Confessions of a ‘bad feminist’

By December 29, 2017 No Comments

Image: New Matilda 

By Alice Bello

Last month, one of my male friends accused me of being a “bad feminist.” Someone had made a degrading comment about a woman, and I apparently didn’t react as vehemently or as well as another female in our friend group. Don’t fret, I also called out my accuser by saying that he had just as much of a responsibility as I did to condemn sexist speech. But is that all being a ‘bad feminist’ amounts to?

Not to delve too deeply into semantics, but the definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” The problem however is how we go about this ‘advocacy’ and how far we are willing to take it.

I’ve observed a strong case of ‘selective feminism,’ predominantly in older generations, where some women are only feminists when it’s beneficial to them. Women are quick to demand economic equality and the same job opportunities as men, but the feminist stance often doesn’t reach old-fashioned practices in dating, where men are expected to pay for outings, be chivalrous, and make the first move. There’s a tension between wanting progress, but at the same time staying true to traditions that are ingrained in our culture and history.

I’m not laying all of the blame on older generations, because I’ve realized that to some extent, we’re all guilty of this. Was my lack of response to my male friend’s speaking poorly of women a case of ‘selective feminism?’ Did I think ‘oh, boys have always been like this, it’s not worth stirring up an argument over a little comment?’ In that case, being a better feminist entails challenging all the sexist behaviors we’ve become accustomed to.

Studying at Sciences Po has changed my view of feminism. I long believed that, for example, imposing quotas at the National Assembly or in any governmental organization was injudicious, as it would favor sexual parity to actual skill and ability. But let’s be honest: if women aren’t given a push, if they aren’t placed in positions of power from which they can influence legislation and set an example for future generations of women, then I can guarantee we will be stuck in this rut for years. Just look at the infamous picture of President Donald Trump meeting with all-male lawmakers to determine the future of Planned Parenthood, which provides healthcare and birth control to women. Should these men be the ones making decisions regarding the health of American women?

I’m sure we all agree on the answer to that last question, but the question remains on how we’re going to obtain these things. In my opinion, people have come to view feminism as a dying movement, one that has lost its punch due to its seemingly overbearing nature. The feminist discourse has been dismissed for being too combative, something the term ‘feminazi’ has accurately translated.

But perhaps women – and men – have to be pugnacious for change to come. In a way, we have to challenge the power relations between men and women in which women are too often the victims. We need to be feminazis, to be accused of being too loud, or too annoying, or too present. I’ll admit this has the Marxist revolution written all over it, but maybe these small ‘revolutions’ like the #metoo and #balancetonporc movements are exactly what we need. Women’s rights are a battle that must be fought on all fronts, not just the ones that are immediately beneficial to us. That means calling out your friends when they partake in sexist speech, and doing so as consistently as necessary to get the message across.

I spoke about the lengths to which we take our ‘advocacy.’ I’ll be frank when I say that some ‘revolutions’ seem like a waste of time. I’ve heard students complain about the lack of women figures and authors in our history textbooks. On one hand, history was created by men for the simple reason that women were condemned to being housewives for the longest of times. On the other hand, when it comes to female authors, it’s important not to forget that encouraging women to pursue higher education is a fairly recent phenomenon. Give us time, and we’ll make it into those history textbooks.

It’s impossible to get this whole ‘feminist’ thing right on the first try. Toppling norms and parts of history doesn’t happen overnight, but if there’s one thing we can do collectively to speed up the process of women’s rights, it’s to hold each other accountable for our actions and our words, even if it causes a rift in a conversation between friends.

Alice is a Parisian New Yorker or a New Yorkan (is that a word?) Parisianer (that’s probably not a word either) hoping to conquer the world of journalism one day. Interests include drinking coffee, reading the New York Times, and reading the New York Times while drinking coffee. The Parisian New Yorker runs one Thursday every month.

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