Social media brings out the worst in us, feminists included. Although I generally love the feminist community and the sisterhood that most women try to embody, I’ve seen a pattern of truly abusive behavior in some online feminist communities. I have been shocked, hurt, and betrayed by the lack of sisterhood in certain feminist circles.
I’m not here to name names or call anyone out. I’m not going to post the folder of receipts and screenshots I have, or outline the detailed examples of what I have seen — I have no intention of ever attacking another woman. But we need to hold our community accountable in general for perpetuating patriarchal patterns. We need to talk about how we are hurting each other because it is holding us back as a movement.
Feminists do not spend all their time and energy attacking other women.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” — Madeleine Albright
I’ve been the target of many such attacks. It seems that some people will necessarily attempt to tear down anyone who accomplishes anything. It’s much easier to make your name as a critic or a bully than it is to make your name actually building, creating, organizing, or growing in a particular space.
One woman recently told me to “sit out of feminism” simply because she disliked that I wrote about my experience as a bisexual woman. This is part of a larger pattern of biphobia which is pervasive in all communities. Others have written entire articles attempting to defame me and my work. I would certainly have every right to fight back — expose this libel for what it truly is.
People often ask me why I don’t defend myself against malicious attacks from “feminists” who seem to do nothing but stalk, harass, or slander other women.
“The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all be humble.” — Serena Williams
I do not spend my energy responding to their attacks because I am a feminist, and feminists do not spend their energy attacking other women.
We spend our energy attacking the patriarchy.
You may be wondering now, “But, MK, what if the woman is working on behalf of the patriarchy? What if she’s a conservative? A handmaiden? What if her ideas are dangerous?”
The answer is simple: attack systems, not people.
Criticize her ideas. Criticize the ground on which her shaky ideological framework is built. Prove her wrong with your superior knowledge, personal experiences, and years of research.
Be better than her. Have better ideas. Write a better book. Run a better blog. Organize a better community. If you’re not in a position to do so yourself, support those who are with your money or kindness. These are all legitimate ways to contribute to debate without tearing down individual women.
Let the best ideas win, not the loudest bullies.
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
If, in your feminist advocacy, you come across a woman who seems to do nothing but attack other women — do not add fuel to her fire. Step away, refuse to engage, and ask yourself who benefits from women attacking other women. (Spoiler: it’s men).
Feminists disagree about all sorts of issues; there are many schisms and factions in our movement, even among radical feminists. But we all, by definition, share the goal of female liberation. “Feminist” is not an identity that can be simply claimed, though. Your actions must demonstrate your investment in working towards this goal.
Just like we would not consider a woman who actively aided in the sex-trafficking of girls a “feminist”, we should not consider women who build their reputations on tearing down other women “feminists”. Feminism is a class struggle. Either you are fighting for the class a whole, or you are not. It doesn’t matter how much you dislike that other woman.
“Feminism is a political practice of fighting male supremacy on behalf of women as a class, including all the women you don’t like, including all the women you don’t want to be around, including all the women who use to be your best friends whom you don’t want anything to do with any more. It doesn’t matter who the individual women are.” — Andrea Dworkin
We must recognize that, as women, we are all just trying to survive. We all struggle with internalized sexism, our own pasts (or present) of male violence, and the generational trauma passed on from mothers to daughters. We all have negative coping skills for surviving under patriarchy.
Because I recognize that those women who attack me are acting out their own trauma, I will not attack them back and contribute to this cycle. But we also must not foster this behavior as a community, or else we are collectively guilty of allowing patriarchal abuse to run free in the very place it should be powerless.
“I wish more women realized that helping another woman win, cheering her on, praying for her, or sharing a resource with her, does not take away from the blessings coming to them. In fact, the more you give, the more you receive. Empowering women doesn’t come from selfishness but rather from selflessness.” — Selene Kinder
Each of us must be better than this, and we must hold our community to a higher standard. Although, as women, we have been socialized under patriarchy to view other women as threats and competition, we must have no tolerance for this behavior in our own movement. How can a community that replicates the patterns of patriarchy ever hope to overcome it?
Solidarity doesn’t mean blind agreement, nor does it mean turning the other cheek to violence and abuse in our community. But it does mean focusing on the root of the problem, not on the individual woman herself. This is what “radical” feminist means — getting to the root. Any woman who spends her time attacking other women rather than men or the patriarchy is not acting as a feminist, let alone a radical one.
“The way to achieve your own success is to be willing to help somebody else get it first.” — Iyanla Vanzant
Feminists put their time, resources, and energy into supporting other women, helping their ideas and work grow and flourish with the goal of overthrowing our oppressor class together. No one woman can do it alone — if she could, it would have been done by now. Being a feminist means working with other women who share this goal.
Even when you don’t personally like them.
Even when you disagree on methods or tactics.
Even when you have a grudge.
Even when it means swallowing your pride.
You might even find that supporting other women rather than tearing them down is rewarding.
CC-BY-SA, M. K. Fain