Feminism is having something of a cultural moment. Or to quote Refinery 29,”We’re not saying that feminism wasn’t a movement to be reckoned with prior to 2013. But with a new generation of thinkers, activists, and creatives taking up the mantle of women’s rights, the movement has taken on a sense of vitality and a global scope—one that has surely been enhanced by the power of the Internet.” It’s a little like when that band you’ve loved for years becomes tremendously popular, but instead of being vaguely annoyed that now everyone acts like they’ve always known about Ani Difranco, I’m over the moon that we’re all at the same concert and no one is afraid of singing along with the lyrics.
But is the rising popularity of feminism good for the movement? As far as I’m concerned, we’ve made progress if we’re able to get people comfortable with feminism, let alone making it seem cool. But is feminism being co-opted, and should we care? In August, while reading an article written by the male tech entrepreneur Bryan Goldberg about how he imagined he was going to bring women’s publishing into the twenty-first century (thanks for joining us here, Bryan), some of those puzzle pieces started to come together. Goldberg described his new website Bustle this way: “Is this a feminist publication? You’re damn right this is a feminist publication.” Or as Bitch Magazine later described his thought process, “Also, I’ve heard feminism is marketable, so I’m going to say that word.” And while it’s clear that’s exactly what he was doing, since when do dudes founding women’s publications, in markets they seem to hardly understand and vaguely despise, feel like they have to vigorously attest to the fact that of course they’re founding a feminist publication? The times, they are a changing.
But the article kept getting weirder. He said, “Are six of our fifty writers excited about Real Housewives of New Jersey? Good, then millions of readers will be too. No judgments. In fact, we don’t even use the term ‘guilty pleasures,’ because there is no topic that someone should feel ashamed to write about.” Bryan Goldberg apparently thinks The Real Housewives is a feminist topic—which okay—if you hand it to a smart Jezebel writer, it could be. Beyond that, Bryan Goldberg apparently thinks that, as a feminist, I’m somehow ashamed of reading about trashy pop culture, and I need to be saved (by him). I can assure you, I’m not ashamed of reading celebrity gossip, or shaving my legs, or liking to occasionally wear fake eyelashes. I don’t necessarily consider the aforementioned feminist choices, but I’m not worried about them. I am an ardent feminist, but I feel no particular pressure to have every one of my choices push the cause of womankind forward. Because hey, it’s a big team, and we can all take turns.
Two years ago, APW hosted book clubs for Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman before it had come out in the United States. During those meetups I discovered that large numbers of APW readers who believed in the core tenants of the feminist movement didn’t define themselves as feminists. Why? Because many of us had been convinced to buy into the patriarchal discreditation of feminism: that we were all just angry man-haters who weren’t allowed to wear pink. Now, just two years later, it’s cool to say you’re a feminist, and I couldn’t be happier. My hope is that now that we’re comfortable claiming the word feminist, we now have a chance to really push things forward.
For years, APW has functioned as a more-or-less choice feminist site. To break things down a bit, choice feminism is based in the idea that the women’s movement’s goal was to allow women to have choices, and hence, any choice a woman makes is a feminist one. Running APW this way has been an editorial decision on my part. I jokingly define myself as “a vagina feminist, not a uterus feminist,” and not just because I have a cunt banner in my office. I say this because I’m very specifically a non-litmus-test feminist. While I am pro-choice, I don’t think that you have to be personally comfortable with abortion to be a feminist. I’ve worked hard to hire APW staff and contributors accordingly. Do I want APW writers to consider themselves to be feminists? Fuck yes. Do I have specific ideas about what that has to look like? Fuck no. But, at the end of the day, I’m not a choice feminist. I’m not anywhere close. I think feminists can hold a wide variety of personal and political beliefs. I think that feminists can make a wide variety of personal decisions. But I don’t think that all women’s decisions and beliefs are feminist ones, and I think that’s perfectly okay.
Why has APW functioned over the years with a choice feminist editorial model? Primarily, because as someone who does not think feminism has to look a particular way, I’m not comfortable setting myself up as a feminist gatekeeper. We regularly publish feminist articles that I wildly disagree with, and we do it on purpose. While I don’t believe in choice feminism, I do believe that you can make different choices than I have and still be a feminist (and I absolutely do not believe in feminist circular firing squads). It may be a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one.
My hope for APW’s Feminism Month is this: as it becomes less scary to self-identify as a feminist, we can use our bravery in a new way. I’d like us each to become more comfortable explicitly saying what our personal feminist beliefs are, with the understanding that we can have a strong point of view without judging people who have made different choices. I want us to understand that there are so many feminist battles to fight that we can’t possibly personally fight all of them, and we can cheer on people fighting battles we’ve opted out of.
Where I’m Fighting: I want all women to keep their last names. I don’t want women to use the language, “I kept my name,” but instead to use the language, “Neither of us changed our names.” I want women to pass on their last names to their children. I don’t want women who hyphenate to always allow their male partners to have their name go last. I’ve made those choices personally, I’ll defend them till I die. Beyond that, I’ll do everything I can to make those choices easier for others, and to help women see why this issue is so important.
Where I’m Not Fighting: I shave my legs. I wear makeup. I wear dresses. I enjoy all of them. I also know that I move through the world with more ease than women who are challenging gender norms. While I’m a feminist who is making more traditional personal grooming choices, I don’t think my particular choices are feminist ones. I don’t waste time feeling guilty about decisions I thoughtfully and consciously made, because I’m better off using that time backing up members of the team on the harder path. To you feminists wearing makeup, I pass along my mascara recommendations (often literally). To you feminists not wearing makeup, I pass along my deepest respect, and my best support.
Now it’s your turn. Where do you stand? This month, I hope that we’re each able to be a little braver with our decisions, while still managing to stay civil and non-judgmental. Let’s get down to it.