Book Review: Why I Am Not a Feminist by Jesse Crispin
I’ve been thinking recently of “feminism.” It’s a slippery word; is it a political movement, a set of beliefs? an ideology? Is it largely a movement in developed countries? Is it grounded in the white middle class? Why is it often discussed as first, second and third “waves?”
And as I ask myself these questions, I ask a final one: Am I a feminist?
It wasn’t until I had read Crispin’s book that I felt a beam of clarity about what “feminism” is and is not.
And it wasn’t until I finished the book that I had an answer to that final question. No I am not.
So here’s the deal: I love this book. It is an unapologetic polemic against the traditional, palatable brand of “feminism” that she argues has abandoned its earlier, radical roots. She argues that feminism has been made a very fashionable and universal notion. But it is a problem. “Making feminism a universal pursuit has accelerated a process that has been detrimental to the feminist movement: the shift of focus from society to the individual. What was once collective action and a shared vision for how women might work and live in the world has become identity politics, a focus on individual history and achievement, and an unwillingness to share space with people with different opinions, world views and histories.”
Crispin rejects this universal feminism. Here are a few of her specific reasons.
- “Feminism is a narcissistic, reflexive thought process.
- Feminism is a fight to allow women to participate equally in the oppression of the powerless and the poor.
- Feminism is an attack dog posing as a kitten with a drop of milk on her nose.
- Feminism is a bland reworked brand of soda, focus group tested for palatability and inoffensiveness.”
Crispin goes on to argue that this universal, comfortable feminism will always be toothless. Because a “feminism that springs from self interest, that is embraced because it more easily gives access to power—rather than being embraced out of any social awareness —- will necessarily be part of the system of power and oppression, and meaningless as a way toward universal human rights. Feminists are participants in this system and they are benefiting from it.”
Most reviews of the book find things to pick at. Here is my favorite: her arguments are weak and are widely dismissed by young feminists… No kidding, what a surprise. Other critics suggest that Crispin’s positions need more work, especially regarding the specific actions women should take to dismantle the patriarchy. Well okay, but I think her call to arms is a good first step. You have to recognize the problem, after all, before you can solve it.
I conclude this little “mini book review” with my favorite passage: her comments directed to men who might be reading the book:
“It is possible you have some questions or concerns with what I’ve written here, and you would like me to address them for you. If so, then here is my response. Take that shit someplace else. I am not interested. It is not my job to make feminism easy or understandable to you. It is not my job to to nurture and encourage your empathy. It is my job to teach you how to deal with women being human beings.
I’ve only touched the surface of her arguments. Please, get it at your library. It is 151 pages of gloves-off punches.