As Lena Dunham Posts About Being A Bad Feminist, Suzanne Moore Asks: When Did Feminism Become A Competition?

16 May 2014

Lena Dunham bad feminist badge

Is there only one type of feminist? [Getty]

With a raft of summer literature debating the issue, writer Suzanne Moore, explains why it’s okay to be an imperfect sister…

It’s quite simple really. Every time a woman says “I am not a feminist but….”she will go on to say something that demonstrates exactly why we need feminism. Feminism is equality and being “against” equality is like being against world peace. It’s a no-brainer really which is why it is so thrilling right now to see a new generation of young women campaigning on all kinds of feminist issues – from campaigning against FGM to using social media to holler back or simply "make their voices heard”.

But worryingly, this fourth wave often gets washed away by endless divisive bickering. Increasingly, I’ve noticed women attacking each other for being the wrong ‘shape of feminist’. From women being too vocal or not vocal enough about abortions or gender or sexuality.  I for one have been recently attacked for being white, heterosexual, having a job, having children and stating that I would prefer my daughters did not become prostitutes (apparently this made me X and X). What a sell out I am!

 Bad Feminism: Is There Really Only One Type Of Feminist?

Lena Dunham instagrammed a photo of her 'Bad Feminist' badge [Instagram]

Before, we knew who our enemies were. They were the ones who, on a good day,  saw us as either hairy-legged witches or, on a bad day, ball busting bitches and on most days a bit of both. Feminism’s connotations remain naff. But actually I am less bothered about what anti-feminists call us and more bothered about how we behave towards each other.

Sure I used to think I wasn’t a proper feminist as I didn’t have the uniform and I liked lipstick, heels and men. Roughly in that order. Swapping one set of rules for another never appealed. Looking back on the pioneers from Simone de Beauvoir to Germaine Greer to Gloria Steinem who has just turned 80 is to see magnificent, contradictory feminist women often making it up as they went along. Let’s not forget Greer once described me as having "hair bird's-nested all over the place, fuck-me shoes and three fat inches of cleavage" – that’s wasn’t terribly sisterly now was it?

Each generation repackages feminism in its own image. No one owns it. We all have our own versions because actually for things to progress we have to agree to disagree.  But it is dispiriting to see each popular feminist pulled to pieces for humming the tune but not getting the words exactly right.

Women policing each other’s feminism can be depressing. When Caroline Criado-Perez was attacked on Twitter for suggesting a woman should appear on the new banknote, no one expected some of the trolls to be women accusing her of being 'hysterical'. Ditto everyone from the young feminist writer Laurie Penny to the outspoken Louise Mensch who have all been attacked on social media by other women for saying 'the wrong thing'. The problem is, no one is the perfect feminist. No one gets its right all the time. We change when the facts change. That’s not failure or fickleness. No one woman speaks for all. 

Is Beyonce a good enough feminist?  She talks about the myth of gender equality, about women earing 70% of men earn, about teaching girls to aim high while teaching boys to have respect.  Oh, but look she calls herself by her husband’s name, is impossibly beautiful and appears on Time magazine’s 100 List wearing a pair of pants! Let’s chuck her out of the F-club. The attitude that being fashionable, “sexy” and being a feminist are mutually exclusive is not only clueless, it’s patently wrong. 

Beyonce appeared on the cover of Time magazine in her pants [Time]

Beyonce appeared on the cover of Time magazine in her pants [Time]

Is Madonna a proper feminist if she is refusing to grow old gracefully? Is Gloria Steinem who said marriage was like “breeding in captivity” and then in later in life got married?  What about  Sheryl Sandberg who in launching her ‘Lean in’ movement and Ban Bossy campaign has also been accused of being elitist and approaching feminism from a purely white and middle-class perspective? 

Ultimately feminism is not and should not be a competition. Fundamentally, feminism should be about choice and about maximizing women’s choices. In a period of massive social change, we have moved from demanding the vote to demanding equal pay to equal representation in public-life which we are still so far away from.  Of course we have to understand that it’s different for women of colour, disabled women or working class women, but we cannot be divided by the Oppression Olympics. 

