Andi Zeisler’s ‘We Were Feminists Once’ coopts the very movement it purports to mourn

we were feminists once

In 1995, Andi Zeisler founded Bitch — a zine that became a magazine — as a means to “take pop culture seriously as a force that shapes the lives of everyone, and to argue for its importance as an arena for feminist activism and analysis,as she explains in her new book, We Were Feminists Once.

I had a subscription to that magazine for at least a few years in the early-to-mid aughts, when I’d been taking Women’s Studies classes for some time, but had yet to become truly radicalized. I’d wanted very much to be a part of the “cool girl feminism” club that made feminist pornography and sought out agentic “sex workers” for edgy research projects. I took burlesque classes, went to strip clubs with male friends late at night, and wrote papers about the subtle feminism of romcoms. I was, early on, an ideal Bitch reader, straight out of the third wave, aware of feminism only as it existed in undergraduate Women’s Studies classes (which, while incredibly informative and impactful, had slowly begun moving towards the idea that “subverting” rather than destroying oppressive structures was the best way to address systems of power — a perspective that appears to have been embraced wholeheartedly by what are now called “Gender Studies” departments). I was also more inclined to find “agency” and “empowerment” than assess the dark realities of women’s lives under patriarchy.

Eventually I read Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, Dworkin’s Pornography, and Sheila Jeffreys Beauty and Misogyny, and bored of Bitch‘s ongoing efforts to neutralize BDSM and to “queer” pornography. Analyzing TV shows became less interesting to me than looking at the foundations of and connections between rape and porn culture. As I got older and became more familiarized with second wave texts and the work of radical women, the postmodernesque idea that simply shifting the lens could have a real impact on systemic oppression didn’t have the same pull it once did. I realized that the problems women faced due to the ever-ubiquitous male gaze and socialization into femininity could not be resolved without an understanding of why those experiences existed and how they connected to real-life male violence against women.

I met movement women here in Vancouver like Cherry Smiley, Trisha Baptie, and Lee Lakeman, and became allied with groups like the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution and Vancouver Rape Relief. I interviewed radical women from around the world and realized I no longer had to force myself to adopt an ideology that never really made sense, despite its simplicity. I ended my subscriptions to Bitch and Bust and started saying what I really thought. I no longer cared to join pop feminism and no longer wanted to fake it in the face of real issues and with the support and sisterhood of a real movement.

Not everyone found that path. “Fun feminism” remained more desirable than the radical kind, so today, the apparent aims of Bitch magazine have been achieved: “Feminism,” Zeisler writes, “got cool.”

When I began writing about feminism, it was a little later than many others, who’d been in the blogosphere for a few years longer than I. I was lucky — I’d had time to think, to read, to study before launching myself into the public realm. Undoubtedly I would have published some incredibly stupid things had I begun my writing career at 25 instead of at 30. What drove my work was frustration at the third wave’s rejection of second wave and radical feminism, in favour of a sexier, more sellable, “fun feminism” — the kind that didn’t make you feel bad and made everyone feel welcome. Feminism, as I saw it, had become watered-down to the point of uselessness and was in need of a re-radicalization. I explored this loss of radical feminism and the impact of these efforts to popularize the movement in a radio documentary back in 2011, and basically have continued to repeat myself ever since. Feminism wasn’t just an identity or a word; it was a real thing that meant something — it was a movement.

It seems Zeisler has discovered this analysis herself. “Great!” you might think. We need as many women we can get to do the hard work of pushing back against neoliberal co-optation and the empty mantras that have replaced actual analysis, critical thinking, and front-line work. But it felt odd to read an analysis put forth by the radical women Zeisler rejected in her work in favour of a liberal media circle that could better support her career ambitions (but who have offered a toothless analysis for over a decade, in exchange for jobs and mainstream acceptance), minus those women.

Throughout We Were Feminists Once, familiar lines show up. Indeed, even the description of the book sounds eerily like one published last year, called Freedom Fallacy (which includes a chapter I contributed, called “I do what I want, fuck yeah!: Moving beyond ‘a woman’s choice'”), which reads:

“Feminism is back in fashion. From female celebrities to male politicians, it seems almost everyone is keen to use the f-word. But are there limits to this ‘pop feminist’ approach to liberation? Taking on topics from pornography and prostitution to female genital mutilation, from women’s magazines and marriage to sexual violence, contributors in this collection argue that the kind of liberal feminism currently rising to prominence does little to challenge the status quo. Aiming to revive a more radical analysis, the chapters in this book confront the dangers of reducing feminism to a debate about personal choice and offer the possibility of change through collective action.”

