All of a sudden, to say women should invoke their hard-won right to speak their minds—even if it means disagreeing or criticizing another woman—feels like a radical statement in the current climate, where #squad girl-types are aggressively pushing the idea that women who criticize other women are somehow anti-feminist.
“Many third wave and liberal feminists have confused ‘personal choice’ with liberation, forgetting that liberation for women should be about collective liberation and really has very little to do with women’s individual, personal choices,” says Meghan Murphy, founder of Feminist Current, a Canadian feminist site. “This means that young/liberal feminists often confuse critiques of things like objectification, pornography, representations of women in pop culture, prostitution, etc., as ‘attacking other women’s choices’ and as therefore out of bounds.”
Enforcing that idea is a huge problem. “What is being suggested when we say ‘don’t criticize other women’ is that we stop thinking independently and questioning the world around us, which is not a good thing,” she says.
Men don’t impose similar restrictions. They’re free to be critical of one another and even stupidly so—see Donald Trump’s statements on just about everything—without raising alarm among their peers. Revealingly, their opinions are never categorized as being catty or undermining; instead, they’re publicly permitted to exercise their intellect. Keith Richards recently slammed The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, calling it a “mishmash of rubbish.” Other men conceded his right to an informed opinion—no one rose up to declare Richards a misandrist, or called him out for not sticking with the brotherhood.
On the other hand, when Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to complain about what she felt was the VMA’s preference for celebrating a certain kind of feminine beauty and sexuality (in other words, slim supermodel-types), slim supermodel-type Taylor Swift swooped in to school her.
“I’ve done nothing but love and support you,” Swift tweeted, as if both represented a cure for the implicit cultural prejudice Minaj was hinting at. “It’s unlike you to pit women against each other,” she continued. “Maybe one of the men took your slot.”
Though she later apologized for demanding Minaj play cheerleader for her sex—go XX!—it’s unclear whether Swift ever really got what Minaj was saying. She was offering a cultural critique that felt true to her experience as a black female artist in the U.S. Is it so hard to think that MTV, which is staffed by both men and women, might possess some form of cultural bias for skinny white girls?
Comedian Amy Schumer reacted just as childishly when writer (and FLARE contrib) Monica Heisey lightly criticized some of her race-related jokes in the Guardian; Heisey felt they demonstrated a lack of cultural sensitivity. (The article was largely complimentary.)
“I am a devout feminist,” Schumer tweeted in response—a status she seemed to think made her immune to criticism. She went on to ask for a kind of god-like deference, that people “trust” her comic instincts and “resist the urge to pick me apart.”
Schumer obviously had second thoughts about her first reaction, though. In a subsequent exchange on Twitter she conceded the possibility that some of her jokes could be offensive. “I am evolving as an artist,” she explained via Twitter. “I am taking responsibility and hope I haven’t hurt anyone. I apologize [if] I did.”
Not every woman wants blanket approval from her peers. MMA champ Ronda Rousey stirred the pot recently when she created a T-shirt that bore her personal slogan, “Don’t be a DNB” (DNB=Do Nothing Bitch).
Rousey explained the meaning behind the phrase in an interview. “I have this one term for the kind of woman that my mother raised me to not be. I call it a ‘do nothing bitch.’” She goes on to suggest that a DNB is a gold digger, someone who aims to “f-ck millionaires” rather than win her own spurs in life.
The T-shirt, which benefits women’s charities, generated some debate as to whether or not it represented yet another example of a woman being catty or cruel or misogynistic. To my mind, the message echoes a lot of traditional feminist urgings. The crudeness of her language aside, Rousey’s belief that a woman should not rate her potential so cheaply as to sell it to some rich creep is more in line with traditional feminist ideals than aspirational Instagrams featuring supermodels and pop stars living like the Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, or yet another e-commerce site with a “feminist” bent, where the thinking is more Buy Something Great than Do Something Great.
Agree with her view or not, but what Rousey seems to understand is that a political movement shouldn’t operate like a sorority, or be policed by cheerleaders. Winning social, political and economic equality for half of the world’s population isn’t a minor-league squad goal; it’s a necessary component of a just society. Consequently we can be tough-minded, argumentative, passionate, political and critical—and we can even be wrong. Just like men.