Feb 12, 2017

Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, by Jessa Crispin

I probably need an advanced degree in rhetoric or sociology or philosophy to truly understand this slim powerhouse of a book and to do it justice in a review. I don't have any of those degrees, but I'll try my best regardless.

Jessa Crispin is, if you take the tenor of this book to heart, an angry woman. She's angry that women who label themselves feminists now denigrate the work done by radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin. She's angry that women who achieve money and power - the pinnacle of capitalist success - are labeled feminists simply because they have achieved parity in a man's world. She's angry that the self-help and -empowerment movement is taking feminism away from a movement that would empower ALL women, all people everywhere, in fact. She's angry that there is no room for dissent and disagreement within today's feminism, that monolithic ideology has replaced intellectual discourse and that when a woman dares to disagree, she is shamed and shunned and stripped of her "feminist" name tag.

The most salient thread that runs through these short essays is Crispin's dismay that feminism is now about finding equality within a morally bankrupt system, rather than tearing that system down and starting over again with something better. When feminism was redefined to mean getting money and power and success in romantic love, women betrayed their own movement. It's hard to deny that this is indeed the case. Women like Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg are automatically labelled feminists because they have reached up into The Man's world and grabbed money and power. But there is little digging underneath, no understanding that it's what that woman does with her money and power that makes her a feminist. Melinda Gates might be a good example; she's immensely wealthy and has spent much of her time and money on programs to help our planet's most vulnerable populations.

I'm simplifying, of course, partly for my own sake as I think about and parse out Crispin's brief but rhetorically rich manifesto. She is a much smarter woman than I, to be sure. The one thing I wish had been included is what her vision of that new, feminist society looks like, if she does indeed have a vision. It's easy to say we need to tear something down, and so much harder to determine what we can build in its place, and how.

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