“There is an essential feminism or, as I perceive this essentialism, the notion that there are right and wrong ways to be a feminist and that there are consequences for doing feminism wrong…The most significant problem with essential feminism is how it doesn’t allow for the complexities of human experience or individuality. There seems to be little room for multiple or discordant points of view. Essential feminism has, for example, led to the rise of the phrase “sex-positive feminism” which creates a clear distinction between feminists who are positive about sex and feminists who aren’t – which, in turn, creates a self-fulfilling essentialist prophecy."
--Roxanne Gay, Bad Feminist
My definition of feminism is a simple one…I have zero tolerance for bullshit from people who think they are better than me, without being able to back up their noise. If you are superior because you are, good for you. If you think you are superior because you have a penis* (or some form of otherness I don’t possess that has nothing to do with your functional intellect), then you are a shithead.
And I don’t abide shitheads.
That’s pretty simple. But like Roxanne Gay, I have probably been the wrong kind of feminist the entirety of my life and have been continuously slapped down by the keepers of essential feminism. As an undergraduate in psychology, I was cornered by a professor in the Women’s Studies department and it was suggested that I change my major away from Psychology (to Women’s Studies, of course) as that department was known to be very misogynistic. I hadn’t found that to be the case in the least. I had an amazing advisor and professors that let me do my research project on correlating helping behavior and breast size my senior year, after all. Yes, they laughed a little. But it was pretty funny. And I got an A.
It was my women’s studies professors who did not like the fact that I taught a couples massage class on campus (yeah, I was a perv early on…everyone who knew me then is not at all surprised at what I do now).
I got in huge trouble my final semester for writing a paper that was too “self-deprecating.” She decided it was her job, as a better feminist, to challenge me to take myself more seriously.
I sucked it up, re-wrote the paper from an F to an A, but infused it with barbs about feminism crumbling from within, due to lack of support from fellow feminists. She missed the barbs and told me my seriousness showed how much I had “redeemed myself.”
So yes, I totally ate shit and got my A. Then I packed up my Geo Metro and moved from Oklahoma to South Texas, fiercely determined not to pursue a career in feminist academia.
I ended up in academia anyway. Well, sorta. I also continue to be self-deprecating. I continue to be sex positive. And I continue to write essays that contain words like “shithead” (but seriously, don’t be one, then I won’t have to). I still get in trouble for all three things. I am still a bad (albeit non-dickhead abiding) feminist.
All three things are what make me who I am as a flawed feminist/human being and a flawed but actually pretty good counselor.
How do you deal with the deep, dark, slimy, sticky goo that is sexual shame without humor, grace, and a few f-bombs now and then?
If ten minutes into meeting someone I am asking about their masturbatory habits, I think you really gotta be able to laugh at the situation. My clients tend to be quite relieved when I do…because that gives them permission to do the same. Humor is healing.
And at age 40 (as opposed to age 20), I no longer eat shit and pretend to be redeemed
I talk about the stuff people are embarrassed to talk about and I do so with my own paradigm. It certainly isn’t proper essentialism, but it is entirely my own voice. If something pisses me off, you know that it actually does…not because I think it is supposed to. If I believe in something, it is because I really, really do…not because I have been told to. That may be “doing feminism wrong” but I still claim the title.
And that’s the important thing. We take ownership of what’s ours. Despite our imperfections, our potty mouths, our silliness, our love of snakeskin stiletto heels and overpriced coffee. We are flawed in our humanity…and in our feminism.
My mother says I was the type of little kid who didn’t want to do anything until I could do it perfectly. So it took me forever to learn how to ride a bike and tie my shoes. I was scared of doing it wrong.
But at some point I realized that holding tight to that notion of perfect execution was slowing me down (but then, so was walking everywhere while tripping over my shoelaces). So I did it wrong. Over and over. Grudgingly and pissed off. (She also may or may not have locked me out of the house until I wrangled that bike into submission…I’m a little bit stubborn.) Eventually I figured those whole bike and shoe things out.
So that’s my master plan for the next 52 ½ years. Flawed and struggling. But owning my scrapes, boo-boos and imperfect identity at every point along the way. Maybe I will figure shit out. Or maybe I will keep tripping on my shoelaces. But I will continue to claim my voice along the way.
Thank you, Roxanne Gay.