Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why I Am Not A Feminist by Jessa Crispin

Paperback, 240 pgs Pub February 2017 by Melville House Original Title Why I Am Not a Feminist ISBN13: 9781612196015

Jessa Crispin sets out to discomfit us. She is so antagonistic to begin I almost put the audiobook aside. The author reads it, and there is a sarcasm and spite to her voice that I long ago decided I would rather avoid. Yes, she’s angry. But she made me curious. How and why could she push my buttons and why was she bothering? I started again the next day and her arguments sounded different the second time around. I agreed with her.

Essentially Crispin is saying that the feminist movement has been popularized, co-opted, and dumbed down to the point that folks have forgotten that feminism is nothing less than tearing down patriarchy, and any paternalistic system that “grants” rights to a certain segment of society while denying those same rights to others. Feminism means upending expected and accepted ways of exploitation of any group, race, religion, class.

Feminism is not measured by how many female CEOs are making 70, 80, 90, or 100 percent of what males do in similarly-structured companies where the top 1 percent is making over 1000 times what the lowest paid worker is making. Feminism exposes structures which make such disparities and discrimination possible.

Now do you see why it should make you uncomfortable? Feminism overthrows current methods and modes of interaction, in our financial, social, and relational interactions. Men and women, Crispin suggests, will struggle to understand and honor feminism's new goals and intentions and how they work, and therefore should not be criticized if they question, stumble or misinterpret on the way to building new social structures. It is important to listen and think about and answer disagreement within a movement.

Here Crispin sounds Maoist (and we know how that turned out), but at base I think she is saying something important: feminism is the original inclusive movement because everyone’s roles and interactions change for the better—except those who have been advantaged by exploitation of groups not their own to achieve outsized power and influence which they wield to keep their position at the top of some figurative ‘heap.’ That will be over, as far as feminists have anything to say about it.

Most appreciated is the way Crispin draws a line from inclusiveness to saving our planet: we are going to need the talents and skills of every dispossessed group to add to the general creativity. As long as people are encouraged and advantaged when they exploit others for personal gain and at the expense of the general welfare of the entire society, we are not going to succeed in the challenges that are coming.

Jessa Crispin is one of the original online unaffiliated book reviewers; she called her site Bookslut. There always was some aggression in her presentation, and I found her reading and writing difficult to understand, for the most part. Since then I recognize that she was reading and writing to learn, rather than merely for pleasure, and I have begun to do the same. I understand her better now. I recently reviewed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists which I liked very much. Adichie’s manner is so friendly, at first I thought she was saying that one does not have to be angry to be a feminist. But in fact, Adichie is angry: feminists should be angry, because we are not there yet. Some women have progressed; the world lags behind.

Crispin tells us that some of us have not bothered to look at the second wave of the feminist goals because some of us have gotten some personal gain and we have chosen what we want out of feminism's goals. Crispin reminds us that white female empowerment in the United States can actually be shown to be oppressive to less advantaged women overseas, by reason of feminists not completing the revolution as it were, but stopping when they have attained some measure of gain. First world women might be said to have bought into an oppressive, exploitative patriarchal system when it began to include them.

Just hearing the chapter heading “How Feminism Ended Up Doing Patriarchy’s Work” sounds exactly right. If one has enough money, one can avoid the worst effects of patriarchal control, and more and more women are stopping when we get to this point. But if we stopped and took a breath at this stage, we have to buckle on a breastplate and dive back into the fight. It is not men we are fighting. It is power and money which allows us to avoid the most pernicious effects of patriarchy and capitalism. Money and power feels good. When we get it, we don't want to carry on fighting.

So, Crispin wants to insert herself into everyone’s discussion about What Feminism Is. Feminism does not argue about who shaves and who is on top during sex. The powerless cannot, and the powerful will not, break the system. People, not just women, with both understanding and an unwillingness to buy into the system are the ones who can crush an oppressive system. She is broadening the limits of the term. “Women should think of themselves as humans first.”

In the end, Crispin's persistence in explaining why she is no longer a feminist is a serious and much-needed look in the mirror and not merely caustic and dismissive. It’s a call to arms. She’s tough: she has broadened and expanded and exploded definitions and reminded us of earlier radical feminists who are now dismissed or discredited. We might need a new word: Feminism is now ‘old hat,’ and she has moved on. I get it, and I'm with her.

I ended up really appreciating the PRH audio production read by the author, her intense and pointed criticisms aimed at feminists and power-mongers and unconscious beneficiaries of the current patriarchal capitalist system which has been so severely skewed to benefit a group not trying hard enough to dismantle the system which keeps them comfortable at the expense of others. To write a response to the manifesto, it would be useful to have a written copy. She brings up a lot of complex ideas and I guarantee you will not be completely comfortable with her critical eye and tongue. But she wades in where every man fears to tread. Bravo!

Couple of interviews with Jessa Crispin:

Constance Grady in Vox with Crispin May 3, 2016
Michelle Dean in The Guardian with Crispin May 9, 2016

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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