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?

Join the Conversation

  • nazza

    It’s admirable that you want to provide a contrast, but if one assumes that Feminism is a religion, for example, there may well be ideological poles to it henceforth. Nothing you can do or say is going to invalidate someone’s strong point of view. We can use language to call conservative feminists “anti-feminists” just like we say people who are against abortion are “anti-choice”, but ultimately intractable attitudes do not go quietly into that good night.

    This is what has happened ever since humans climbed out of the slime.

  • Sarah

    I understand the dilemma and I don’t believe it is wrong to chose to abstain from showing up as long as it doesn’t mean abstaining from the argument entirely. So I think the route Jessica took is certainly valid. But I have to say that I am a huge proponent of showing up. I feel that if we don’t “show up”, whatever that phrase may embody at the moment, not only are we sacrificing a chance to make our argument in front of a broader audience, we also sacrifice the opportunity to ask those we disagree with to actively engage in and respond to our arguments. We also deny them the opportunity to ask the same of us, something that I believe is also vital.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I’m sorry, but anyone who includes the caveat “women in the womb” is nothing but a wolf in feminist’s clothing.

    That said, I personally would have shown up to make sure my points got heard as clearly as the anti-choicer’s. But I guess we all have to make our own decisions.

  • Natalie

    I don’t think there is a right answer to this question. What I do think is that it is more important than ever for real feminists (people who know that feminism is about challenging sexism and not about having a vagina), make sure they have a voice in this debate. The true cause of feminism, the dismantling of sexism, is so vital to our movements ability to gain support.

    It seems like conservative women who call themselves feminists do it in a way that stereotypes the sexes rather than challenging their polarization. And it is this kind of framing that perpetuates the myth of feminist as man hater; it is accepting our differences and claiming one is better. The whole “mama grizzly” idea is one example, this sort of innate female power, that makes whomever claims that identity a better candidate because she is female. I think this image of feminism is really harmful and needs to be challenged in one form or another.

  • Kate

    I totally get where Jess is coming from– sitting there alongside someone who claims to be a feminist validates that she is, especially when you (Jess) are a widely-known and respected voice in the REAL feminist community. It would be appropriate if the debate were titled something else, but allowing her to be recognized as a feminist furthers the misconception that feminism includes women who don’t support women AND that feminists can’t get along. True, we don’t all see eye to eye on every issue, but there are at least SOME universal truths that should be upheld– like a desire for a more egalitarian society. This is a strategic, peaceful protest and I agree. Completely.

  • Kierstyn Hayducka

    I definitely see Jess’ point completely. But I also see the other side. Personally, I would want to go and protest/expose their contradictory beliefs so the people watching know. However, I realize how hard of a decision it is to make. So good luck!

  • Samantha

    Reading a lot of the science blogosphere, I definitely understand the “not wanting to give them credibility” thing – it’s an approach that proponents of science-based medicine and pro-evolutionists take against those with some views that are so far in left field as to be out of the ballpark – and calling yourself a feminist when you don’t feel that women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies, etc., seems pretty far out there. Why lend credibility to a quack?

    By participating, it becomes a slippery slope of “you’re trying to tell me how to do feminism” and that whole gaggle of arguments, leaving the deeper ideas behind and getting caught up in semantics.

    On the other hand, someone has to refute (or should I say refudiate?) the BS anti-choice, women-are-subservient crowd, and let them know that No, you’re not a feminist, you’ve co-opted the title for your own nefarious purposes.

  • athenia

    I think both stances are valuable–I’m not sure how much research/exposure you’ve had with IWF, but after this event, you may not want to sit on a panel with them again. That’s fair too.

    From what I know of IWF, they are more of a fiscal conservative organization rather than a gender essentialist organization like Concerned Women for America.

    I think why IWF can say a women’s center has “extreme” ideology–by screening Outfoxed for example is that women’s organizations are proxies for “democrats” and general social activism rather than focusing on ending sexist oppression. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the intersectionality of general social activism, but I think feminists do a piss poor job of articulating it—it’s too much of a chore to explain to people who haven’t taken a formal women’s studies of course etc. American Feminism hasn’t given American feminists another legal champion besides the democrats. At the same time, Republican women do not have any other options if they are socially liberal.

    Either way, it sounds like you will be talking about whether a woman can be anti-choice and still be feminist. And if that’s a discussion you want to have, then go for it.

  • Angela Giacchetti

    Although there’s no easy answer, I am disappointed that I will not be able to hear this argument in person. I feel like that’s precisely what a panel is for. At any rate, I respect Valenti’s argument and I am excited to see what happens this evening with all the others that have remained on board. It’s important that we young feminists have a real, live forum for discussion and networking as well as a virtual one.