A cleans­ing fire

Stephanie Bishop on Jessa Crispin’s Why I Am Not a Fem­i­nist

The Monthly (Australia) - - VOX -

The fig­ure is old news: 53% of white fe­male vot­ers in the US opted for Don­ald Trump, many of them self­de­clared fem­i­nists, as­sert­ing that it was their choice, as fem­i­nists, to cast their vote where they wanted. This ought to be a self-can­celling sce­nario, a trig­ger for sys­tem col­lapse: how does a fem­i­nist vote for a misog­y­nist? And what is the value of the term “fem­i­nist” if this is what it does?

The po­ten­tial re­dun­dancy of the term, its dou­ble stan­dards and in­ef­fec­tive­ness, has pro­voked Jessa Crispin to reject the la­bel. In her new book, Why I Am Not a Fem­i­nist: A Fem­i­nist Man­i­festo (Black Inc.; $24.99), the au­thor of The Dead Ladies Project and founder of the lit­er­ary mag­a­zines Book­slut and Spo­lia de­liv­ers a scorch­ing polemic against the lim­i­ta­tions of the dom­i­nant fem­i­nist at­ti­tude. Her re­buke her­alds the re­vival of a rad­i­cal po­si­tion: “the fem­i­nism I sup­port is a full-on rev­o­lu­tion”, “a cleans­ing fire”.

Main­stream fem­i­nism, Crispin ar­gues, is in cri­sis. It fails to ad­dress the ev­ery­day con­cerns of women. It has be­come so di­luted and for­get­ful of its own rad­i­cal his­tory, so pre­oc­cu­pied with pre­sent­ing a non-threat­en­ing im­age, that the as­ser­tion of con­sumer or voter choice is taken as a ma­jor fem­i­nist act, even if that choice is Trump.

Crispin’s man­i­festo is not a help­ful guide or a howto book. Rather, through a se­ries of declar­a­tive and of­ten in­cen­di­ary ar­gu­ments, it presents a case against main­stream fem­i­nism. This is a fem­i­nism that is as­so­ci­ated with the white mid­dle class, and fails to speak to, or on be­half of, any­one out­side that cat­e­gory. Her over­ar­ch­ing ar­gu­ment is that main­stream fem­i­nism, in its ef­fort to be­come “univer­sal” and ap­peal to a broad au­di­ence, has be­come ba­nal: a sim­pli­fied move­ment without a strong po­lit­i­cal or philo­soph­i­cal foun­da­tion, one that be­longs to the self-de­clared “bad fem­i­nists”, the kind that won­der whether you can “be a fem­i­nist and still have a bikini wax”. It is a fem­i­nism that be­longs to the cor­po­rate woman fo­cused on break­ing through that glass ceil­ing. It is a fem­i­nism that de­spite iso­lated mo­ments of out­rage en­sures women present them­selves as “harm­less … tooth­less”, “lov­able” and “fuck­able”, a fem­i­nism that seeks to de­lib­er­ately dis­tance it­self from the vi­sion of the hairy, man­hat­ing ogre of the sec­ond wave. This univer­sal fem­i­nism is in­ef­fec­tive in achiev­ing any kind of real so­cial change. Crispin takes it by the jugu­lar and shakes it for all it’s worth.

Her role here is that of the myth-buster, and her lead­ing tar­get is fem­i­nism’s mis­guided goal of self-em­pow­er­ment. The pursuit of this goal, Crispin ar­gues, places fem­i­nism within the anx­i­eties of self-help cul­ture: the drive for self-em­pow­er­ment de­mands a fo­cus on the individual, re­moves the per­son from their so­cial con­text and side­steps the chal­lenge of in­ter­ro­gat­ing a pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem. It’s not only the goal that is the prob­lem here but also the way in which it is at­tained.

Self-em­pow­er­ment is closely aligned with in­de­pen­dence: the achieve­ment of one her­alds the suc­cess of the other. But the at­tain­ment of each is rel­a­tive to one’s ca­pac­ity to make choices. Hav­ing a choice there­fore be­comes a fem­i­nist aim. The real lim­i­ta­tion, Crispin ar­gues, is that choice tends to be cel­e­brated pri­mar­ily in re­la­tion to con­sumer power. The logic un­der­ly­ing “choice fem­i­nism” is that not so long ago women didn’t have choices, be­cause de­ci­sions were made by men, so to sim­ply as­sert their de­ci­sion-mak­ing power is a fem­i­nist act, irrespective of what they’re choos­ing.

Choice fem­i­nism raises the is­sue of women in the work­force. Em­ploy­ment for women meant (and can still mean) an es­cape from the do­mes­tic realm, “an ex­panded life”. It was hailed by the sec­ond wave as a guar­an­tee of in­de­pen­dence. Yet Crispin ar­gues that women suc­ceed within a pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem only by adopt­ing the role of the pa­tri­archs them­selves. For Crispin, the lim­i­ta­tions of the main­stream fem­i­nist project are closely linked to the idea that women tri­umph

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.