The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Feeling assailed by feminism

Posted by Mel Campbell on September 28, 2010

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s merry non-question “Feminism has failed”, the literary centre asked Michaela McGuire to write a piece on questioning whether she was a feminist.

Basically, McGuire’s contention was that she doesn’t want to give much consideration to feminism, because in the past she has felt assailed and alienated by other women who called themselves feminists.

“This was the reason, I realised, that feminism, at least as I had encountered it, does not seem relevant to me. It has rules. Qualifiers. Hundred-year-old mottos that I am meant to apply to my own life.”

On one level, I totally get where she’s coming from. Several times in the past I have offered my honest opinions about women and have been greeted by a backlash from feminists whose views I found ideologically rigid.

I stopped posting on my personal blog for nearly four months after various people weighed in on this post, suggesting that I clearly didn’t love my vagina enough. (I’ve since switched commenting systems, so none of the Vagina Luv comments are there any more.)

And I stopped blogging at The Dawn Chorus for nearly a year after feeling as though the entire feminist blogosphere had turned on me because of this (admittedly, mischievously titled) blog post.

But these responses never led me to the conclusion that I wasn’t a feminist.

Here’s how I define feminism. It’s the belief that nobody should be denied dignity, respect or opportunities – personal or professional, in public or at home, as a citizen or in relationships – solely because of their gender. If you believe this, and you don’t like seeing people disrespected or disempowered because of their gender, you’re a feminist. That’s it. That’s the only rule. The only qualifier.

Most of all, feminism is not about consensus. Feminism is a personal commitment, and it’s worth pursuing even though individual feminists, and groups of feminists, may have vastly differing beliefs and engage in robust debate. Put it this way: men are not deterred from having convictions simply because not all men agree with each other.

I’ve felt assailed by feminists. I’ve felt personally attacked. I’ve felt crushed. I’ve felt ignored. But I have never abandoned my conviction that I am a feminist, or become less willing to point out and condemn gender-based inequity as I see it.

16 Responses to “Feeling assailed by feminism”

  1. Cam said

    That’s it. That’s the only rule. The only qualifier.

    Perhaps. But there are great many feminists who disagree with you and who seek to institute all sorts of rules and qualifiers that make feminism inaccessible to those who don’t fall within their circle. To take a personal example, I majored in feminist philosophy and yet there is a cohort of feminists who believe I can’t be a feminist simply because I’m a bloke. Biological determinism is the ultimate qualifier, no? As you note above one need not be a bloke to be stricken from the list – not everyone will bother to challenge this!

    As an aside, your personal definition describes any decent human being whether they prefer the designation feminist or otherwise. That someone arrives at this point without giving much consideration to feminism perhaps proves its success.

    • caitlinate said

      Aw, poor baby, all the horrid women not letting you join their exclusive and privileged club!

      No, but seriously, THAT is all you can come up with for how feminism isn’t open and encompassing? That some feminists don’t feel comfortable with men using the term? Please.

      • Cam said

        Did you even read the comment?

        It was an example (albeit personal) of one rule/qualifier that can make feminism seem inaccessible to some group.

        There are many, many more: Too militant, not militant enough; too sexual, not sexual enough; too career focussed, not career focussed enough; too sympathetic to men, not sympathetic enough; likes Irigaray, thinks Irigaray is full of it. And on the list goes.

        The point, which I doubt actually escaped you, is that for a lot of women (and men) there isn’t enough perceived upside in feminism to bother challenging whatever qualifier(s) they encounter. And so they don’t. It’s very hard to judge them for that.

  2. datakid said

    reminds me of the Jello Biafra quote from his spoken word album If Evolution is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Evolve

    “We on the left keep dividing ourselves into little splinter groups. “Anyone who isn’t a vegetarian is automatically evil!” “Anyone who isn’t an environmentalist wants to pollute the world!” “If you’re not gay, then you must be homophobic!” “Look at me wrong? You’re a racist!” “Wear lipstick? You can’t be a feminist!” Divide, Divide, Divide, Divide, Divide! And while the left is all up their own asses with their little pet causes, the right comes in and takes control over that which is rightly everyone’s. And speaking of splinters, most pathetic of all: “The only thing that matters in the entire universe is the punk rock scene! And you’re an evil, sell-out traitor to the sacred punk rock scene if you disagree with anything I say, listen to music that I don’t like, dress funny, dress normal, laugh without permission, or even so much as speak to another artist who ever made a dime off of their years of hard work without at least beating them up first!”…how pathetic is that? Every day, I walk from my home to the offices of Alternative Tentacles, and I lose count of the number of people, including entire families, holding up cardboard signs saying “Homeless: Will Work for Food”! Hard as it may be for some crybabies to believe, people in that situation could care less that “Green Day and The Offspring sold out when they signed to major labels.”! Other things are more important!

    – “Wake up and Smell the Noise”

  3. Anna Winter said

    Hear hear.

