I recently read an interesting New Yorker piece that sets up a debate between radical feminists and transgender women. The arguments basically go like this: Transgender women say they have a right to be whatever gender they want, while radical feminists say that someone who has reaped male privilege for years (and perhaps continues to do so in some contexts) can’t just suddenly decide to take on the title of “woman.”
The radical feminist position here made sense to me at first. Men presume to speak for women in a lot of contexts; it seems there may be danger of that here. “Trying on” womanhood could be seen as a form of extended male entitlement. But the more I think about this, the more I’m not sure how welcoming a transgender woman to the fold in any way decreases my own claim to the term “woman.” Having additional voices doesn’t mean mine will be covered over. In fact, ostracizing trans women on the basis that we don’t have shared oppressions implicitly makes the case that all people born as women DO have shared oppressions. As a very privileged, white, Western woman, I am keenly aware that that is not true.
Obviously, the positions represented in this post are generalizations. However, article author Michelle Goldberg does a really nice job of providing more complexity and illustrating how this debate has played out over years, as well as what it means to consider intersectionality in this context. Perhaps my favorite line is this clever little shift: “In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position.” Whoa.
Read the full article here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/woman-2
I’ve found another response to Women Against Feminism, one that is better than anything I could have written myself. This article by Emily Shire approaches the situation as a conversation. She takes the women behind WAF seriously, and as a result, she really gets to the heart of why this whole conversation is so disturbing–and so necessary. She says:
“As the Women Against Feminism posts show, many of the declarations stem from a place that feminism conveys preferential [status] for women at a loss to sons, brothers, fathers, and friends. That isn’t feminism, but many people falsely believe that is the effect of it.”
As I said earlier this week, I want to see WAF as the beginning of a political conversation. The conversation, it turns out, is about why women (especially young women) interpret feminism the way they do–that is, as a campaign that forces women to be and think certain ways, that hates men and women who don’t identify as feminist. While it’s tempting to dismiss these women out of hand since they so obviously haven’t done their homework on feminisms, this is really an issue feminists should be paying attention to. After all, these women had to have encountered feminists–or portrayals of feminists–at some point in order to think these things and in order to be as vehemently “against feminism” as they are. Why is it that the impression they came away with was this one? We need to figure that out. The existence of WAF means that feminists have some work to do on communication strategies. Somehow–I’m working on ideas, and I hope others are as well–we need to do a better job of explaining what a feminist is.
As Shire says, “Mocking Women Against Feminism validates their argument that they don’t belong in the movement and affirms their belief that feminism has no space for them. We—and by “we,” I mean feminists—need to be the bigger person in this battle. We need to make every effort to promote feminism as a big-tent movement, and we need to admit that it doesn’t always appear so welcoming.”
Read more at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/24/you-don-t-hate-feminism-you-just-don-t-understand-it.html#sthash.qdMCRWdA.dpuf
I’m liking this response to “Women Against Feminism.” I think it does a good job of explaining why feminism should matter to all women, even women who think they couldn’t possibly benefit from it personally. When explained in this way, this article points out the selfishness in assuming that your own personal privilege should invalidate a worldwide movement. Here is the author’s take on feminism, which I rather like:
“Feminism is a movement for freedom, equality, choice, love, compassion, respect, solidarity, and education. We may argue, we may disagree, we may struggle to understand the choices and perspectives of others sometimes, but these core beliefs of the movement have never changed, and they never will.”
My major complaint is that this article engages in non-Western othering. It’s not only in India, Pakistan, and Niger where women are victimized. Those types of things happen in the U.S. and UK as well. Although they are perhaps publicized and dealt with differently after the fact, the root cause of such actions (misogyny) is not just a non-Western phenomenon. It affects men and women of all colors and creeds. This is incredibly important, because modern feminism is a movement that drives for freedom, equality, etc. for all people–not just certain kinds of women.
The basic concept for my dissertation came out of seeing young women (often students in classes I was teaching) say, “I’m not a feminist, but …” and then say something that totally seems like feminism to me. (“I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equality.” “I’m not a feminist, but the gender-wage gap makes me angry.” “I’m not a feminist, but I get tired of female politicians being held to a different standard.”) I created apparent feminism both because I wanted to put a face on feminisms for them and because I wanted them to know that they don’t have to self-identify as feminist for me to take them seriously and want to work with them.
On the first day of a women’s and gender studies class I taught a few summers ago, I wore a hot pink pencil skirt. On the second day, I wore dark jeans and chucks, and I asked the students if they’d noticed what I wore yesterday. Every single one of them had. By the end of the class, one student said that she almost dropped the class that first day because my outfit made it seem to her like I didn’t know what feminism was. For that student, at least, I managed to broaden the idea of what a feminist can look like. But I still wonder what cultural signals are telling people that a feminist can only be one thing–that a feminist can’t wear a pink skirt. Defining feminism so narrowly is exactly the opposite of its main message, which is that people can be and do whatever they want regardless of sex.
I’ve seen an increasing number of news stories, blog posts, and online conversations lately about “anti-feminism.” I’ve read a number of them, and the best I can understand is that the current “anti-feminism” movement is about hating anyone who identifies as feminist. This doesn’t make sense to me because feminists are extremely diverse; the only real organizing principles of feminism are a drive for a equality among all people (which seems like a pretty obviously Good thing) and an implicit assumption that sexual equality has not yet been achieved on a systematic scale (which is supported by overwhelming quantifiable data). But, apparent feminism is also about listening, so right now I’m trying to interpret these statements as the beginnings of worthwhile political conversations. In the meantime, I’ll just keep reminding people that “feminist” can mean a lot of things–and our personal interpretations of the word “feminist” are quite telling.
Having just wrapped up the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop (#FSDW14), I’m very excited to begin revisions on the dissertation chapter I brought to the exchange. My partners were generous and supportive in their feedback while also providing some really exciting ideas about areas to expand. In particular, I often worry that my literature reviews are a bit … ponderous. This problem can be exacerbated since I’m in technical communication (which I find fascinating … but I’m aware not everyone does!). I was thrilled to learn that my peers found most parts of the lit review useful and informative in this particular article. (Of course, this could have to do with their generous readings and inquisitive minds!)
More exciting than the feedback I received, though, was the opportunity to read smart work being done by cutting-edge feminist scholars. I read cultural analyses of the lonelygirl15 YouTube incident, the popular ABC series Once Upon A Time, and reactions to feminist bloggers. I don’t want to give away more details of this important work and steal any of my peers’ thunder, but keep your eyes peeled. I’m going to be citing some of these smart women in the near future.