Here’s the thing about feminism: just because feminists believe, as a starting point, that women are not inferior to men, it doesn’t mean we all have to agree with each other about everything else.
And here’s another thing: the argument in the MSM about Melinda Tankard Reist (and here for #MTRsues) has been a good thing for feminism because it has very publicly told people that there are different feminisms. That we’re not all pro-life and we’re not all anti-porn. (For the record, I am pro-choice and pro-porn. Yes, I know there’s a lot of porn that is degrading towards women, but it’s pretty easy to find porn that isn’t. Banning all pornography doesn’t fix misogyny and it doesn’t fix workplace safety problems. But it would be nice to see youporn and redtube have an “enthusiastic” category.) If you told me over Christmas lunch that 2012 would start with a two-and-a-half week discussion about the different feminisms, I’d have asked if you were on crack.
And then someone had to go and ruin it by pulling the “bitchiness” card – the idea that women can’t disagree with each other without being big meanies. And that someone was Cathy Sherry: Sisterhood beware – silencing ideas stymies progress.
Progress comes from thrashing out ideas. Progress comes from telling people about our ideas. Progress does not come from pretending that when women disagree, we’re being bitches. Yes, there has been a small amount of nastiness on the internet, but it’s been pretty minor compared to the bigger discussions going on. (To be clear, I’m talking about what I’ve seen in the opinion pages, on blogs and on twitter. It is possible that I just move in a world where people are fairly respectful towards each other.)
Oddly, Sherry directs her complaint about “personal vitriol” at Anne Summers, who wrote the personal vitriol-free piece, There is no such thing as a pro-life feminist. Unless you consider this to be personal vitriol:
She can think and believe whatever she likes about her religion or her politics but she has no right to trample on the principles of women’s equality that are still struggling for traction in so many parts of the world. Just because she says she is a feminist does not mean she is.
Gee, what a mean, unreasonable thing to say. Quick, someone call the Personal Attack Police! And while you’ve got them on the phone, tell them about this pot kettle black from Sherry:
I have long considered myself a feminist and been disturbed by the parts of the sisterhood who operate like the nasty in-group in primary school. You can’t be our friend because you don’t wear the right pink dress. You can’t be our friend unless you toe the approved party-line on abortion, childcare or sexual clothing. It is astounding to watch grown women engage in exclusionary behaviour that most of us outgrew by age 10.
There are so many things wrong with Sherry’s piece. She complains about shooting the messenger, playing the woman not the ovary (because I prefer genitals to sports, even if it no longer makes sense), and silencing people who disagree with you, and then does all those things.
Finally, silencing ideas stymies progress. The essence of any functioning democracy is the ability to get as many ideas on the table as possible and then thrash them out without fear or favour.
Um, isn’t that what we are doing? Getting many ideas about feminism on the table and thrashing them out? So let’s not pretend that women are being bitches just because you argued with them 15 years ago. If you want to talk about silencing people, saying “It is astounding to watch grown women engage in exclusionary behaviour that most of us outgrew by age 10” is one hell of a silencing tactic.
The discussion isn’t about disliking Tankard Reist, but about whether or not someone can be feminist if some of their work is pro-women and some of their work is anti-women. It’s an interesting discussion. I do find it problematic that a feminist can be pro-life for everyone (as opposed to pro-life for themselves but acknowledging that other women can make their own decisions), but I think there’s more value in discussing her ideas (as Summers and Kate Gleeson have done), than in whether or not she can use the f-word. Clearly, Tankard Reist’s pro-life feminism is complicated, but that’s her business as long as her feminism is not presented as the only feminism. This isn’t a problem with feminism, it’s a problem with the number of voices the mainstream media lets in. After all, there are different schools of economic thought but no one argues about whether they can all exist in the public sphere. And for two-and-a-half weeks in January, feminists have enjoyed this too.