Lately, I’ve seen a lot of feminist-centered publications advocating for this absolute freedom of choice, like feminism is a completely value-free bubble in which we are supposed to judge every decision (made by a woman) as equal to all other decisions. I disagree with the author of this post on many (most) of her other points—a quick look at her list of articles should tell you why—but I have to begrudgingly admit that she has a point here. Why are women being asked—by other women—to support someone, regardless of her choices, just because she is another woman? The same is certainly not asked of men.
I find this idea infuriating beyond belief for the simple fact that without discrimination between “good choices” and “bad choices” (based on sociological facts and not arbitrary cultural values), the movement cannot and will not progress. I’m not talking about whether or not to shave your legs or change your last name when you get married—those personal choices are mainly inconsequential to the larger movement of feminism (in today’s world). But in larger ideological conversations, this “all ideas are good ideas!” attitude just doesn’t work.
Take, for example, Michelle Goldberg’s recent article on the state of “Twitter feminism.” (If you follow a single feminist on Twitter, you’ve probably already heard about it. Essentially, Goldberg argues that the environment of online feminist activism has become fraught with hostility and preoccupied with the struggle to claim the least privilege—or the most victimhood, depending on how you look at it. These arguments have erupted mainly along racial lines, but this “call out culture” is alive and well in conversations apart from race as well—for proof, I point to nearly everything published by Jezebel. It seems that in lieu of participating in the reprehensible “tone-policing,” we’ve become (or are expected to be) supportive of all speech by women, including that which is hateful, angry, malicious, ill-informed or presumptive.
Many have claimed that Goldberg intended to “silence” the voices of angry feminists and black women with this piece, but I disagree. Her thesis was not that people do not have the right to speak out angrily and hatefully—of course they do. Her point, and mine as well, is that we should value more highly civil, understanding, mutually educational conversation because it’s beneficial—and I would say necessary—for the greater good. Calling out a fellow woman on her ignorance is a good choice, and doing so in a way that can educate her instead of isolating her is a good choice as well. If you can get your message of equality across to a larger number of people with your words, you are doing better for the movement than someone who is using Twitter to hate-blast everyone with which they disagree. And yet, it seems we’re afraid to say that, because we’ll be upsetting the delicate balance of “support” that we’ve been slowly building up.
But here’s the thing. By focusing solely on supporting individual choices and freedoms, and shying away from critiquing the choices of other women, we’re ensuring that we don’t make progress for the larger movement. Maybe I’m a “bad feminist,” but my type of feminism is more like a set of principles—best practices that we should hold as the ideal. Obviously, ideals are not always attainable. But much like the Kantian idea of a moral act, we must at least attempt to do our feminist duty.
Let’s take, for example, the debate over whether or not it’s necessary to report one’s rape or sexual assault. Clearly, reporting a rape is an extremely traumatic experience—at times, just as traumatic as the attack itself. Every situation is different, and everyone experiences stress differently, so of course individual circumstances—the identity of the attacker, the support system in place within the law enforcement or university system—will affect how difficult it is for a person to report their attack.
However, I firmly believe that reporting rape and sexual assault is the undoubtedly better choice, sociologically speaking. More reported rapes means a better chance of law enforcement being able to identify a pattern, a better chance that an attacker will be caught, convicted, and prevented from attacking again, and more accurate rape statistics. This is the better option from the standpoint of the women’s movement, and it baffles me that many of late are hesitant to say so.
I say this not to shame those who are uncomfortable reporting their rapes, but to point out that once we identify an “ideal” choice—all women (and men, for that matter) reporting their attacks—we can focus on changing the systems in place that make it difficult to achieve that ideal. Installing rape advocacy counselors in hospitals and police stations, ensuring that a female officer is available at the victim’s request, holding mandatory training on sensitivity to sexual assault victims, and enforcing punishments when an officer ignores protocol are all ways that the process can be improved. But if not reporting is equally as “good” as reporting, there is no pressure to improve these things. If the question on which we are focusing is “should we report or should we not?,” we’re getting nowhere.
In response to my first-ever Luna Luna article, way back in September—I was such a baby feminist then!—I got a lot of feedback from women who simply didn’t want to have this conversation with men during their fun night out. This is understandable, completely, especially since it sometimes feels like we could spend every waking moment explaining (mostly to men) why the status quo is problematic. And yes, “I have a boyfriend” will end the situation quickly. This is the type ofpatriarchal bargaining that women deal with on a daily basis.
However, there needs to be some women who are able to see—and willing to stand up for—the “greater good” of feminism, even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s uncomfortable, and even when it requires us to take a stance and say “there is a better choice, and this is it.” Even if this makes us lose a few “followers” in the meantime. Because, otherwise, we’re stagnant.