Are you a bad feminist?

Are you a “bad feminist?”

It seems you’ve been called a “Bad Feminist”. Perhaps you are. But for the sake of moving the conversation forward, let’s not categorize people by “good” or “bad.” Particularly as feminism becomes more in-demand as a belief from our politicians, entertainers, and colleagues, the title is becoming more and more co-opted for social gain, and policing feminism is too big a job for anyone to take on.

Instead, let’s call you a “problematic feminist.”

What does a Problematic Feminist look like, in the eyes of a Non-Problematic Feminist?

Perhaps, you have said something along the lines of, “Nor do I believe that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we're back to the 19th century, and women should not own property, have credit cards, have access to higher education, control their own reproduction or vote. There are powerful groups in North America pushing this agenda, but they are not usually considered feminists.”

Certainly, women have agency, and they are capable of making moral decisions. But, as a group who has to fight to be paid the same as men for the same work, continually prove ourselves in both spaces of higher education and workplaces to be judged by our abilities and not by our appearances, and advocate every single day for the right to make decisions about our own bodies, often we are not given the space to exercise our own agency.

What does a Problematic White Feminist look like?

A Problematic White Feminist might say that same sentence, and forget that many groups of women, despite having agency and moral decision making abilities, are not able to exercise that because, simply because they are racialized in a world that still condones white supremacy. Black women’s bodies are viewed as dangerous by our police agencies. Indigenous women’s bodies are missing, or murdered, at rates triple to the rates of violence non-Indigenous women. Asian women’s bodies are fetishized to the point of dehumanization. Hispanic women’s bodies have to work for 306 days more than a white man to earn the same salary in the same position. When you are viewed as dangerous, underpaid, or problematic when you speak up, are you really able to exercise agency? Probably not. Certainly not in the same way white feminists have the privilege to lean in whenever they feel like it.

How do you find yourself in hot water as a Problematic Feminist?

Maybe you are problematic because your feminism is outdated. In a world where Intersectional Feminism recognizes more than two genders, and the inequality and discrimination that disabled, racialized, and trans folks face even within the feminist community; the fact the you, say, wrote dystopian feminist stories during the second wave of feminism may not still qualify you for your annual feminist membership.

You can also find yourself in hot water from statements along the lines of, “A fair-minded person would now withhold judgment as to guilt until the report and the evidence are available for us to see. We are grownups: We can make up our own minds, one way or the other.” This is the language of right-wing women who have co-opted feminist labels and fathers of accused rapists alike. Yes, we are adults who can make up their minds, but as it turns out, the justice system is not particularly fair-minded, nor does it honour the evidence of experiences from sexual assault survivors. It is difficult to make up our own minds, one way or another, when we live in a society that silences, shames, doubts, and re-traumatizes survivors of sexual assault. So, should you sign a letter decrying a prominent Canadian university for investigating sexual violence within its institution when survivors are strong and brave enough to name the person that assaults them, you may find yourself in hot water with non-problematic feminists, even if you did sign it “as a matter of principle.”

A digression: Witch language. Invoking the term “witch hunt” in any kind of comparison to the time of reckoning in which sexual predators are held to account, will land you in hot water with non-problematic feminists. While there are three ways to use “witch,” all are derogatory towards women. Witch hunts, and the Salem witch trials, are just one time in history in which misogyny, and the unchecked power of men, killed women. Certainly, this was an example of accusations without evidence or due process, but unlike the situation where men are held responsible for their sexual misconduct, the Salem witch trials were rooted in misogyny. A comparison of one to the other is quite inappropriate.

The #metoo movement is not merely a symptom of a broken legal symptom. #metoo is a result of a world where powerful men have taken advantage of women and other less powerful genders, and exploited our bodies for their own gain. And, we are now in the age of the Internet, an incredible tool we can use, instead of scratching messages to one another on the floor of closets. In the Internet, we are united. We are powerful. Our strength is in our numbers. With a hashtag, we can bring burnt-out stars from the sky, to create space for more of us to rise, where we can truly usher in a better world.

There is a place where feminists of all stripes can come together, and it’s to ask, “What’s next?” in the age of #metoo. It was once said, “A war among women, as opposed to a war on women, is always pleasing to those who do not wish women well.”

Agreed. So let’s not dismiss the important conversations we need to have as multi-wave feminists as “unproductive squabbling.” We need to come together, absolutely, but we need to do it in an inclusive, intersectional way. United in a framework that puts survivors’ voices first, elevates folks traditionally marginalized from these conversations, and recognizes the expertise of lived experiences. Only in this way can we ensure this important moment is not squandered.