  4. Rach said

    Oh my God, Mel, as a feminist who has experienced the kind of feminist policing you’ve described, I *very much know what you mean.*

    You hit the nail on the head here: ‘men are not deterred from having convictions simply because not all men agree with each other.’

    I had a long follow up to that, involving the fragility of womens’ relationships with other women, how we’re encouraged to see each other as competitors and read even the slightest disagreement as an outright attack (something I’m definitely guilty of), and how a kind of cliquey ‘us vs them’ mentality can creep into feminist communities, but I couldn’t get the phrasing right. All I know is that productive, respectful disagreement often goes much further, politically, intellectually and personally, than lockstep consensus, but it’s so hard to create environments where that can happen.

  5. […] However, I am shirty about one thing: Sheather says he wants female athletes to compete for the $5000. This is pretty much the only way that female athletes can get attention (and therefore media coverage and funding), and it’s a major problem. I don’t see male athletes having to parade their semi-naked bodies in front of drunken spectators in order to get funding and media attention. Now that is degrading. Update: Mel Campbell at the Dawn Chorus as a great definition of feminism: […]

  6. If you want to make your own mind up, the video of the Has Feminish Failed debate will be up soon…

  7. lauren said

    i recently one of the most freeing things i read in my entire history of calling myself a feminist and dealing with the associated guilt, embarrassment and awkwardness. it was the title of an art book called ‘global feminisms’. as in social theory, which speaks of publics – ie. many types of public, this reminded me that there are many types of feminism. it’s like in one title they took away all the dumb arguments about what ‘feminism’ is and allowed us the diversity and grey-areas that you speak about.

    here’s to pluralism, yo.

  8. Cardamon said

    Interesting question. I think of myself as a feminist, but often state that I am not. Reason? I am pro-life, and have been told (in voice and print) that one cannot be both. Well, sorry, if I have to decide, I’ll stay pro-life thanks, and withdraw from an “ism” that (at least on that topic) wants to substitute men telling women what to think for women telling women what to think.

    I have benefited greatly from feminism, and am very grateful to it, but to try to dragoon all women into a certain view on moral issues – rather than allow us a conscience vote – makes me despair.

  9. James said

    Prospective members of any elective social group will tend to decide whether or not to identify with the group largely on the basis of the reality of how the members act in the name of the group, not just mission statements. It’s all very well to define the membership of feminism with an all-inclusive, scarcely disagreeable single-and-only qualifier, but unfortunately it (or essentially similar definitions) is/are used by feminists who will say “Yeah, everyone’s included, you just have to believe in gender equality, etc” and then describe the achievement of “equality” as starting with “your evil male phallic war club is inherently threatening to all wymyn without our help to keep it in check”, but no, “no one’s excluded!” and then belt you with a slab of Dworkin. Most aren’t quite that extreme, granted, but you can’t just expect people to take your definition on face value because there’s a hell of a lot of feminists whose actual beliefs and actions betray it rather badly.

    • James said

      Also, that was supposed to be the collective “you”, in “you can’t just expect..”. It might sound condescending if specifically directed at the original poster.

  10. Linda Radfem said

    “It has rules. Qualifiers. Hundred-year-old mottos that I am meant to apply to my own life.”

    And of course Patriarchy has none of that!

    I wonder where these women think they would be right now if it were not for Feminism.

    And aye to being assailed by other feminists – some feminists are racist, classist, anti- this and that, too rigid, not rigid enough in their ideologies. But this has never shaken my belief in Feminism because it has nothing to do with them being feminist and everything to do with them being racist, classist etc.

  11. Jaa said

    Good to read you again Mel x

  12. Sylvia said

    This article was great to read! I came across it coincidentally just after a similar discussion with my boyfriend. I have considered myself a feminist since I first gauged an understanding of the word, so I was a little taken aback when he told me he didn’t think I WAS one.

    Not fitting the stereotype of ‘feminist’ apparently disqualifies me from being considered one. According to some you can’t just BELIEVE in the ideals of feminism, you also have to behave aggressively, burn your bra and wear boiler suits. If you have to prove to others your a feminist beyond holding the belief that all genders deserve to be treated equally and with dignity, then what does feminism even mean?

  13. marianK said

    ‘And I stopped blogging at The Dawn Chorus for nearly a year after feeling as though the entire feminist blogosphere had turned on me because of this (admittedly, mischievously titled) blog post.’

    Really, Mel? Did the ‘entire feminist blogosphere’ really ‘turn on you’ or did they just disagree with what you wrote? I and others who commented on that article found it much more than a ‘mischievously titled blog post’. It contained some rather hyperbolic comments about feminist motherhood that were at worst insulting and at best just plain wrong. (I would invite readers to view both the article and the comments and draw their own conclusions.)

    Feminist blogging is no different from any other form of blogging. Commenters will disagree with you – often passionately. It’s unhelpful to dismiss their views as simply ‘angry’ and/or ‘ideogically rigid’.

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