I’m technically a feminist by the generally understood connotation of the word, and I can appreciate the rhetorical necessity of labels when discussing ideas, so when people call me a feminist they’re not really wrong, but I don’t call myself a feminist anymore — for many reasons! some semantic, some personal, some philosophical, but they’re all good reasons that I’ve put a lot of thought into, that much I can assure you — but if I can be honest with you, I resent that people think “Are you a feminist?” is a simple Yes-or-No question, because that assumption in itself betrays an overly simplistic approach to what I think is (or, what should be) an enormous, complex, ever-evolving conversation, which is one of the many reasons I avoid the label — and, if I can be even more honest with you, I’m rather critical of feminism both as a concept and as a movement — but I’m not anti-feminist or ex-feminist or anything like that — it’s just that I have so many questions about feminism that no feminist person or text has ever sufficiently answered for me, and hardly anyone will engage me in the conversation in the first place — and I’m sorry, I know I’m rambling, it’s just that I have to do all this hemming and hawing, because when you say you don’t call yourself a feminist or that you’re critical of feminism — even if you’re very well-read on the subject and deeply-involved in feminist activism — many feminists immediately assume the worst about you — or, they assume you’re assuming the worst of them — so then there’s a lot of knee-jerk conclusion-drawing and character-judging that happens, and I get put on the defensive after saying, like, six words total — and it just sucks, you know? So I avoid these conversations altogether — not because I’m afraid to be judged or can’t defend my opinion, but because…
Oh, fuck it. It’s because most of the people who ask where I currently stand on feminism don’t ask in good faith, and, quite frankly, are neither linguistically nor philosophically equipped for a conversation of this nature, and I prefer to reserve my energy for those who can actually handle my questions. Said plainly: I do not owe anyone an explanation for each and every thought that crosses my mind, and if I ever did feel compelled to discuss my ideas at length, I would only discuss them with someone who could match me in intellectual and conversational rigor. The list of people who can do that with me is very short, and does not include you.
So this blog post probably won’t be an explanation of where I currently stand on feminism. Instead, it’s going to be like most of my UnMinding posts: a scathing review of ideology in action.
Oh, but you don’t like it when I do that. You think I owe you a conversation.
It’s a hazard of the Internet, I know. If you state an opinion you’re obligated to defend it, directly and thoroughly, to each and every person who responds to you. If you don’t answer every comment by every person, you’re clearly incapable of engaging with your critics! You must not have any defense at all! You’re just a big mean blockhead who can’t admit to being wrong!
Only slightly better than being accused of being a know-it-all, is the assumption that I’m a typical juvenile sociologist of the Tumblr variety. If you look up any keywords along the lines of “not a feminist” you’ll find countless neon-haired tweens ranting I’m not a feminist because I’m not a victim! or I’m not a feminist because I like men!
Dude. These arguments are elementary as fuh-huh-huck. My reasons for disidentifying from feminism are far more sophisticated and developed than that. So it’s kind of insulting to be lumped together with reactionary anti-feminists. Me, the coiner of “pedophile culture” and writer of articles like this and this and this and this? Me, reduce all of feminism to “man-hating” or “playing the victim”? Um, I think the fuck not.
And my favorite character judgment of all, is when people play the cultist card on me. My cultic childhood has been used as a conversation-ending explanation for pretty much every controversial politic I’ve ever expressed (see the Reddit thread I linked at the beginning of this post). MRAs use it against me. Feminists use it against me. Vegans use it against me. They all think they’ve figured it out. Like, gotcha! I know why you hate this group! It’s because you’re paranoid that everything is a cult! All your criticisms are invalid! I win!
Never mind that this is an ad hominem attack and therefore pointless. It’s also just plain illogical. Yes, it would be disingenuous to claim that my upbringing doesn’t inform my worldview, because it does. But whose doesn’t? And why do people feel entitled to weaponize my trauma against me, as if my past has any bearing on the coherence or validity of the words I’m saying? I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again: The ideologues who use my cultic background to dismiss my critiques aren’t actually making a point; they’re deflecting by questioning my sanity because that’s more comfortable than questioning their own.
We’re about 900 words into this blog post, and I still haven’t revealed my opinion on feminism. Let’s see how long I can hold out.
