I was stranded at Heathrow Airport when I first read the introduction of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist essay collection. It was then and there, in a contemporary looking airport cafe, drained and fatigue, that I realised what an utterly bad feminist I am too.
I’ve always been a feminist, I just didn’t know it. As a kid, I’ll harp on and on about girl power. I’ll doodle “girl power” all over my exercise book and water bottle; yapped about it to any poor soul kind enough to listen. It was, and is, my fervent conviction that feminism should be mankind’s default.
But is feminism perfect?
Has feminism backfired before?
Because feminism is flawed.
Feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. ~ Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (pXII)
The Problem with Essential Feminism
I maintain my childhood ambition of gender equality. However, I’m constantly learning and reevaluating what that equality should look like. What feminism looks like.
But first, what IS feminism?
Roxane cites Su, an Australian woman who was interviewed for Kathy Bail’s 1996 anthology DIY Feminism: “(Feminist are) just women who don’t want to be treated like shit” (p359). This is spot on.
Personally, I define feminism as “I’m allowed to do whatever you do, you are allowed to do whatever I do, dicks and vaginas be damned.” Too long? I’m working on it.
But is there a right or wrong way to be a feminist?
Is there a series of boxes one must tick to constitute a “good feminist”? Some people reckon there is. We term this “essential feminism”.
“Essential feminism suggests anger, humourless, militancy, unwavering principles, and a prescribed set of rules for how to be a proper feminist woman, or at least a proper white, heterosexual feminist woman- hate pornography, unilaterally decry the objectification of women, don’t cater to the male gaze, hate men, hate sex, focus on career, don’t shave.” (p360)
I don’t hate pornography, although maybe I should. Also, I think to condemn the objectification of women without the contrariwise exposes a hypocrisy counterproductive to the feminist agenda. I don’t cater to the male gaze, but that’s not by choice- darn you, flabby thighs.
I certainly don’t hate men. Yikes, I can’t imagine a world without men. Or sex.
My career, I love like my life.
Oh, I don’t shave. So at least that’s right.
Out of those 7 aforementioned characteristics, I meet only 3. That makes 43%. Does that mean I’m only 43% a feminist?
I am a Bad Feminist
Here’s the point: maybe there isn’t a right or wrong way to be a feminist.
Or maybe there is, and I just suck at following the rules.
Like Roxane, I love pink.
And here’s a (not so) secret- I love click lit. I read biographies and thrillers and scholarly journals and mysteries and YA and pretty much anything readable, but my guilty pleasure is chick lit. The cliche boy meet girl, boy chase girl, boy and girl fall in love, swoon, swoon, major swoon.
Loving a genre often painted as the shallow, uninteresting manifestation of a woman’s mind- is that anti-feminist?
But I’m so freaking passionate about the feminist cause. My temper flares whenever anybody as much as suggest women are not equals of men. I am darn certain that women deserve the exact same opportunities men have. When women are subjected to different expectations or stereotypes, I am eminently angered.
If I must choose only one identity, I will be a feminist.
But yet, I catch myself second-guessing the sole woman on a real estate development board. I sometimes wonder what will become of children of working mothers; I neglect the equal role of a father. And when a woman is loud and outspoken, I am curious if her husband feels small and emasculated.
These thoughts are followed by deep, intense remorse. But they happen. And they sometimes linger too long.
No matter how I try to exterminate gender-based assumptions and stereotypes, these thoughts still transpire.
Because I’m imperfect.
I’m a bad feminist.
I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’ right. I am just trying- trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground. (pXIII)
Gender, Race and Class: Who, exactly, does feminism exist to serve?
Awhile ago, I took a course on Udemy titled Fundamentals of Gender Equality by Kamla Bhasin. During her class, she emphasise a lot on how feminism and social class go hand in hand. Kamla Bhasin is from India, a country where class is creed. A man might be revered over a woman from the same class. But the same woman is higher up the totem pole than a man of lower class.
According to Kamla, gender and class are woven together to form a fabric of that is integral, and we cannot advocate gender equality without involving the issue of class.
Roxane writes a lot about race, which in the U.S. also translates into class. Roxane writes, “as a woman of colour, I find that some feminists don’t seem terribly concerned with the issues unique to women of colour- the ongoing effects of racism and post-colonialism, the status of women in the Third World, the fight against the trenchant archetypes black women are forced into…” (p364)
She continues, “White feminists often suggest that by believing there are issues unique to women of colour, and unnatural division occurs, impeding solidarity, sisterhood. Other times, white feminists are simply dismissive of these issues.” (p364)
I’m quick to agree that much of the feminism material I come across are written by white women, and frankly, do not fully apply to our Malaysian culture (in the sense of the “status of women in Third World”).
This got me thinking- how does race play into Malaysian feminism?
No, I don’t have a plain and simple answer. I acknowledge that the three major races in Malaysia have patriarchal cultures, as do many other Asian civilisations. But these three patriarchal practices look different, and some are rooted in religion, which only deepens the misogynic roots. Gender equality in each of these races could look different. But some things apply across the board. For example, violence against women will not be tolerated, no matter the race or culture. However, the method of combating these violence could be different in the context of different races.
On this note, feminism should encompass everybody, not just middle class, white women in America. Feminism is also the anthem of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Lain-lain people in Malaysia.
And every individual’s feminism may look different. We have to accept that.
We don’t all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimise the fractures among us. (pXVI)
Everybody Should Read Bad Feminist. It’s That Good.
Roxane has a way of spurning words to touch your soul. I wanna read anything she wrote. I’ll read her grocery list if she’ll let me.
Roxane Gay is my queen.
And she helped me realise: Is feminism perfect? No.
Has feminism backfired before? Yes. The #MeToo movement, while exposing many predators of sexual harassment, has also caused innocent men to be more cautious. As a result, boy clubs are more resolute in their exclusion of women. Women lose opportunities, both professionally and socially, but especially in the work place. But the #MeToo movement is a swinging pendulum. And when the swing settles, we know that people will learn not to use women as objects of sexual amusement. Five steps forward and two steps back still means three steps forward.
And we need that three steps forward. Feminism make that three steps possible.
Therefore, is feminism necessary? Yes.
Do we sometimes suck at feminism? Yes.
Does feminism look the same to every person? No.
Given all that, is feminism still necessary? Absolutely.
“I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all” (p378).