The Soapbox: On Feminism & Judging Other Women

It was easy to roll one’s eyes at Elizabeth Wurtzel’s recent piece on, “1 Percent Wives Are Helping To Kill Feminism And Make The War On Women Possible.” Although I understand the point Wurtzel was trying to make (educated women who don’t advance in the workforce and financially support themselves/their families are bad for feminism) she couched the whole thing in kind of bombastic, linkbait-y statements like, “I am going to smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time — by which she really means going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits — is her feminist choice.”

But I want to go a little deeper than the eye-rolling. I want to look at the phenomenon of self-described feminists — like Wurtzel — judging other women’s choices.

First we need to define our terms. Some might say “judgment” and “having an opinion” are one in the same. But to me, “opinions” are thoughts that aren’t meant to influence anyone in any way. It’s possible to hold an opinion in a “live and let live” kind of way. To give a conservative example: Abortion is killing an unborn child, so I would never have an abortion. On the other hand, judgment condemns something in a way that’s seeks to influence people. Abortion is killing an unborn child, so I’m going to stand outside Planned Parenthood and scream at you that you’re a baby killer. When I am referring to feminists being “judgmental,” I’m not referring to them merely having opinions — of course people who identify as feminists have lots of opinions. I’m talking about expressly trying to influence other people’s actions. There are areas where being judgmental is appropriate, like, say judging people who beat their children or pets: they are causing direct harm. But there are a lot of areas where I think being judgmental is inappropriate, particularly when it comes to people’s private choices that do not hurt anyone else and do not affect you.

Feminism to me is the belief that women and girls have the same value in this world as men and boys do and we should all have the same opportunities in life. Fundamentally, I believe our gender and sexuality should not determine our existence and we should be able to make our our choices.

I like the definition put forth by Courtney E. Martin that says feminism is what’s good for most of the women most of the time. So, to that end, I don’t believe any choice a woman makes therefore makes it a “feminist” choice. That doesn’t even make sense. It is so annoying the way that language has been co-opted by, for example, the plastic surgery and weight loss industries. There very well may be lots of women who feel more confident, even empowered, after acquiring a more voluptuous or more youthful appearance, but I’m not sure that we can make the case that prizing a youthful, more conventionally sexy appearance  is good for most of the women most of the time.

The “stay-at-home-mom debate,” I think, is different. I don’t think anyone can conclusively say that it’s better for most of the women most of the time if women financially contribute to their families and advance in the workforce. Do I think that’s a bad thing? Do I believe there isn’t a massive, fucked up glass ceiling that need to be broken through? Do I think a man’s role is to be the breadwinner? Of course not. I believe we should have a culture where traditional gender roles in careers and parenting are broken down so people can choose for themselves. But what they choose? I don’t personally care.

But I’m not here to rehash the working mom/SAHM debate. I’m here to discuss the judgment people cast on each other, particularly when it’s woman-on-woman, particularly when it’s feminists-on-women: How people set up their family should be a personal thing. How people choose to contribute to society — whether it is paid employment, volunteer work, raising children, homeschooling — should be a personal thing. I may not love their every individual decision, but I don’t have to love their every individual decision. Most people are just trying to get by, day-by-day, in a way that makes themselves and their families happiest, whether it’s being a Christian evangelical family or the most feminist, PC-iest, Brooklyn-iest family you’ve ever seen.

I believe this because I don’t want someone coming into my personal life telling me what is and isn’t feminist, what is and isn’t acceptable. I don’t see how it’s anyone else’s business how my future husband/boyfriend and I conduct our lives, so long as we’re not trying to foist it on anyone else. And I’ll admit a huge reason that I feel this way is because of my interest in dominance/submission and kink. I realize it’s a different topic entirely, yet the “this is who I am” yearning that I feel about D/S is a lot like the “this is who I am” yearning that I feel about having kids and raising them at home some day. A woman can want something with all her mind, body and spirit even if it may seem on its face to be retro or wrong. That woman doesn’t care how “correct” other people think it is.

But I also care about this issue because I find it kind of hypocritical. I don’t see how someone can logically tell the Westboro Baptist Church to shut the fuck up, don’t judge lesbian and gay couples, they should be allowed to get married and adopt kids, and then turn around and judge a woman with a college degree and a good job who decides she would be happier as a stay-at-home-mom. I just plain don’t understand.

I’m a feminist and I’ve long been one. But I dislike that there’s this “feminist purity test” in existence that you’re only feminist if you make the decisions other people tell you are the best.

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