I’m Reevaluating Feminism (Part 2)

I started talking about the book, Bad Feminist, and meant to just review the book, however there was so much to cover that I was unable to keep it to one concise blog.  Part 1 was meant to be more of a review of sorts, however it was lacking as much depth as I would have liked.  Here I will dig a little bit deeper into what I believe was the essence of Roxane Gay’s book, and the topic it brings to light.

To sum up Part 1 if you don’t feel like going back, the book is about Gay’s interpretation of what it means to be a feminist; how it’s portrayed in society; and she speaks on other issues related to race, politics, the media, etc.  I enjoyed it, but will admit that it was a heavy read and took me a while to get through.  In the end, I am glad to have read it and will pick it up in the future again to reanalyze things.

I must add that I am not an authority on feminism, and I have not read any other books on it or even taken any women’s studies classes.  Therefore, to people who are more knowledgeable and have thought long and hard about it, this book might not be as eye-opening or resonate with you as much.  Or maybe it will…

I met with a group of around 12 women, probably half of which had at least started the book, and we muddled through our own issues and ideas of feminism together.  Although there are plenty of great, more specific topics that Gay addresses, we didn’t get too much further than discussing the concept of feminism itself, which she mainly talks of in the Introduction and conclusion.  She does intertwine this theme throughout, however, and maybe I will be able to extrapolate more blogs posts in the future about the different topics.

Quotes that stood out to me:

Feminism is flawed, but it offers, at its best, a way to navigate this shifting cultural climate.

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m not trying to say I have all the answers.

I was called feminist, and what I heard was, ‘You are an angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person.’

I’ve always been conflicted with feminism, and so I’ve chosen to ignore the topic as best as I could.  To me, it meant you can’t like romantic comedies, you don’t want men to hold the door open or pay for dinner, and you have read all of the proper literature containing any other rules of this doctrine.  It’s as though Feminism were its own religion, and you’re not supposed to pick and choose which parts you will obey and believe.

When I asked the other women I was talking to about what they thought of feminism, I heard similar definitions, with several women saying they’ve been hesitant to call themselves it because of bad connotations.  We agreed that we’d been told feminists were always angry about men, the world, life.

Then we got to talking about how far we’ve come.  Yes, society still has a long way to go in terms of equality (equal pay, the fight regarding abortion and Planned Parenthood, double standards between men and women, race, etc.), but we don’t see feminism celebrating the positive sides too much.  It’s as if feminism is pessimistic most times.

Essential feminism suggests anger, humorlessness, militancy, unwavering principles, and a prescribed set of rules for how to be a proper feminist woman, or at least a proper white, heterosexual feminist woman.

Without even reading the above quote to the group of women, someone who hadn’t even read the book pretty much said this exact thing, in her own words.  Feminism often gets a bad rep for focusing on anger, rather than a passion for equal rights…and I think that’s a shame.

Reading Gay’s book helped me to put my thoughts into words and feel normal about my ideas on feminism.  I’ve never talked about it before in case I wasn’t educated enough on the subject, or in case I was misinformed.  I felt like if I did talk about it I would get judged…either for not knowing enough, or in case my feelings of distaste for the stereotype of feminists would seem just as bad as uttering racist stereotypes.

But as women, we need to talk about it, and I’m glad this book is opening up more opportunities to do that.

So, as my friends and I then discussed, what is a feminist?  We came up with: a person promoting equal rights for men and women.

The dictionary (American Heritage Dictionary, to be exact) defines feminism as:

Belief in or advocacy of women’s social, political, and economic rights, especially with regard to equality of the sexes.

However, I think it should say belief in and advocacy of…because if it is just the belief in equal rights, then isn’t that pretty much every woman (and could extend to men as well)?  Should it be more exclusive to say you need to be promoting (advocating), so that feminist isn’t just synonymous to female?  (Unless you want to argue that there are some women who don’t care enough about themselves and their self worth to want equal rights.  I’m not going there though.)

I was wrestling with this and wondering if feminism could be extended to men as well, so I performed a quick Internet search, and the first article I found to be interesting is at NOMAS.org (National Organization for Men Against Sexism).  It discusses whether men can call themselves feminists.  Brian Klocke, in “Roles of Men with Feminism and Feminist Theory” states:

feminist theory is not only about understanding but also about action. A goal of the feminist project is to end the oppression of women and attain social equity for them.

Klocke goes on to say:

Perhaps a more important question than whether or not men can “do” feminist theory is whether men can engage feminism and can they be feminists?

Although I believe that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist, I do not believe we can be feminists in the strictest sense of the word in today’s society. Men, in this patriarchal system, cannot remove themselves from their power and privilege in relation to women. To be a feminist one must be a member of the targeted group (i.e a woman) not only as a matter of classification but as having one’s directly-lived experience inform one’s theory and praxis.

So there you have it.  I agree.

However, going back to Gay’s book, I asked the women at the group, as I was wondering myself, “Are you a feminist?  Or should we call ourselves ‘bad feminists,’ too?”  We didn’t have a clear answer to this at first.

If you are coming from where I was before reading this and exploring my own ideas on feminism, then you might be seeing feminism in a negative light and, like I did, want to disassociate from the group a little bit.  In that sense, the term “bad feminist” makes sense.  It’s a way to pick and choose what you want.

But if you are coming from an enlightened mind, believing that feminism is meant to be purely primarily about the advocacy of women’s rights, and not merely an anger-filled rules list, then I think you might be more inclined to say just “feminist,” without the “bad.”

I am hesitant to say this, but hear me out: In the beginning of the book, the term makes sense, but by the end, if you take it for face-value, I almost feel the term becomes a cop-out.  It’s acknowledging that the general consensus for the definition of feminism is flawed, but just accepting that because changing the stereotype would take too much work, time, and power to get the word out.  It’s definitely a discussion we need to keep having.

I do believe though that it’s good that she kept the title as it is, because the catchiness of the phrase is what got me, and others, to pick up the book, bringing forth this conversation.  By the end, it’s possible that Gay doesn’t even see herself as a “bad” feminist, but it’s up to the reader to make that decision regarding “good” and “bad,” just like how in life we have to determine what’s good or evil.

Also, she closes with:

I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

So, here I think she’s saying that if you don’t see her as a feminist because of your preconceived notions of the term, then call her a bad one.  But don’t say she isn’t one.

I’d like to say the same thing for myself.  Yes, I’ll now consider myself a feminist.  I do not always do things that would advocate women’s rights, and I am not actively involved in anything fighting laws or of that nature, but I am still one.

Also, as someone interested in words and grammar, I’d like to look at it from this perspective: Keep the two words (bad feminist) separate rather than a complete phrase.  Then you can call it what you want…good or bad, extreme or conservative, passive or radical…those are merely adjectives that can modify the noun feminist, but they do not change the meaning of feminism.  (And yes, the word feminist can also be an adjective, but in that case it modifies the noun, a woman…or person, depending on your inclusion views).

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