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Meet the Young “Feminists”

It’s no longer news that a lot of women who don’t actually hold feminist values or take feminist action are starting to claim the label for political purposes. Jess has written about this, as have many other young feminists who are rightfully worried about what it does to the integrity of the movement. When political leaders who support anti-woman policies, or public intellectuals who popularize rigid notions about gender roles, want to show up on television and other public spaces under the feminist banner, what are we to do?

This is more than a theoretical question. This Wednesday night, I’m going to be on a panel related to the MORE issue that I blogged about before. It’s being advertised as a chance to hear Naomi Wolf speak with the “new young feminists.” The others are: Lena Chen, Allison Kasic, and Shelby Knox. Kasic is currently a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, and frequently writes and speaks about issues from an unabashedly conservative perspective. She once wrote that the Bucknell Women’s Center, for example, “divides the women on campus by embracing a few man-hating radicals while dismissing any woman who rejects its extremist ideology.” It’s extremist ideology, according to Kasic, included panels on suicide, African American literature, and a screening of documentary film Outfoxed.

So this is a woman, representing an entire organization, that thinks about feminism very differently than I do. She writes: “I consider myself a devoted feminist…because I care about all women, even those in the womb; because I think women should have the right to choose between working in the home and working outside of it; and because I reject the culture of victimhood.” I consider myself a devoted feminist because I believe in and take action for genuine equality and informed choice.

Jessica was scheduled to be on this panel, but decided to retract her offer when she found out that Kasic was going to be labeled, by the framing of MORE, as a bonafide feminist. On her personal blog, she wrote:

When I agree to be on a panel I’m accepting the terms of a debate – and it’s not a debatable point whether people whose policies actively harm women are feminists. I don’t want to validate that this is a question open for reasonable conversation.  (Especially given that the success of anti-feminist women and orgs like IWF is largely based on their ability to get on panels and make this an open discussion – it’s part of their strategy.)

I see Jess’ point, but I also see, as does she, that not participating excludes her from making this point on stage. I believe in dialogue across political borders. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to talk about the importance of feminist action, not just rhetoric, about the ways in which genuine work is being co-opted for political ambitions, and how critical it is that contemporary feminism be defined by women’s true autonomy and agency.

I don’t think either Jess or I profess to have the right answer. I’m wondering what others think about this issue. Do you think that showing up is a form of condoning the framing and make-up of the panel? Or do you think that we have to show up and argue these things if we want to protect the movement we care about? Should we not show up and make those arguments elsewhere? How much does in-person with conservative women claiming the feminist label really matter?

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