Feminist Catalogue: About Stereotyping and “Bad” and “Good” Feminism
Feminist Catalogue: About Stereotyping and “Bad” and “Good” Feminism
Written for: Sharika Wa Laken
The word feminist (Nassawiyya) seems somewhat vague when read in Arabic, especially since it has been linked to several stereotypes. Therefore, feminists put most of their efforts into producing feminist knowledge.
Feminists attempt to define feminism and its axiom, to counter the patriarchal stereotyping of definitions that circulate or stem from male consciousness. However, this effort takes a toll on the mental and physical health of feminists.
As feminists, we encounter danger on a daily basis. It can be exhausting and tedious to constantly combat the patriarchal mindset. We spend a lot of time explaining our goals and engaging in political action to fight against the ideologies that seek to distort our perceptions of ourselves. We must work to remove the toxic influence of this system from our minds and refrain from judging each other based on its values.
The masculine attack against feminists: demonization or dehumanization?
The ways in which feminists are attacked by patriarchal forces can vary depending on the situation.
Some individuals use masculine slogans to challenge the legitimacy of feminists, claiming they only care about certain groups of women rather than all women.
For example, when adopting explicit feminist discourse or exposing patriarchal violence, feminists are confronted with violent rhetoric that threatens them with societal violence and security prosecutions. They may be accused of working for Western interests, undermining societal values, and spreading chaos and corruption. This can intimidate other women who identify as feminists.
But these attacks also focus on feminists active in the public sphere trying to outdo their advocacy campaigns. This patriarchal mechanism is centered on attacking them with the famous slogan: “Where have you been in the case of X? Where are the feminists, we don’t see them?”
These slogans are raised in our faces in order to undermine our legitimacy and to try to portray us as people who only care about a certain group, not all women. Slogans used by patriarchal currents in society, political spheres, and online spaces came together to one-up and demonize feminists.
This one-upmanship aims to delegitimize feminists and turn women against them, under the pretext that they did not defend X or did not campaign for Y.
It also aims to dehumanize feminists, and their human qualities are denied and ignored. Masculine pressure on feminists draws a stereotypical image of them, as superwomen who are always called upon to stand up for “all causes,” as if they were responsible for stopping violence.
Images that exclude the helplessness and exhaustion that accompany feminists, and ignore that feminists are under constant threat from the system that fights them, to continue to oppress women in general, and marginalized women in particular.
But there are unnoticed or intentionally ignored possibilities. In other words, feminists can be absent for a long time, they may not cover most issues, and they can stop in the middle of a battle, or decide not to fight. Because the battle against patriarchy is manifold and brutal when responding to the attack with a more violent attack.
“Bad” feminism and living outside expectations
The situation with feminists is not confined to their daily dealing with violence, and the deprivation of their rights to life, political action, resources, pleasure, and living freely. It is also in the manifestation of what it means to be feminists, and human beings at the same time; in the ability to have militant strength and human weakness; in being able to fight oppressive regimes and get tired of the battle at once; in participating in work for a better world, and in living our chosen ways of life, no matter how ordinary or stereotypical.
In Bad Feminism, African-American writer Roxane Gay offers a feminist view on what it means to be feminist and to exist with all our human contradictions. Accepting a feminist label freely means being “bad” for many and living in a mess of contradictions, even with ourselves.
To fail to be a perfect model for women, just as we fail to be “good” feminists for others.
Roxane put forward the idea that she errs in feminism in several ways, at least, according to the way her perceptions of feminism were distorted for being a woman. She argued that failing to be a “good” woman is the same as failing to be a “good” feminist, and constantly not rising up to expectations.
Her preferred definition of feminism is that given by Su, an Australian woman. When interviewed in Kathy Bail’s DIY Feminism anthology (1996), feminism was simply described as: “Women who do not want to be treated like shit.” For Roxane, this definition is concise and expressive of how feminism is perceived. But she faces trouble when trying to expand it, and considers that she is inadequate as a feminist and is not committed enough, and does not rise to feminist ideals because of who and how she chooses to be.
Feminism or gender performativity theory
Roxane used Judith Butler’s book on Gender Performativity to explain this tension more deeply and how people’s failure in gender roles exposes them to direct punishment while acting in line with gender expectations, he/she avoids that punishment.
It is this stress caused by failure to perform a certain social role according to expectations, which produces pain and psychological distraction for many women, and non-cisgender. We see this tension in the failure to adhere to socially imposed norms, such as beauty standards and appropriate rules of conduct for the “good woman,” who is necessarily “kind, polite, and unobtrusive.” Those that work outside the home, but are content to earn less than men.
