It’s the same with feminism as it is with women in general: there are always, seemingly, infinite ways to fail. On the one hand, feminism has never been more widely proclaimed or marketable than it is now. On the other hand, its last ten years of mainstream prominence and acceptability culminated in the election of President Donald Trump. (The Times published an essay at the end of December under the headline “Feminism Lost. Now What?”) Since November 9th, the two main arguments against contemporary feminism have emerged in near-exact opposition to each other: either feminism has become too strict an ideology or it has softened to the point of uselessness. On one side, there is, for instance, Kellyanne Conway, who, in her apparent dislike of words that denote principles, has labelled herself a “post-feminist.” Among those on the other side is the writer Jessa Crispin, who believes that the push to make feminism universally palatable has negated the meaning of the ideology writ large.
Crispin has written a new book-length polemic on the subject, called “Why I Am Not a Feminist,” in which she offers definitions of feminism that are considerably more barbed than the earnest, cheeky slogans that have become de rigueur—“The future is female,” for example, as Hillary Clinton declared in her first video statement since the election, or “Girls just want to have fun-damental rights,” or “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” The dissidence at the root of these catchphrases has been obscured by their ubiquity on tote bags and T-shirts, and for Crispin the decline of feminism is visible in how easy the label is to claim. Feminism, she tells us, has become a self-serving brand popularized by C.E.O.s and beauty companies, a “fight to allow women to participate equally in the oppression of the powerless and the poor.” It’s a “narcissistic reflexive thought process: I define myself as feminist and so everything I do is a feminist act.” It’s an “attack dog posing as a kitten,” and—in what might be Crispin’s most biting entry—a “decade-long conversation about which television show is a good television show and which television show is a bad show.”
Crispin is the founder of Bookslut, a literary Web site that she started, in 2002, when she was a full-time employee at Planned Parenthood, in Austin, Texas. (She was ahead of the word-reclamation curve that culminated in the Slutwalk marches, which were first held in 2011.) After accumulating a modest but enthusiastic following, Crispin closed down Bookslut in 2016, with minimal ceremony. “I didn’t want to become a professional,” she told Vulture, adding, “I just don’t find American literature interesting. I find MFA culture terrible. Everyone is super-cheerful because they’re trying to sell you something, and I find it really repulsive.” Crispin is happy to take the contrarian stance, particularly within spheres that lend themselves to suppressive positivity. The point of “Why I Am Not a Feminist” isn’t really that Crispin is not a feminist; it’s that she has no interest in being a part of a club that has opened its doors and lost sight of its politics—a club that would, if she weren’t so busy disavowing it, invite Kellyanne Conway in.
Read more at The New Yorker.