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On Being A “Good” Feminist

January 9, 2010

So, in April 2009, I wrote this:

“It occurs to me now that if ever I had a problem with feminism, this would be it: that we police each others’ moral standards. Well, I mean, apart from the rather unsavoury history of bigotry that has plagued feminism and causes some women to identify as womanists/ humanists instead. But seriously, what are we thinking?”

That paragraph formed part of a post on the subject of periods, but it’s a transferrable sentiment. At the time, I was angry because I’d noticed a pattern of treating periods as though they were a) something that every woman experienced and b) no big deal. That entire post still stands, but it’s not something to be reposting in its entirety on this blog.

Still, I’m going to quote my own work one more time, because it’s relevant:

“What have we achieved if we get society to acknowledge that a woman’s choices are none of their damned business, only to create our own hierarchy of who is the “most feminist” based on what kind of period controls one uses?”

For the purposes of this discussion, never mind the period control. What have we achieved if we create our own hierarchy of who is the “most feminist” based on, well, any of the choices we make?


I’ve been seeing it more recently.Or perhaps it’s just bothered me more recently. One person identifying as feminist saying to another person who also identifies as feminist: “how can you call yourself a feminist if you do this/ act like this/ think this/ like this?”.

For example:

  • “How can you call yourself a feminist if you [like/ don’t like] this particular band?”
  • “How can you call yourself a feminist if you [have/ don’t have/ enjoy/ don’t enjoy] this certain kind of sex?”
  • “How can you call yourself a feminist if you [are involved/ aren’t involved/ approve of/ don’t approve of] this certain kind of activism?”


In the interests of not policing everybody else’s moral standards, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it really doesn’t matter.

Wanting the world to recognise that women’s rights are human rights doesn’t mean that you have to all like the same band. Or painting. Or sculpture. Or hobby. Or type of sex. Or deity(s).

And feminism is such a vast, sprawling set of ideas and ideals that there are bound to be people, all identifying as feminist, who don’t agree on methods of activism. It’s even got its own Feminism 101 page.


In fact, have another quote. This one, I found posted by Ide Cyan in the comments section of a post entitled Good Slut, Bad Slut. And it pretty much answers the question. Much more succinctly than I could, I should point out.

“ObJoannaRuss [obligatory Joanna Russ quote]…
“The feminism I know began as politics, not rules for living. To call X a feminist issue did not then mean that there was a good way to do X and a bad way, and that we were trying to replace the bad way with the good way. X was a feminist issue because it was the locus of various social pressures (which it made visible) and those social pressues were what feminism was all about. Makeup, for instance, is a feminist issue not because using makeup is anti-feminist and scrubbing your face is feminist but because makeup is compulsory. Those who don’t see the distinction are building a religion, not a politics.” — from “News from the Front”, in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts, p. 77″


If you want a religion, there are plenty to choose from. For me, feminism is politics. I’m a lazy atheist. I don’t like the concept of organized religion for myself (though I recognise its merits for others).I don’t need or want a religion, and I certainly don’t want one that spends its time policing the choices of women, telling them whether they’re “good” or “bad” according to some increasingly arbitrary rules in the name of “feminism”. That there, that’s what I call “irony”.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2010 1:07 pm

    I have trouble thinking of anything but the “no true Scotsman” fallacy when I hear things like “good feminist.”

  2. January 11, 2010 4:26 pm

    Now, if only I’d been aware of that phrase, this post would’ve been so much shorter!

  3. Ide Cyan permalink
    January 23, 2010 1:49 pm

    (In case the “OJoannaRuss” bit was confusing: I made a typo leaving that comment. It should have read “ObJoannaRuss” (as in, “obligatory/obvious Joanna Russ quote”).)

  4. January 23, 2010 2:52 pm

    Nice to see you here, Ide Cyan! I’ve edited the quote.

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