Project Wonderful

Friday, October 3, 2014

5 (Well-Intentioned?) Faux Feminist Mistakes That Need To Stop Now

Is it me or is feminism being discussed more than usual these days? Everyone wants to know which celebrities do and don't identify as feminists and there's no consensus as to what feminism really even means. It should come as no surprise then that even among self-proclaimed feminists the standards for and definition of feminism remain unclear. While this post is neither explicitly about campaigns nor elections it is on a topic we discuss with great frequency and that is integral to our work. Far be it for me to tell you you're feministing wrong, but I'm going to. Here are five behaviors masquerading as feminism (fauxmenisms) that we need to stop in order for us to truly move forward.

1) Father of Daughters. The Toast really nails this one. Father of daughters feminism is the cliche that as a father you become protective of your daughters and it causes you to see women differently. It's that old adage that you should "treat every woman as if she were your wife or your mother." It's sweet, and well-meaning and couched in old school family values. It's also super problematic. (Oh yes, I'm breaking out the P word.)

First, you shouldn't need to have a female child to know not to treat women like objects. I don't need to push out a black baby to know not to be racist. Second, it reinforces the idea that women only deserve respect because of their relationships to men. As tumblr has pointed out, "Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest." You should respect me because all people deserve basic respect, not because I am another man's girlfriend/sister/wife/daughter/mother.

2) I'm Not Like Other Girls (aka internalized misogyny). This is a mistake of which I have been cringe-inducingly guilty. Many was the time in my early 20's that because of my sense of humor, my ambition or my majority male group of friends I proclaimed that I was "not like most girls." Again, the Hairpin nails it. The problem with "not like most girls" is that it almost always implies that other girls are trivial, superficial, insecure or just plain stupid, that being 'like a girl' is negative. It reinforces the myth that being "like a girl" means being any one thing in particular and that that thing is less than. In reality, you are both like and not like "most girls" because each woman is an individual, which is one thing we definitely have in common.

3) Being All About That Bass (aka fake size acceptance). Megan Trainor's All About That Bass, while being a fun catchy pop anthem highlights (at least) two fauxmenist problems. Warning: only read this article if you want that song ruined for you forever. First, the song fires shots in the imaginary war between "skinny" and "curvy" women. Let's look at the line, "I'm bringing booty back, go ahead and tell those skinny bitches that." As a woman who definitely falls closer to the curvy side of this spectrum, I think body acceptance, especially in popular culture is a great thing, but body acceptance means acceptance of ALL bodies. It is an absolute farce to imply that for me to be attractive or acceptable someone who looks different has to not be. The internal struggle between skinny and curvy women is entirely constructed by society to oppress women and sell things. Body autonomy is a tenets of any modern feminism and means, among other things, that my body is no one's business but my own.

This brings me to point number two. "My mama she told me don't worry about your size. She said 'boys like a little more booty to hold at night.'" My body is okay because I say so, not because "despite" its shape and size it is sexually attractive to men.

4) Intersectional Feminist "Experiments" (aka fat suit feminism). Recently a skinny woman posted pictures of herself on Tinder and then went on the real life dates wearing a fat suit. Unsurprisingly, people were outraged and not just the French showers of men whom she met up with. First of all, no one needs a social "experiment" to prove that society is cruel to fat women. We have that experiment. It's called society. This was basically an experiment in cruelty porn. Second, pulling the ol' pictoral bait and switch subtly pokes at the notion that women who don't conform to a particular standard are somehow inauthentic or not real women.

Finally, and here is the rub, SHE GETS TO TAKE IT OFF. I had the same problem reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed where the author goes "undercover" as a minimum wage worker in America. Integral to the experience of being fat, or black, or poor, or trans* is that the end of the day, you're still that way.You probably always have been/will always be that way. For this reason no experiment can ever even come close to replicating these kinds of lived experiences because privilege is not a fat suit you can take on and off. Laura Beck puts it perfectly in her article for Cosmopolitan.
"No matter how many times Tyra Banks puts on a fat suit and walks through public to prove ... I'm not sure what she's trying to prove ... she'll never understand the issues of being a Real Life Fat Woman. When you present yourself as a caricature of a fat woman, you don't bring yourself — or any non-fat people — any closer to understanding another woman's life, and you perpetuate plenty of gross myths and half truths about what it's like to be fat. The main one being, that fat people lie about their bodies to get dates."
5)Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (aka being an asshole). I've unintentionally listed these in order of the level of rage they produce in me, so please give me a moment to compose myself. Of all the fauxmenisms mentioned here, TERFism is the most difficult to write about because it is so particularly hate soaked and dangerous. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists basically deny the existence of (and often persecute) trans* people because TERFs believe that gender is socially constructed and sex is the only real difference between women and men. The idea is that you can't be a woman if you were born with a penis, because not being born with a penis is what makes you a woman.

First, this brand of fauxmenism is particularly deplorable because it leads to harassment of trans* people. We can argue all day about the extent to which gender is nature or nurture or performance or something in between but that's really beside the point. This goes back to body autonomy. I alone own myself body and soul and I choose how I am defined, not you. Making yourself the arbiter of who is and isn't a "real" woman is a slippery and counterproductive slope. Finally, feminism should not produce discrimination on the basis of traditional expectations of sex and gender. In fact, that's the opposite of what feminism is supposed to do.

If these fauxmenisms have one thing in common, it's that they qualify the conditions under which women deserve respect. Newsflash: All women deserve respect and opportunity, because all people deserve respect and opportunity, and women and girls are half of people. For me, that's what feminism comes down to and if you've got that down then chances are you're doing it mostly right.

Until next time.

Feminist Campaign Love and Mine,

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