This governments polices have hit women the hardest and to see a new wave of young women fighting back in heartening: From Laura Bates documenting @everydaysexism online and in her new book, to pushing to get Page 3 banned; to a campaign fronted by Angelina Jolie trying to get the world to see that rape is a war crime; to those who continue to remind us we cannot take for granted the basic right to control our own bodies  (abortion rights have just been curtailed in Spain) – relatively talking, feminism in rude health.

But no-one can fight all these battles and no one can get it right all of the time. But let’s move away from criticizing lifestyles and understand that this is about actual lives. Women die because of FGM, domestic violence, lack of sanitation so you know sometimes waxing or being interested in fashion is not the issue of the day.  I feel lucky to live in a world where Caitlin Moran can make me laugh and a pop star can quote Chimamandu Ngozi Adiche, where 16 year olds can campaign against images of women and where I can go see Malala Yousafzai be greeted like a rock star by a hugely mixed audience. Malala remember was shot in the face by the Taliban for insisting on the rights of girls to be educated. She doesn’t use the word feminism but talks of fairness and then rushes off to do her GCSE revision. Amazing. 

Most of us are not Malala or Madonna. We muddle through. We change our minds. We take days off from feminism and that’s okay. We pass the baton on. We don’t pull up the ladder behind us. Sometimes, that all we have the energy for.  So let’s not waste it all on judging other women for not being good enough. It’s OK to like all kinds of feminists. Especially the bad ones.

The feminist dividers

1. Miley Cyrus: Rudely Radical

APPLAUDED FOR: Believing that women should own their bodies - not the patriarchy. “There’s absolutely no contradiction at all,” Miley says, “between being a feminist and taking your clothes off and being comfortable about displaying your sexuality.”
ACCUSED OF: ‘degrading women’ with her overtly sexualised behaviour Pretending to fellate a tuxedo-clad man wearing a Bill Clinton mask probably didn’t do her any favours. 

As Lena Dunham Posts About Being A Bad Feminist Suzanne Moore Asks When Did Feminism Become A Competition?


2. Beyoncé: Independent Woman?

APPLAUDED FOR: Being a female woman of colour who has taken a hunk out of the male-lead multimillion dollar music industry, inspiring women and girls worldwide - notably that time she became a co-founder of the women’s rights initiative Chime For Change.
ACCUSED OF: betraying the cause by defining herself through her husband. First by taking surname, then naming her tour ‘Mrs Carter’ before naming her joint tour with Jay Z: The Mr. and Mrs. Carter Tour.

Beyoncé feminist


3. Sheryl Sandberg: Privileged Prerogatives

APPLAUDED FOR: Speaking out about gender equality in the workplace and generally doing it for her sisters. Now worth more than $1billion, she’s one of the world’s youngest self-made billionaires.
ACCUSED OF: Being limited by her white, educated background, and forgetting to check her privilege. The Washington Post called her movement “the elite leading the not-so-elite”.

sheryl sandberg feminist


4. Michelle Obama: Fe-mumism

APPLAUDED FOR: The highly intelligent First Lady of the White House, is one of very few representing black women as a model of modern womanhood – inspired a generation of school girls to aim high. 
ACCUSED OF: Being inactive in socio-political matters in favour of the “Mom-in-Chief” role. She was branded a “feminist nightmare” by Politico magazine. Writer Leslie Morgan Steiner asks, “Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated First Ladies in history?”

Michelle Obama feminist


Gloria Steinem: The original

APPLAUDED FOR: A second-wave feminist force to be reckoned with and founder of Ms Magazine who has, over the past forty years, not only provided a platform for women to speak and be heard - she campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment - but also redefined the meaning of feminism to be inclusive of men. 
ACCUSED OF: Cng on her looks to help propel her to prominence. Beauty and feminism can co-exist but, reported one essay recently, ‘you can't ignore the power of aesthetics.’


So what are your thoughts? Can there only be one type of feminist? Let us know by tweeting us at @Grazia_Live or joining the debate on our Facebook page.


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