Bailey Reid, Erica Ifill and Erin Gee are creators of the Bad + Bitchy podcast.
It seems you've been called a Bad Feminist. Perhaps you are. But for the sake of moving the conversation forward, let's not categorize people by good or bad. Particularly as feminism becomes an in-demand ethos from our politicians, entertainers and colleagues, and as the title is continuously co-opted for social and marketing gains, policing feminism is too big for anyone to take on.
Instead, let's call you a Problematic Feminist.
What does a Problematic Feminist look like, in the eyes of a Non-Problematic Feminist?
Perhaps, you have said something along the lines of, "Nor do I believe that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we're back to the 19th century, and women should not own property, have credit cards, have access to higher education, control their own reproduction or vote. There are powerful groups in North America pushing this agenda, but they are not usually considered feminists."
Certainly, women have agency, and they are capable of making moral decisions. But as a group that has to fight to be paid the same as men for the same work; that has had to continually prove ourselves in both higher education and workplaces, and push to be judged by our abilities and not by our appearances; that has had to advocate every single day for the right to make decisions about our own bodies, often we are not given the space to exercise our own agency. For women of colour and non-binary women, that space is much narrower than for upper-class white women, because for many women, having agency in their daily lives is a pipe dream.
What does a Problematic White Feminist look like?
A Problematic White Feminist might say that same sentence, and forget that many groups of women, despite having agency and moral decision-making abilities, are not able to exercise that, simply because they exist in a world that still uplifts white supremacy. Black women's bodies are viewed as dangerous and disposable by our police agencies. Indigenous women's bodies are missing, or murdered, at rates triple to the rates of violence against non-Indigenous women. Asian women's bodies are fetishized to the point of dehumanization. Hispanic women's bodies have to work for 306 days more than a white man to earn the same salary in the same position. When you are viewed as dangerous, disposable, underpaid or problematic when you speak up, are you really able to exercise agency? Probably not. Certainly not in the same way white feminists have the privilege to lean in whenever they feel like it.
How do you find yourself in hot water as a Problematic Feminist?
Maybe you are problematic because your feminism is outdated. In a world where intersectional feminism recognizes more than two genders; and where disabled, racialized, and trans folks face inequality and discrimination even within the feminist community; the fact that you, say, wrote dystopian feminist stories during the second wave of feminism may not still qualify you for your annual feminist membership.
You can also find yourself in hot water from statements along the lines of, "A fair-minded person would now withhold judgment as to guilt until the report and the evidence are available for us to see. We are grownups: We can make up our own minds, one way or the other."
This is the language of right-wing women who have co-opted feminist labels and fathers of accused rapists alike. As it turns out, the justice system is neither particularly fair-minded, nor does it honour the evidence of experiences from sexual assault survivors. It is difficult to make up our own minds, one way or another, when we live in a society that silences, shames, doubts and re-traumatizes survivors of sexual assault. How much of our assessment is truly objective when laced with our own patriarchal tendencies, men and women alike? So, should you sign a letter decrying a prominent Canadian university for investigating sexual violence within its institution, when survivors are strong and brave enough to name the person that assaults them, you may find yourself in hot water with non-problematic feminists, even if you did sign it "as a matter of principle."
The #metoo movement is not merely a symptom of a broken legal system. It is a result of a world where powerful men have taken advantage of women and other less powerful genders, and exploited our bodies for their own gain. And, we are now in the age of the internet, an incredible tool we can use, instead of scratching messages to one another on the floor of closets. In the internet, we are united. We are powerful. Our strength is in our numbers. With a hashtag, we can bring burnt-out stars from the sky, to create space for more of us to rise, where we can truly usher in a better world.
It was once said that "a war among women, as opposed to a war on women, is always pleasing to those who do not wish women well."
Agreed. However, the voices who are heard and published in a national newspaper matter. They have agency and a platform of power that other women do not. So let's not dismiss the important conversations we need to have as multi-wave feminists as "unproductive squabbling," but rather give a myriad of women and non-binary voices space they wouldn't otherwise be afforded, and agency they wouldn't have otherwise built. We need to come together, absolutely, but we need to do it in an inclusive, intersectional way. United in a framework that puts survivors' voices first, elevates folks traditionally marginalized from these conversations and recognizes the expertise of lived experiences. It is only in this way can we ensure this important moment is not squandered.