Tailoring our message for a male or consumer audience compromises the central purpose of feminism.
Nose-in-book at my local caffeine watering hole, a male voice wafted above the pithy lilt of Millennial dialogue: “I mean, you’re not one of “those” feminists. You get it. You’re not angry.” Following said peacock’s grandiose pronouncement of this most tired of scripts, I watched in sadness as the attentive young woman at his side, instead of mounting a defense of the sisterhood, blushed with pleasure.
In media, politics, and personal exchanges, I see young feminists welcoming appreciation for this more “tolerant” feminism. Why? Why have we settled into this watered-down Instagram #girlpower when our gains have been so few and stand in constant peril of erasure? When did feminism become more concerned with being politically correct than correcting bad politics? When did we become a cause-marketing campaign instead of an intimidating breed of progressive warrior?
I get that it’s an unhappy and unachievable business to reject every aspect of modernity that fails to support the full rights of women, but what message does it send when we insist on differentiation from those man-hating feminists of yore, those bra-burning, hairy-legged Medusas with their loud mouths and militant ways? How are we to move forward towards an honest position of equality if we do not acknowledge and defend the necessity of historic feminism? Tailoring our messaging and delivery to be palatable to a male or consumer audience compromises fatally the central project of feminism.
Feminism remains, at its core, the internal and political cultivation of a rich female selfhood that does not depend on or look to systems of status quo for acknowledgement, permission, or acceptance, but rather insists on the evolution of these systems to afford place for women. A feminism that softens itself so as not to offend societal sensitivities can never affect change. Conformity and celebrity cannot be adapted or leveraged to support feminism; they are mechanisms designed for and by the worst aspects of American society to tell women how to dress, how to act, how to stay put.
We all must exist within society and I confer no blame upon women who have carved out paths to success within traditional sectors or who find empowerment in media campaigns, but feminism is not a hashtag delivered by a social influencer, a token seat at an executive table, or a disingenuous speech at a televised awards show. Let’s not kid ourselves that these things amount to much.
What does an effective, modern feminism look like in terms of action and organization? The Second Wave. Perhaps this transmutation from honorable disobedience to meek sloganism occurred because women of my generation never actually received the central message of the Second Wave; so, I want to remind them:
You are not here to be likable. Your value does not depend upon your marketability, relatability, or availability. Your sexuality was never intended as mere collateral in pay-per-click ads.In the words of Adrienne Rich:
(Feminism) means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means, therefore, the courage to be “different”; not to be continuously available.
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