So Kinsey Hope, who some of you –but I’m betting not too many, which is kinda the subject of this post — might know better as Recursive Paradox (or even Genderbitch), wrote something about feminism that I think you should go and read. Not because I suspect you will agree with all, some, or even most of it. Not because I can guarantee that you won’t find it infuriating. Bits of it rub me the wrong way, and a lot of the people on her Shit List — yeah, she has an actual Shit List — are folks I respect and work with on occasion. But that is Kinsey’s paradigm, and I’ve never not been moved by her extraordinary passion.
You should read it, still. Because you’re not going to find a more brutal, honest, and passionate attack on the ways feminism has failed a lot of people. Most of whom are women.
Let me explicate a bit. I’m not saying feminism has failed all women, which is silly. I’m certainly not saying that feminism hasn’t been a remarkable force for the transformation of society and benefited a great many women all around the world; to say otherwise would be absurd. But let me tell you, there have been a lot of times that feminism has let people down, mostly women. Women like, for example, me.
Here’s a stupid example of why: Let’s say I go and embark in a self-taught intensive reading of feminist history via the works of great feminists (as indeed I am doing). Around the 1960s and 70s I’m going to find a great many books written by strong, intelligent, argumentative women, women who literally changed the world. A source of pride for any woman, right?
Well, not any woman. Not this woman, for example, because everywhere I look I am going to find plenty examples of people arguing that this woman isn’t even a woman.
That’s the stupid example why. A smarter example was Lu’s Pharmacy, where feminism was used to defend not giving prescriptions — any prescriptions, not just the obvious stuff like hormones — to trans women, because, areyoureadyforthis, we don’t bleed.
And I wish I could say that these were isolated things, but take a look at this comment from an interview I did with Amanda Hess a while back:
I have always been a feminist, despite growing up in a fundamentalist religious home. However, as you also call yourself a feminist, I will refer to myself herein as an XXist. Just to avoid any of the connotations you, as a non-XX, may have given the word.
Perhaps as a feminist you speak for women’s rights. I do not. I speak for XX rights. Whether they be man or woman, both or neither.
I absolutely uphold the rights of XXs to run businesses, charities or social groups solely for other XXs. I am not sexist. I am an XXist. It is my chromosomes.
(As a side note, I enjoy knowing that I! Ruined! Feminism!, and as always it’s great fun watching people make theory almost literally off my back.)
I could go on, but I won’t, mostly because Sady has already done it so well (and more than once.) My point is that if I, a person who suffers from both misogyny and transphobia, someone who writes and works towards feminist goals, feels left behind by feminism… well then, what the fuck?
Or to get brutal, how much easier is it for folks to consider Sarah Palin a feminist than to consider me one?
The problem is, I think, that there is a long-standing confusion as to what feminism is: should it be, as bell hooks insisted, a radical movement to change the patterns of domination, violence, and subordination that have characterized human society, or is it an advocacy movement for a special interest?
I believe it is, or should be the former; that anyone who truly is struggling to end oppression in all its forms must be a feminist, and that a feminist must be someone who struggles against all forms of oppression. I think that most feminists would say something along those lines, and certainly Third Wave feminism has done a lot to try and rectify the failings of previous waves (pick your favorites from: Racism, classism, nationalism, homophobia, transphobia, academic impenetrability).
But I can hardly be heartened when a entire series on Feministe about sexual abuse gets fewer comments than a post about whether it’s sexist to have special classes to teach female lawyers what is “appropriate” clothing (hint: yes), or the recent thousand-plus comments on a couple of Feministe threads about, essentially, whether it’s okay to be cross with people who bring children to nice restaurants, and wherein it was seriously posited that the only way to be a real feminist (or woman, or human…I’m still not sure) was to be a mother. Leaving me SOL, I guess.
Which brings me back to Kinsey’s post. Because whether you like it or not, you have to deal with what she raised: That you can’t have it both ways, to say that claiming a feminist identity allows you to disown the nasty parts of the movement’s history and its present. She demolishes the logical fallacies people use all the time to do just that: The It’s Not Me whine, the That’s Not What I Believe dodge, and the No True Feminist evasion. Because, well, bullshit. Because if we can say Sarah Palin isn’t a feminist — and she isn’t — because she opposes just about every core element of feminist movement, we don’t get to say that Mary Daly or (spit) Janice Raymond aren’t feminists. They do support most of the core ideas of the movement; they just also include a lot of ugly bigotry. (Just like Betty Friedan hasn’t been disowned for her own classism and nasty homophobia, but celebrated despite it.)
I still call myself a feminist. I call myself one because I believe in it as a movement to end all human oppressions. I call myself one despite the fact that so many other feminists would disown me, despite the fact that working for feminist issues has very rarely ever resulted in my particular issues being even considered feminist issues. I believe, because I know that the movement I believe in ultimately won’t leave anyone behind.
But I may have to wait alone for a long time.