Zeisler relabels what radical feminists have called “liberal feminism,” “mainstream feminism,” or “popular feminism” as “marketplace feminism.” The description of her book reads:

“Feminism has hit the big time. Once a dirty word brushed away with a grimace, ‘feminist’ has been rebranded as a shiny label sported by movie and pop stars, fashion designers, and multi-hyphenate powerhouses like Beyoncé. It drives advertising and marketing campaigns for everything from wireless plans to underwear to perfume, presenting what’s long been a movement for social justice as just another consumer choice in a vast market. Individual self-actualization is the goal, shopping more often than not the means, and celebrities the mouthpieces.”

The description explains that Zeisler’s book will address the way in which “feminism has been co-opted, watered down, and turned into a gyratory media trend… brimming with the language of empowerment, but offering little in the way of transformational change.”

Her introduction continues on in this vein, plucking phrases left and right from work published by women Zeisler neglects to even acknowledge, never mind quote. She says this popular feminism is “cool” and “hot,” but most of all “sellable” — an “accessible identity anyone can adopt” that was “decontextualized” and “depoliticized.”

Was I having deja vu? Unfortunately not… This language, this analysis, and these phrases were ones I’d written dozens of times before. I’ve argued that “feminism” is a real thing that means something, “not simply a word or a marketing campaign,” “not a malleable word, a logo, or a marketable product,” nor is it “about being cool and fun and attractive.” I’ve warned that attempts to popularize the movement by making it palatable, sexy, and easy to digest don’t work because that means watering it down to the point where it loses all meaning. Years ago, I argued that re-branding feminism was unlikely to address any of the actual reasons that feminism exists and issues it needs to resolve, “as these issues are not particularly glossy or sellable,” and that feminism will only become popular when it becomes “sexy and untroublesome.” Consistently, I’ve said that feminism wasn’t anything any individual said it was and, further, that “if feminism is everything then it is nothing.” I went through article after article, comparing them to paragraphs and lines in Zeisler’s book, wondering if I was crazy. But I wasn’t.

Of course the idea that feminism was about more than women’s personal choices — more than just a buzzword — was not something I came up with on my own. In this movement, women have developed and built on this analysis together, as we are working from the same ideology and towards the same goals. We discuss together, we read one another’s work, we attend or watch each other’s talks, we march together on the street. We are political allies and, as such, we articulate a cohesive analysis. But Zeisler and her circles have not joined us in this — rather, they have intentionally distanced themselves. They were (and remain) afraid of being associated with the unpopular, unsaleable, unmarketable feminists — the very ones who gave the movement a “bad name” (too boner-wilting!) as they refused to water down their message in order to be more palatable to liberal media.

In 1990, Catharine MacKinnon began an essay entitled, “Liberalism and the Death of Feminism” (part of an anthology edited by Janice Raymond and Dorchen Leidholdt called, The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism) with the words, “Once there was a women’s movement.” She argued that, at one time it had been acceptable to criticize prostitution, pornography, and rape with the understanding that we were criticizing the practices, not the victims. She wrote that this movement criticized “sacred concepts… like choice,” as it “knew when material conditions preclude 99 per cent of your options, it is not meaningful to call the remaining one per cent — what you are doing — your choice.”

Zeisler makes similar claims, selecting convenient bits and pieces — radical-sounding soundbites — but discarding the meat (and MacKinnon herself). She’s unwilling to follow her own argument full-circle, connecting it to either its beginnings or natural completion.

The purpose of these analyses — the ones originated by radical feminists — are to address the root of patriarchal oppression and to contextualize women’s subordination, connecting incest to rape to porn to prostitution to the institution of marriage. The defanging of feminism that Zeisler purports to address (discussed much more accurately and thoroughly by Gail Dines in 2012) is, in fact, precisely what she contributes to in this new book (and has contributed to throughout her career). Zeisler names neoliberalism and American individualism as a problem, but doesn’t mention identity politics or liberal feminism’s embrace of a free market approach to prostitution (one that Bitch and its editor — now creative director — supports). She doesn’t mention the literal commodification of women’s bodies in the sex trade, nor does she touch the fact the personal identities and experiences have superceded class analysis among her ilk (except to briefly defend the notion that those who identify as “sex workers” are best positioned to analyze the sex industry). Indeed, Zeisler chooses to distill the abolitionist movement — that is the feminist fight against the capitalist, racist, misogynist sex industry — down to, essentially, “famous actresses who don’t get it.”

