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.