EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is reprinted with permission from Acculturated.
When I visited New York City a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t turn around without seeing someone my age wearing clothing promoting feminist messages. It’s fashionable to be a feminist these days: Just throw on a pink p***y hat or a $710 Dior “WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS” T-shirt (only available in boutiques, alas), and you prove your ideological commitment.
It’s not just young women promoting their feminist credentials. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knows a thing or two about using feminism to stay in vogue. After the women’s magazine Marie Claire gushed that Trudeau was its “political crush,” he returned the favor by contributing an essay this month in which he promised to raise his kids as feminists.
After raving about his family and his kids, Trudeau told the story of his young daughter, who has to grow up, tragically, as an intelligent and privileged child in a male-dominated world. Then he did what any smart progressive politician would do: proposed that the answer to women’s problems is promoting the messages of the organized feminist movement. Ahem, I mean, he’s raising his kids as feminists because he loves equality.
Referring to his daughter, Trudeau wrote, “So the best thing we can do is to help Ella learn, unshakably, that she is enough, exactly as she is. That she has immense power, and intrinsic worth, which no one can ever take away from her. That she has a strong voice, which she can use, and trust.”
His conclusion: “That means raising her feminist. Full stop.”
Huh. That’s a strange conclusion to draw from his hopes for his daughter — because although equality feminism once meant equal opportunity, today’s feminism only pretends to that goal.
First-wave feminism, which promoted the suffragette movement, offered unprecedented advances for women in the early twentieth century, but the second- and third-wave movements of the 1960s and 1990s promoted polarizing social changes. From abortion to intersectionality, not all of the movement’s concerns continue to be those of most women. Some understandably turned away from this contemporary feminist movement, which seems focused on playing the victim rather than empowering women. From the perspective of first-wave feminism, which emphasized equality, we’re all feminists now. We’re just not modern feminists. And we shouldn’t be.
Buried beneath the inclusive rhetoric of feminism is an agenda many of us cannot — and should not — accept. Consider some of the tenets of modern feminism that Trudeau discussed.
“She is enough exactly as she is.” Feminism empowers women to be whatever they want to be, as long as they don’t threaten any feminist shibboleths. For example, feminism encourages you to take pride in your ethnic identity, unless doing so makes other feminists uncomfortable. For example, organizers booted three women from Chicago’s Dyke March in June for carrying rainbow flags bearing the Star of David because other marchers felt “triggered.” One of the ousted marchers told the Windy City Times that the flag celebrated her “queer, Jewish identity.” Apparently feminism loves lesbians, but not Jewish lesbians.
“She has immense power and intrinsic worth that no one can take away from her.” Feminism never explains when a woman receives this intrinsic worth. Maybe it arrives — like a gift from the hand of Gloria Steinem — when she’s born. It’s certainly not before. The leadership of the supposedly inclusive Women’s March on Washington barred the pro-life organization New Wave Feminists from partnering with it in January. And just last month, government leaders from Trudeau’s own political party in Canada walked out of a hearing to appoint a pro-life member of parliament as chair of its status of women committee. They selected a pro-choice chair instead.
“She has a strong voice, which she can use and trust.” Feminism respects a woman’s right to use her voice, but only if she’s fluent in the movement’s own rhetoric. It promises to free women from: “the patriarchy,” systemic sexism, and misogynistic lawmakers meddling with their “reproductive rights.” It enshrines a woman’s sacred right to choose. But if any of her choices contradict that agenda, she loses the sisterhood that feminism pretends to offer all women. Feminism limits rather than enables her speech because she can express herself only if she echoes the feminist movement’s Newspeak.
Despite the rhetoric, Ella and others like her can be strong women independent of the feminist movement. We don’t need an ideologically driven movement that now encourages censorship and exclusion to empower us. We’ll do it ourselves.
So every time I hear that I, as a woman, must identify as a feminist, I see more clearly how the modern movement undermines the women it pretends to support. Feminists say they’re all about freedom of choice, but if they really believe it, they should support and celebrate women who choose to be something other than the movement’s obedient mouthpieces.
I am not a feminist. And like many other women, I can’t afford a $700 “feminist” Dior t-shirt anyway.