I was reluctant to write this article, more reluctant that I was to write my previous articles on pussy, porn or sexual fantasies.
It’s about the F word. Feminism.
My reluctance is partially because many people have a visceral reaction to hearing the word feminism; I probably lost half of my readers just from that second sentence.
My reluctance is also rooted in the belief that I should not need to explain my feminism to anyone. Akin to my conviction that I should not have to explain my distaste for mint tea, or my love of Richard Simmons, it feels inessential to state my views.
But the real reason I have stayed silent is because I dread being attacked by those whose feminism is different than mine. Announcing that I plan to tackle the subject puts a target on my back. But that is exactly what impelled me to finally write this piece.
We need to focus on real threats and stop attacking our allies.
Every time I read an article on one of my feminist social media sources, regardless of the initial topic or question being addressed, or even a women-centered event, the comments rapidly devolve into readers (usually women who identify as feminists) attacking other readers (usually other women who identify as feminists). Even though in a more general sense the readers are almost all “on the same side” (self-selecting media and all), disputes over language, tone, cultural appropriation, lack of intersectionality and the like not only diminishes the impact that the author intended but also stifles discussion.
Yes, we need to talk about language. I regularly cite one of my favorite quotes by Angela Carter: “Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” (In fact, I cited it in one of my most popular articles, “Talk About Pussy”.) I believe Ms. Carter’s statement wholeheartedly. However, when we expend our energy dismantling the verbiage of our like-minded folk, we are draining valuable energy we could be directing towards people who are deliberately using language as weapons.
Yes, we need to talk about tone. Dismissive and disruptive tonality deserves to be called out, but when we allow ourselves to be triggered by nuance, we are easily taken off track.
Yes, we need to talk about cultural appropriation. The fact that dominant cultures have run roughshod over disempowered groups needs to be brought to light, but addressing it head-on in direct conversation would be more instructional and impactful than continually browbeating into submission those who may have inadvertently engaged in the practice.
And, finally, yes, we need to talk about intersectionality. There must be a place for everyone at the table, and we need to actively work towards hearing and amplifying the voices that have historically been silenced. But we must find a way to recognize the validity of this issue without thwarting constructive dialogue.
In feminist discussions, I stay silent out of fear. But by staying silent, by allowing myself to be silenced, I am succumbing to the same kind of restriction that necessitates feminism in the first place. Turning against each other stymies evolution. Constructive dialogue can lead to meaningful action.
I am not suggesting we should, as they say, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” I am suggesting that we can all more mindfully engage in recognizing when we are undermining our collective power by choosing to disparage each other when much greater threats loom large.
In fact, I wonder if that is partially behind this instinct: we recognize that the big fight is SO big, it’s easier to engage in small scale battles, ones we feel we can actually “win.”
But at what cost? Silencing and diminishing those who are working towards similar ends will only hurt us all.
Let us assume honest intentions, even of those who may misspeak, even of those who neglect to always acknowledge their privilege. I have done both of those things. Let us aggregate our resources, and stay focused on those who are standing in our way, not on those whose way is simply not identical to ours. Let us be gentle in our truth and inclusive in our fearlessness.
Let us honor the wisdom spoken by Michelle Obama, “And when crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other. No, we listen to each other, we lean on each other because we are always stronger together.”