Possibly the most ironic statement in the book, she writes, “The difference between celebrity-branded feminism and a feminist movement as a social and political force is one that is about individuals and the other about systems.” This sentence follows a defense of the identity of “sex worker,” a term invented in order to erase a systemic analysis of how colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy connect to naturalize and fetishize the subordination and exploitation of women and girls across the globe. She excuses her decision not to elaborate on these statements because of her “lack of expertise on the subject,” as though the choice to identify as a “sex worker” is the only thing that makes one qualified to speak out against the exploitative sex industry (which Zeisler labels as problematic only because of its “exploitative economics.”)

To intentionally erase and distort a movement of thousands of diverse women, many of whom have been prostituted themselves (but who reject the misleading and decontextualized term “sex work”), with zero financial stakes in the fight, in favour of empty (but catchy) pro-industry mantras, like “listen to sex workers” and “sex work is work,” completely contradicts Zeisler’s professed message. To frame the decades-old radical feminist movement, that has long held a complex, political opposition to the sex industry, as “celebrity feminism” is nothing more than a lie. (This misrepresentation of radical feminist politics reemerges when Zeisler vaguely tries to paint women who attended Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival as “not intersectionally aware,” on account of what she calls “gender rigidity” — an odd assertion considering the tradition of gender non-conformity central to the MichFest.)

To complain about capitalist companies using “empowerment” to sell their products while giving the porn industry and prostitution a pass seems a deeply… uh… market-driven choice. As does the decision to critique choice feminism without addressing the way in which women’s “empowered choices” seem to almost always be connected to their sexualized bodies and that the most insidious co-optation of the women’s movement has come from the sex industry itself.

“The body as commodity,” bell hooks writes, “is certainly not radical or revolutionary.” This should be obvious to anyone claiming opposition to “marketplace feminism.” These indiscretions reveal Zeisler to be not only deeply disconnected from the independent women’s movement, but also reveal an unwillingness to risk rejection from the liberals who promote her work and, as she puts it, “pay [her] bills.”

In her talk, “Neoliberalism and the Defanging of Feminism,” Dines discusses the fact that she was once invited, then uninvited, from a segment about pornography set to air on the Melissa Harris-Parry Show. Dines was replaced by a so-called “feminist pornographer,” and comments, with regard to the hypocrisy attached to that descriptor, “If you can call yourself anything you want, what does our movement mean?”

What Dines speaks of here — being bumped in favour of the “sexual liberals” addressed in Raymond and Leidholdt’s anthology — has happened to many of us in the independent women’s movement… Yet it’s never happened to Zeisler. Why? Well, precisely because Zeisler has long allied with the very liberals who worked to turn feminism into something that was about “women’s choices” — something inoffensive, that wouldn’t dare take away men’s porn, prostitution, or strip clubs. She positioned herself, firmly and strategically, alongside those who have attacked and worked to silence radical feminists, smearing women who didn’t toe the party line — those who made sure to work within the parameters set by liberal media and corporate America.

There is a reason that Zeisler and the others who wrote or write for Bitch (which, at one point, included Noah Berlatsky) have never been subjected to boycotts, blacklisting, or no-platforming as so many other feminists have: they participated in precisely what Zeisler purports to address now. They chose “media-friendly,” watered-down messages that welcomed men and capitalism into their “movement.” They distanced themselves from the women who pushed back against the individualistic “fun feminism” that erased context and history from women’s current subordinate status. Whether they did this due to a lack of analysis or an unwillingness to risk their careers and popularity doesn’t matter so much when we now see these women trying to crawl out of the hole they dug for themselves, without accounting for the empty space left behind.

Now, the same women who call us witches, in one way or another, who refused to align themselves with our work lest they too be brought to virtual trial by association, want to dip a toe in. But they still won’t go all the way. They can’t. Unable to complete an analysis that would bring into question the objectification and pornification they accept from men in their own lives and/or from the public at large, unwilling to risk losing the social, political, or financial privilege they maintain by rejecting radical women, what they aren’t able to grasp about movements is solidarity.

