This is a review of the book ‘Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto‘ by Jessa Crispin.
Like I wrote in my previous post, this book got me frantic at first and thinking later on. It was an onslaught on almost everything that I believed in and it hit me too hard. So it took me some time to get to the end of the book and my feelings and opinions about it have changed drastically in the meantime.
The book criticizes contemporary feminism, its ideals and is a call to awaken the spirit of sisterhood which was exchanged for individualism in the recent years, according to the author.
Crispin, very rightly points at how capitalism came to benefit from the feminist movement towards individualism and choice. Sex and the City is a classic example .SATC touches upon many issues of women in relationships and makes you rejoice in your womanhood, but it would be idiotic to not see the fashion brands that pepper the script and white elite-ness that it reeks of. Not to mention the stereotyping of it all.
The overarching argument of the book is that when by exchanging sisterhood for individualism, some women got to step into men’s shoes and had become complicit with men in their culture of subjugation. This, I believe is a critique of capitalism rather than of women or of the feminist movement. Also, entrenched in this argument is a belief in the ‘goodness’ of women – the belief that, given the chance, women would do a much better job running the world. For example, the author decries the ambition that drives women who work in the corporate world.
This is similar to the argument that used to be made against feminists who advocated a professional life for women- they were told that as many women from the upper class left their homes to begin working, their positions would be supplanted by domestic helps who were obviously again women. The problem with this argument is obvious. For one, domestic helps are paid for the work they do and so it is not the thankless job that most women have to perform at home. Secondly, the fact that domestic helps and other low tier jobs do not have job security and benefits cannot be blamed upon other working women. That is a fault with the system of which both men and women are part of. Thirdly, are men made to feel guilty about hiring other men to do jobs like plumbing and welding or whatever? This argument is based on the assumption that domestic jobs like cooking and cleaning is something that women have to do and not expect anything in return just like the former argument believes in an inherent goodness of women which really doesn’t exist.
“Breaking away from the value system and goals of the dominant culture is always going to be a dramatic, and inconvenient, act. Surface-level feminism — feminism that requires only a swapping out of labels and no real reform—requires nothing so strenuous from you. To understand how surface-level contemporary feminism really is, we need only note that the most common markers of feminism’s success are the same markers of success in patriarchal capitalism. Namely, money and power. Our metric is how many women are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, how many bylines at The New York Times are women’s, what percentage of medical school graduates are women.” Excerpt from Chapter One.
At this point in the book, the author is all for revolutionary changes in the system, so that women will not be part of the oppressive culture of subjugation created by men. While one is left to puzzle out how to actually revolutionize the system while not even being a part of it as the author advocates, the later chapters reverses the argument entirely. A quote from the last paragraph of Chapter Eight–
“Women, if you want a better existence for your people, you must participate in the imperfect world that exists now.”
There are several individual points in the book that I agree with and have written about. For example, the author speaks against the increasing number of vigilantes that feminism seems to give birth to – talking about dealing with sexual harassment cases and social media vigilantism-
“What they are doing is looking for one man to carry the weight of our entire history, to make up for all of the men who hurt us and escaped punishment. This is revenge.”
Crispin also proposes the idea of building a community support system so that women will not be left with a just choice between being dependent on a patriarchal family system with no freedom or being independent and free, but crazy due to all the work and no emotional or mental support.
However, on the whole, this book was a disappointment as it raises many questions on the contemporary feminist strategy, but leaves all of them unanswered.