by Furry Girl

08.02.11

I was catching up on online reading last weekend, and one of the links I'd saved from a couple of months ago was this piece on a feminist blog, pearl-clutching over Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) saying that she is no longer a feminist in the press materials announcing her new book, Sexonomics.  Like me, Brooke is not a feminist, though that's hardly news for readers of either of us.

The feminist blog lobbed two pieces of standard-issue criticism over Magnanti's nonfeminism, which reminded me of things people say to me.  (Though, no doubt less often, since she is way more famous than I am.)  Here are two of my own rebuttals to the things feminists say to whine about me not being a feminist.

It’s disappointing that despite the open opinions within feminism, Magnanti feels ostracized from the community and would rather renounce the name than contribute to debate as a proud member.

I am constantly pestered by well-meaning, bright-eyed feminists as to why I don't just stick around and work to change feminism from within.  They are quick to acknowledge that yes, I have valid criticism of feminism, but surely, it would only be declaring defeat for me to give up now, as though I "threw it all away" in an angry drunken moment where I wasn't thinking clearly.  I could be such a productive an valuable member of the community!  They point out all the things I have in common with most feminist thought: I believe in things like a woman's right to vote, to abortion access, to own property, and to not be raped to subjected to violence and oppression.  And not all feminists believe in [insert thing I hate]!  With all that I have in common with feminism, it's silly to throw the baby out with the bathwater, right?

When faced with these sorts of questions, I wonder why I don't get them about my atheism.

Imagine that:

I should really stop saying that I'm an atheist, and focus on trying to change Christianity from within the churches.  After all, if the atheists let the Christian extremists take over Christian culture, then they have no one to blame but themselves.  After all, I have lots of things in common with Christianity and agree with many parts of the Bible: I don't support murder, lying, or stealing.  Hell, I don't even eat shellfish!  Since I have so much in common with Christianity, there's no reason to not call myself a Christian.  Not all Christians blow up abortion clinics, beat up their children for being queer, or believe the world is only 6000 years old.  I am being awfully hasty in deciding that I'm not a Christian just because I don't believe in a god, virgin birth, heaven, hell, the resurrection, baptism, sin, angels, or miracles.  I should let those little bitty disagreements keep me from being a part of the diverse Christian community.

Right?

Moving on, the feminist blogger says Magnanti should not leave feminism because

...sex-work research could use more scientific rigor. While there are many theories about oppression or empowerment of sex-workers, none of that matters if we don't have hard data to back up the theory.

This is another thing I hate - arguments rooted in the notion that if one is not a feminist, then anything that they do doesn't count.  It's as though I've said, "I'm going to go seal myself in a cave in the mountains, never to be heard from again."  No, I didn't disappear, I just moving on.  Magnanti isn't refusing to contribute to scientific research or speak about sex work issues, she's just not doing so as a feminist.  If you want your work and ideas to be considered by feminists (who speak of themselves of as though they are the only audience in the world who matters), it needs to be under the banner of feminism.  Everything that nonfeminists contribute to society, political dialog, science, activism, or theory is completely irrelevant.

I've already accepted that the boundary-breaking porn that I produce will never be recognized by feminists because it's not pitched using the jumped-the-shark buzz of "feminist porn."  I was one of the first people producing porn with genderqueer and trans models apart from the tacky mainstream "shemale" niche.  Before the age of circlejerks like the Feminist Porn Awards, I was acting against the advice of a lawyer and opening one of the web's only sites that has menstruation porn because I believe strongly it, despite the very legal risks of an obscenity prosecution.  (Operating an adult site with menstrual blood is a thousand times more transgressive than photos of punk girls kissing.)  Even my most heteronormative bread-and-butter site is the longest-running solo porn site that features an unshaved woman, a rarity in the porn world.