In We Were Feminists Once, Zeisler proves she knows an awful lot about American media, pop culture, and advertising, but very little about the feminist movement. Even the coverage of her book doesn’t seem to match the content, focusing on a radical message that really isn’t there. While Zeisler offers a valid deconstruction of Dove ads and the Spice Girls, the impetus towards a return to a true feminist movement, as the title of her book and borrowed quotes imply, is missing. It would appear only that she glommed on to an analysis she saw making headway and tacked to it both ends of a book that looks at how “empowerment” was used to sell Vajazzling and Spanx. To co-opt means to appropriate, rather than to work alongside. Zeisler has mastered only the former.

For all this talk of movements, Zeisler resists defining feminism as such, insisting that, “in a time of pluralistic feminism,” it’s impossible to define in a simplistic way. And while I agree that simple slogans are unhelpful (hence my ongoing critiques of the “A feminist is anyone who believes men and women are equal!” mantra liberals keep shoving down our throats), the entire point of saying feminism is a movement is to acknowledge that we — women — share a collective source of oppression and that this movement shares particular aims and goals. While certainly women experience other forms of oppression, not only sex-based, we are all oppressed as females under a patriarchal system.

As I read our decontextualized and unsourced arguments, ideas, and phrases on the pages of a book with Zeisler’s name on the cover, without so much as a nod towards the women who came up with them, it became clear she was just another liberal, unwilling to stick her neck out. She refuses to address that which MacKinnon bemoaned years before Bitch came into existence, failing to make basic connections that are foundational to an analysis of commodification in a patriarchal, capitalist society.

The result of all this is that Zeisler accomplishes precisely what she purports to push back against in her book: co-opting the feminist movement, taking words right out of feminists’ mouths for her own purposes — to defang, depoliticize, and decontextualize, in order to sell her product.

This is, indeed, a tactic used by the corporate and neoliberal mainstream — to co-opt radical ideas and, as Dines put it, “bleed them dry of any politics so they become absolutely meaningless.”

The problem with the third wave has always been that their analysis rejected, rather than embraced, ideologies and arguments developed by their radical, second wave sisters. The identity politics established through third wave ideology are precisely what allowed feminism to become a label anyone could wear — one that had nothing to do with a systemic analysis that demands, for example, a critique of the sex industry and of sex/class-, not identity-based, oppression. But even as third wavers grow up, the more things appear to change, the more they stay the same.

We were not feminists once, we are feminists. We have been all along. The sisterhood is powerful, which surely Zeisler would know if only she had joined us.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Miep O’Brien

    I was looking up an author on Twitter a few months back, someone whose work constitutes tweets. This was how I discovered I’d made it onto the Atheist+ Blockbot. I felt sad because she seemed talented. Then I looked at some screenshots of her tweets and one of the things she did was promote uncritical acceptance of transgenderism. She also called herself a radical feminist in her profile.

    Feminism is a theory, not an identity. You can’t just identify as a feminist any more than you can identify as a molecular biologist. This isn’t the Starbellied Sneetches.

    This book sounds quite corrupt.

    • Andrew Cole

      You can identify as anything you want, but that doesn’t mean people will agree with you.

  • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

    Great analysis! Is it hopeful that someone like Zeisler has realized that there IS a problem? She’s clearly tried to resolve her cognitive dissonance without having to accept that she’s played a significant role in the development of ‘marketplace’ feminism as she calls it. Perhaps she’s partway through a journey of awakening. However it’s very troubling how she’s co-opted the ideas of others without giving credit. But that seems to be a marker of third wave feminism in general – talking to some of them you realize they think there was no such thing as intersectionality until they came along. There seems to be a profound ignorance of those who’ve come before them.

  • radwonka

    libfem be like:
    >choice is kewl xDxDxD hoe culture is empowerment! bdsm ftw!!! choice!!!
    >im no whorephobic terf xDxDxD
    >lemme use some critical essays about choice to sell books cuz im so intelligent and smart, but lets not give credits to ugly terf swerf outdated 2nd wave activists
    >lets blame “market feminism” because our pro prostitution and pro objectification has NOTHING to do with market and capitalism and patriarchy xDxDxD
    >lets not name the buyers and those who objectify women: men. Sssssshhhhhh.
    >lets act as if criticizing choice was created by us libfem xDxDxD
    >now lets continue to sell feminism, women and degradation in the name of choice oh yeah

    • Meghan Murphy

      You should really turn this into a book proposal…

    • Cassandra

      This is awesome, radwonka!!


