The worst article on feminism, ever?

Sad looking child in a dunce-cap sitting in front of a blackboard
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.

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16 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I guess I just don’t get this line of thought that says women can’t be Feminists and mothers simultaneously and that trying to do so is somehow anti-family.

  2. Furiousfemale
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, what are stroller rights?. In addition since when are lactation rights only quasi-feminist? Feminism is about choice and the choice on how you feed your child is pretty important, and this issue is particularly important for those of us who breastfeed in public and pump milk at work, I”m pumping milk as I type this on my lunch break :)

  3. Becca Stareyes
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Heck, how many of us learned feminism from our mothers? One of the strongest lessons I learned from Mom was that when people treat you and your family and friends* like shit, don’t stand there and take it, take action. Totally a feminist lesson.
    (Not to mention a friend of mine, a single mom** wrote a blog entry about her child, her abortion and her miscarriage for education, which I thought was good of her — she didn’t have to share that, but she did. Heck, speaking out about her experiences tends to help me re-evaluate my own inclinations because she and I don’t have the same life, but I think both women like her and women like me should prosper.)
    * Or even strangers, which is hardest, since you don’t always hear about things happening Elsewhere.
    ** And advocating to make sure single moms — as well as married moms, in-a-relationship moms, and non-moms — have what they need for themselves and their kids is totally a feminist thing, or should be, IMO.

  4. uberhausfrau
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    welcome to where mothering/parenting feminism stops being theoretical and becomes very very practical and personal.
    and i believe “stroller rights” may refer to ease of access of public space to strollers and young children – like sidewalks (nothing like having to walk in the gutter with your three year old on a busy street because the developers didnt think to put in a sidewalk when there was plenty of space to put on in), wheel accessible curbs, crossing walk lights that take into consideration the time it takes to actually cross an intersection, time to board and access public transit with a stroller. a lot of this issues overlap with disability rights and ease of access.

  5. TabloidScully
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    This is just so absurd–if anything, becoming a mother has made me more Feminist, and that experience is not unique. My belief that my child is likewise female (I’m currently five months along and haven’t had an ultrasound done yet) has hardened the importance of adopting these principles into my every day life.
    Not to say I’d be relaxing on them if I were pregnant with a boy–I’d still be reading aloud from “Manifesta,” for example, but as a female, my daughter will be in a unique position to benefit from the teachings and carry them with her when she becomes an adult.
    For example, two months after I found out I was pregnant, that ridiculous “40 Days of Life” campaign took place. I marched in a counter protest at my local clinic, proudly displaying a sign that said, “Pro-Pregnancy, Pro-Choice.” It really blew their minds that someone who had opted to carry their pregnancy to term was nevertheless there, escorting women inside to terminate theirs.
    The idea that women can make any choices in motherhood, whether to sweep across Washington or sweep up crumbs, is uniquely Feminist. Shame on Aleksander from being unable to distinguish the forests from the trees on that one.

  6. WickedAnnabella
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh yeah, it’s so selfish to advocate for bodily autonomy and reproductive choices for all women. Sheesh ladies, it’s all ME ME ME isn’t it?

  7. annajcook
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Not only is it insulting to imply that feminism is anti-motherhood, it’s incredibly insulting to assume (as this article does) that motherhood is somehow antithetical to feminism. Like the only viable model for “mother” out there is the conservative reactionary anti-feminist one.
    It’s frustrating how well the anti-feminist rhetoric has succeeded in framing this “debate” among so many others.

  8. callmesister
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    am i the only one who thought “faminist” referred to famines, that somehow being the tie-in with the importance of food and health for kids? i’m glad you posted your (awesome!) analysis jessica, or else i would have been left even more confused than i still am about the author’s argument.

  9. johanna in dairyland
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I read this article right after reading this one claiming that cloth diapers and breastfeeding are forms of oppression (funny, both those things rank far below living in a rape culture, systemic violence against women, continued legal discrimination against LGBT folks, and f’ed up immigration system, etc, so forth, on my list…).
    My head is about to explode from stupid assumptions about motherhood and feminism all over the place.
    I don’t know – it seems to me that old trope of trying to pit women against women (stay at home vs. working! single vs. married!) and (in this article) of crying again and again the death knell of feminism. Both are worn out, both exhaust me.
    ‘Scuse me, I gotta leave my workday as a full time staffer at a feminist org to pick up my cloth-diapered, breastfed kid.