When the feminist team implores people to stay, what they really mean is, "We will dismiss everything you do if you don't adopt our political label and use it to market all of your products."  I can't tell you how many times I've stumbled across people discussing something I wrote and seeing a criticisms to the effect of, "She's not even a feminist.  That says it all."  (As I've said before, "being a feminist" is the American flag lapel pin of the left - not wearing it must mean you're a terrorist who hates freedom.)

It's not people like Magnanti and I who are blind to engaging with the ideas of a larger community, or who totally give up on people based on what political labels they use to identify themselves.  It's the feminists who are so obsessed with their cultish dogma that they refuse to consider the opinions of anyone who doesn't abide by their sole overarching rule: identify firmly as a feminist at all times, and aggressively uphold our petty partisan bullshit, or you must be anti-woman, and therefor, an enemy.  To the feminists who think people like Magnanti or myself need to learn how to get along with others and pull towards our occasional shared goals, I turn that suggestion right back at them.





18 Comments

  1. This brings up interesting thoughts for me, a feminist. What you believe (pro choice, equality, etc) are certaintly in line with what feminism is (to me, anyway, although I know it may be different for everyone). Yet you don't consider yourself a feminist, even though I probably would. If someone asked me, "Is Furry Girl a feminist?" I'd say, yeah. Unless you feel that term is offensive when applied to you, I'd say no, simply to not offend you. I very much dislike offending people. This is kind of rambling but I'm trying to work out my thoughts on this. I suppose it doesn't matter what label you attach to yourself as long as you are supporting gender equality and rights. I don't know why you have decided not to call yourself a feminist, I guess I have more reading to do on your blog! Anyway, I'm still a fan.

    Comment by Jade — August 2, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  2. This post was all the more interesting for the fact that I had just read another blogger talking about how, for going to large feminist sites and expressing views that disagree with the feminist orthodoxy, she's either been asked why she comes around, or outright banned.

    Comment by AllSaintsDay — August 2, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  3. There's also my perennial favorite, "You're still a feminist. You just don't understand."

    Comment by Maggie Mayhem — August 2, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

  4. I love your example of parallels with atheism. Can I, uh, quote it in the book? (Three weeks until final manuscript delivery, eek.)

    Of course we both come from places where calling yourself an atheist is not as easy as it is in big cities and largely secular western Europe. Your comment once on young men in your hometown making the crucial decision "to White Power or not to White Power?" rang horribly, hilariously true. Twenty years ago (and in places where the general mindset is twenty years ago) we both would have had to defend atheism to the hilt. I know I did at Catholic school. It's a surprise to realise, through the example you give, how much that has changed in some places. It gives me hope that being a sex worker or not being a feminist will also become things people can do without feeling pressured to defend them all the time.

    My main gripe with that article was that they took something I wrote a couple of years ago, on my old blog, and presented it as if it was a) given to them in interview or press release form and b) was directly related to the next book. It was actually a lengthy rant that came off the back of some articles Tanya Gold, Zoe Williams and Lucy Mangan wrote about me over the course of a couple weeks in 2009 that amounted to "I've not read her books nor seen the show, but I hear her dad has a drug problem, therefore I know her mind better than she does" infantilising bullshit. I feel obliged to point out those columnists are totally mainstream and in no way the "fringes" of feminism. Being rejected by the most cuddly, media-friendly feminists in this country made me realise it was a label I wanted nothing more of. I'm the opposite of Groucho Marx, basically*. They don't want me? Fine, I'm outta here!

    For the Observer to take that post 2 years later, re-edit to make a "news" story, and not even let me know an article was coming is sloppy and arrogant in the extreme. And that, kids, is but one of the many excellent reasons my old blog posts are no longer available online and tweets are regularly deleted. Lazy journalists for the lose!

    * - there is a WHOLE OTHER rant to be had on the tendency of people to want to impress and win over people who reject them, and to recast begging for acceptance as having a dialogue. The fundamental truth is that hovering on the fringes - of a society, of a relationship, of a movement - and hoping someone validates you is never going to result in change. Calling myself a feminist was like being in a relationship with a narcissist and having to check everything you think, say and do is okay with them.

