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Longtime lurker, first-time diarist.  Please be gentle!

The finally-over primary season has made one thing crystal clear: almost nobody (including many who call themselves feminists) has a very good idea of what feminism is.  This has manifested on both sides of the Clinton/Obama divide, and continues to show up in the media pretty much daily.

I've been an Obama supporter since late 2007, and it seems like a handful of us think that feminism is a way of behaving based on dualistic and oppositional thinking (men and women are at WAR!!!) and hypersensitivity to the possibility of slights.  The label "feminist" has occasionally been tossed out as an insult against overzealous Clinton supporters, which is unsettling.  To a certain extent, this is the fault of incomplete gender awareness among some of us, but the blame also belongs to some Clinton supporters, and especially the mass media.

You see, it appears that a small slice of Clinton's backers (now mostly calling themselves PUMAs or Hillocrats or some such stupidity) agree with the above-mentioned handful of Obama supporters that feminists are thin-skinned man-haters who spend their days hunting for examples of misogyny.  These folks not only practice this weirdness, they excoriate feminists who dare use the label without adopting their framing.  It's very similar to the situation of modern Christianity, wherein a small group of ignorant and/or evil people who call themselves "Christians" have managed to convince most Americans (and, consequently, most American Christians) that Christianity is only for those who like snake handling, speaking in tongues, and directing one's prayers to George W. Bush.

Unfortunately for these people, feminism isn't what they think it is.  It's actually a pretty simple concept: feminism is the belief that women are equal to men, that they should be treated as such, and that we have to work hard to make that happen.  Yes, part of that is recognizing some of the more subtle instances of misogyny that pop up constantly, and, often, pointing them out in ways that may or may not be abrasive.  But it's also a lot of other things.  Not to get all cultural theory or anything, but we'd really be better off talking about "feminisms," since such a wide variety of approaches, many of which are contradictory, end up under the feminism umbrella.  The point is, just because one "feminist" does things a certain way doesn't mean that any other (let alone all other) feminists do too.

Of course, the problem goes far beyond Clinton and Obama supporters.  The worst of it has always come from the mass media (despite what the PUMAs seem to believe, almost none of the bona fide misogyny that polluted the primaries came from Obama, his campaign, or the vast majority of his supporters).  Take, for instance, this gem, wherein Scott Martelle of the LA Times suggests that Obama is a closet woman-hater because he referenced Ann Richards's famous quip from her keynote at the 1988 Democratic National Convention: "After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did.  She just did it backwards and in high heels."

Here's Obama's remark: "[W]omen can do anything that the boys can do – and do it better, and do it in heels.  I still don't know how she [referencing Hillary Clinton] does it in heels."  Apparently, Martelle thinks Obama's mention of heels will be interpreted by "some" (oh, that pesky "some"!  They're so touchy!) as misogynist because, well, I guess because some women wear heels.  I'm really not sure what offense Martelle expects women to take, and I think that's because he doesn't either.  Regardless of whether or not he calls himself a feminist (I doubt that he does), I'm 100% certain that he doesn't understand what feminism is, if he thinks what he's doing qualifies.

Most of the comments on his post indicate that most people are smart enough to see this as shameless conflict-mongering and nothing more.  But the problem is that "some people" (in this case, the PUMAs) will undoubtedly pick up on this and add it to their list of other dubious infractions Obama has supposedly committed.  These folks will once again use this comment as a litmus test for what they call feminism, and, sadly, lots of others will take their word for it.  The end result is that, once again, we're letting crazy people define feminism for us, and more and more potential feminists will turn themselves off entirely to everything bearing that label because they believe that feminism is always already batshit crazy.

The trick of it is, I can't, in good conscience, go around  denying that these assholes are feminists, because it's not my place to do so, and if I did, I'd be guilty of what I'm criticizing them for doing.  All I can do is offer my definition of feminism as an alternative.  So here we are: there are assholes everywhere, and some of them call themselves feminists.  Beware of assholes.  Sorry, internet, that's the best I can do.

Originally posted to skrelnek on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 05:58 PM PDT.

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