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March 23, 2009

Feminism is for Everyone

We have written previously about not feeling 100% comfortable with being labeled "feminists", not because we don't consider ourselves feminists (because we absolutely, totally, completely do) but because we don't like to be put into a box, even if it's a well-designed, well-fitting box. We are absolutely feminists, but we are also a lot of other things - each of which are just words that describe us but do not define us. While we definitely write about a lot of feminist issues, we were sometimes surprised to see Evil Slutopia called a "feminist blog" because it is about so much more than just feminism, it's about everything.

But the more we think about it, feminism is about everything and everything is about feminism. So we may not be super keen on labeling ourselves, but we're definitely feminists. And so are most of the people who say things like "I'm not a feminist, but..." (one of our least favorite statements).

The concept of all people being equal and deserving equal rights is not just the concern of women. (We've written about this many times). Feminism is for everyone - men and women, young and old, cisgender and transgender, every sexual orientation, every race, every religion, every nationality, every socio-economic status - everyone.

We often like to check in on the younger generation (we particularly like the rotten little girls, who we have lovingly dubbed "the Jr. ESC") in part because college is its own miniature ecosystem which can either feed or hinder the growth of feminist ideals. It's kind of great to witness the "hey, I am a feminist" epiphany that a young woman may have at that age. Often referred to as when they became a feminist, we prefer to think of it as when they realized they had been a feminist all along. I think generally the late teens to early twenties is usually when women who may have thought that feminism wasn't for them realize that it's for everyone.

So imagine our surprise when we saw another young female blogger decide that she didn't consider herself a part of feminism.
...the more I learn about feminism, the more I think, “this just isn’t me.”
She went on to describe feminism as a "cool girls clique":
It's about looking edgy and wearing all these alternative, subculture clothes. It’s about putting buttons with “empowering” women logos on backpacks. Or it’s about saying one thing in a women’s studies class and doing another in real life. Like, every month, when I get my subscription from Bitch there are these ads for knee-high rainbow socks and beautiful, thin, white girls reading “Powell’s Books” on the back. Jessica Valenti (who, I guess, is like the spokesperson for current feminism or something right now) is just another thin, beautiful cool girl.
Of course, we don't believe that her description is accurate. I definitely believe her that there's a stereotypically "cool feminist" group at her college, but really that's because it's... college. It's hardly fair to say that a group of girls at her school represents actual feminism as a whole. And we found it ironic that she chose Jessica Valenti (founder and executive editor of Feministing.com) as the poster child for exclusive "too cool" feminism, because Feministing seems to be quite the opposite for most women.

She is responsible for a lot of young women who thought feminism “wasn’t for them” (because of the negative stereotypes) realizing that they do have feminist ideals and embracing the idea of gender equality.

She wrote this book on “50 doublestandards sluts/studs” or something like that, and a huge component of it was to “jazz” up feminism for a new generation. I know feminism suffers from an image problem, but I don’t think it’s the image that needs to be changed–I think it’s people’s perception of it.

[...]In her attempts to make feminism available to everyone, her blog is frequently crowded with people who don’t understand and refuse to understand core feminist concepts that are inextricably tied to women’s sense of self, security, and humanity. If she’s going to make feminism “cooler,” it’s going to get dumbed down in the process because that’s how our culture is.

So feminism is too exclusive, but it's also too inclusive. She's right about one thing - feminism doesn't need to be jazzed up but the image/perception (FYI: the "image" and the "perception" are the same thing) does - and that is what Jessica Valenti has tried to do with the website and with her books. It's not about making feminism cooler, it's about helping young women realizing that feminism already is cool and has always been cool.

Trying to make feminism accessible to a wider audience doesn’t automatically mean watering or dumbing it down. It also seems a little unfair to say that Feministing is crowded with people who "refuse to understand core feminist concepts". Maybe some of those people just don't understand everything yet because they're still learning, or they understand certain concepts but have areas of disagreement with the theory or with other feminists. I'm sure this blogger herself doesn't understand everything, because really, who does? And that's not to say that we never get frustrated while reading some of the comments on Feministing (because we do), but overall we think it's good to have that space for discussion and not so realistic to expect everyone there to be perfect feminists, whatever that means.

