The right kind of feminist

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m having morning-after regrets. I thought I’d have one last grumble about Naomi Wolf – just one – and before I knew it, I was engaged in full-on, out-and-out ranting. And yes, it felt good at the time – these things always do, particularly when a person’s as annoying as Wolf is. But now, in the cold light of day, I feel somewhat ashamed, not least after reading this measured analysis of Wolf criticism by @weekwoman. Clearly it’s possible to disagree with Wolf without launching an unbridled attack. So why is it so tempting to just let rip?

So Naomi Wolf is arrogant and dismissive of others. So she selectively uses scientific studies to draw far-fetched heteronormative conclusions about gender relations. Big sodding deal. So too do Simon Baron-Cohen, Steve Pinker, Steve Bidulph and a great many more men (a high percentage of whom have names which start with an “S”*). They don’t attract the same public dressing-downs. Why is that? Is it because deep down, even the feminists who criticize Wolf have bought into ideas of male infallibility?

Over the course of this morning I’ve chosen my preferred theory. Thankfully it’s one which still permits me to think of Wolf as a total wanker (providing wanking isn’t too “clitoral” for her). The fact is, an awful lot of feminists are just trying, perhaps a little too hard, to distance themselves from Wolf. She represents a stereotype of self-obsessed, dismissive, elitist academic feminism. It’s a stereotype that’s largely untrue, which is why it’s so frightening each time she pops her head over the parapet. She really does seem to be what every antifeminist’s been waiting for. Hence it’s no wonder that the rest of us fear getting tarred with the Naomi Wolf brush (and yes, I know, that’s just as insulting as anything I wrote last night. I really can’t stop myself).

So we other feminists – or at least, the weak ones – clamour to show how much we’re not remotely like her, and in doing so subject her to more criticism than a man promoting similar idiocies would ever have to face. I’m sure that’s in part what I’ve been doing. That’s not to say that I’ve no right to get annoyed – but isn’t there something a little ostentatious about just how annoyed I’ve been getting? To put it bluntly, aren’t I showing off about not liking Naomi Wolf in an effort to make myself more appealing as a feminist? What’s more, the more I look at myself, the more I start to think that’s not the only desperately unfair distancing technique I use when trying to “sell” feminist ideas. Whenever I fall short of a stereotype about feminism, I almost feel a misplaced sense of pride. Ha! I proved the antifeminists wrong! But so what? Why should I have to? It’s a ridiculous standard to hold anyone to. It’s neither equal nor fair. It’s just not feminist.

Just to show you how unfair I can be, and how stupid this is, here are some of the ridiculous things which have, fleetingly, passed through my mind as ways in which I can show people that they’re wrong about feminism:

  • I am small i.e. not some great big Amazon woman. This means I am not intimidating, which makes it more “acceptable” for me to have ideas without scaring everyone off. Bigger women – anyone over 5’2” – would obviously have to be more careful.
  • I have children – ha! Take that, Daily Mail! I’ve BRED, despite having a degree and a job and everything. So that, like, proves every incoherent article about career women, feminism, IVF and “leaving it too late” totally and utterly wrong. Except for those women who “forgot to” breed. Presumably they do make feminism look miserable and barren. And yeah, they always have a total nightmare trying to convice anyone that they just didn’t want children. Phew! Glad I’m not one of them.
  • I wear dresses and skirts most of the time. Indeed, I dress in a more “feminine” manner than most of my non-feminist colleagues. To look at me, you’d think “how ladylike!”. I’m not like those other feminists, the ones who haven’t come to terms with their inner goddess or whatever. So clearly I’m better placed to talk about women.
  • I’ve had an eating disorder for most of my life. This shows that, unlike so many feminists, I apparently “care about” my appearance. Therefore all my feminist views are valid and not just random excuses because I can’t be bothered to shave my legs.
  • I have slept with men and have a male partner. That’s the clincher, isn’t it? How can I possibly hate men when I’m married to one? Why would he stay with me, what with him being a man and all? Indeed, this is the best bit of all: I can’t possibly be an unreasonable person because I have a man who’s willing to validate my existence. Therefore I’m a nice feminist. Or something.

