“Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.” – Ti-Grace Atkinson
Madness, rivalry, wobbling (and ultimately collapsing) on two legs alone — reading Susan Faludi on the life and death of radical feminist Shulamith Firestone is no trip to the Thomas Kinkade kiosk. One theme I’d like to unpack, which is oddly prescient, has to do with fighting feminists, a topic that gets a lot of attention and little resolution.
There’s actually a simple solution. Ready?
Don’t be an asshole.
No really, don’t be an asshole.
I consider myself to be a cultural feminist, by which I mean that practicing feminist values is an inextricable ingredient of my fight for political and social equality and justice for women and girls. By practicing feminist values, I refer to an orientation to elevate the softer voices in a room, to treat others with accommodation and inclusion and respect, not a “dos and don’ts feminism” that focuses on feminism as a means of correcting the behavior of feminists and/or women. Dos and don’ts feminism, I believe, suggests that we can choose our way out of systematic discrimination against women, if only by not wearing that slutty thing or taking his last name or, if you’ve been listening to the gun lobby, buying a gun. This, in my opinion, leads to judgement and stigma and is the antithesis of inclusive feminism.
A feminist framework of power must in my opinion be culturally feminist, built upon principles of inclusion — let’s empower everyone — rather than dominance, or an approach that says let’s have the loudest voice and shout the others down. At its core, being an asshole is a particularly disagreeable way of exerting dominance over others. And, disgustingly, it happens within the women’s movement all the time. Oftentimes this takes the form of attacking feminist women who in good faith try something new with the goal of helping women advance, like Sheryl Sandberg and the authors of #femfuture, a new report with ideas about how to make online feminism more sustainable.
Do Sheryl Sandberg or the authors of #femfuture perfectly represent my views? No, they don’t. I’m sure they don’t represent yours perfectly, either. And I’m also pretty damn sure that insisting they do or you’ll shout them down in a sea accusations about why they personally are “problematic” in lieu of offering additional perspectives about the problem they attempt to tackle is not productive. In a movement built upon inclusion, everything is a starting point. (I don’t mean to minimize some good concerns that inclusion could be increased — in both works it could, which would improve them very much — but am calling for feminists with additional perspectives to proactively add their voices to the topics at hand rather than declaring the intentions of the speakers to exclude them.)
Within the feminist community, please, let’s not let problematic be the enemy of progress. And let’s focus on the progress.
Faludi’s piece references Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood, a piece by Jo Freeman that I have read and reread several times over the years. One of the best conclusions is:
Isn’t it time we stopped looking for enemies within and began to attack the real enemy without?