While scrolling through my Facebook yesterday, I came across this article, a back-and-forth between a prominent British feminist and a male leftist writer about what she termed “Brocialism.” Speaking specifically about Russell Brand, and his tendency to speak flippantly about his past sexual conquests, she asserted that this kind of attitude made leftism an “unsafe space” for women. She felt that it relegated women to an objectified, sidelined, eternally supportive position within leftism. While reading the article, I couldn’t help but feel a heavy, almost suffocating feeling of frustration. Now, here was yet another issue on which I would have to ask myself that perennial, demoralizing question: “Am I a bad feminist?”
Regarding Brand and his politics, I am not hugely concerned with how he speaks about the women he used to carelessly sleep with as a drug addict. While I find his persona to be somewhat the human equivalent of a Che Guevara shirt, I am glad that there is someone as public and influential as he advocating for serious reform in a lot of our social and political structures. I consider myself a socialist, particularly after living several years in a largely socialist country, and anyone who is speaking seriously about moving towards a more humane system of government is someone I am happy to see. Just as I don’t care that Bill Clinton cheated on his wife and ejaculated on a blue dress, I don’t care that Russell Brand isn’t delicate while talking about his female conquests. As long as their politics remain pro-woman in a functional way — advocating for reproductive autonomy, comprehensive health care, and aid for the family structure — they are fine by me.
Would I want to be Russell Brand’s friend? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter. Whether or not I find him to be personally abrasive has nothing to do with the change in politics he advocates. If, tomorrow, he were to support practically anti-woman legislation of any kind, I would take an issue with him.
But that is the key word, isn’t it? Practically. Practicality is the idea that I find to be missing in so much of the online discourse around feminism and feminist issues. In my life, I feel a palpable divide in my consciousnesses and my social groups. There are the feminists I know largely through writing and the internet who see nearly everything in life through a gendered perspective, and take very verbose issue with everything from a salad dressing commercial to the offhand comments of a comedian-turned-political activist. Then there are the women I know in my real life, who are either completely unaware of modern feminism in general, or actively reject it. The women in my life — from old school friends to my superwoman, trailblazing grandmother — are far too busy working their jobs, raising their families, or attempting to find a way in the world to care about what they perceive to be minor issues.
Aside from the fact that many of these women would risk alienation or even termination at their jobs if they were to talk at length about their politics (we should never forget, in our bubble of consciousness, that politics are largely frowned upon at workplaces), it’s also a worldview that demands a huge amount of dedication. While I would be the first to picket the closing of an abortion clinic, donate to a domestic violence shelter, or get out and vote for local politicians who align with pro-woman politics, I simply do not care about a Robin Thicke song. I simply do not have time to worry about whether or not a sitcom is portraying a housewife in a shallow way. And I also have never perceived oppression on a gendered scale. I believe we live in a society which actively oppresses many of the men within its borders (the Prison Industrial Complex comes to mind), and I can’t divide my support of certain female political leaders from the knowledge that, just like their male counterparts, they contribute to the oppression of both men and women in several countries around the world. Hillary Clinton, despite her inspirational trajectory as a white Western woman, is just as complicit in drone strikes or the use of torture as any male politician would be.
It’s on issues like this that I’m reminded — in a very acute way — that I am not an academic. I have no degree, I spent relatively little time in college, and nearly all of my work experience prior to my current position was in non-professional jobs. I was a waitress, a barista, a secretary, a nanny, a cashier, or a temp worker. My concerns were limited to making enough money to get through the month, and figuring out how I was going to move up in the world when I didn’t have many of the more quantifiable tools to do so. Hardly ever did I think about what my being a woman meant in terms of my predicament in life; I was mostly occupied with my educational and class statuses, as they seemed to have the most immediate bearing on my situation. And I am reminded, when I read much of the feminist discourse online, that these women often forget that millions of women every day live without giving a second thought to whether or not some arbitrary choice they make throughout the day is “feminist or not.” Before I cared about any of this, I never once asked myself whether or not I was a “bad feminist,” now that I am aware of it, I think about it nearly every day.
The idea of constantly, openly identifying yourself as a feminist in life and in work is a privilege. The idea of considering every issue on a gendered line, even before you consider its practical function or its implications in countries other than ours, is a privilege. The idea of being able to dedicate such a heavy part of your life to the feminist cause and still be able to support yourself financially and progress socially is a privilege. Most women don’t and have no desire to live this way, because they are most concerned with paying their bills and, when they can, voting to make the world a better place for their children. This does not make them “bad feminists.” The women in my family — who achieved more than I likely ever will in life, despite never once using the title on themselves — have nothing to feel guilty or inadequate about because they didn’t label themselves properly, or take issue with all of the right things in life.
For me, if you treat other humans compassionately and equally, if you work hard and honestly, if you make positive social choices, and if you help the greater good when you can — you are a feminist. You are not obligated to take that title, of course, but those are the only criteria in my mind. A woman who punches the clock every day and provides for her family, who teaches her children to be good people, and maybe listens to “Blurred Lines” on the way home or shares a Russell Brand video on Facebook for her friends — she is more of a feminist than most of the writers I know ever will be, including myself. If I can move up in the world, maybe save a little money, surround myself with good, kind people, and use my free time to effect political change where I can, I will have won. Even if it’s not abstract, theoretical, or utopian enough for a feminist whose job is to be constantly moving goalposts, I will be happy with myself. And really, at the end of the day, that’s all that actually matters.