Just another college girl fightin' the patriarchy

Modern feminism was arguably at its peak in the 70’s, with the feminist superheroes like Gloria Steinem, Susan Brownmiller, etc… This feminist movement brought about a change so important for women, it’s nearly impossible to imagine life as a woman without it. Back then the feminist movement was one solid movement (sort of, at least more than today), with definite goals and objectives. Specific ideas unified them as one strong movement. As this unified movement, individual feminists were able to accomplish a lot in terms of what women were “allowed” to do and what people believed women were actually capable of. Then, for a variety of reasons, the group splintered. The biggest divisions were that the feminists only wrote from the perspective of white women and excluded minorities and other economic classes, they were very judgmental of women who wouldn’t give up absolutely everything for the radical feminist cause, and sexuality (whether you could be straight and be a feminist, and of course whether you could accept porn and be a feminist).

Nowadays, there is this nebulous thing, a lifestyle choice I suppose you could call it, called feminism. There is no more movement. Most women have no idea what it means to be a feminist, and many use the term as an insult to slander a woman. The group/movement of feminists is so disorganized that feminism can mean just about anything. The newest “group” to emerge is one that aims to make people less scared of feminism by being more accepting. This would be a good thing, since many women were scared away from feminism by being called anti-feminist for things like wearing a skirt, or even dating men. Men as well were scared away, sometimes being told they couldn’t be feminist as long as they had a penis, which is as closed minded as the very patriarchy they were aiming to destroy. However, most of these new feminists are so scared of being judgmental and scaring away women that they consider people who are basically anti-feminists, feminists based on nothing but the fact they are women. Recently I heard Jennifer Baumgardner speak about how Sarah Palin was a feminist due to her political pro-life stance. Why? Because she was standing up for the choice she thought was right in taking away the choices of other women. Now call me crazy, but it would seem like anyone attempting to remove a woman’s choice to control her own reproduction and her own body is the opposite of what feminists aim for. Feminism shouldn’t be an exclusive club where people are disqualified based on some life choices. Of course you can choose to not get an abortion and be a feminist. But if you are going out and trying to force a woman to do something, to forcibly take away her choices, to tell her what she can and can’t do with her body, and in some cases even take away her ability to not get pregnant in the first place (by insisting birth control is murder) then that cannot be feminist. See, there’s a difference between believing in pro-life ideals and being Sarah Palin. If you are out there trying to force a woman to destroy her life because you feel entitled to tell her how to treat her body, that is as anti-feminist as it gets. Whereas if you personally choose to not get an abortion because it’s murder to you, but you respect another woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, then that is a feminist choice. There is no way of sugarcoating it. You can be pro-life (so long as you don’t force it on someone else) or pro-choice and be a feminist, but you cannot be a feminist and aim to control a woman’s body in any way. Just like it’s hypocritical to say you are pro-porn as it is today and a feminist. It is an oxymoron. It’s saying I support the mass production of the abuse of women as masturbation fodder, but I totally support women.

The other side of this new wave of feminism is the side that thinks any choice so long as it doesn’t include raping or murdering, is a feminist choice. That would be like saying you can be a communist and support big businesses simply because you call it a communist choice. We all make choices during the day that are either neutral or anti-feminist or feminist. When I ran some errands today, I made a neutral choice. I don’t say I made the feminist choice to do my errands simply because I did them and am a woman. When I shaved my legs and armpits and put on scads of make-up, I did not make a feminist choice. I made an anti-feminist choice. Does that make me a worse feminist? Maybe, but seeing as I still have to mesh with the patriarchy, I need to pick my battles. I fight against pornography, I fight against things like the glass ceiling. But I can’t fight every fight at once. I do these things because it makes it easier to go about my day to day life. But the difference is, I don’t delude myself into thinking that I can make a choice that contributes to my own oppression and still call it a feminist choice simply because I am a woman. See the problem with thinking this is a feminist choice simply because I made it, is because it fails to take into account why a woman, a feminist would choose to do them. I sometimes shave my legs. But does that alone make it a feminist choice? Absolutely not. Why? Because unless such an act would exist in a patriarchy-free world, it’s ridiculous to assume I would make the choice anyways. If the act would not have existed were there no patriarchy, then I did not make the act entirely of my own free will. When the choices are to do it and life is easier or not do it and life is significantly more difficult, then I’d hardly call that much of a choice. Just because a woman makes the choice does not make it a feminist choice. It’s ridiculous to say that making a choice that would ONLY exist in a world where patriarchy exists is a feminist choice, simply because falling in line with it is easier than fighting it. Like with sex work. I once read a fascinating argument between a sex-worker and a rad fem where the rad fem argued that by participating in the industry, she could not be a feminist. However, the woman argued that she was a feminist and her choice to be a sex-worker was feminist because she chose it. They were both right. See the sex-worker was helping to campaign for better rights for sex-workers (which is definitely cool) making her a feminist. But she was participating in something that was an anti-feminist industry, thus making the sex-work anti-feminist. So she was a feminist, just doing something anti-feminist.