  10. XtineTheBean
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    This is so bothersome because I feel that women’s rights are at times, going backwards, not forward. My friends recently started up a feminist group here in NYC. We meet once a month and bring up the latest topics. It’s so important for us to stay informed. Thanks for letting us know about this doozy!

  11. Opheelia
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    These articles are harmful for a lot of reasons. They alienate feminism from mainstream culture by implying that women and men who continue to dedicate time and energy to these issues are wasting both because we’ve supposedly already achieved equality. They minimize the work we do on intimate partner violence, sexual violence, reproductive rights, employment issues, etc… And they widen the generation gap and allow second wavers to shake their heads in disappointment because they portray young women as complacent.
    We may not be breaking through walls with sledgehammers, but that doesn’t mean we’re not opening doors.
    I’ve been so frustrated about this lately. People have a very clear idea in their brains that activism and social change mean marches, demonstrations, and riots. They deny that the internet is a valid tool. They throw their hands up and say “FEMINISM IS DEAD,” ignoring us and the nuances of the intersectionality of oppression that many modern feminists attempt to address. They point to women as mothers and assume that their families have somehow negated their dedication to political causes.
    The title of that slideshow really pissed me off. As did the rest of the article.
    Sigh.

  12. Av0gadro
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    That was an interesting article because I actually agree with a lot of the points about mothers being expected to give up a lot of individuality for their kids, and to sacrifice a lot more than fathers. But the focus on breastfeeding (not for everyone, but definitely easier for lots of women than formula), babyfood-making (really way easier than she implied), and cloth diapering (I thought that was more about money and the environment than the kid) made it seem like the article was more pro- commercial-ism and pro-spending more money than it was pro-woman. I absolutely agree that if a woman feels oppressed by any of those things, they should give them up. I just can’t believe that the majority of mothers feel oppressed by those specific things as opposed to childcare as a whole, career sacrifices, and the relentless pressure to get your little darling into the right activities and schools.
    As to the original article, as someone who gives equal amounts of time and money to a pro-choice org and a breastfeeding advocacy org, I’m

  13. Claudia_T
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I think all the issues she mentions have to do with feminism, for example breastfeeding and school lunches – are our children going to be fed agrobusiness trash or real food? That is a question with human rights implications, and I mean that seriously; our children’s physical and mental health, longivity, and joy of life depends on their nutrition.
    Similarly, the fight for bodily autonomy through pregnancy and motherhood, i.e. the right not to have a c-section and instead to receive proper medical support during birth; the right to choose whether one wants to breastfeed or not; the right to make choices about our work and home life, all these are clearly feminist issues.
    In short, this article is misguided on so many levels, it is hard to believe!

  14. Furiousfemale
    Posted May 8, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Ohhhh, now that makes sense. Thanks

  15. linecaro.wordpress.com
    Posted May 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I know this has been said but it really frustrates me when people don’t see how reproductive rights/women’s autonomy, includes not just abortion, but autonomy in how one choses to give birth, including with a midwife.
    And in terms of her huge lack of research, I wonder what she would have done if she knew that there is a “Breastfeeding and Feminism” conference every year at UNC, in which it is well articulated that breastfeeding should be a women’s right. i.e. in an attempt to not be about oppressing women, making it women’s rights and not just baby’s rights.

  16. Tia
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    How ridiculous a thought process is that? Honestly, though I feel some part of me has always been actively feminist (I opted against Barbies and play kitchens for race-cars, dinosaurs, and the Marvel universe), I didn’t become a full fledged fighter for women’s rights until AFTER I had a daughter of my own. The crap I got -and STILL get- for being a young, single mother made me angry. I don’t need a man or a marriage to be a fantastic mother. I don’t want her growing up thinking that one is somehow less capable of being an amazing person just because of their gender. And I don’t want her to accept a world that would tell her so. I fight, so that she can one day either live in a better world, or have an example to fight for one. I’m feminist through and through, and I’m a devoted mother, and those things are not mutually exclusive.

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