Roxane Gay kills it in her new TED Talk. She not only urges us toward choices that may lead to actual change, but also outlines feminism as something less conceptual and much more human than we usually imagine it. After watching, I kicked back with a playlist of women singer-songwriters and thought about what kind of feminist I was, as well as what kind of feminist mainstream culture told me I was “supposed” to be.
Maybe feminism is better when we are celebrating and supporting our many differences, rather than just our similarities. Sure, the things we share as women bonds us in our feminism, but our individual experiences are what make us who we are. We are all allowed our complexities and individualities, and our experiences do not have to be the same to believe women suffer oppressions linked specifically to their gender.
We are also allowed our “simplicities”’ if they can even be called that. Roxane’s favorite color is pink and she watches The Bachelor, and she isn’t the only one who doesn’t always try to fit the rebellious feminist mold. I personally love to dress up and step out, I cry at mushy commercials, and I loved that I never had to mow the lawn as a kid (but if I had known about feminism, I might have made my dad wash the dishes more). There should be no “proper feminist” just as there should be no “proper woman.” However, the world expects much of both.
Roxane Gay says it all—she wrote a book called “Bad Feminist,” really started saying it as a joke, and then became THE Bad Feminist™ to most news outlets and culture critics. Even the most progressive feminist icons fall into some pitfalls our mainstream feminism suffers from.
Take bell hooks (yes, that’s how her name is stylized), for example, one of the leading feminist theorists and respected voices in the field. When Beyoncé proclaimed her feminism, hooks called her not only anti-feminist in some aspects, but a “terrorist, especially in terms of her impact on young girls.” I disagree with hooks on this, but I do not think she is a ‘bad feminist’ for her opinion, and I still consider her one of my most important and influential feminist icons. She simply does what many of us do—we want feminist women to be perfect, in their theory and in their actions. We seem to think that to be a feminist, one cannot make mistakes, or have different opinions from ours. The expectation for feminists to be perfect is just prevailing sexism and oppression in the movement.
As Roxane Gay says, Beyoncé had her feminism graded, and “a grown accomplished woman’s word” was questioned and not taken at face value. This is just one of the many problems with mainstream feminism. Gay also touched on another: “We are not just women. We are people with different bodies, gender expressions, faiths, sexualities, class backgrounds, abilities, and so much more. We need to take into account these differences and how they affect us as much as we account for what we have in common. Without this kind of inclusion, our feminism is nothing.” Mainstream feminism favors white, middle-class, straight women. It doesn’t account for the many different women there are and all our different struggles from these intersecting identities. Now that isn’t just bad feminism; it is an excuse of a movement for personal gain.
This is for all the “bad feminists” out there—I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who worries she’s doing it wrong.
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