On a personal note (for the sake of full disclosure), we met Jessica Valenti at a Feministing event and she was extremely approachable and welcoming and open, as were the other editors.

We definitely understand what it's like to feel excluded from a certain group, but there are two important points to remember...

1. Just because you feel excluded from a group doesn't mean you are actually being excluded. How much of her feelings of exclusion were based more on the fact that she doesn't feel like she fits in with the "cool girl" feminists vs. the "cool girl" feminists not letting her in?

2. If you are in fact being excluded by a certain group of feminists, that doesn't mean that feminism is exclusive. (Although of course we're not saying that because we're taking some issue with this particular critique, that means that feminism is magical and perfect and above criticism.) Those "cool girls" don't necessarily represent feminism as a whole. You can't expect to become the best friend of every woman with whom you share a label. And if everyone who reaches a point where they feel left out or excluded decides that the solution is to walk away from feminism, where does that leave us? We don't have an answer to that, but we think it's an important question.

We just felt this was an important issue to address. Not to criticize the blogger - she's welcome to her opinion, even if we disagree with it - but to get this message out to any other young women who might think feminism isn't for them. It is. It's for everyone. You might not fit in with every human being on the planet, and that's okay, but there are other women out there with whom you will resonate and connect. And some of those women might even be the "too cool" feminists that you've prejudged.

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ceirdwenfc said...

I think feminism has negative connotations for young people who didn't live through the movement. I was born in 1966, so I was a girl during the height of the movement and I don't remember it clearly at all.

I do know that when I talk about this blog, I will say "feminists but they're not," as if being feminists is a negative thing, and I honestly don't know why I do that.
I stay home with my kids and when people tell me to get a job or to ask my husband for money or if it's okay to go somewhere, I look at them as if they have two heads. I have a freaking Master's degree. I don't need permission to go to the ATM (even though I think it's respectful to share responsibility and discuss things.)
Also, when people talk about me going back to work, they ask who will do the dishes and the laundry, and I laugh because I don't do those now (for the most part.)
I love this blog. I think that's because you do welcome everyone with an open mind.


The thing that we found so surprising about that blog though, was that she wasn't referring to the usual negative feminist stereotypes.

She was just perpetuating a new one.

As for your situation, I think a lot of feminists do judge stay-at-home moms, etc... and it's really unfair. It's not anti-feminist unless you're doing it for the wrong reasons (i.e., because society says you're "supposed to").

To us, feminism is very much about choice.

gooblyglob said...

I'd figured out that I was a feminist by the time I was 10 years old. I'm 25 now and I have never had an issue with that label - it's not the only label I apply to myself anyway, I am a collection of countless labels, feminist is just one of them and no less and no more important than the others.

Sloth Womyn said...

I didn't get a chance to read it because it's blocked now but I've read her blog in the past and she is a wonderful woman with a careful eye. She is young and in college and probably made to feel "other" in a group that is supposed to be supportive. As we all know, we can all be much more criticizing as feminists rather than supportive.

Anyway, just from the samples you've posted and what I know from her from the past I could see why she would have a problem with "skinny, white girls" selling feminism, when skinny white girl is a societal ideal that most women feel pressure to live up to. Besides, what does that say about us large, women of color. Are we not "cool enough" to represent?

What's sad is that she has now gone into hiding, having been shamed for speaking her truth, by her own "sisters" no less, and all in the name of feminism. Sigh.


I'm going to respond with this quote from the above blog:

We just felt this was an important issue to address. Not to criticize the blogger - she's welcome to her opinion, even if we disagree with it - but to get this message out to any other young women who might think feminism isn't for them. It is. It's for everyone. You might not fit in with every human being on the planet, and that's okay, but there are other women out there with whom you will resonate and connect.

We were not "shaming" anyone and certainly not for speaking their truth. We're just disagreeing with that truth and trying prevent it from turning more women (and men) away from something that is for everyone.

As for your question of whether large women of color are not "cool enough" to represent - that is exactly our point. Feminism is not for cool, thin, white women. It is for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Just some personal feelings to add (not from the entire ESC, but from me).

I think it's interesting that you wrote this: "She is young and in college and probably made to feel "other" in a group that is supposed to be supportive."

