If not, can we revive it? Or do we need to get creative?
(I’m not arguing that feminism is dead; it’s alive, if a little unwell. I’m asking: If we all decided to get together and make a real push for women’s rights, would it be smart politics to brand that enterprise “feminist?” And what would our alternatives be? )
First, I’ll tell you a story, then I’ll explain why I’m asking this question.
I’m not sure when Diana hooked up with Gretchen of Drifting Through My Open Mind, but it was very early The Monster’s career. I realized sometime in January that Gretchen was a blogger I wanted to keep up with. She has a real talent for the sort of writing I enjoy: long-form posts that relate her personal life to larger issues. Whether she does it consciously or not, her posts are emotionally engaging, and that is a quality I greatly appreciate in writing.
At this point I consider her a friends, and the three of us tweet together a bit. Our relationship started with a series of conversations at Part Time Monster and Drifting Through that touched off a running discussion of feminism and its problems. We pick that conversation up whenever one of us is inclined to. Today I am inclined.
Here’s a series of links which will help make the problems that I, personally, am thinking about clear. An early PTM post about Internet sexism. There’s a series of comments on that thread in which Diana and I attempt to pin down when Feminism fragmented to the point that it lost the ability for sustained, coordinated political activism, and we discuss what to do about the issue of the label. We both eventually conclude that it’s not practical to try and build a movement and label it “feminist;” and that if we want political results, we need a new brand.
Only speaking for myself, that’s not such a strongly-held conviction I’m willing to argue about it. It’s the result of off-the-cuff political analysis done without proper research, but I know enough about the importance of labels to political movements to think it worthy of serious discussion. For me it’s a question of costs and benefits. I think it would be easier at this point, in terms of time and effort, to create a new brand than to restore the political viability of feminism, and I’m ready for some results.
Gretchen, on the other hand, was ready to reclaim the label a few months ago. She said so on the thread to this post that discusses the stereotypes associated with the label, and the need to identify oneself assertively as a feminist if you believe women should have full equality. I’m down with that, and I should point out that she wasn’t talking specifically about the practical politics there.
I am a feminist. It does need to be taken back. It’s a powerful cultural identifier, and the values I associate with it are overwhelmingly positive. People shouldn’t be stereotyped just for using it. I’m just not sure whether taking back the label will help us with the other issue – that political feminism is too fragmented to wield influence, and no one’s been able to figure out how to put it back together. That’s mostly because I think it’s going to take a long time to make feminism popular again – longer than we want to wait for social and political progress – but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.
Now for the fun part of the story. On Jan 20, Diana wrote a post on the teaching of white privilege to children, and it was Freshly Pressed.
Three days later, Gretchen published a post about women and the Internet. She really dug into it. Her post was Freshly Pressed, too. And she told me later that post was informed by her conversations with Diana and me about sexism and feminism. How cool is that?
Here’s why I want to talk about the political usefulness of the label. I know an awful lot of women who feel that they are treated unequally in a way that disadvantages them, both by institutions and in day-to-day social life. More than half of my blogging friends and professional colleagues are women, I’m sure.
I think some progress is in order. I have all these friends who want some things to get done. They’re tired of waiting and so am I. We’re already at a disadvantage. We’re working against several different forms of privilege, we have to take the fragmentation of feminism into account, and we have real adversaries whether we like it or not. So the issue of the label is a problem.
I think we need some sort of movement to advocate for women’s equality, but I don’t think we should ever call it a movement. I’m talking about an affiliation based on common interests that a lot of women and equality-loving men can get behind. A group capable of setting an agenda, forming alliances with organizations and benefactors, doing awareness-raising campaigns, and engaging in electoral politics.
So how does that start? What do we need, politically speaking, and how do we conceptualize it? A Fourth Wave of Feminism? Post-Feminism? Do we just need to identify ourselves more assertively as Feminists and get it done? Or, do we need to take account of what Diana says here about changes in the cultural and political landscape over the last 20 years, and get creative:
With our ever-evolving definitions of gender and gender fluidity, a term like “feminism” that seems so concentrated on the binary “male/female” seems more a hindrance than an aid.
That’s from the thread to that first PTM post I linked to. Somewhere on that thread, she also told me that every attempt to re-unify Feminism in the last couple of decades has failed spectacularly.
What do you think? What’s the best way to go about it if we want results?