It is fair to say I had a number of concerns about Natasha Devon’s article in Feminist Times on why feminism must learn to compromise. I wrote a response for the Feminist Times here about why feminism can never compromise on its goals. Natasha has since written a response for her blog responding to some of the criticism. I don’t normally engage in discussions of this sort but I want to address two issues that Devon raises.
Firstly, I am very uncomfortable with the trope of ‘militant feminists” being used to denigrate the activism of other women. I don’t think it’s helpful or appropriate to create hierarchies of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminists. And, I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to say that anger is bad or that women shouldn’t be angry. I am angry at the oppression of women and I do refuse to compromise my goals in order to placate the very men who (re)create the political, social and cultural structures which privilege them at the expense of women. I’m okay with being angry at women being raped and murdered daily and then blamed for being victims. I’m okay with refusing to believe that women’s only worth is in their physical appearance and that we must be super-duper nice to the men just in case we hurt their feelings. Labelling anger as ‘bad’ in women is a silencing tactic. It also ignores everything women have accomplished because of their righteous anger:
- the right to have a career
- to have her own bank account without requiring the signature of her husband or father
- to rent or own a home without the permission of her father or husband
- Equal pay legislation
- rape crisis centres
- domestic violence legislation
- child maintenance
- the right to abortion
- the right to prenatal and postnatal care
- maternity leave
- the right to serve as a politician
- the right to vote
- the right to be classed as a person
All of these are rights women have because of “militant feminists”; women who were angry at women’s oppression and stood up and fought back. The dismissal of “militant feminists” is to erase the entire history of our movement. It is to erase the work of generations of women.
And, really, could we not class Devon as a “militant feminist” because of her belief that pornography is not harmful to women as a class? What makes one woman a “bad (militant)” feminist and another a “good” feminist. Why are the women Devon disagrees with automatically “militants”. Using words like “militant” pejoratively is a silencing tactic. It’s a way of dismissing valid concerns of other women and this isn’t feminism. We may not agree on these issues but classing every single woman who disagrees with you as “bad” helps no woman. It just reinforces the very patriarchal structures in which women live.
I also want to respond to one paragraph in that post which demonstrates the fundamental difference between Devon’s feminism and my own:
Devon’s feminism is contextualised within capitalism as a positive force whilst I believe that capitalism is inherently harmful and toxic for women and that women’s liberation will not come through materialism, pornification or political structures created by men for men. Suggesting that “REAL feminism is strutting into a boardroom in 4 inch stilettos, cleavage boldly on display” erases the vast majority of women from the feminist movement. Capitalism requires a hierarchy which subordinates 99% of the population for the benefit for 1%; most of whom are male.
Suggesting that women are only “real” feminists if they leave men thinking how “witty and intelligent” they are is just requiring women to preform for men. It requires women to meet a very narrow definition of “woman” – one which is based on a harmful and reductive gender construction. This is inherently unkind and one that I find antithetical to a campaign for “body confidence”. Confidence, nor feminism, can come from stilettos and lipstick; nor can it come from an audience finding you witty or intelligent. It comes from within.
This definition of “real” feminism ignores the double bind of oppression faced by women of colour who very rarely see the inside of a boardroom (unless as a cleaner). Does this make them less of a feminist because they are victims of institutionalised and systemic misogyny AND racism?
What about women with disabilities? Women who can’t stride anywhere in 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists?
What about the women living in inhumane conditions, working in factories with no safety net who earn a $1 a day to make those 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists? Should we not care about them because they can’t meet this narrow-definition?
My feminism is anti-capitalist because I don’t believe women’s liberation can be found in a boardroom or via the very political structures which oppress us. I don’t believe our liberation can be found through our appearance or our performance of acceptable gendered norms. A feminism which ignores the fact that the vast majority of women in the world are living in abject poverty with inadequate access to sanitation and clean water is not a feminist movement I want to be part of. I want to dismantle our political structures which are based on the unpaid labour of women. I also respect the work of women who are fighting within the system for change – for equal representation in politics, the workplace and a welfare state to protect the most vulnerable (most of whom are women).
Devon and I have very different understandings of feminism but I am very uncomfortable with the idea that only one of us is a “real” feminist.