I had originally brought that up in a comment to her blog (that perhaps because she's young and in college that the exclusion she's feeling isn't actually about feminism as a whole and when she gets out of that environment that will change.)

She told me I was being ageist.

I tried to tell her that Jessica Valenti has done more than most of us have for "the cause" so we should give her some credit where credit is due, even if we don't agree with everysinglething she ever said or did. Denying the voice and the accomplishments of feminists who happen to meet the description of "white" or "thin" or "pretty" or "cool" is just as unfair as ignoring the voice and accomplishments of those who don't.

She said we were being hostile.

Yes, feminists (as all people) can sometimes be more criticizing than supportive, but we weren't harshly attacking her. We were just trying to have a discussion about a topic she brought up for discussion. This particular blog entry inspired us to think about our own feelings of feminism and exclusion... and we wanted to share that with other young women who might be on the fence about their place in "movement".

It is sad that she has blocked her blog, because I do think that she sometimes offered interesting and insightful points. And even when I didn't agree with her, it gave me something to think about (as in this case). But frankly, if she can't handle someone disagreeing with her, that isn't our fault. Criticism and dissent are often part of being a blogger, a feminist, and well, a human being. Sometimes you have to ignore criticism, sometimes you can learn from it, but giving up because of it does nothing. I'm not surprised she feels excluded by feminism either, if not telling her "oh you're SO right!" = exclusion.

PS: She was very critical of Jessica Valenti in her blog comments, but luckily I don't think Feministing.com will ever shut down because of criticism.

Dollface said...

I've been monitoring a blog-controversy recently on this blog:


After getting all worked up over it (in favor of the blogger who is called out in this post by a popular fashion blogger) and defending Mars in the comments, I was reminded of this post.

While I've talked you guys about this post in person and talked to Dolly about it as well & think that it sparked meaningful discussion -- I realized what bothered Dolly about it. There is something about being called out on someone's blog that kind of...sucks. It's a tough situation because I think that you merely wanted to discuss this issue, and her blog post was inspiration. However, it does come off as singling her out as a blogger.

Just my thoughts, anyway. Hope you're enjoying BlogHer...don't get into TOO much trouble.


Hm. We might agree with you if not for a few key points...

I'm sure it does suck getting called out on someone else's blog, but let's not forget that it was Dolly who first called out Jessica Valenti on her blog... for things she could not control (being white, thin, beautiful) and things that were untrue (being exclusive, dumbing down feminism).

And while she now claims that her blog was not meant to be about Valenti, but that we insisted on making it so... it's worth noting that the comments repeatedly bashed Valenti and Feministing way before we even read the entry in the first place.

She obviously has the right to do that, while we have the right to defend Valenti (and "cool" feminists in general)... just as we have the right to write this and you have the right to defend Dolly. Let's just not be hypocrites about the situation.

We attempted to address the issue in the comments of the blog, but she was too defensive and dare I say, closedminded, to allow for any actual intelligent discourse on the subject. For example, she accused of us being ageist - something that I'm sure you've figured out by now that we're not... seeing as we highly respect a lot of young activists and feminists (yourself included).

I have no doubt that Dolly did in fact feel excluded by cool feminists and attacked by the ESC, but that doesn't actually mean that she was excluded or attacked.

If we had not been silenced on her site, this blog entry probably would've read quite differently. Obviously, she is well within her rights to dictate the direction of her blog comments and control the discourse on her own blog... but we felt that what we had to say was important so we said it here instead.

Words do have an impact, as any activist/blogger knows. We felt that the point of view that Dolly was putting forth - although completely valid - had the potential to be rather detrimental to feminism and anti-sexism. Too many women (especially young women) feel that feminism "isn't for them". Isn't it almost our obligation, as feminists, to spread the word that it is for everyone?

We would've been happy to talk if she admitted to feeling "called out", but Dolly claimed she wasn't affected by it. We find it interesting that months later she has reposted the original blog with a little disclaimer calling us out, when in April 2009 she claimed it had nothing to do with us.

The fact of the matter is that the blogosphere is not always a nice place. If you're going to put yourself out there and speak on controversial subjects, you have to expect the possibility that someone will disagree with you. We have always tried to be as diplomatic as possible, but we also think it's important to hold people accountable for what they put out.