  • Reffael Fishzon

    Just a question: did you pay for your subscriptions to Bitch and Bust? And if you did, how much?

    • Meghan Murphy

      I can’t remember at all, it was quite a long time ago… If I had to guess, I’d bet around $30 each a year?

      • Reffael Fishzon

        Well, whatever it was exactly , that’s good money earned back, isn’t it?

  • esuth

    Meghan, what I really appreciate about your writing is that you’re open about the fact that you’ve made the journey (as have I and a lot of your readers, I would guess) from choosy-choicy, porn-positive liberal feminism to a wider and more radical analysis and are willing to examine where you got it wrong, and where you were outright lied to, along the way. If you asked Andi Zeisler if she’s experienced any change in her politics in the last 20 years I imagine she would not only say no, but think that that was a good thing. Thoughtful, critical analysts change their minds. Ideologues stay the course despite all the evidence.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I always find it strange when people assume (which they do ALL the time) that I have always held the exact same beliefs, that I simply haven’t explored other ideologies and arguments, and that I started out with one firmly held belief/idea and just searched for ways to back it up. There are plenty of issues I struggled with for YEARS, going back and forth, before coming to a conclusion with regard to my analysis. Maybe this stems from so many just spouting off online without having really thought things through — so they assume this is the case for everyone? Like I said, I’m lucky I wasn’t online during my early 20s… Who knows what I would have said.

      • Cassandra

        Yup, really getting a handle on it takes a while, and takes being honest with oneself.

      • lesbear

        As someone who just recently reached her mid-20s and spent all of her early twenties transitioning from funfem (while living as a man to boot because I was talked into drinking the Gender Kool-Aid during my first semester of college – what joy) to radfem, I can confirm that the “you just don’t agree with me because you don’t understand my ideology” attitude is RAMPANT among young funfems – or at least the ones I interacted with.

        Personally, I think a lot of that attitude stems from the fact that, as young women, we simply haven’t had a lot of time to live life and be exposed to different points of view, so it’s very tempting to latch on to the first ideology that sounds good and makes you feel good. And since funfems tend to go ballistic any time a radfem’s work is mentioned, these women don’t even have ‘permission’ to see what the other side has to offer or else they’re shunned. So, they’re stuck in that one ideology forever once they pledge their allegiance to funfemmery – unless they do something ~bad~ and get kicked out of the club for not toeing the line. (Which is what happened to me; my crime was being truscum, which is a trans person who accepts that transsexualism is a medical condition and not an identity.)

  • Studebacher Hoch

    Hopefully Zeisler reads this.

  • No Comment

    Did the mag have any connection to that annoying song “Bitch”, that got way too much radio airplay in the mid 90’s?

    • LynetteB

      Pretty sure “no connection”, but in the mid-90s “bitch” was viewed by a lot of feminists as a reclamation, so I’d say it was ‘connected’ in that way alone. (And I agree it was an annoying song.)

  • Novo

    I feel like she is trying to critique capitalism, but she doesn’t go far enough or into specific detail. How can you oppose neoliberalism but keep defending porn and prostitution- industries that prey on poor and marginalized women with few options? I can’t count how many times I’ve seen pro-prostitution ‘feminists’ argue that since the USA is a neoliberal hellhole without social safety nets anyway, you might as well legalize ‘sex work’ because people are desperate and don’t have options. Am I missing something or is the entire pro-sex work argument based on embracing the free market? But Zeisler is unwilling to go that far and she just ends up as the political version of hipsters complaining that their favorite band went mainstream.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right. It’s an (attempted) critique of capitalism (or at least the way feminism has been coopted for capitalistic purposes…), but when it comes to the way in which women’s bodies are used for profit in prostitution and porn, we get nothing? I can almost guarantee, based on the very careful way she tip toed around the subject, that she would have been in deep trouble with her friends and those who hire her had she formulated a critique of the sex industry within all this. I also think, frankly, that her husband’s line of work, which I did not want to include in the critique because I don’t want to use a her husband’s work as a means to attack her, as a woman, plays into all this. (Her husband, it seems, is a photographer, and many of his photographs look like lingerie shoots/pin-up-style photoshoots….

