Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The day I was feminist enough, or why refreshing, rethinking and redefining feminism can be a disaster or it can be AWESOME.

So I was going to write a post about family and the holidays and all that stuff as my first post back from vacation but then last night I stumbled upon this website and I decided to write about it instead.

The website is called "I'm Feminist Enough..." and it currently features three videos of women finishing that sentence. Like "I'm feminist enough not to judge other women" or "I'm feminist enough to  paint my nails before I go camping." Shannon Washington, the creator of the site, was inspired (or provoked) by Beyonce's comment in an interview sometime in 2011. When asked if she was a feminist, Beyonce said:
I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel like…you know…it’s, like, what I live for.... I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.
Washington found this rather troubling. What's wrong with feminism? But Washington says that for "many women of color, especially young women, the word 'feminist' provokes an image that is antiquated, overtly-aggressive, anti-male and white." (You have NO IDEA how much it pains me to write "color" instead of "colour" when I'm quoting someone American.) But, uh, to me, "bootylicious" provokes a highly sexualized image of women. Something new and different! (That was sarcasm...) So Washington decided that it was time to rethink and refresh feminism, specifically for women of colour. (HA. Spelled it my way. Paraphrasing is super cool.) And thus "I'm Feminist Enough..." was born! Washington writes:
Using video and still imagery, the 'I’m Feminist Enough…' project seeks to visualize the fresh face of feminism and demonstrate to our young sisters (and brothers) the value of feminist thought in our daily lives in a manner that is simple, sexy, modern and easy. Yes, you can be a feminist but get a kick out having the door held open for you. These actions don’t define your place as a woman, you do.
Awesome. But this isn't just a post advertising this site (although it kind of is...). I have some thoughts about it.

Obviously, I am not a woman of colour (well, actually I suppose that wasn't obvious until right now since you can't see me...), and I want to start by saying that in no way am I attempting to speak on behalf of anyone else. Feminism has not always been kind of women of colour, and it still isn't (remember some of the incidents at Slutwalk?), and I acknowledge that and in no way want to excuse that. However, I do want to think about what feminism means and what movements like this one that "refresh" feminism are doing. This website sparked ideas that I've been thinking about for a long time, so I'm taking my ideas and running with them, but I do not mean to erase the really fucking important shit that Washington is addressing when she talks about redefining feminism for women of colour. 

So I think I could look at this "I'm Feminist Enough..." movement one of two ways. First of all, the cynical way. I could say that these videos are promoting the idea that as long as a woman (or man or anyone else) calls herself a "feminist," then everything she does, from shaving her head to paying her own bills to running a company to painting her nails before going on a camping trip, is a feminist or radical act. And I have a problem with that. Because unless you discover some radical, transgressive way to paint your nails, painting them is not really a feminist act in the sense that it is furthering the cause of feminism. It may be a feminist act in the literal sense that a feminist is doing it. But painting your nails is conforming to the patriarchal definition of femininity. (I don't really know where it started, but my guess is women weren't just born with this natural urge to have pink nails.) BUT. BUT. NO. Don't yell at me and tell me that you are not brainwashed just because you paint your nails. I KNOW THIS. I paint my nails too. (Sometimes. I have really long hard nails and therefore I use them as tools to open things and stuff so they chip really fast and it's annoying. But I paint my toenails a lot.) So yeah. I have a problem when people say that everything a woman does is a feminist act just because she's a woman so obviously she believes in her own equality so if she wants to get breast implants THEY'RE FEMINIST BREAST IMPLANTS BECAUSE NO MAN PHYSICALLY MADE HER DO IT. Uhhh...riiiiiiight. Because in no way are we taught from birth that breasts are purely sex toys for men. That's not something we grew up hearing AT ALL. That's why breastfeeding in public is not an issue at all! Because we haven't overly sexualized breasts! They're totally neutral vessels of baby food! And risking your life to make them bigger and likely also completely ineffective as vessels of baby food has NOTHING TO DO WITH MEN OR SEXISM AT ALL. (Sidenote: I am not saying that all women need to use their breasts as vessels of baby food and that if you don't procreate and breastfeed you fail as a woman. I am also not saying that all women who have breast implants are brainwashed by the patriarchy. I just got a bit carried away with my sarcasm. However, we live in a patriarchal society. And you can't just decide you're outside that and have that be the end of it.)

See? Ryan gets it.

However, I'm not convinced that is the message of "I'm Feminist Enough..." (Although it is the message of A LOT of things which is why I wanted to talk about it. For another totally awesome post on this subject by Meghan Murphy, look here. I totally quoted it in an essay I wrote. It's fun using blog posts as sources in essays. You get to swear and use caps lock a lot.) I want to look at "I'm Feminist Enough..." from another angle, an angle that a like I lot more. I think these videos promote the idea that a woman can be a feminist without having to make her every move a radical one so long as she is aware that many of her actions are not radical or even feminist. And the videos promote the idea that feminists do not have to feel guilty every time they do something slightly "unfeminist," like paint their nails. And sometimes, the "unfeminist" thing to do is the logical one. And sometimes even though it seems "unfeminist," it actually kind of isn't. One woman in the videos said that she's feminist enough to be the chef in her heterosexual relationship because she's the good cook and she's not going to eat her fiance's shitty food to prove a point. She's feminist enough to understand that feminists ARE PEOPLE. (WHOA! What a novel concept!) Feminism is not reversing gender roles. Feminism is not giving up things that make you happy. And feminism cannot be achieved by an individual. Because we're all going to mess up. Not one of us individually can be the perfect feminist. I fuck up. A lot. I like to use the word "bitch." I try not to do it in public too often. But it's fun to say! And no, it's not feminist when I do it. I am not reinventing the meaning of the word "bitch" when I use it as an insult. And sometimes I assume that most straight men think with their penises and that I can get what I want if I dress a certain way or behave a certain way. And that the men won't mind. That's really not feminist. That's manipulative and cruel.

But together, maybe feminists can get more done. We live in a culture that praises people for being individuals, for accomplishing things alone, but can't we get more done together? One of the women in the videos said that she's feminist enough not to judge other women. So if women (and men and everyone else) stop judging one another for their individual little fuck ups and instead focus on collectively working towards a goal (and also focus on LISTENING to one another WITHOUT GETTING DEFENSIVE when we kindly remind each other that maybe calling someone a pussy isn't exactly a feminist action...), maybe feminism still has a shot.

If I was making a video for "I'm Feminist Enough..." I would say, "I'm feminist enough to know that not every move I make is radical or even feminist. And I'm okay with my fuck ups. Because I'm human. But I'm also feminist enough to keep trying to fuck up less."

What would you say? As Shannon Washington said, "There is no right or wrong, just truth." If you want to get involved with the actual movement, and not just my discussion of it, you can find contact info on the "I'm Feminist Enough..." website.


  1. I think this may be what I was trying to say at dinner that night. You did a much better job of it.

  2. Or something along the same lines at least.

  3. Lesley Latimer1/08/2012 11:36 am

    I think you should still do a Swagmas/family blog.

  4. Huh, well, I like this post a lot, except I guess I would say that every move we make does not HAVE to be radical or feminist. I mean, obviously we don't want to take actions that are in opposition to our political goals. But life is way more complicated than that black/white either/or dichotomy. So just because we do something that isn't explicitly feminist, it doesn't mean it's unfeminist.

    Maybe that's what you meant, too. I think you make a bunch of really important points here!

  5. Yes, thank you, human! That is what I was trying to get at. It's kind of this big picture thing I've been grappling with, so sometimes when I try and get it into a relatively short blog post, I lose my focus a bit. But yes, I definitely agree.