I honestly think this may be one of the worst, most ill-informed articles on feminism I’ve ever read. And that’s saying a lot, cause I’ve read some doozies in my day. So sit back and relax, folks – this one is going to take a while.
When I saw Irina Aleksander’s article in The Observer titled “Faminist Theory,” I had an optimistic moment where I thought perhaps it was an unfortunately-headlined piece about sexism and food insecurity. Wishful thinking, I know.
Aleksander’s basic premise is this: Women don’t care about politics anymore, cause now they have babies.
The feminist battleground, with its slogans, marches, and campaigns for reproductive rights, has given way to the playground and the fight for lactation rights, stroller rights, school-system rights, unpasteurized milk rights, charter schools, birthing techniques, nutritional value of bagged lunches and water quality. It is not so much about the Fem as it is about the Fam.
“Women are defining themselves more by their families than they are by themselves,” said Pamela Paul, a 39-year-old mother of three in Harlem and author of Parenting Inc. “It’s no longer about something as selfish and self-advancing as abortion or the pill.”
The recent stories in Time (“The Pill”) and Newsweek (“Remember Roe!”), themselves artifacts of another era, feel distant from the mainstream discourse of what we have started to think of as Faminism. “They were sort of like baby boomer stories!” said Ms. Paul. “Most of the stories you read these days about ‘women’ have to deal with them as mothers. Even the celebrity causes–could you imagine Julia Roberts stomping in Washington for abortion rights?”
First of all, here are some celebrities that “stomped” in Washington for abortion rights: Jennifer Aniston, Alec Baldwin, Cindy Crawford, Kirsten Dunst, Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Demi Moore, Julianne Moore, among others. And I’ll just try to look past the whole “selfish” abortion/birth control line without pulling my hair out. Because the most telling – and infuriating – idea here is that if you’re for “the fam,” you can’t be for “the fem.”
Since when is there a disconnect between family and feminism? Who do you think has been fighting for child care, flex time and family leave? And since when is the right to have children not a part of reproductive justice work? Not to mention, when Aleksander draws a line between abortion and having children, she furthers the false notion that there are women who obtain abortions and women who have children, instead of the reality: that women often do both. You can care about choice and babies.
And this is what irks me; if someone is going to write an article about feminism, they should at least have some sense of what these issues are about – which Aleksander clearly doesn’t.
Take, for example, the article’s accompanying slideshow of celebrity moms, “9 Women Who Prefer Prams to Politics.” Each picture features lines about the women’s marital status, number of children and the political cause they support – Jennifer Lopez and violence against women in Juárez or Angelina Jolie and the UNHRC, for example. But the title of said slideshow would have us believe that these women’s status as mothers has somehow made them politically apathetic – despite the fact that there is no evidence that these celebs have given up on their causes once having children. The assumption is that once women have babies, nothing else in their life matters, certainly not politics.
Aleksander also tries to diminish feminism by mentioning a poorly-attended protest in Union Square (because goodness knows, there haven’t been any incredibly successful repro rights actions lately) and writing that feminist media doesn’t exist anymore (cough, blogs, cough). Anything to support her theory that women are giving up feminist causes because “they are too busy mopping up crumbs.”
Not so shockingly, the article is also devoid of any analysis that goes beyond looking at extremely privileged white, upper-class women; Aleksander seems to think that the only women worth writing about are those whose most imminent concerns are “lactation rights, stroller rights, school-system rights, unpasteurized milk rights, charter schools, birthing techniques, nutritional value of bagged lunches and water quality.”
You know, if you want to write an article about the cult of celebrity mommyhood in the press, fine, go for it. But write that article. Don’t make stuff up and pretend that you know shit about feminism so that you can pat yourself on the back for writing a ridiculous “trend” piece – especially when it’s something that only serves to hurt, not help, women.