  • Cassandra

    This is such an AWESOME piece, Megan. It’s almost the only thing anybody would need to read to get a handle on what’s going on in feminism today. When I started looking at feminism again (years after I was exposed to it right before it became third wave), it took me about three years to understand the landscape and the arguments. What became clear to me is that you CAN’T make money off of true feminism. Female liberation and Capitalism are at odds. There is no way to reconcile it. Everything else is just so much bullshit.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thank you!

    • Andrew Cole

      And the fact that there is so much bad information about feminism online makes it all the more important to have good sources like this. I have a few books I haven’t been as good about reading as I should, but just typing ‘feminism’ into the search on google or youtube or any place like that is like opening up a hellhole of woman bashing and misinformation, as though the whole internet were a boys lockeroom.

      • Cassandra

        Yup. I was fortunate enough to have taken a few Women’s Studies courses (when they were still called that) before all this absurdity really got its pomo tentacles into academia, so I had a basic center of gravity, plus my own intuition. But good god is liberal feminism the majority of what you’ll find, and if you don’t listen to the voice of common sense inside you and take the time to read conflicting ideas, it would be easy to be pulled into it.

  • martindufresne

    I get the feeling that Zeisler is pitching a faux nostalgia and superficial conflating critique for a movement she really wants to bury.

  • Kendall Turtle

    Just thought of a positive word for women being sexual, >_> Human

    Let’s make a magazine called “human” for women’s rights! Sounds MUCH better than “bitch” and much more accurate since we are human and not female dogs!

    Before I decided on human I thought of the word “canoodler” so perhaps we can set up a canoodler walk 😉

  • Rusty

    I was wondering if Andi might read this and have a response, but then I remembered the Twitter exchange you two had in which she said something to the effect of “I don’t read TERFs.” What a convenient tool that term (and SWERF) is for people who maybe don’t have the kind of rigorous analysis required to coherently defend their arguments against a radical feminist viewpoint. Once you’re been given that label, liberal feminists get to be very righteous about refusing to debate, engage with, or credit you, even when they’re obviously reading and using your work. They get to be dismissive and snarky and then tell their followers to laugh at the “TERF tears” all to much applause. Like I said, how convenient.

    • Andrew Cole

      “What a convenient tool that term (and SWERF) is for people who maybe
      don’t have the kind of rigorous analysis required to coherently defend
      their arguments against a radical feminist viewpoint. ”

      Sadly it’s too easy today just plug your ears and go blah blah blah, and only associate with people you agree with. The internet has not helped with that. They are never forced to be introspective or to justify their opinions, so they just avoid any possibility of conflict instead. It’s much easier to sit around and thicken the walls on your bubble.

  • She doesn’t have squat invested in feminism. It would have to be feminism first.

  • I found this book at the library and read the summary on the front inside flap and thought, “Well… I dunno,” but decided to give it a shot. Got it home, opened it up and about the time I ran across my second reference to transwomen referred to as if they were perfectly normal women, I gave up and took it back to the library.

  • esuth

    I know! I can’t count the number of times liberal feminists have assumed that I don’t know anything about prostitution/burlesque/whatever, and just need to be “educated.” I AM educated, I just don’t agree with them!

  • Lucia Lola

    We see these hypocrites, Meghan. Keep up the good fight.

