Terrible Feminism: My three feminist flaws
From feeling validated by catcallers to burning Germaine Greer at the stake (figuratively), Rianna Walcott admits to three uncomfortable flaws she's noticed in her feminism.
I’ve taken extra care with my face today. I’ve been feeling low lately, so today there is facial contouring, there is mascara, there is purple lipstick. These things all lighten my mood, and I do my best not to closely examine why. Mostly, I look nice today for myself. About 75% of this flawless face is for me, no doubt about that. But there is that last 25% to contend with, maybe just the lipstick, that I have certainly put on for you. That feels like a failing. A flaw in my feminism, like a splinter in my finger. But we’ve all got those splinters, and really, it’s probably best to tease them out and release the unnecessary self-loathing that lurks beneath, one wince at a time. Deep breath…
1. Craving validation
It seems taboo to say (or even acknowledge), but I sometimes find validation in catcalling. An appreciative look from an irrelevant stranger can brighten my afternoon, in spite of all the scoffing I do about how misogynistic and gross it is. The validation I get conflicts with everything I consciously think. About how my beauty and self-worth shouldn’t be defined by other people; how men don’t have an intrinsic right to my time and attention; how I have the right as a human being to go about my day unmolested. I’m perfectly indignant whenever I hear of anyone having to deal with unwelcome attention. But it’s not always so easy to apply that to your own life.
In practice, this means going through a tiresome cycle of looking nice, having it commented on, then enduring paroxysms of guilt as I wrestle with an opposition of irrational flattery and righteous rage.
As a staunch feminist, I’ve been holding myself to some idealistic standards that are difficult to meet. Those standards, for me, can be distilled to a single tenet: 'Don’t hold women to the same sexist standards society holds them to. Do what you want so long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s personal liberty.' This should be very, very easy to do; I’m very good at not judging other women, that isn’t where the problem lies. It’s refraining from judging myself that’s a lot trickier.
Take slut-shaming, which is abhorrent to me in a very obvious way. When a friend of mine tells me that they had good sex, we high five, maybe eat some cake to celebrate. So why do I still feel a compulsion to lie about my own sex life? I find myself gingerly opening the front door, sheepishly shuffling into the kitchen with an abashed little smile when my actual mental attitude demands that I sashay in to rapturous applause. Thank goodness those around me do applaud: my circle of friends is very much clued in. It seems like the only slutshaming round here is me-on-me; I can’t seem to shake the sense of wrongdoing that’s been instilled over a lifetime.
3. Burning my mascots
As with any movement, the feminist movement has spokespeople. Aside from myself, these are the people I demand perfection from. To quote Roxanne Gay’s book Bad Feminism, and TED Talk of the same name: “As a feminist, I feel a lot of pressure. We have this tendency to put visible feminists on a pedestal. We expect them to pose perfectly. When they disappoint us, we gleefully knock them from the very pedestal we put them on.”
I’m guilty of this, and I don’t feel guilty about it. I don’t need Germaine Greer’s brand of trans-exclusionary feminism. When Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran showed their contempt for the issues of women of colour, I was happy to kick them to the curb. My anger towards these former icons is more than a simple ideological difference: it’s about betrayal. I trusted these women to speak for me, to fight for me, and by their own admission they don’t want to. To me, they are terrible feminists, because their feminism isn’t for all women, it’s for a privileged few.
So what makes a good feminist? How do I find the balance between loving myself as a sexual being, but not limiting myself to being a sexual object? How can I lead a happy little liberal life, behaving the way I want to without fear of retribution – from myself, of all people?
I am a product of a patriarchal society and it takes time to unlearn a lifetime's teachings. My mind is there – I’m ‘woke’, but I’m still waiting for the rest of me to catch up. The important thing is that I’m reading and learning and doing my very best. And so, probably, are you. After all, as Gay herself said: “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”