Are you a good feminist? Bad feminist? Is it really about you?

Today the downturn of women’s rights is smacking us upside the face. Femicide is reaching such epidemic proportions that nations like Brazil are introducing special legislation against it. Australia’s rate of sexual violence has jumped 20% in a year, statistics that are reflected in a host of other countries. The global scourge of trafficking continues to reach record highs.

A whole raft of issues are affecting women now more than ever before. Yet, as the events to mark International Women’s Day in Australia showed, most of these issues are eschewed entirely by a feminist dialogue that refuses to look beyond personal choice.

On International Women’s Day the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) hosted an all woman line up to discuss feminism. Yet, in line with downplaying the crisis surrounding women’s rights, the special episode took to dividing audience members based on whether they identified as ‘bad feminists’ or not. This is a category that neither theoretically nor pragmatically exists, more in line with high school buzzwords than progressive politics.

q&a

Feminism, broadly speaking, offers a political lens within which gendered issues can be better understood, analysed and contextualised. In the past, feminism has proven to be successful in confronting a number of these issues.

Yet today, for a large part, feminism is entirely liberalized. It is less about global political issues with their gendered contexts, and more about personal choices in the pursuit of individual happiness.

Feminism has been gutted by an individualistic drive to validate lifestyles. ‘Can I wear heels and aprons and be feminist?’ ‘Is this lippy feminist?’ ‘I’m a bad feminist, aren’t I?’

Can I wear heels and be feminist? Image Credit: MTV
Can I wear heels and be feminist?
Image Credit: MTV

Such questions opened the feminist Q&A session, a fitting reflection of the broader liberal feminist dialogue. At times, there appeared little distinction between feminism and the Cosmo fashion police.

Feminism was not designed as a personal quick fix cure all. It is not going to choose careers, fix relationships or overhaul wardrobes. It’s not going to endorse any choices, make us feel good about our new splurge or tuck us in at night. In fact for the most part, feminism will challenge, trouble and confront.

julie

But it was meant to do just that. Feminism emerged from the consciousness of women of the liberation era, the very women that fought for women’s right to work, our right to vote, our right to not be legally raped in marriage, our right to escape violence in the home and seek refuge. Yet this consciousness is now denied as old and deemed too prudish, wrong or just blatantly ignored.

Taking its place is the shiny new liberal feminism that is far sexier, more ‘feminine’ and ultimately reinforcing of the status quo. Taking up the ‘bad feminist’ label is just one of a myriad of ways liberal feminism misses the point.

Our intensely westernized instinct to ask ‘what’s in it for me’ means feminism has been depoliticised to the point that feminism is purely about ‘personal choice’ and any ‘choice’ being justified regardless of how much harm it might cause to other women around the world.

Cosmetics that rely on sexist and racist stereotypes to sell their product? Feminism. Making pornography where women are slapped, choked and spat on? It’s been called feminism. Promoting the sex industry that is responsible for the exploitation of millions of girls around the world? That’s economic opportunism, or rather, feminism.

Activist Julie Bindel is labelled ‘dangerously irresponsible’ by feminist colleagues for criticizing pornography. As if the multibillion-dollar global porn industry will collapse under one woman’s words. The liberal version of feminism goes to lengths to deny the evidence that shows harm done to girls, women and men under these industries – to the point that feminism now defends the sources of sexism and vilifies women who speak against it.

In its bid to shake the ‘old’ ‘prudish’ and ‘man hating’ stereotypes of past, feminism has had the ultimate makeover. Like a good celebrity, feminism now brings heat rather than light to women’s issues.

Ironically, as feminism has reached its most liberal and least potent form, there is a swelling movement of young people that argue feminism ‘has gone too far’. For young women who are more likely to deal with sexual coercions that eclipse anything we have seen before this is undeniable evidence that any notion of gender equality could not be farther from a reality today.

Nearly half of teen girls now report being coerced into sex as a normal part of life. Instead of challenging this, liberal feminism reminds us to not ‘slut shame’ girls for being sexual.

When the question of young women sexting naked images came up in Q&A, the entire context of socialisation and sexual pressures were ignored. We were reminded it was a ‘choice’ and rebellion. This was no surprise given liberal feminism asserts that pop stars, feminist porn and ‘free choice’ for all of the above will save us.

taylor

If we acknowledge there is a war on women, then sexual objectification is it’s propaganda and both sides are selling it. While claiming to promote ‘choice’, liberal feminism has actually reinforced the sexual pressure that sees girl’s choices more constrained than ever before.