  • Jessica

    As a 46 year old woman, birthed and raised by feminists, I’m so happy to read this.
    When I was an undergraduate English Literature student, I was in a tutorial where several men, including the tutor, were telling me how wonderfully DH Lawrence captured women’s voices and how well he could portray their inner lives. I disagreed. I was then instructed as to why I was wrong and they were right. Back then we didn’t call it “mansplaining”, we just called it “wankery”. I didn’t tell them they were trying to silence me or that they were denying my lived experience because I didn’t have that language available to me in 1987. I did however tell them that I knew better about the inner life of women than they did. I was correct then and still am.
    Anyhow, the point of that story is that this is how I feel when engaging with Third Wave feminists. I cannot believe how little they are interested in research, but how very interested they are in their own opinions. I cannot believe the ageism they display, in particular towards Germaine Greer. I am appalled at the disregard for the work, the incredible blood, sweat, tears and mortality given up by the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s. I am sick of being told that “my feminism” includes considering transwomen in exactly the same way as women. I am sick of the arrogant lack of self-awareness they have and the vitriol they use to “defend” their misogyny. I am tired of being accused of being “sex-negative” because I believe that bodily agency has more to do with reproductive rights and freedom from violence than it does with taking my clothes off in public.
    Basically, they are to me, the same as those 18 year old boys, I argued with. The only difference is that many of those boys have grown into thoughtful, feminist-sympathetic men.
    I know I am very lucky to have been raised in a second wave feminist environment, by women and men who consciously ignored “traditional” gender roles and actively tried (struggled at times, failed at times) to overcome their own “traditional” upbringings to do so. I am lucky that I had stickers on my school books that said “Girls can do anything” and “Rape: the end of every wolf-whistle” and “If you don’t fight you lose”. But, I also worked at it, and continue to work at it. Struggling and failing at times; I studied and listened and learned, I questioned and reflected and came to my own conclusions.
    And I always referenced others in my papers! And in my conversations.
    So thank you Meghan. Thank you commentors.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right on, sister.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Been there for real.

  • Meghan Murphy

    The same sentiment WAS behind Slutwalk, but it failed…

    Reclaiming ‘slut’ seems something only available to privileged women, too, as opposed to women in prostitution and pornography who are called ‘slut’ (and worse) by men as part of their job description.

    • LynetteB

      I agree 100%. All the more ironic that the privileged pro-pros camp adopted/co-opted it so easily… And really, why wouldn’t they? Let others (survivors) build up all the outrage & other shit around it, and take all the early hits, then swoop in and claim/revision it as their own the minute it becomes popularized – they seem pretty good at that sort of thing!

      • Meghan Murphy


        • LynetteB

          Just finished reading your piece from 2011, and really wish I’d seen it back then, as well as the TO & DC fb posts, because (I like to think) we might’ve nipped some of the bullshit here in the bud. I don’t disagree with anything you say, and there were definitely some disagreements around marching under the term “slut” here too, but I’d call them pretty minor (even amicable), because we pretty much agreed on ‘our’ reclamation – i.e., it was not remotely in the same vein as TO or DC declaring: “The term ‘Slut’ is being re appropriated: A person who enjoys consensual sex.” – ours was in the sarcastic/snarky way I mentioned with “bitch” above: “Oh, so you think only people who ‘dress like sluts’ get assaulted, do you? Then I guess I in my bulky sweater, old jeans & army boots must be a slut too!” – and most women did march in ‘normal’ clothes, some in pajamas – we wore whatever we were wearing when we were assaulted (or catcalled, or sexually-harassed, etc.). That said, I didn’t personally have a problem with those who chose to sexy-wear, because a) that’s what they were wearing when they got assaulted, and/or b) imo it was still sending a message that *nothing* we wear *ever* justifies assault – we could be prancing down the street buck naked, and that *still* doesn’t give anyone the right to assume we’re “asking for it” (being flat as a board at 11, and “well-endowed” by 12, that was one I got a lot over the past 35 years, and it still enrages me).

          Stirring up these memories, and your post, did remind me how we got involved to the point of sponsoring our insurance for the first time though: my friend & co-admin of our local feminist fb group was friends with the ‘originators’ here, and I caught wind of it because they were planning on having a BIKINI CAR WASH (!!) to raise funds for insurance… we were like, “WTF HUH?!?! No!” (And so I’m still glad we stepped up.) But in retrospect I feel kind of stupid, because whereas other key people & I were firmly in our snarky-reclaim headspace, it appears the others were probably following TO’s sexy-choicey lead all along (and I really had no idea they were dealing with all that crap right from the get-go – I really thought it came later there too).

          Anyway, thanks again for posting the article – good rant & I agree!

    • LynetteB

      p.s. – I hadn’t seen that article of yours before now (just did a quick skim, will read in full later, but (y) in the meantime – thanks!). As usual, we’re a few years behind here – for the first few years my org was happy to sponsor the local walk with our insurance coverage (required by the city), and it wasn’t until 2013 that I really started seeing the negative shift here (absolutely white privileged uni women who would never be in a position that might force them to prostitute themselves, yet here they were painting “sex work is work!” placards in my back yard), so by 2014… nope.

  • pandora50

    Thank you, and as always your words speak truth.