Are you getting impatient? Good. Why? Are you surprised to find that ideas take time to express? Does anyone really expect me, one single woman in one single blog post, to outline every definition of feminism and, point-by-point, critique each one’s ideas and arguments? It would take a book. Several books, actually. To explain where I currently stand. And if there’s one thing I hate about the socialmediafication of political discourse, it’s that. Everyone’s expected to reduce broad, broad ideas into catchy slogans ready for instant sharing. “Transwomen are women!” “Porn kills love!” You know what I’m talking about. We offer up these bite-size meme politics as a signal to others of what we believe. We’re rarely expressing nuanced political stances. What we’re usually-actually doing is letting people know how good and correct we are. One slip-up and you’re a TERF, or a whorephobe, or a handmaiden, or some other synonym for “wrong and evil.” Labels and political slogans are used as substitutes for the lengthy, arduous process of getting to know people and determining their morale based on their actions rather than their words (eww, social interactions, gross!). By the time I say “I don’t identify with feminism,” I have already been thrown in THE PROBLEMATIC TRASH CAN. Never mind all the work I’ve done for women (or the money and energy I’ve given to various feminist causes). Nope, wrong, in the trash I go.
This is precisely what happened to Laci Green. She had only vaguely hinted that she’s questioning feminism, and people immediately started threatening and internet-screaming at her (oh, and drawing conclusions about whether her MRA boyfriend had ‘put those ideas in her head’ — there we go again with the misogynist assumption that the only reason a woman would question feminism is if she’s trying to please a man). They didn’t even wait for her to elaborate before assuming she was wrong and, moreover, worthy of punishment. Laci is only one example. It happens so routinely to (female) critics of feminism that it’s essentially a spectator bloodsport. And we are expected to have entire public debates in this hostile, idea-killing environment?
I’m not even high-profile (anymore) but I still see people rabidly discussing me in obscure pockets of the internet, drawing wild conclusions about what goes on in the privacy of my head. People who have never had a conversation with me, or who have only read that one blog post I wrote about radfems, or who have only read people’s interpretations of that blog post & not the post itself, seem so damn certain that they not only know what I mean when I say “I don’t identify with feminism,’ but also that they know why I say it… and then, once they’ve established (if only to themselves) that I’m stupid/cultic/paranoid/a handmaiden/ignorant/selfish/privileged about feminism, they feel entitled to criticize me accordingly. Gods, they don’t even know what they’re criticizing yet! But it doesn’t matter. They’re angry at me, for things I did not and would never say. The wildfire has begun blazing. And you know what? I don’t care much to extinguish it. Let them burn themselves out.
This is my long-winded way of saying that I refuse to participate in the “I swear I’m still a good person!” dance choreographed by ideologues. To do so would be antithetical to everything I’ve learned in my cult recovery. Surprise! I pulled the cult card! Because women are individuals with distinct lives and experiences! There are billions of women on this planet, meaning there are billions of potential ways that feminism can be defined, approached, discussed and enacted. I am but one of these many women, and I bring a particular, rare perspective to the table: I am an ex-cultist, which has led me to be critical of ideological identification. When I say that, most people check out immediately (by dismissing all my ideas as byproducts of my past, as I described earlier). But what I work so hard to make people understand, is that all perspectives matter, e s p e c i a l l y when you’re taking on a project as ambitious as organizing a political movement on behalf of 52% of the entire human population. Yes, of course, let’s just throw a blanket over the whole earth, then feign shock when we later find some holes in that blanket. Because that makes sense.
I know I said I wouldn’t reveal where I stand on feminism, but I will at least hint at it with this:
In most debates about feminism, people tend to take a few major (& predictable) angles: Some are primarily concerned with the cultural impact of feminism (asdfghjkl; men can’t be masculine anymore!). Some take issue with the fact that feminism focuses on women (asdfghjkl; that’s not equality!) For some, the main objective is, apparently, to be perfect (asdfghjkl; radfems aren’t real feminists! libfems aren’t real feminists! I AM THE REAL FEMINIST!!!) Some even debate whether feminism is necessary, because they don’t believe male pattern violence is even a thing (yikes). This is just a small sampling of the typical arguments one encounters when people debate feminism: what it is, whether it’s necessary, who defines it, what to prioritize, who to prioritize, and what to do.
Trust me, I am far beyond any of those angles.
Those are boring.
When I do discuss feminism with the handful of friends I trust enough to share my perspective with, I don’t even bother with those exhausted points outlined above. My foremost questions about feminism are of the philosophical variety. One of the most gratifying conversations I’ve yet had about the issue of feminist ideological identification … was with a non-feminist, white, male, philosopher. Surprise again! Working class trans women of color don’t have a monopoly on sociopolitical discourse or on good ideas! Sometimes white guys say valuable things! CrAzY, right?! I kn0w!!!!! xD
But we don’t like that whole pesky task of humanizing the people we discuss ideas with.