    Comment by Belle de Jour — August 3, 2011 @ 1:06 am

  5. I've fallen out with feminism more and more since I became a sex worker, but I have to say that comparing it to religious conviction/community membership doesn't ring true to me. Feminist thought can involve doublethink and no small amount of self-importance and manufactured scandal, but I don't see it as involving faith and belief. (You and others may do: I can recognise that there's a kind of Nicene Creed mentality where feminists are required to say that Everything's The Fault of the Patriarchy).

    I have a close friend who is a Christian. (Incidentally, I am out to her as being a sex worker and she has been incredibly encouraging and supportive - miles beyond tolerance, and well into approval. But that's a digression). She 'knows' that God exists, like she knows that buttercups are yellow. I 'know' that God doesn't exist, with the same certainty. No amount of discussion or argument will ever convince either of us otherwise. Whereas, if you look at feminism as a kind of bastard child of philosophy and social science, it is something that can be argued over, with a set of tenets and variations that can be presented and disputed rationally. (Well, that's ideal: we've all been part of debates and conversations where one side departs from rationality into hyperbole.) What I'm saying is, it isn't a gut-deep, rationally-indefensible conviction like religious faith.

    I think you do fantastic work, FG, and most of the time I'm right with you opinion-wise. I just think this analogy doesn't really work.

    Comment by Mistress Annabel — August 3, 2011 @ 11:02 am

  6. Indeed. No other label has been nearly as twisted, contorted, stretched to mean whatever the fuck its proponents want it to mean, as 'feminism'. Reminds me of this: http://kiriamaya.tumblr.com/post/1231852063/re-if-you-dont-identify-as-feminist-youre-bad

    Comment by N — August 3, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  7. @Jade - Your comment is a perfect illustration of what FG is talking about with the parallels to being questioned about atheism. If you were to call me a Christian because several of my beliefs and practices as a secular humanist happened to align with certain religious beliefs and practices, I would definitely be annoyed. Not necessarily offended, but more annoyed because you got me - and the motivations for my beliefs - so completely wrong.

    Comment by Kaje — August 3, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

  8. @ BdJ So sorry to hear that's the reason the old blog is no longer available :( I had wondered about that for some time. That blog got me through a rough patch in my life and I was sad to see it go. That said, I really like your new blog and am looking forward to your upcoming published work.

    Comment by Kaje — August 3, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  9. Some women deal with their deviance from mainstream feminism by continuing to call themselves feminists while still expressing their heretical opinions, happy in the knowledge that they are driving their critics batshit. Doesn't work for everyone, but it's an option.

    "...sex-work research could use more scientific rigor. While there are many theories about oppression or empowerment of sex-workers, none of that matters if we don't have hard data to back up the theory."

    The problem with this argument is that it assumes that feminism owns sex work research. While many researchers consider themselves feminists, sex work research is not intrinsically feminist and it doesn't depend on feminism for its scientific rigor. Becoming a feminist won't necessarily lead to an increase in rigor in sex work research, and the rigor of sex work research, as with any form of science, can be improved without calling oneself a feminist.

    Comment by Galskap — August 3, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

  10. No one ever bothers to wonder why skinheads didnt hang around and try to take their movement back from the neo nazis who took it over.

    Sometimes there is nothing to be done but walk away and distance your self from the crazies

    Comment by lujlp — August 5, 2011 @ 5:17 am

  11. Just came across this little quote that might be appreciated also. The "if you're for equality you're a feminist" can be applied to TG/TS people also.

    "So if you have a vagina, you’re female, whether or not you say that you are?

    I don’t see how a movement that seeks to move away from labeling other people with terms with which they do not self-identify can ethically do just that with its own label."

    http://thegloss.com/culture/beyonce-wants-to-find-a-new-word-for-feminism/#comments

    Comment by N — August 5, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

  12. When somebody identifies as a feminist my first impulse is always to answer that there is no such thing.

    How can you ever change a group from within when that group can't even agree on a single facet of what they stand for? Feminists range from those who believe in sexual equality and personal freedom, to those who believe an elite few women should dictate to all women for their own good, to those who believe men must be subjugated. The term gets bandied about just like Emo, without any concern as to what it should really be applied to.

