Naomi Wolf Annoys Me Again

Oh, Naomi. We are gonna just keep doing this, aren’t we? Ah, well, why not? After all, every superhero needs a supervillain in order to really thrive. I’m not sure, in this situation, which one is which, but we’re surely diametrically opposed, and I know I’m super, so we may as well get some cool Spandex outfits and go for it.

Look, I kind of see what you’re saying about Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin as having legitimate claims to feminism as legitimate as anyone else. Far be it from me to try to take the name of feminism away from anyone. I totally agree with you that the feminist cause has largely been represented and championed by left-leaning thinkers since the 60’s, and as such is often thought of as a liberal-only cause. And this certainly alienates more conservative women who value things like marriage, family, militarism, and etc. And that, it’s true, is a real shame: feminism, as you say, is about personal choice and freedom, not just for the liberals amongst us but also for everyone: male, female, trans, and everyone else. Feminism is about all of us being equal and autonomous members of our society, whether tattooed queer punks fromSan Francisco or soccer moms fromIowa, and it’s in a way fabulous that more conservative women are taking up the word and cause in their particular way.
But the thing that pisses me off about conservative “feminists” like you, Naomi–and I say this because your line about finding Michelle Bachmann “slightly unhinged” is, I’m sure, true, but I can think of no-word for a knee-jerk reactionary anti-porn “feminist” like yourself that suits better than “conservative”–and particularly about Tea Party women in the national spotlight, is that the rhetoric they spout is not at its root about equality, freedom, and personal choice. It is about the superiority of certain choices and selected freedoms over others. Women should by all means be free to vocally not support abortion and contraception and relationship models if they don’t approve of these things for their own lives and situations. But feminism, at least as far as I understand it, is not a mantle to pick up and wave around and use as a blanket for prejudice and intolerance of other people’s decisions. Feminism is about respect for the values we share and equal respect for the differences amongst us. Bachmann and Palin and Wolf all argue their points from the position of a soapbox that looks down upon people who dissent or value different choices. They aim to tear down the legitimacy of other people’s opinions not because those opinions might be misinformed or generally counterproductive to the cause, but because they are different from their own, assumedly correct, ones.

I’m sure that it’s not as black and white as all that—I’m sure that these women would tell me that I’m not right about that. And maybe I’m not. But the impression that all three of these women make upon me as pertains to their ideas of feminism and womanhood more generally is one of an almost fascist view of what it should mean to be a feminist based entirely upon what they themselves see as the correct mode of life for women and, by extension, feminists. Mama Grizzlies with big families who value fossil fuel burning, monogamy, and guns are Palin’s “feminists.,” and anyone who would dare raise a voice against them can’t be part of their club. Heterosexual conservative firecrackers who don’t, apparently, need to be very up on their facts or education because of the strength of their personalities seem to be the “feminists” Bachmann is interested in. And Wolf? Well, her crew seems to be comprised of feminists willing to swallow everything she says hook, line, and sinker, up to and including that pornography is bad for all women and all people all the time and that feminism can be legitimately coopted  by anti-Muslim, anti-pornography, anti-abortion (ahem, anti-freedom-of-choice) totalitarians.

These women all seem much more inclined to react to other people’s ideas and actions with violent opposition, thus, as Wolf says, using powerful emotional rhetoric to gain momentum, than to spend time or effort considering their validity and attacking them on solid rational grounds. They say that personal freedom is important to them, that women should be allowed to make the choices they want to make, but seem to find it completely untrue that women might have real and legitimate reasons for making decisions different from their own. Freedom is only freedom if it allows for personal decision-making based on a variety of motivations, personal creeds, and often wildly disparate backgrounds. Yet Bachmann and Palin seem to want everyone to have their freedom to act in a specific set of preapproved ways. And if one steps out of line with these approved modes of behavior, then those with the freedom to do so will rip you down.

This seems to me very reminiscent of Jim Crow laws. Sure, you’re free to be different and that’s fine, but if you step out of line and try to actually use your freedom to act differently… Well, that’s not fine. But that’s not what feminism is about, and I don’t mean to sound like I’m just grabbing it up to hold over my own personal ideals. I hope to wave it around and point out the fact that different ideals about femininity, feminism, and freedom, can be acted out and respected on their own terms without all this finger-pointing and shouting and rallying people to one cause. Feminism is, or at least can be, big enough for us all to hold hands whether we get along or not, and that’s the beauty of the idea. Right? …right?

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