This contradictory soup of individualistic choice feminism may make bearable entertainment for women who’ve cut their teeth on feminist literature, but what message is this sending to young women on how seriously we take women’s rights?

The focus needs to shift away from what kind of dresses women like to wear, or what kind of label women like to identify with. The issue is not simply a matter of individual choices or identities.

So, are you a good feminist or a bad feminist? Is it really about you?

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11 thoughts on “Are you a good feminist? Bad feminist? Is it really about you?

  1. I am a radical feminist (no, I don’t hate men). IMO, this is the only REAL feminism, ie, not sanitised to appeal to men. Yes, feminism is about women, but liberal feminism is too caught up in making sure men don’t feel that their toys (porn, prostitution, objectifying and abusing women in general) are in danger of being taken away from them. Liberal feminism is for wimps. You can’t be ‘equal’ to someone who who has been conditioned to view you as less than an actual person.

    1. Interesting you should mention the issue of ‘equality’. There was actually a fair bit of criticism of the idea of gender equality, though it seemed to come from Germaine Greer. I found it interesting since women’s oppression (and practical examples of it) were all but entirely absent from the discussion that the criticism of equality popped up. The only time anything other than ‘first world choices’ was mentioned (from memory) was a brief moment when Greer pointed out that the majority of female workers are unpaid labourers in developing economies.

  2. I love it when privileged white chick’s bitch and whine about how oppressed they are. You rad fems are especially adorable because you hates the menz and have taken over the feminist movement and subsequently have alienated a helluva lot of other white chick’s and then hilariously lament and wonder how these other white women reject and hate you. I’m no mra but despise feminism and feminists like you because you’re nothing but ideological bullies and massive fucken hypocrites. You won’t post this because you’re a feminist which proves how weak you really are. Not because you’re a woman of course, but because you’re a feminist. Carry on allstar lmao!

      1. Oh I dont hate anyone, especially feminists. I despise them though, mostly because of the hypocracy and outright lies. Chick’s? What? Are you one of the perpetually offended victim feminists? I never get offended when I’m called a guy, dude, bro or dude bro. Even when I’m called a little dick neck beard fedora wearing mama’s boy. I only get offended when douchebags call me a potential rapist. Anyways I know lots of chick’s. They seem pretty fierce and independent. Try women against feminism. They have my respect. Coincidentally they blocked me, must think I’m an mra lol. I still tell people they should check out and support them. Have a lovely day. Hope I didn’t trigger you.

  3. Fantastic piece Laura. You are my new favourite writer! I get so tired of being asked how I can be a feminist and wear heels!

    You called out everything that was foggy in my head and I just couldn’t articulate. Nailed it.

    I work with hundreds of young girls each year and THIS is the message they need to hear. What they currently encounter as feminism has failed them – ‘It’s all about you you you’ – it’s shallow and self-centred. Which is why IMO we have so many young women on social media following the #idontneedfeminism movement.

    Thank you
    Collett

    1. Thanks so much Collett, thats really lovely. Very much appreciate your feedback and happy to have you here!
      I too am concerned as to how this affects young women. Not only does it seem that the label is simply imposed upon women in the media, but then it comes with scrutiny and an overemphasis on what is good/bad behaviour at the individual level. The feminist movement is not a unified one, it seems less and less important what people call it, but what they do in their activism. Such a shame that the emphasis is still on futile and infantilising questions like shoes, and rather than feminism countering this, there is a lot of resources, time and column space dedicated to fostering it.
      Surely, with the rate of women being killed doubling this year we can stop talking about shoes and start talking about the real issues at hand. I hope so anyway.
      All the best to you, keep in touch

  4. I know it’s been a while since you posted this, but I’ve only just discovered your website.
    You cleraly don’t identify with Liberal Feminism. What type of feminist do you then describe yourself as? I can’t quite figure it out.
    Thank you for writing a thorough piece on feminism!

    1. Hi Elisabeth, thanks for reading! I am less likely to say feminism is part of my identity, but rather part of a framework for understanding and responding to issues. I take my analysis from a whole range of women, generally their analysis is critical, or radical. As you noticed I don’t align myself with liberalism in any sense 🙂

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