But this growing strand of feminism — the one that wants to build the foundation of women’s rights on the idea that women are more virtuous humans than men, and that wants to buy t-shirts proclaiming it — is seen by many as a move in the wrong direction. Jessa Crispin’s new book Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto is a searing critique of contemporary feminism’s focus on individual choice and “self-empowerment” at the expense of systematic radical change and collective action.
Crispin takes aim at feminists who believe power can be located in the decision to watch one television show over another, to consume one product over another, or to use particular words instead of others. She calls this position “choice feminism,” and describes it as “the belief that no matter what a woman chooses, from her lifestyle to her family dynamic to her pop culture consumption, she is making a feminist choice, just from the act of choosing anything. The idea is that under the more rigidly patriarchal past, women’s choices were made for them. So simply by choosing anything at all, you are bucking the patriarchy and acting like a feminist.”
This idea causes us to imbue mundane actions that provide personal gain with outsized political value. Taking a bath? You are taking the time to care for yourself in a world that is hostile and exhausting for women, so this must be a feminist act. Pursuing a promotion at work? You know that women are still underrepresented in positions of power, so you are doing something to change the world for the better by improving your own station in life. Having a nontraditional wedding ceremony? You are making a statement about which patriarchal traditions you support and which ones you don’t, so you are contributing to incremental institutional change.
These mistaken beliefs lead to an inflated sense of accomplishment while distracting from the collective action needed to produce real change that would have a lasting effect for the majority of women.
(Cartoon: Ronnie Ritchie)