I’m aware this article will probably piss some people off, but I think it needs to be said. We can’t have a movement and expect to get anything done if we don’t have some things we can agree on. If there aren’t at least some unifying ideals then we cannot have a movement. If there aren’t specific things you can do or not do to further the movement, then you can’t have a movement. If the movement so all-inclusive that just about everything you do contributes to the movement simply because it’s a choice, then the movement is dead.

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Comments on: "Are Third-Wavers the end of feminism?" (7)

  1. Watch out! It’s the Judean People’s Front!

    Hilarious. Three thumbs up. The best satire site on the internet.

    • I’m sorry, pardon me for expressing my opinion. Oh wait, no I’m not. I don’t really feel like someone who compares a real activist group for the longest oppressed group in history to a Monty Python movie requires a long response.

  2. I mean that you do damage to that cause if you’re fighting the people who are on your side 99% of the time. Focus on the 1%, bring feminism down to a single-issue cause, and bad things happen. The split from the 80’s hasn’t healed. You can massage your own ego strengthening the divide, or you can put things aside.

    I understand why you dislike the third wave, they were essentially created by Second Wave censorship campaigns. I guess it’s hard, after you’ve fought for freedom, to do the reverse and fight for censorship. Not to say you are pro-censorship, but the academics you quoted were/are.

    I assume you understand the significance of that Monty Python quote in this fight between the Second and Third waves. I think Cleese once called what you’re doing the “disease of ideological purity”. You’re right that I shouldn’t compare you to something as nuanced and intelligent as Monty Python.

    PS, is the longest oppressed group in history really women? Is it not children? Or do you not count their treatment as a form of oppression? This isn’t a peeing contest. Actually, after having read the above, maybe it is.

  3. In answer to Max, “The Third Wave” is a nice handle for a handful of young women but it wasn’t and still is not a movement. First applied to Rebecca Walker, it was meant to encourage young women to claim media attention as “new feminists leaders speaking in their own voice.” It did not emerge out of the Second Wave’s “censorious” anti-porn positions. It did, however, open the door to anyone who wished to take any position and slap “feminist” on it. The most egregious examples are those who support “sex work” (code for prostitution) and are pro-pornography largely because they relate to it on a personal level.

  4. Thanks for this fantastic post; for taking the time to spell this out.

    ” If the movement so all-inclusive that just about everything you do contributes to the movement simply because it’s a choice, then the movement is dead.”

    Yes.

  5. Yes! I agree wholeheartedly. Women can’t support each other and focus on important issues while we continue to debate on who is feminist enough. I do things that are not feminist such as shave, wear make up, dresses, skirts etc yet I don’t think that should reduce my feminist credibility. I would be more likely to make a difference challenging male privilege than I would just by giving up eyeshadow.

  6. Yes! I agree wholeheartedly. We should have a more balanced view. Don’t judge women who are valuable allies harshly for wearing dresses, dating men, shaving etc yet don’t become so accepting that we define female misogynists like that awful Camille Paglia as feminists. I get disturbed at what young feminists are willing to let slide these days so that they can avoid the stigma. We have to accept that we are going to make choices that won’t make everyone like us otherwise we might as well quit now.

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