According to the masculine standard, “good” women bear children and stay at home to exercise care roles, without complaint. A “good woman” doesn’t want sex, but “it gets practiced with her.” She is silent, committed to every standard, and makes her way through life as expected of her. According to the same male standard, women who do not adhere to these standards are fallen and undesirable. They are “bad women.”
Equally, Roxane argued that Butler’s thesis on “gender performativity” could also be applied to feminism. The movement was distorted by outmoded currents, which set standards for what is “good feminism” and “bad feminism.”
Feminism: a revolution against perfectionism and stereotyping
In the masculine collective consciousness, feminism has been associated with a set of stereotypes, to undermine it and prevent it from being a grassroots movement.
It is difficult for us to get rid of labels because we were categorized from the moment we were born, by sex, race, color, inclinations, and class.
The author of Bad Feminism explained how this long distortion of feminism made feminists themselves try to give crucial instructions. They act accordingly or lose the legitimacy to be feminists.
At some point, the conflict is embodied in the idea that we are always in search of the perfection to which we have been confined by the patriarchy. To struggle to put ourselves in a tight box of rules without which we cannot see ourselves.
According to Roxane, it is difficult for us to get rid of labels, because we were categorized from the moment we were born, by sex, race, color, inclinations, and class. The older we get, the more classifications and rules we must adhere to so that we avoid consequences.
In her book, she also discusses the relationship of feminism to issues such as race and the personal experiences of feminists. She explained that their lifestyle needs a special space, which feminists work to protect, rather than rejecting some of them based on criteria that classify and exclude them.
She focused on the stereotypes that surround feminists even by other feminists. She touched on several topics, such as considering that every feminist should refuse motherhood or marriage, taking care of her personal appearance, following fashion, or listening to rap. She presented many ideas that feminists are stereotypically considered against, and whoever embraces them loses the title of feminist.
This stereotyping has also affected more vulnerable and less accepting women in many feminist spaces, namely transwomen. Patriarchal stereotypes within the feminist movement have affected the right of trans women to appear or have their causes adopted. It also confined them to views that are hateful to the trans community, or with a narrow view of how people can choose their lifestyle and appearances away from grips of patriarchy.
Roxane expressed her admiration for fashion and said that she is a good follower of international magazines such as Vogue. She listens to rap music and likes to have children. Unlike stereotypes, she does not consider that any of her personal choices affect her political commitment to feminist issues.
Feminism is not a sect
Like many feminists, it was difficult for Roxane to accept feminism as a sect, or a place where activists were labeled “bad” or “good” according to liberal and outdated criteria that regard feminism as a super-powerful woman who is committed to “self-realization” because her obstacles are subjective and not systematic.
This is itself a logical fallacy, aimed at obfuscating the fact that women have been working since the dawn of time, and work is not a magic key to women’s emancipation. These views see feminists who do not work as lazy and dependent, or not interested in fighting, to prove that they are strong and against patriarchal stereotypes. They have no interest or responsibility for the impact of racism, colonialism, and capitalism on black women, people of color, and Third World women.
She argued that instead of focusing on the different issues that women witness due to racism, colonialism, and classism, there are currents of feminism, especially white feminism, that consider focusing on these issues would divide feminism instead of working to make it more radical and inclusive of all women and marginalized groups, with all their different issues, interests, and lifestyles.
Being feminists without losing our fragility or choices
In this book, the African-American author put forward a fundamental feminist idea: to defend the right of women, non-normative people, and marginalized groups to choose their lives outside the mold.
She stressed the importance of escaping the trap of contradictions and not taking away the will of people just to triumph for a bad/good duality. Because these same categories are the tools of the patriarchy, not the movements fighting against it.
It also reminds us that these classifications divide ranks. Many women who choose the path of marriage and childbearing and not working outside the home are ostracized. Others who perform plastic surgeries, or choose general appearances that are classified as objectifying to women are also shunned away. Add to them those who choose or are forced to work in unacceptable jobs, such as sex workers and performers, that are considered to affect their commitment to feminism.
What really matters is responsibility towards feminist issues, commitment to them and not ostracizing or excluding women based on their choices, personal appearances, or unwillingness to play roles of power and fighting. Because we are above all human beings. We get tired, weakened, choose, love, dance, and enjoy ordinary and stereotypical things… Perhaps.
What really matters is to be feminists capable of committing to the spirit and essence of feminism as a thought and universal liberation, in fulfillment of all marginalized and oppressed women. And to be able to defend a world that embraces us all and does not dehumanize us under any title.