I Am Not a Feminist

Brené Brown realized she was a part of the patriarchy while driving home from a book signing for her first release, Women & Shame: Reaching Out, Speaking Truths and Building Connection. A man approached her at the signing and told her he liked the premise of her book, the idea of telling one’s story and showing up in an honest and vulnerable way.

“But you didn’t mention men,” he said.

“I don’t study men,” she responded.

“Well, that’s convenient.” He continued: “We have shame, we have deep shame, but when we reach out and tell our stories, we get the emotional [bleep] beat out of us. And before you say anything about those mean fathers and those coaches and those brothers and those bully friends, my wife and three daughters, the ones who you just signed the books for, they had rather see me die on top of my white horse than have to watch me fall off.”

Brown relayed this story in a December 2013 episode of On Being, Krista Tippet’s public radio show and podcast on humanity and spirituality. Brown went on to tell Tippet that as she expanded her research on shame and vulnerability to include men, she heard echoes of what the man at the book signing told her: though many wives and girlfriends said they wanted their guys to open up and share, when it actually happened, the women couldn’t handle it.

The problem with feminism is this: it’s too exclusive.

The problem with feminism is this: it’s too exclusive. The oppression of women does not exist in a vacuum, and to focus solely on the hardships faced by women is to overlook the widespread and nuanced effects gender norms have on all people. Consider this parallel: women want to be treated as men’s equals socially, economically, and politically. They want access to positions of power in government and business, positions traditionally held by men. Men, on the other hand, are expected to be strong and infallible at all times, to dominate. They are told to “be a man” when they feel fear, uncertainty, and sorrow. They feel rebuked even by women when showing vulnerability. There is a system at work here, and myriad beliefs and values that hold this system up.

The closer you look at feminism, the more exclusive it gets. In theory, feminism is a global movement furthering the empowerment of everywoman; in fact, it is an umbrella term that attempts to encompass countless individual value systems, many of which oppose one another. This is where things get nasty. This is where feminism becomes a tool for women to hate on other women.

Pop singer Annie Lennox called fellow pop singer Beyonce “feminist lite” in an interview with PrideSource earlier this year, then followed up on NPR with her thoughts on twerking: “Twerking is not feminism. That’s what I’m referring to. It’s not – it’s not liberating, it’s not empowering. It’s a sexual thing that you’re doing on a stage; it doesn’t empower you.”

Lennox’s statements illuminate the age-old elitism of feminism, its white-centricness, and its boxed-in views of permissible female sexuality. By calling Beyonce “feminist lite,” Lennox asserts that there is one way to be a proper feminist, one way to be an empowered woman, and that’s the middle-to-upper-class white woman’s way, with little to no ass-shaking. And if you’re shaking your ass and then some? Say you’re a lingerie model, or you’re Miley Cyrus swinging naked on a wrecking ball, or – gasp – a stripper? Do you wear a burqa, or are you one of five sister wives? Then you are single-handedly bringing down the rest of womankind.

“As a sex worker, I’ve been the target of misogyny & hatred from feminists…far more frequently than from men and/or clients,” tweeted Christina Parreira, a PhD sociology student in Las Vegas, in early December.

Feminists are quick to declare men as women’s oppressors, but there are also plenty of women oppressing women. If feminism is all about autonomy and equal rights, where do feminists get off telling other women what does and does not empower them? Who is Annie Lennox to comment on Beyonce’s experience as a woman, to say that twerking is not liberating? Who is any woman to speak for another?

Feminism needs one of two things: retirement or reinvention. Until feminists advocate for men’s rights to be vulnerable, emotional beings, until they fight stigma against transgender men and women, until they stop shaming porn stars, until they fly a flag of human rights rather than women’s rights, until they operate on inquiry rather than judgment, I am not a feminist.