Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is There a Feminist Litmus Test?

So lately there's been a lot of discussion about what exactly makes a feminist. I've seen it come up in three different arenas lately.

1) Is Sarah Palin really a feminist?
2) Can you be pro-life and feminist?
3) Is Sex and the City feminist?

For the record, I find it really, really problematic to try to put an identity on the case of Sarah Palin is a little different from the others. You can analyze if a movie or a piece of policy is feminist, but it's dangerous territory to attempt to say a person is not a feminist for her. Like Amanda Hess said in the second link, "Sarah Palin identifies as feminist now, and we all have to sort of smile and nod because we’re not allowed to eject anyone from the club — there are enough people who want nothing to do with us, so we take whoever we can get. ‘Feminist’ can mean a lot of things now."

However, Jessica Valenti does make a really compelling case about the anti-feminist aspects of Palin, in the first link.

So can there, or SHOULD there be a litmus test for feminism? Honestly, it's probably not a good idea to try to say who is and isn't in the club, like Amanda suggests HOWEVER, that doesn't mean there's no reason for us to really analyze things like policies and pieces of media. There are some absolutes we can claim about are a couple I've been pondering.

1) Feminism stands in opposition to sexism. If something is sexist, then it cannot be feminist. If it relies on gender based stereotypes, it cannot be feminist.
2) Feminism doesn't tread on the rights, choices, or autonomy of people (women.)

Let me reference the other two examples above. I'll start with being pro-life. When I was a wee young feminist, I used to think that you could be anti-choice and be a feminist. I thought there was two sides to every feminist discussion and I too could see how women deserve better choices than just to have an abortion or not (such as a social support system that aids women who encounter unplanned pregnancies but DO want to keep the baby.)

However, I have come to see that there is a big difference between being personally pro-life and politically anti-choice. I see it as your right to say, "I feel that an abortion is the wrong choice for me" when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. But to say, "I feel that an abortion should never be an option for any woman" is to strip women of a distinct right, thereby being anti-woman, and inherently anti-feminist.

But does my belief that being anti-choice is anti-feminist make being pro-choice a test for feminists? No. I won't tell a person that feminism is off limits to them because they are anti-choice. So, I don't see it as a litmus test, but I do think it's ok to acknowledge that it's anti-feminist to try to tell someone else what to do what with reproductive organs.

I've come to understand that feminism is too complex to attempt to construct a black and white test. Rather, we've got to examine the feminist and anti-feminist sides of everything. Same goes for Sex and the City and so many other such female centric shows. Unfortunately, media is not to the point where there are completely and wholly feminist shows or characters. So while Sex and the City has its really refreshing pro-female side (four women talking honestly about sex, discussing body image, standing by each other and putting themselves above men) it also has its distinctly anti-feminist sides (classism, racism, and a narrow/stereotypical depiction of beauty.)

As feminists, it's important to dissect and analyze our society...and frankly it's fun. But once we can get to the point where we don't get stuck on trying to label people feminist or not, we can dig into the really interesting discussions about what makes an ideology, movie, song, or whatever empowering or not to women without alienating anyone right off the bat.

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