"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Friday, April 27, 2007

Feminism Friday: Feminisms. Plural.

There are some great conversations going on around the blogosphere right now that are really making me think about what it means to be a feminist. It makes me happy when there are lulls between the times when we are forced to defend our choice to identify as feminists against an onslaught of ignorance and bigotry - lulls in which we can define and debate and sharpen and refine the different points of view within feminism.

I first saw this post by Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town, which prompted me to read the posts she was referencing: one by Jessica Valenti (author of Full Frontal Feminism) and a critique of Valenti from Infinite Thought. And then I saw that the discussion there made an impression on Sage as well, prompting her to write her own response at Persephone's Box. Lauredhel's post led to some excellent comments about the differences between radical feminism and so-called "sex-positive" feminism - a discussion that started scraping the surface of one of the most divisive issues among feminists.

So, the secret is out! There are differences among us. This is something we all wish the folks who like to lump us all together into one group called "the feminists" would realize. It would be completely impossible for a movement/ideology to have relevance to ALL women (of all ages, races, ethnicities, ages, religions, talents, careers, experiences, sexualities, gender expressions, and general ways of life) the way feminism does if it didn't allow for some subcategories here and there. Our differences are significant enough to allow or require millions of different qualifying labels to go in front of the word "feminist" when we self-identify. Radical, liberal, moderate, sex-positive, sex-radical, pro-positive, socialist, eco, lesbian, multicultural, cyber, pop, postmodern, separatist, spiritual, etc. The list could go on forever, and I love that feminists are so different.

What I've been really pondering isn't directly related to those posts I mentioned above, but they got me thinking nonetheless. I can totally get behind great discussions (like the one at Hoyden About Town) about who believes what and why. It's interesting (and somewhat troubling), though, that so many arguments and criticisms that go on within feminism don't seem to be so much about type, but about degree. What I mean is this: sometimes it almost sounds like people aren't arguing about different points of view, but over who should get to be considered more feminist or better at feminism. And I think that's dangerous.

Is feminism an elite organization to which women are denied membership unless we measure up to some standard? Do we need to have achieved a certain level of consciousness to claim the term? Are we required to immediately shed and reject any and all manifestations of patriarchy in our lives at the clubhouse door (no matter what the consequences) in order to be allowed in? If this were the case, would any of us really be able to live up to the lofty ideal of "feminist"?

It's true that many of the ideas within feminist discourse exist on a sort of sliding scale, from Full Frontal Feminism all the way to the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, but even the most radical feminist imaginable still has more common ground with a liberal feminist than an antifeminist. While it is important to make distinctions about our different beliefs and continue to have discourse, we should be wary of arguments that pit us against each other. Ever hear that old saying that we learn in spirals instead of straight lines? We all have something to learn from each other, no matter where on the scale we happen to fall.


Anonymous said...

Hey Tracey - great post. I want to blog on this - can I quote you?

Tracey said...

Thanks. And of course you can.

DivineLavender said...

The rub that bothers me amongst us "feminist" although I am a womanist. Many times I explain what the difference is and as if we should have any differences and there is a "feminist" rightness/agency that "rules" over all of "us". Thanks for the wonderful post.

I needed to read that and understand I wasn't the only one noticing and acknowledging the difference.

Tracey said...

divinelavender: Thanks for your comments. I should have included womanism in the list in the post, even though I was just hitting on a small sample of all the different ways we can identify. I have so much respect for womanism... it seems like it would be easily misunderstood, especially among nonfeminists.