Up Front by Emma Hart

274

Can't We All Just Fucking Get Along?

I don't identify as a feminist. I used to, before I went to university, but since then I've chosen not to. The amount of writing I do on feminist issues does boggle and amuse me sometimes. I've been pretty clear about the reasons I don't call myself a feminist, and they're nothing to do with not wanting to scare off men or be seen as a humourless penis-hater. I just don't want to have arguments about the appropriateness of the label.

And then the other day I caught myself doing pretty much just that. I was reading this, a review of Sex and the City 2 which has been seriously doing the rounds lately, and I was incensed. How could people who called themselves feminists be lauding a piece of writing where 'prostitute' is used as an insult for a woman who had sex with 'too many*' men? Where a joke is made about female genital mutilation? That's not feminist!

Aw crap.

See, this just happened with Boobquake. Some people objected not to the event itself, but to labelling it as feminist, to the point where the creator changed the description to remove the offending word.

Because, you see, Jen McCreight hadn't applied to the Head Office of Feminism for official permission to become a Feminism franchisee. She hadn't been through the vetting process and received her special Legitimate Feminist badge. Therefore she had no right to use the word, and Legitimate Feminists had every right to order her to cease and desist. (This is also the place where every substance and happening in the world is divided into two piles: Good for Women, and Bad for Women.)

It's just as well Head Office exists, too, or we'd live in a completely chaotic world where anyone could just call themselves a feminist. Sarah Palin. Men. Ridiculous. There'd be Feminist Porn Awards. Without Head Office there'd be no-one with the power or moral authority to tell other people whether or not they're feminists. The word would start to lose all meaning if there weren't a rigid set of ideologies you could attach to it. As Nina Power says in One Dimensional Woman (with a generous hat-tip to Giovanni here):

It is clear, then, that we are not only dealing with 'right' and 'left' feminism, but with a fundamental crisis in the meaning of the word. If 'feminism' can mean anything from behaving like a man (Miller), being pro-choice (Valenti), being pro-life (Palin), and being pro-war (the Republican administration), then we may simply need to abandon the term



The thing is, of course, that there is no Head Office, that we do have those arguments about who and what feminism is, and that I still don't agree with Power. I don't think it's necessary to throw the word 'feminist' away simply because it covers more than one train of thought on particular issues – and has done for at least forty years. Some ideas that were powerfully and exclusively feminist a century ago are now so mainstream they are accepted by people like Sarah Palin – a woman's right to vote, to stand for election, to have a career. Why is that bad, and not simply a sign of progress?

Perhaps we need more, and better, sub-categories of feminist, because labels like 'second-wave' and 'sex-positive' are deeply problematic. They also lead to an unfortunate tendency to stereotype the 'opposing' camp: as frigid humourless man-haters on one side, and frivolous unthinking bimbos on the other. Or perhaps the problem with labelling is insurmountable, and we're stuck with the "I'm a feminist who thinks that..." paragraph.

I do understand that the label 'feminist' is important to people, that they have an emotional investment in it, and find it hurtful to be told that something they believe in is "bad feminism". I also understand that some people find it difficult to have an idea they're deeply opposed to under the same umbrella as those they're devoted to.

But. Fuck's sake. Can't we all just get along? Can't we just accept a diversity of opinion? Is the label really so important that it's worth alienating people over? I'd be much more likely to self-describe as feminist if nobody felt they had the right to tell me that I wasn't. I don't know the answers, of course, and just the questions make me

feel utterly exhausted. But in the meantime, I'll be sitting on the sidelines, as a consciously-chosen position. You know what 'we people' are like about picking which team to play for.


*I don't know how many is too many, no. Obviously.

     
Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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