Full Frontal Stalinism: Deciding Who Counts as a Feminist


I haven't seen it in years, but it was on every second car when I lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, back in the mid-1990s. The slogans one found on the backs of Volvos and pasted on community message boards throughout the Pioneer Valley, those chalked on the pavement at Smith College, were always reductionist—I've visualized world peace, now what?—but none bothered me more than the ubiquitous sticker proclaiming that "feminism is the radical notion the women are people." It came to mind today when reading Kathleen Parker's column in today's Washington Post, in which she weighs the pointless question of whether women like Sarah Palin—pro-life and right-wing—can be considered feminists.

Jessica Valenti, founder of the website Feministing, is baffled, having recently "seen articles desperate to paint anti-choice policies as somehow pro-woman." To suggest that those on the right, those with a more skeptical view of government's ability to level playing fields or those not entirely convinced that sexism is the greatest problem facing civilization, are people "who makes their career trying to roll back women's rights" and to suggest otherwise is "fucking insulting."

In the consistently terrible San Francisco Chronicle, an overwriting yoga studio-owner named Mark Morford first denounces the "woman-hating Republican homophobes in titanic SUVs" (haha!) and then dictates not only who counts as a feminist but as a woman. A sample, if you can claw through the grating prose style:

Witness, won't you, the zeitgeist's nightmare trifecta of largely insufferable women, the Sarah Palin/Carly Fiorina/Michele Bachmann hydra-headed hellbeast of pseudo-women (emphasis adeed), one part huge cash reserves, one part evil grammar-abusing ditzball psychopath, one part sassy misinformed moxie, overlaid with wonky ideas of motherhood, love of guns and ignorance of sex and reproductive rights.

According to Morford, gender scholar and Raoul Wallenberg of America's suffering women, "third-wave feminism's cornerstone values—abortion rights, humanitarianism, anti-racism, don't kill stuff—are being violently, stupidly co-opted, inverted, perverted, repackaged, skinned like a moose and shot from a helicopter like a wolf skittering across the Alaskan tundra." Strip it of its lame humor and we are left with gender studies Stalinism; feminism is the radical idea that women are people—with political views identical to my own. If you like to "kill stuff"—and I assume, with the Palin hunting reference, that also means animals—one cannot claim the feminist mantle. Do real feminists offer indulgences for those in remote parts of the world, where access to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's is limited and killing stuff is normal? What about impoverished and oppressed women in, say, Afghanistan who haven't the time for weekly meetings on anti-racism and criticism/self-criticism sessions on how to be a Bay Area humanitarian?

To Morford, saying you are "'pro-life and pro-feminist'… is a bit like saying you're 'pro-oil spill and pro-environment'"—a line he thought so clever that it deserved tweeting.

With all of this Republican "pseudo-women" winning primaries, CBS anchor Kate Couric (a real woman, incidentally) wheeled out the feminist fossil Gloria Steinem, asking her to set the record straight on just who can join the club of Politically Acceptable Women. According the Ms. Magazine founder, "you can't be a feminist who says other women can't" have an abortion, though she rather generously "defend[s] their right to be wrong." The unbending ideology of people like Gloria Steinem secures them a place in the history books, but not, thank god, a prominent position in the current debate.

So back to the bumper sticker. Like Parker, I have very libertarian views on abortion (though my opinion on the issue is irrelevant) but take a rather dim view of those attempting to enforce ideological orthodoxy. And from my very first gender studies class, my very first encounter with the unreadable Bell Hooks, I knew that the feminism of Mary Daly, Catharine Mackinnon, Valenti and Steinem—which should be differentiated from the feminism of, say, Wendy McElroy—was most certainly not the radical idea that women are people (that's classical liberalism), but the radical idea that women should all adhere to political radicalism. They know what is best for women and any ideological difference is, as the radical left used to say, deviationism. So if that is an accurate reflection of what the feminist politburo considers the politics of feminism, then count me out.