Naomi Wolf argues for de-politicized feminism

Naomi Wolf*Sigh* Naomi Wolf, won’t you please just stop?

Wolf published a piece at Project Syndicate yesterday with the super friendly title “America’s Reactionary Feminists.” Yes, it’s another one of those articles lamenting that feminists don’t embrace female politicians who actively work against feminist goals.

In this instance, Wolf takes the opportunity to promote one of the worst, most de-politicized takes on feminism out there:

The second reason that Bachmann and Palin appeal to so many Americans – and this should not be underestimated, either – has to do with a serious historical misreading of feminism. Because feminism in the 1960’s and 1970’s was articulated via the institutions of the left – in Britain, it was often allied with the labor movement, and in America, it was reborn in conjunction with the emergence of the New Left – there is an assumption that feminism itself must be leftist. In fact, feminism is philosophically as much in harmony with conservative, and especially libertarian, values – and in some ways even more so.

The core of feminism is individual choice and freedom, and it is these strains that are being sounded now more by the Tea Party movement than by the left. But, apart from these sound bites, there is a powerful constituency of right-wing women in Britain and Western Europe, as well as in America, who do not see their values reflected in collectivist social-policy prescriptions or gender quotas. They prefer what they see as the rugged individualism of free-market forces, a level capitalist playing field, and a weak state that does not impinge on their personal choices.

Many of these women are socially conservative, strongly supportive of the armed forces, and religious – and yet they crave equality as strongly as any leftist vegetarian in Birkenstocks. It is blindness to this perfectly legitimate approach to feminism that keeps tripping up commentators who wish to dismiss women like Margaret Thatcher, or Muslim women, or now right-wing US women leaders, as somehow not being the “real thing.”

But these women are real feminists…

I’m not sure where Wolf got the idea that “The core of feminism is individual choice and freedom,” but that’s not my feminism, and it’s not our history. Perhaps she’s referring to some of the rhetoric employed by the reproductive rights movement, like “Get your laws off my body” and even the label “pro-choice.” Of course, these phrases were chosen as an attempt to connect the right to abortion to American individualism in order to gain more popular support (and, myself and others would argue, this rhetoric has become damaging). In fact, one of the first causes of the newly named feminist movement was organizing for the right to vote – for collective political power.

Wolf’s is a form of feminism I abhor. It’s all about individual women achieving power and doesn’t give a shit about ending systemic gender oppression. It doesn’t care about abortion access as long as incredibly privileged women can get the procedure – so basically it’s fine with access being materially the same as it was pre-Roe. It doesn’t care that women on average (especially women of color) still earn considerably less money than men, as long as one woman makes it to the board room. And it’s all about promoting female politicians regardless of whether they want to totally screw over other women. (Let me once again bring up a quote we cite a lot from the brilliant Ann Friedman: “A woman candidate is not the same thing as a woman’s candidate.”)

It seems Wolf would have us completely forget about intersectional feminism. About issues that uniquely impact women of color or trans folks, or the ways gender oppression hurts gay men, to name just a very few examples. Because this isn’t about oppression of whole identity groups, it’s just about individuals.

My feminism isn’t just about getting government to leave me alone. It’s not just libertarianism for women. It’s about recognizing the existence of gendered systems of oppression and working for justice, working to change these systems, which often involves government taking action against injustice.

While Wolf’s take on feminism is all about achieving power, it’s devoid of a power analysis (I’m starting to sound like a broken record on that one). Forget the fact that gender oppression negatively impacts our entire world and make it all about one woman succeeding. Or in other words, let’s forget about politics and make feminism all about me me me.

h/t Theresa

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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