This weekend, on International Women’s Day, there was a surprising amount of talk about good feminists and bad feminists. Author Roxane Gay, who wrote the book on bad feminism (literally – it’s called Bad Feminist) is in the country to speak about her experiences within feminism and womens’ rights, and it spurred a conversation which was continued by Annabel Crabb in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I’m proud to be a feminist, despite my regular lapses,” she begins, and Crabb goes on to give examples: her love of high heels, usage of Bakelite, and enjoyment of aprons.
I too love high heels, and should I ever develop a scintilla of skill in the kitchen, I’m sure Bakelite will be my first stop.
But when did any of this – high heels and Bakelite and god forbid, practical aprons – become something that makes us bad? As women and especially as feminists, we think a lot about the dichotomy of good and bad. It’s usually something put upon us by men, dubbing us either ‘bad girls’ or ‘good girls’ depending on how willing we are to have families, how long our skirts are, and how readily we respond to their sexual advances. We talk about it too, of course – the idea of good and bad pops up in discussions about everything from slut shaming to Taylor Swift’s early work. Almost universally I have seen women dismiss it, noting that categorising ourselves into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ does nothing but needlessly label women and hold us to outdated patriarchal standards of what is acceptable behaviour, and what is not.
Given we have advanced so far in our discussions of good and bad, I’m surprised and quite frankly angry that the term ‘bad feminist’ is still thrown around so readily. On Monday night’s Q&A, audience members were asked not to list their political leaning and instead declare whether they were a good or bad feminist: a whopping 32% of the people in the audience identified as ‘bad’.
While there are absolutely bad feminists out there, they are hardly the ones wearing aprons and using Bakelite. Annabel Crabb describes her experience with feminism as feeling just like Roxanne Gay: “Warm, funny, honest, fallible, clever, [and] erring towards generosity to other women,” and while I can say that has absolutely been my experience with some feminists, I’ve also had experiences that exposed me to a far more insidious and harmful side of the movement. From women like Sheila Jeffreys, a Professor at the University of Melbourne, who has authored texts describing sex workers universally as rape victims and battered women; to blogger Mia Freedman who has defended blackface and suggested that drinking too much causes sexual assault. Even Germaine Greer, who was also a guest on last night’s Q&A, has a history of deeply transphobic comments that were seemingly ignored by not only the show’s producers, who saw fit to invite her on, but the viewers: “She pokes fun,” wrote Jo Tovey this morning.
I would love to live in a world where feminism was all about girl power and helping our fellow women, but sadly we are light years away from that utopia. Feminism as it stands now is populated mostly by people who genuinely want to do good; but the movement also includes, and frequently defends, women who use feminism to push their own agendas of casual racism, transphobia, and whorephobia. When Annabel Crabb mentioned seeing signs held up on the ‘Women Against Feminism’ Tumblr saying, “I don’t want these women to be my voice,” I wasn’t surprised – I wouldn’t want Jeffreys, Greer, or Freedman to be my voice either.
If we are going to hang on to the labels of good and bad feminism, why not use them where they’ll really matter? Instead of sticking it to girls who shave their legs, wear pink, or aim to make their husbands happy; let’s give them to people who truly deserve it – Jeffreys, for creating a culture of fear and shame around sex work, Freedman, for cluelessly hanging on to outdated tropes of racism and victim-blaming, and Greer, because her deeply offensive views of transwomen have gone unquestioned in Australian feminism for too long.
These women don’t speak for me. They don’t represent any kind of feminism I want to be a part of: they are bad feminists. And if we want to create the kind of movement Annabel Crabb described – warm, honest, and generous – we need to distance ourselves from these women and ensure that the world knows we will not tolerate hate speech disguised as feminism.
From now on, I pledge to be a good feminist. Are you with me?
Feature image via Tumblr