I apologize for rehashing an old debate, but I came across a Facebook cause yesterday called Forward Feminism. Their tagline states “Bring back the true values of Feminism” and they say that they are “[b]ased off the book Full Frontal Feminism”.
Full Frontal Feminism is what I’m going to call “feminism lite” (BetaCandy calls it Spice Girls Feminism). To my knowledge, the book is aimed at being a non-threatening introduction to feminism for those “I’m not a feminist, but” types. I can understand the logic and I can’t say that I wholly disagree. But at the same time this feminism lite gets marketed as the feminism (not always intentionally, but often through poor wording choices or just because the book becomes popular).
This is especially problematic when the rhetoric is targeted at highly privileged audiences, like FFF was. Many aspects of this have already been covered, especially the white and class privilege aspects (link roundup), but I’d like to address the underlying culture of privilege that feminism lite is a part of and perpetuates, using the Facebook cause that started this post off.
I. The world of feminism lite
The Forward Feminism cause is an unofficial group. As far as I can tell it was started by fans of the book and has no affiliation with Jessica Valenti. This is important because it’s an example of the kind of culture her book is facilitating and it shows the values of the world that feminism lite exists in.
Let’s look at the basic info for the group:
Based off the book Full Frontal Feminism, this is a revival and rebirth of feminism. It is not about man hating and lesbianism, which is often the stereotype of feminism. It is about equal pay, easy access to birth control, fighting domestic violence, and educating women against society’s view of the perfect woman.
I’m not going to address in detail the idea that FFF’s feminism constitutes a “revival and rebirth of feminism” because I think BetaCandy’s post does a good job of establishing that this type of feminism has been around for a while and pointing out some of its flaws. Suffice it to say, though, there’s nothing new or revolutionary in selling feminism to the privileged and that it’s being seen as such just goes to show how easy it is for the voices of non-privileged women to be overlooked and ignored.
II. Reviving the “Lavender Menace”
I would like to look at their making a point of distancing themselves from the stereotype of “man hating and lesbianism”. Now, I don’t know how, or if, FFF addressed this issue at all, but I do know that its target audience was heterosexual women and so simply not discussing the issue would be enough to allow this kind of homophobic thinking to thrive.
“But,” you may say, “is this really homophobia? I mean, they’re just addressing a stereotype that’s often used to dismiss and invalidate feminists as a whole!” Excellent question! To understand why this enters the realm of homophobia, we first need some context via Wikipedia:
The phrase “Lavender Menace” was first used in 1969 by Betty Friedan, president of NOW, to describe the threat that she believed associations with lesbianism posed to NOW and the emerging women’s movement. Friedan, and some other straight feminists as well, worried that the association would hamstring feminists’ ability to achieve serious political change, and that stereotypes of “mannish” and “man-hating” lesbians would provide an easy way to dismiss the movement. Under her direction, NOW attempted to distance itself from lesbian causes — up to omitting the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis from the list of sponsors of the First Congress to Unite Women in November 1969.[From Wikipedia's Lavender Menace article]
And a perspective from a lesbian feminist:
Where women are concerned, the line taken is “I don’t want to be a feminist because feminists are all lesbians.” Calling upon homophobic stigma, this claim also presumes lesbianism to be a bad thing with which one does not want to be associated. When young women calmly express the view that they don’t want to be feminists because feminists are lesbians, I am most concerned that these young people are still so comfortable with their own homophobia. Is the existence of lesbians within feminism enough to render the movement disgusting? Are lesbians really considered such socially abject creatures? As a lesbian feminist, the idea that my identity is a source of revulsion to young men and women is not a little disconcerting. There is no point in giving them examples of heterosexual feminists and to do so is again to implicitly disavow all the lesbian feminists. Instead, I would just tell them I find their homophobia utterly repulsive. If they don’t consider themselves homophobic, this might shake them up a bit and open to the way to an actual discussion. If, however, they are happy homophobes, you might be better off finding someone worth talking to.[From Springing the Traps: On Countering Anti-Feminism by Winter]
So, why is distancing oneself from the stereotype homophobic? Because there’s a history out there of mainstream feminism doing exactly the same thing and also because it implies that there is something bad about being a feminist who’s a lesbian. One thing that mainstream feminists have got to realize is that, as much as there’s the idea that feminism is lesbian-friendly, in reality much of the movement is very heterocentric. A problem, I might add, that is reinforced by feminism lite’s well-intentioned but unfortunate focus on showing how much feminists love heterosexual sex. Put another way, feminism lite isn’t homophobic in the hostile sense, but rather in the way that it expresses unaddressed heterosexual privilege.
I didn’t write this post to rag on Valenti or her Full Frontal Feminism book, or even to chastise the creators of the Forward Feminism group. We all muddle through our activism in our own ways, and none of them are perfect. I get that, and I also get that what feminism lite is doing is hitting on the parts of feminism that strike a chord with its target audience in order to get them thinking about feminism. It’s a noble goal and a decent strategy.
But it’s not enough. You can’t help other women by only helping yourself, and perpetuating a culture that shows a feminism versus feminisms only has the end result of allowing privilege, and selfishness, to go unchecked. I have said this a thousand times and I will keep repeating it for as long as it takes to integrate it into the movement: feminism can’t succeed if it tries to stand alone and apart from other anti-oppression movements because women aren’t a homogeneous mass. We aren’t the Borg, and we aren’t all privileged in all ways except for our gender.
If we’re ever to gain true equality, we have to do it working with other anti-oppression movements. We need to acknowledge — even on the introductory level — where our privilege lies and we need to understand that feminism isn’t just about getting others to understand us, but for getting ourselves to the point where we can understand others. Focusing on the issues that matter to us is important work, but we can’t let our privileges define what the “true values” of feminism are.