What Does Your Feminism Do?

Every morning I wake up, tap the Facebook icon, and brace myself for local, national, and international headlines. I’m sure you do too. With each executive order, legislation reversal, and GOP sponsored bill I read, my body goes limp with sorrow, tense with fear, then stiff with rage. These are the physical and psychological effects of our new administration on those who care about social justice. But that’s not what this blog post is about.

This post is about us—the feminists experiencing this roller coaster ride of emotion on a minute to minute basis (that no doubt corresponds with our obsessive social media checking). Amongst the headlines citing the latest expression of white supremacist imperialist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy, I just read one about Hermione Granger—strike that, Emma Watson—having to defend herself against claims that showing slightly more than her cleavage on the cover of Vanity Fair takes away her feminist credentials. Now, I’ve got some issues with her HeforShe campaign, but that’s not what this post is about either (and for what it’s worth, I say shine on girl, show your breasts because shocker—it’s your body). What I am concerned with is the energy focused on the debate itself (CNN posed the question like so: Can you be a feminist and pose in a nearly see-through top for Vanity Fair?).  If you’ve been caught up in these debates, I have a message for you:

We ain’t got time for this!

I’d like to direct your attention back to the sorrow, fear, rage trifecta I mentioned earlier in regards to our current state of affairs that actually need our energy and focus: feeding kids school lunch, protecting trans kids, the alarming number of deportations, and the doubling down on police brutality and the school to prison pipeline to name a few.We have to stop quibbling over who is or is not a feminist. We have to quit feeding social media and mainstream news outlets our energy on these distracting and ultimately energy-depleting non-issues. But, how?

Focus on what feminism is doing.

I’m a feminist performance studies scholar; my everyday life experience and my academic training have prepared me to focus on material effects. Years ago, while helping me untangle the relationship between women who write graffiti and feminist movement, my PhD advisor, José Esteban Muñoz (rest in power), trained me to ask the deceptively simple question: what does it do? So our question is not “who is a feminist,” but rather:

Does the person/politic/party in question demand bodily autonomy, cultivate collectivity, foster empowerment, build solidarity in difference, and promote social justice?

If we focus on what feminism is doing, we can ask more productive questions, maintain more rigorous standards for transnational feminist movement, determine what particular people, politics, and parties are doing in the name of feminism, and if the effects of those doings match with our intersectional feminist goals. I value the constant efforts at growth and improvement that define feminist movement, but I also believe that in the era of Kelly Conways and Ivanka Trumps we need to get back to basics making sure to maintain our intersectional rigor. It is no coincidence that the large majority of these debates squarely re-center white feminist concerns.

So, can we please save our energy and table the debate (if we must) over “who is a feminist” or “what a feminist looks like” until we emerge victorious from this disaster?

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