    I don't know if you saw when Sharon Osbourne claimed it was anti-feminist for people to criticise her for publicly applauding the violent castration of men, but if a woman identifies as a feminist then that tells me nothing about her views.

    Comment by Michael — August 7, 2011 @ 6:09 am

  13. @Belle: I don't know about you, but I don't reject feminists.

    It's part of a basic lesson when parenting children: don't reject the child, reject the unwanted behaviour.

    I'm not against people that call themselves feminists. I'm against behaviour that is governed by thoughts like:
    - you're either with us, or against us,
    - men exist to be hated,
    - positive discrimination is the only way forward,
    - in a heterosexual relationship, the woman can never be submissive.

    Comment by NR — August 7, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  14. Why not work to make feminism better?

    Why not work to make the Christian fundamentalist purity movement in America better?

    Why not work to make police undercover vice operations better?

    After all, associating yourself with any of these groups increases the risk of being discriminated against for your chosen profession. They certainly won't offer you a safe haven to just be yourself, that's for sure.

    You'd have to be pretty darn masochistic to want to associate with and defend a group of people who either a) flat out don't like you and will give you a hard time; or b) will state that people from group a) are just misinformed or shouldn't really be members of the group at all, but will end up implicitly supporting group a)'s marginalizing of you through inaction/incompetence.
    Especially if you don't actually need to belong to said group in order to bring about the kind of social change you want

    Comment by anon — September 3, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  15. Thanks for all the comments! I agree with a lot of them. I've been behind on reading and responding lately.

    Feminists get offended when I compare feminism to a religion, but I can't think of any other way to describe it. When you set up a belief that is impervious to both logic and change, and anyone who dares question it is ran out of town as a monster, you have the makings of a religion-like belief. Arguing with a feminist is exactly like debating a religious person, too. You will never, ever win, because facts don't matter- feelings and "gut reactions" do. Just as pointing out the many contradictions of the Bible doesn't phase the true believer Christian, pointing out the many hypocrisies and anti-woman politics of feminism doesn't phase the true believer feminist. There's genuinely no point in debating either, because the believer has committed themselves to their nonsense and will never consider views that contradict what they already think.

    Jade: Yes, I do consider it offensive for strangers to label me a feminist against my will.

    Comment by Furry Girl — September 10, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  16. I consider myself a feminist but like anything else it is a label and labels can never encompass all the aspects and views of a person. There is nothing wrong with rejecting labels, our spirits are vast.
    Thanks for your bold post, I love to be exposed to different views, helps one grow and be more openminded.

    Comment by Marie Belle — November 10, 2011 @ 8:40 am

  17. You're welcome, Marie!

    Comment by Furry Girl — November 11, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  18. I've been reading quite a bit of your blog and Brooke Magnanti's, and it's really interesting stuff.

    I see how it's really annoying to be told 'if you believe ____ , then you're a feminist' when there is so much thought under the umbrella of feminism that you totally disagree with. So I sympathise with the decision to say actually you don't want any part of this feminism nonsense. And I admire your boldness for doing so.

    However, it comes down to what you think the dividing line of feminist or not really is. Because for me I think feminism is saying we should have gender equality in terms of employment and social opportunities, but that people should be free to make whatever choices they want with their lives, whether it's being a full-time parent or a sex worker. Or neither. Or both.

    There are so many feminists who are basically batshit insane, but this isn't enough for me to abandon the label of feminism for me personally. It's a broad term encompassing lots of opposing views on lots of topics, and saying I'm feminist doesn't make me feel like I have to agree with what other people who call themselves feminists are saying.

    Comment by Tom Oakley — June 23, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

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