To be fair to myself, I don’t actually think any of these things have any validity. But I’ll be honest – it does cross my mind that these qualities might be useful when I’m seeking to market feminism to others. Look at me! I’m a little heterosexual mummy wearing a flowery dress – just how threatening can my arguments possibly be?

Obviously I would like people to still be aware that I am NOT like Naomi Wolf. If the stereotype is that feminists are elitist idiots, then perhaps we should still mark the boundaries, albeit in a less personal manner. But as for the other stuff – well, what the hell am I playing at? Do I seriously, deep down, have issues with someone actually being a “stereotypical” feminist? I don’t think I do, but aren’t I in some way playing along with the idea that certain “unfeminine” traits are negative, even though they’re not? Am I unwittingly exploiting the idea that in order to have a feminist voice, women still need to play along with the rules of femininity? Isn’t this just a stone’s throw away from all that 1990s “girl power” bollocks? I bet there’s masses of theory on this – masses which, obviously, I’ve not read – but I bet if I were to read it, I’d end up feeling even more ashamed of myself than I already do (that’s if I didn’t get all muddled by the terminology. I’m not good with “theory” – I’d blame it on Hélène Cixous, if only I knew what she was on about).

So, anyhow, I probably did get a bit carried away with ranting about Wolf. But she’s just so fucking frustrating. And she’s really… God, what is this, hair of the dog? I really need to go cold turkey on the Naomi rants.

* According to my highly “scientific” analysis, conducted just this minute.

6 thoughts on “The right kind of feminist

  1. Really? I don’t think you were overboard. And I think it’s right to give a harder time to those on our own side, or who are presented as being on our side. Her wrongness reflects on feminism in a way that Baron-Cohen’s doesn’t, so we’ve got more responsibility to repudiate.

    1. Yes! Wolf must bear more scrutiny as a feminist than any of the males who do not brand themselves as such.

      And yet, I get not wanting to take the righteous indignation thing too far.

  2. Maybe it’s because we expect better of someone “wearing” the label feminist? Maybe it’s because it really does matter that feminism is properly represented, and not by bad science from someone who has already shown an…interesting attitude to key issues *cough*the Assange rape allegations*cough*.

    I have a problem if people attack Wolf in an anti-feminist or misogynist fashion. I have no problem with people finding fault with her work if it’s actually deeply flawed.

    Wolf is in some respects a soft target, because of her rep, because she’s more than a little pompous, but mostly because she’s so bad, the flaws are so glaring.

    Personally I have a special kind of condemnation I reserve for causes I love using bad science or bad stats, so that’s why Wolf really pisses me off. Have you read the neuroskeptic piece in the New Statesman ( I thought that was great.

  3. “Am I unwittingly exploiting the idea that in order to have a feminist voice, women still need to play along with the rules of femininity?”

    I actually feel like it’s the other way around. I like things that are pink and sparkly (as you can see from my avatar) and stereotypically ‘girly’, but I feel like a lot of the time those things are looked down on by some feminists. It’s entirely possible that I’m seeing things that aren’t there though, because it’s nothing I’ve seen explicitly stated, just a general atmosphere. Maybe it’s me that feels that feminine things are anti-feminist and I’m projecting the feeling onto other people.

    …Maybe I should stop using your comment section as a self-therapy section. Sorry!

    1. No, comment away!
      I think it depends on who you’re trying to “sell” your feminism to. I sometimes feel less “authentic” because I get in such a tizz about how I look and am always faffing around with makeup, but I also wonder whether this plays better with people who’d usually be more resistant to feminist ideas. Or maybe everyone just thinks I’m a hypocrite equally!

      1. I think it largely depends on which feminist circles you spend your time. I’ve had extensive discussions about baking while waiting for a feminist meeting to start, but also belong to a group of feminist friends who provide moral support for choosing not to remove body hair, so I guess I get a bit of both.

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