Hi there! Congratulations! You’ve recently announced to the world that you’re a feminist. Maybe it was by wearing a supes cute shirt, responding to a question about the pay gap in Hollywood, or simply a smart new marketing direction you’re going in.
Because I care about feminism I am going to offer, completely free of charge, a real quick tour through the various pitfalls you’re going to need to avoid.
Now, let’s be clear, I’m no authority on feminism, but I do have a couple degrees centered in (intersectional) feminist theory and a whole bunch of time spent as an activist so I feel like I’m okay to give this primer. We’re definitely not going to cover everything, but I thought I’d cover the basics.
This is a contentious topic! Some people are cool with rape jokes that punch up. Some people think no jokes should be made about rape, ever. Other people think downplaying the dehumanizing, traumatizing, life-altering, all-too-common violence at least 1 in 5 to 1 in 3 women will face in her lifetime is fucking hilarious.
What to do? What to do?!
Ultimately, that’s a decision you’re going to have to make for yourself. But you should be aware that a lot of feminists think that hearing a rape joke, hearing violence and trauma that will likely reverberate for a lifetime be mined for lazy laughs while also having their experience doubted by some piece of shit rape apologist, is in no way related to their capacity to withstand the remarkable pain of a burst ovarian cyst.
Rape Jokes Pt. 2
This is just a supes quick aside, but declaring that someone who makes rape jokes (and posts dehumanizing, denigrating rape apologia online) can’t possibly be a rapist is NOT going to win you any friends over here in the feminism camp. Not just because, frankly, we can’t know! I don’t know anyone I can say with 100% confidence isn’t a rapist because I don’t know! You know why I say that? Partially because I am not an all-knowing and all-seeing god, and partially because I have seen too many rapists be defended as someone who couldn’t possibly be a rapist for x,y,z reasons. But also because, and this is contentious, those who think rape isn’t a big deal (and especially those CONVINCED that women be making false allegations all over the place) MAKE ME SUPER SUSPICIOUS ABOUT THEIR CONSENT PRACTICES.
Phew! Moving on.
Okay. You’ve probably heard the term “white feminism” bandied about when all those mean ladies on the internet get mad at the latest thing you’ve done. And you’re probably bristling even though you don’t know why. A lot of women of colour have written about white feminism and you should really read their words about it rather than mine.
Objectifying/Sexualizing Men of Colour
Co-Opting Feminism For Your Own Needs
Contrary to what you may have heard, feminism is not just about women making choices, nor women supporting each other, nor that fun dictionary definition, “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Rather, feminism, if we want it to mean anything at all, needs to be an action word. A striving for the dismantling of oppressive systems including–but not limited to–the patriarchy. Feminism is not about girl power, it is not just about celebrating strong women. To quote bell hooks,
“Feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels, as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.”
And feminism is definitely not a performance of female friendship used to silence critique.
Okay! Back to rape jokes for a second:
Shielding Shitty Men
So your employee has made headlines for making horrible rape jokes and doubting the credibility of pretty much all rape disclosures. What do you do??
You have a couple choices. One is to fire that shit head and come out with a strong statement in support of survivors.
The other is…to downplay his gross actions by explaining that he’s always been a piece of shit and then get mad when people ask a self-professed feminist to address it appropriately.
Now, you might be thinking, (wo)man this is a lot of work! I just wanted to get in on the growing market-share of vaguely-feminist-identified female celebrities!
And, to be frank, I get it. Money is awesome! Cashing in on the movement du jour is just solid business acumen. You’re leaning all the way in!
Feminism, on the other hand, is hard! It requires sacrifice and self-awareness and tackling your own (internalized) misogyny and racism and ableism and every other oppressive system that you are marginalized or privileged by. It requires constant vigilance and a reckoning of just how awful the world is. It requires becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, and publicly acknowledging when you’ve fucked up.
And none of that sells albums or comedy specials or new books I have no interest in reading. I get it!
But at least now you know the lay of the land, and should be taken a little bit less off guard the next time you fuck up and refuse to take any responsibility for it.