Thursday, May 29, 2014

Your Feminism Is Not My Feminism, But Your Feminism Is Okay

There is a neat saying that originated in the kink community – “Your Kink is Not my Kink”, sometimes expanded out to “Your Kink Is Not My Kink, But Your Kink Is OK”. This saying can be shortened to YKINMK for relative convenience, and is basically a credo calling for understanding within the community, even if people like things you don't like.

Unsurprisingly, YKINMK has also been embraced by the fandom community
Some people are into ponies, some people are into balloons, and other people are into good old fashioned leather. YKINMK reminds us that just because you don’t understand the appeal of pony boots, or sitting on balloons, or the smell of leather it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the people who do. It’s not a perfect motto – there are a few non-consensual kinks around that are not actually okay, but on the whole it’s a really good reminder that people within a community are often very different, and that this is a positive aspect of community, not a negative. It's a reminder that since other people's personal preferences actually don't do you any harm, so why not leave them be?
After reading one too many articles on supposed feminism lately, I’m getting the urge to start a similar motto for feminism at large – Your Feminism Is Not My Feminism, But Your Feminism Is Okay.

Before I start, let's be clear about what I'm NOT going to be criticising. There is absolutely a place for constructive (or even nonconstructive) criticism within feminism - I'd like to make it clear I'm not in any way intending to side with those who say we should all play nice, all the time, and consider the possible hurt feelings of a select few above all else. There are far too many whiny screeds appearing recently about how everyone is so mean these days, as if all criticism of feminism and feminists is inherently undeserved, and this idea is just so completely false. Some criticism is not only deserved, but absolutely necessary. I think that criticising racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and all the other shitty stuff that goes down within feminism sometimes is not only important, but vital. I've been taken down a peg a couple of times, and for sure, it can hurt. But it also needs to happen.

Women should not be immune to criticism from other women purely by virtue of being women, and I’ve seen women say and do some awful things that fully deserved criticism. I don’t believe that criticism of women is inherently anti-feminist, because sometimes women do really shitty things and it would be wrong not to oppose them – this is the criticism I think is crucial to feminism as a whole.

For example, when groups like Name The Problem ask their followers to trash the reputation of another women’s photography business because they don't agree with her gender identity, THAT is actively harmful and should be criticised. That is women doing a shitty, shitty thing, and criticising their shitty behaviour is not anti-feminist, it's not "damaging the movement", it's the right thing to do.

Another example of behavior that rightfully deserves to be criticised is white feminists deliberately and continually ignoring or erasing women of colour, along with their concerns and perspectives; like when well-known black activist Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) started an incredible discussion using the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen and numerous outlets reporting on it didn’t credit her as the origin of the discussion. Or  how about when the discussion itself was derailed into a discussion of how much the subject hurt the feelings of various white feminists. Criticising this shitty behaviour is not anti-feminist, it’s calling it what it is – women behaving in a shitty way.

I think it’s crucial for feminism as a whole that harmful, cruel, bullying and hateful actions are called out, and those participating are at the very least encouraged to be kinder in the future. The sort of actions that directly harm and distress other women should not be a part of feminism, and criticising that is A-OK in my books. Allowing women to keep doing and saying these shitty things to each other in the name of solidarity is nonsense, and I think this sort of behaviour is unacceptable regardless of your gender. Without criticism, unfortunately, people tend to just keep on doing shitty things though, because they’re often easier than sitting down and having a good hard look at themselves.

HOWEVER. In a somewhat frustrating contradiction, I’m also just so, SO tired of seeing vicious, pointed arguments where women tear each other apart because one has made personal choices the other doesn’t agree with, or simply does things in a different way. This is the kind I wish I could eradicate with just the strength of my hate for it, the apparently endless list of incredibly arbitrary, harmless things that women are and are not allowed to do in order to be allowed in the Feminist clubhouse.

I’m talking about the apparently endless lists of “Can X be feminist?” that seem to roll around once every couple of months, and that consistently make me want to claw my eyes out. I’m talking about women who write articles like, “I Look Down On Young Women with Husbands”  and Why Are My Feminist Friends Still Taking Their Husband’s Surnames” and Pinterest is Killing Feminism as a way of trying to show other women how much better they Do Feminism. I'm constantly astonished by the ludicrous tripe that gets trotted out in the name of feminist border patrolling.

On a more serious, but just as frustrating level, I’m also talking about women who insist that other women who participate in the sex industry willingly just don’t know they’re being oppressed, like Melissa Farley, who has been attempting to convince everyone of this apparent fact for years. I’m talking about women who insist that their view on abortion, be it pro or con, is the One True Way and try and do their damnedest to ensure everyone else only has the option that they think is right. (Although, to be fair, it’s often the anti-abortion campaigners who are much more interested in pressing their conclusions on a complex moral issue onto everyone else, to my knowledge) I'm talking about the women who declare that Christians can't be feminist, or Muslims, or anyone who believes anything different to them.

In short, I’m talking about all the women I see trying to squeeze every other women everywhere into (or out of) their own narrow little box, and much it fucking drives me up the wall, and how much it needs to stop right now.

It's really not impossible, or even that difficult to respect the choices other people make that you wouldn't make for yourself. I do it every day. I know quite a few parents, and some of them are even stay at home Mums. Would I make this choice for myself? Jesus fuck, no, a million times no! But they're no less welcome in my world because of it. I don't value their support less because they have hatchlings and I don't. They just made a different choice.
Are we really being so totally overrun with people desperately clamouring to join the feminist cause that we need to create these incredibly intricate rules about who does and doesn’t qualify? Do we have so many women banging on the doors of feminism, demanding to be let in, that we can afford to dismiss someone over the fact they changed their surname when they got married?

Flavia Dzodan famously said, "my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit" – and there are few things I agree with so wholeheartedly. Intersectionality means including other races, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations and gender identities; but it also means including people you just plain might not like, because you have different priorities. Maybe you think something that's important to them is stupid. Maybe you don't understand how they can love, or like, or do the things they do. But here’s a big newsflash for you, buddy – get the fuck over it. Get married, don't get married, take another name, take no name at all, use Pinterest, cut off your internet - do what's right for you, and for goodness sake, stop writing about it like you're the first feminist. Seriously, we're good for coverage of whether underarm hair is or is not feminist - not only has it been debated until we're all blue in the face, it's also become apparent that it DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER. Your underarm hair is not my underarm hair, but your underarm hair is okay. 

Like I said right up the top, critique  and discussion in feminism is good, and important and necessary. I'm not even saying there isn't a place for discussing things like the gender disparity on Pinterest- but how about we actually discuss it rather than tossing off these self congratulatory, holier than thou bits of mean spirited, snooty clickbait? How about we just put a flat out ban on the tired, tattered remnants of topics that have been worn out years ago? Do we really, seriously need any more articles about pubic hair choices?

How about instead of spending so much energy trying to kick people out of the feminist boat, we work on moving it forwards? We've got to figure out a way to be in this together, or we’re going nowhere.


  1. Absolutely this. I'm so sick of this, too. Good on you for saying it.

  2. This is a good commentary. I agree with all your points when it comes to feminism. I don't feel like I have a good grasp on intersectional feminism completely (especially in a US context, because I'm Australian too), though I support it. I feel quite intimidated in many online feminist spaces so I lurk A LOT, try to absorb as much info as possible and never comment.