Is Feminism Frivolous?
On occasion, I stumble upon blogs or articles written by other conservative women that remind me that I'm not alone. Today, I found "An open letter to the feminist movement," by college student, Betsy Woodruff, at Hillsdale College.
Woodruff presents several valid points that I've often made. Namely, that feminism might be worth it if they didn't engage in such frivolous fights. She writes:
I was raised to be suspicious of you. After all, you're the reason millions of women have abortions every year, and it's probably your fault that homeschooling moms –– mine included –– are sometimes looked down upon for teaching their children instead of joining the workforce. And you're responsible for the female bishops in my beloved Anglican church. But I still like you. After all, you're the reason I have the right to vote (and to feel guilty about forgetting to), and without you, I couldn't even entertain pipe dreams of law school or a Pulitzer. Plus, you gave America a lot of impressive leaders; young women on both sides of the political aisle can find women to admire, whether they hope to become the Speaker of the House or to rally the common man –– I mean, person –– at Tea Party protests. So thanks, feminism. Though I'm not completely sold on your founding principles (I'll pass on registering for the draft), I'll always have a soft spot for you.
I quite agree. The reason I'm more likely to use the term "conservative feminism" than many of my conservative female peers is because some good things did come of out of the feminist movement. Who can argue against equal pay laws, and reforms to sexual abuse, rape and harassment laws?
Feminists may hate to acknowledge this, but the conservative women's movement is very much in response to their trail blazing. There wouldn't have been a Sarah Palin without a Geraldine Ferraro. We disagree on many, many issues, but we're here because of them.
This is where my complaint starts, though. I've noticed that lately, you've been focusing your considerable rhetorical skills on surprising targets. Popular feminist blogs like The F-Word and Shapely Prose dedicate themselves to defending overweight women from society's criticism. One blogger, Fat Heffalump, promotes "Fat Talk-Free Week" among her girlfriends: seven whole days, sans bitching about size. All these writers identify themselves as feminists, and they represent a growing trend in the movement of zeroing in on the issue of size acceptance; fat feminism even has an entry on Wikipedia.
While I think it's important to educate women about the media's impossible standards of beauty, these types of efforts make me groan. They're silly, shallow and show that rather than deal with their own issues, these types of women are lazy and expect society to cater to them.
Woodruff also notes what appears to be a contradiction or hypocrisy by liberal women:
You also complain a lot about American Apparel, and I don't totally get it. After all, if you're such a fan of complete sexual liberation, shouldn't you be happy that college-aged women feel liberated enough to pose in unitard-thongs? And why were you so upset about their Best Butt contest? Guys entered too, and though I think the company's leaders show very, very poor taste, you really have no grounds for complaint about what intelligent, empowered women do with their free time. After all, you also invest a lot of energy in defending the porn industry.
Granted, the American Apparel owner has a history of women filing charges against that doesn't make anyone enamored. However, where's the line between sexual empowerment and exploitation? If it's liberation for a woman to engage in the pornography industry, why isn't is acceptable for American Apparel to use scantily clad models? I find both offensive, so this paradox baffles me.
Woodruff hits on a topic that I've frequently discussed.
So here's my beef with you. Regardless of the legitimacy of the battles you've chosen, they all seem to pale in comparison to many of the issues that seriously threaten our gender today. The World Health Organization says between 100 and 140 million women live with the consequences of genital mutilation. Jezebel.com, a hugely popular feminist blog, pulls up 65 articles when I search for "genital mutilation," and most of those have nothing to do with the subject. A quick search for "American Apparel," on the other hand, gives me 352 results. Why do you care more about a hipster clothing store's salacious ads than about the body autonomy of millions of women around the globe? Here's another question: What have you done lately for women in the Middle East –– the entire Eastern Hemisphere, in fact? China incubates rampant sexism, judging by the ratio of aborted girls to aborted boys. And forget about women's suffrage; women in the Middle East can still be punished by law for being raped, and honor killings are still rampant in that region.
Now, there are outlets that do cover the plight of women around the world. I get Google alerts on "feminism," and every day there are posts from less-trafficked blogs on these topics. To their credit, Ms. Blog does regularly feature articles on international women's issues. Change.org and Blogher also cover them regularly.
However, the top feminist blogs, the ones catering more to "pop feminism" really don't typically write about global issues. I don't know if this is because American Apparel and other feminism-as-pop-culture stories attract more traffic, or if women on the left really care more about sensitivity to size issues more than the Middle Eastern women's lack of basic rights?
Woodruff wonders this as well:
Do you avoid these topics because they are too hard? I understand that it's easier to boycott Marie Claire for its opinions piece criticizing a TV show featuring obese people making out than to try to protect millions of nameless, faceless young girls in sub-Saharan Africa who face genital mutilation. But the impossible used to be your strong suit. After all, Susan B. Anthony never would have imagined that barely 100 years after her death, women would be running Germany, Argentina, Australia, Ireland and the U.S. State Department. We've been to outer space, the top of Mount Everest and the Supreme Court. We're at our best when we face seemingly insurmountable odds.
So why do you choose such piddly little fights? Why the fuss over fat acceptance when brothers kill their sisters for getting raped? Why stress about one creepy company when the sex trafficking industry industrializes the rape of women and girls? Why weep crocodile tears over Marie Claire's choice to publish that one article when many Middle Eastern women can't help choose their nations' leaders?
Woodruff has a point. The Marie Claire scandal was huge on ladyblogs. (Apparently, there's a new controversy brewing.) Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is debating if women should have the right to drive a vehicle! There's an obvious gap in undertaking serious issues facing women compared to the frivolous stuff that stays in blog headlines.
Lastly, Woodruff closes with statements I've made many, many times.
Feminism, some people call you outdated, but I think they're wrong. You have the potential to prove yourself relevant, essential and forceful. But if you want to be taken seriously, you should probably fight serious battles. Fortunately, that's what you're best at. I might not count myself among your numbers, but if you stand up for women who can't stand up for themselves, I'll eagerly applaud your efforts.
I don't think feminism is outdated. Sexism and inequality continue to exist.
However, feminism seems too focused on pet issues while engaging in enormous hypocrisy of their own when they make misogynistic attacks against conservative women. In fact, conservative women have breathed new life into the movement. If the liberal sorority would open up and take an intellectually honest look at itself, they might attract more members.