We just put them in the “wrong” box. Shut them up.
And if I say “I don’t fit in this box” I’m immediately placed in a different box — the “wrong in a different way” box.
If I criticize porn, libfems put me in the “radfem” box. If I criticize class analysis, radfems put me in the “libfem” box. If I say I’m critical of all of it, they put me in the “MRA” box. And gods know the MRAs don’t want me at all! When I try to find refuge with the non-/ex-feminists, I find myself surrounded by overt misogynists who think I hate women too. There is this never-ending, aggravating push-pull of people trying to claim me, people trying to convince me I belong with (to?) them, people who approach me as though they already know everything and I just need to submit to their ideological authority, people who assume the only reason I might not identify with them is if I don’t understand how right they are, people who never entertain the possibility that I might have something to teach them, people who do not come to mutually learn, but who come to fight, and to conquer.
My actual point is that I don’t want to be in any of the boxes, because none of the feminist boxes out there describe my specific view on feminism. I’ve yet to find anyone who discusses feminism quite the way I do in my head. (And that’s not self-flattery. It’s just true. Might I have to pioneer this? — Okay I literally just shuddered at that thought. Never mind.)
On principle, I am critical of ideology and identification therewith. All of it. No exceptions. Because I am an ex-cultist, and also a woman, and both of these things matter. I am aware of the need for a women’s movement, but I am also far more attuned of the mechanisms of ideology than the average person, and I think my perspective could actually improve feminism, if anyone was open to constructive criticism. But instead, my presence in feminist circles rubs people the wrong way, because even as I agree that some sort of women’s movement is necessary, I also criticize identification with feminism, and over time it has been made abundantly clear to me that my unique perspective is unwelcome. When I have a question or critique, I must either refer to the sacred feminist texts written by our infallible feminist foremothers, or be fucking quiet. I may not write texts of my own. Fancy that ~ Even as a woman, I may not make suggestions about what I think could make women’s lives better. Feminism is for all women, until you stop being a woman in a way that is convenient and polite and accommodating, whereupon feminism is no longer for you. Trash.
We are 2300 words into this blog post, and you still don’t know where I stand on feminism.
Okay. I’ve dragged this on enough. Here it is:
I don’t stand anywhere on feminism. Because I am not in the business of drawing conclusions or making definitive statements anymore. Personally, I have found that actively avoiding static labels has made me more self-interrogating, more ready to change my mind when presented with compelling information, more open to disagreements… less cultic basically. Yes, this choice is absolutely a facet of my cult recovery, and I am not embarrassed to say that. I’ve made the choice to actively refuse convenient labels, to forfeit the comfort of the echo chamber, to give up the gratifying feeling of having an army of people to repeat everything I say. I do this, to hold myself accountable for my beliefs, moment to moment. It’s tireless work on a lonely path. In short: I have consciously chosen to reside in the grey area, in all things, including feminism. I’ll write more about this in future posts.
So we’re done discussing that, for now. But one question remains to be discussed:
Am I a feminist?
Well… I don’t think that’s for me to say.
I would like to live in a world where people would become acquainted with me and observe my treatment of women, before such things were determined. A world where “feminist” means something, has to be earned, can’t just be claimed by anybody. A world where one actually had to prove, with observable action and quantifiable impact, that one cares about womankind. A world where my decision to unlabel myself a “feminist” was not as controversial as, say, the kinds of physical, sexual, verbal and psychological abuses that transpire between women in self-proclaimed feminist circles.
I unlabeled myself to protect myself from being claimed like some pawn in a chess game of ideas. I unlabeled myself as a litmus test of who’s ready to engage with someone who poses a threat to their comfortable echo chamber. I unlabeled myself as a challenge to everyone I encounter, to please judge me by what I do, not merely by what I say. I unlabeled myself to see who my real friends are. And it worked. Now, lo and behold, I am happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve set new boundaries in response to everything I’ve learned from my lifelong recovery experiment, if you will.
I can hear them already. So predictable.
TL;DR – the dumb cultist can’t handle typical group dynamics so she runs away from all of it. Figures.
To which I say:
Oh, so you can’t see through my ex-cultist lens, therefore I’m seeing wrong. Figures.
Like, listen: if you can’t recognize that not all women are the same — that there is no feminist blanket big enough to cover all women, because every woman is a unique individual with a distinct set of experiences and thoughts — then maybe it’s not that woman who needs to be schooled on feminism. Mmmmmaybe it’s you.
Just an idea.