Can Feminists Be People Whose Views You Hate?

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Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Love this thoughtful and insightful rant (they can be all those at once) about the death of third-wave feminism — by Mark Morford at, commenting on an Atlantic magazine think-piece by a woman:

It is something to behold. Right now I’m vainly attempting to cross-reference Hanna Rosin’s fascinating mixed-bag article from the Atlantic that ran under the delightfully obnoxious headline “The End of Men: How Women are Taking Control of Everything,” and mixing it with all the feverish stories about California’s landmark political races, Carly and Meg and Pelosi, too, influenced by everyone’s favorite winkin’ ditzball from hell, Sarah Palin.

And I’m tossing in a dash of pop culture, all the MIAs and Lady Gagas and Miley Cyruses, the Kathryn Bigelows and the ditzbombs of “Sex and the City,” trying to parse and understand and see some sort of through-line.

I am not having much success. Most women — and many of us men — are cheering madly at all the newfound roles, powers, titles, successes and attentions, from Hillary’s stunning presidential run to Bigelow’s Oscar to (even) Meg Whitman’s pile of billions that could very well buy her the election.

But…many are…entirely furious that many of third-wave feminism’s cornerstone values — abortion rights, humanitarianism, anti-racism, don’t kill stuff — are being violently, stupidly co-opted, inverted, perverted, repackaged…

In short, most progressive women are right now discovering a brutally painful truth, one that men have known for millennia: With power, glory and long overdue cultural advancement, comes a whole delightful s–bag of downsides, drawbacks, jackals and bitches to poison the party. Fun!

See, long was it believed, via some utopian/naive vision held by “enlightened” men and women alike, that if and when the feminist movement — all three waves of it, really, from Virginia Woolf to Betty Freidan, bell hooks to riot grrls — finally started to get everything it desired, there would surely be some wonderful sea change in the culture, a new paradigm to replace all the ugly, outdated structures of power and ego erected by old white men, something far more fluid and interesting, liberal and heartfelt and, well, nonmasculine.

Well, as if!

One of the delightful issues with power — wanting it, buying it, voting for it, getting it, keeping it, getting it back after you’ve blown it — is…you have to flex some serious muscle to get, own and keep it. Whether that power is physical, emotional, financial, political, intellectual (and they’re usually fairly entangled) sexual, or spiritual, some of it, if not all of it, is going to freak out and piss off a bunch of other women who think naked raw power — and showing how much you really want it — is a male thing.

That women are de facto gentler and kinder and all dance to the moonbeams’ glow. Snort.

While some women have been exercising whatever limited powers were granted to them (sexual, emotional) from the dawn of time — resentful others have silently seethed in the corner for having less-to-none of it.

If there’s anything more annoying than not having the power you so crave, it’s watching women whose behavior and values you loathe have tons of it and mis-using it. The economics of scarcity make it ugly.

But…claiming (your) power takes guts, putting your value out in front of others to judge. They may very well find you wanting.

That’s the price of admission to the boxing ring of power. Someone’s going to punch you in the face and you need a skilled and loyal cut man to keep you in the game.

Which is why I loved Hilary Swank in the 2004 Clint Eastwood film “Million Dollar Baby”. It’s nominally about a female boxer and her trainer but it’s just as much about finding a man (could be a woman) who knows what it takes to hit your peak and will push you to achieve it.

I hate Sarah Palin, Lady Gaga and many of the women who keep attracting media attention for polticial views I loathe, rampant stupidity and/or and tacky, skanky behavior.

But that’s the price of feminism, isn’t it? Everyone gets to play.

10 thoughts on “Can Feminists Be People Whose Views You Hate?

  1. Ms. Kelly,

    In the United States the feminist movement was dominated by well-to-do women who viewed feminism as a chance for every women to leverage their access to power to a much greater degree than in the past. Class and race were down-played by many feminist leaders (although not all by any means) which meant that the benefits of feminist success played out along those two fault lines. Any woman’s individual success is generally presented as every woman’s success. If this is your definition of “feminism”, then the fact that well-to-do white women have turned themselves into powerful, wealthy white women is indeed the logical conclusion of feminism and Sarah Palin is indeed a feminism towering achievement.

    However, if feminism is viewed not in isolation from the struggles of class and race but part of them, as it is in many poorer countries, then Meg Whitman is not a feminists but just a billionaire with chromosomal abnormality.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    Love your definition of Meg Whitman!

    The idea that American women now live in a post-feminist society, where all our gains have been won, is a very bad joke. That women like Palin and Whitman are held up as ‘role models’ — not for me, and I’m white — ignores the many ways women are, and want to be, in the world. And still want safe, legal abortions; better government policies for women, improved maternal health, etc.

    The normative aspect of rich, powerful white women is a strong. How do you get past it?

    An Australian woman made history today by becoming that nation’s first prime minister. I can’t picture the day a woman wins the White House.

    1. jake brodsky

      A female president will eventually get elected. However, I would prefer that this woman’s identity as a woman be as much of a non-issue as President Obama’s race was for him. We will notice it, and get on with the business.

      We should see such things as interesting, but not much more so than any other background that a President would bring to the table. For example, it is notable that most presidents in history have been lawyers.

      Were there a presidential candidate who was never a lawyer, that in itself would be more notable to me than her sex, race, or religion. Only 1/4 of all presidents in US history were not lawyers.

      I look forward to electing a woman for president, not on the basis of her sex, but because she is experienced, and capable.

    2. Ms. Kelly,

      There has always been the lone, powerful woman who through luck and pluck gets to the top. There have always been the Cleopatra and the Catherine the Greats. They got where they did in spite of the fact that they were women. They did nothing to improve the status of *women, as women*. They merely improved their own status. The measure, in my mind anyway, of a feminist is her (or his) support for empowering *all women*, especially those at the bottom of society. This is exactly why Ms. Palin and Ms. Whitman are no feminists, they oppose the concrete measures that would in fact improve the lives women other than the “the normative few”. They don’t need to worry about pay equity or access to birth control.

  3. brianwood

    While I’ve long been a feminist, I’ve also realized that women are humans, and like their male counterparts, a large proportion, perhaps the majority, are jerks.

    Ambrose Bierce’s definition of “idiot” seems to fit here:A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    Brian, I’d argue that — in fact — women have not always been dominant and controlling, and I think this is one reason we see such appalling behavior — because power is so new to some of them., and the public scrutiny that comes with it. There’s a difference between simPly being able to draw media attention (low standards — take off your blouse or stumble in an airport as Gaga did wearing too-tall heels) and deserving anyone’s serious attention.

    It looks to me that power is heady and some women handle it — yes — as badly and stupidlly as men. Like alcohol, you have to discover your tolerance, how much of it makes you behave like a moron — and having someone close to you who’ll tell you when you’ve crossed that line.

  5. brianwood

    I meant to say merely that jerks are dominant and controlling in human affairs, and those jerks are of both sexes.

    1. jake brodsky

      Redefine what leadership really is?

      I know we have discussed this before, but the bullies of yesterday grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow. This is part of the human condition. I see it happening, but I don’t understand it.

      Maybe I don’t want to.

  6. Caitlin Kelly

    “The measure, in my mind anyway, of a feminist is her (or his) support for empowering *all women*, especially those at the bottom of society.”

    david, thanks. I agree.

    jake, some people in power *are* former or current bullies but there are also many leaders with much kinder and more inclusive styles…no? I don’t see someone wanting to lead others as being an immediate and obvious correlation to being a bully.

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