gives loads of ammunition to the opposition!”

      I believed “feminism” (without any specific definition) was wrong for a long time because of my religious history. So when I came out of that, I looked to those who were already involved to help me learn what it meant. Some have been helpful; some haven’t. I’m glad there’s genuinely room for all sorts of ways to do this. At this point, I feel the need to leave fundafeminism just as much as I needed to leave fundamentalist religion.

  11. Since much of this post is indirectly calling me out on recent posts and tweets, I would appreciate a thoughtful response to my email, which I am happy to post here if it is easier for you and to share with others. However, I wanted to bring it to you directly and privately first before posting publicly.

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