Am I a self reflexive feminist?: A Response to Atwood’s “Bad Feminism"

Canadian author Margaret Atwood

Are there bad feminists? Can you be one?

Without the consciousness-raising group as a site where women confronted their own sexism towards other women, the direction of the feminist movement could shift to a focus on equality in the work-force and confronting male domination.

With heightened focus on the construction of woman as a "victim" of gender equality deserving of reparations (whether through changes in discriminatory laws or affirmative action policies) the idea that women needed to first confront their internalized sexism as part of becoming feminist lost currency.

Females of all ages acted as though concern for or rage at male domination or gender equality was all that was needed to make one a "feminist." Without confronting internalized sexism women who picked up the feminist banner often betrayed the cause in their interactions with other women.

bell hooks (emphasis mine)

Recently, I read Margaret Atwood’s piece where she questions herself. “Am I a bad feminist?”, she asks. As I clicked on it, my inner voice went, “No idea. But she’s a feminist now? Okay.”

Atwood had previously disavowed feminism, saying that she does not think of herself as a woman but as a person. She also thinks that women are naturally predisposed to picking up socks.

"It's because we were the gatherers; they were the hunters. Women spent 80,000 years picking mushrooms, and men spent it running after animals. We see the mushrooms—which in this case are socks—and they see the moving object. There have been tests that show women are better at seeing static objects," she writes in an article for The Independent.

Nice. I think I’m a woman who is a person, but I’ll let that pass. It’s not about me. Almost everybody who wasn’t a feminist (and still wants to be taken seriously) is a feminist now. I’d still say, you do you, girl! Don’t take on that label if you don’t want to.

Many, many women’s rights advocates don’t call themselves feminists and for valid reasons—a traditional lack of intersectionality, a historical lack of focus on lesbians, bisexual women and genderqueer people. I mean, Betty Friedan was a homophobe in her groundbreaking book The Feminine Mystique, where she talked about the “problem that has no name.” And the National Organisation for Women did not accept lesbians for the longest time—anyone still remember The Lavender Menace?

Feminism never has been, and still isn’t, perfect. That’s because it’s not a monolith. There are radical feminists, socialist feminists, eco-feminists—hell, even existentialist feminists. There still exist huge problems with a lack of inclusivity in the movement.

Feminist writers who are otherwise on-point with their analysis expose some aspect of themselves that just doesn’t make sense. Homophobic feminism? Transphobic feminism? White feminism? Upper-caste feminism? All of these exist and have existed at various points in time.

There were feminists who supported eugenics too, at the same time there were feminists marching against slavery.

So yes, there are bad feminists. And it’s not the feminists you agree with. Questioning isn’t silencing. Don’t label yourself as a “bad feminist” and write a version of “haters gonna hate.” If your feminist positioning (just to be clear, you do identify as a feminist now?) is being interrogated, defend it.

That’s how the movement has grown; we, as feminists, have learnt from each other. Every contentious issue exposes contrarian beliefs—not just this particular issue, at this particular time. This is nothing very new in the history of our movement. Women aren’t absolved from internalising harmful myths: about themselves, about men, about society.

If you can’t answer, ask yourself why.

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