I was recently invited to hear you speak to a young professionals group of which I am a former member. Feministing was an early inroad to internet feminism for me, and I read The Purity Myth, so I was interested to see what you would have to say to this group of (mostly) women.
After listening to your Q&A session with them, I am not sure that I am comfortable calling myself (or being identified by others as) a feminist. If your answers are truly representative of what the leaders of the movement are concerned with, the movement is not mine.
I am a young white temporarily abled genderqueer queer person from a lower middle class family in Oklahoma. The concerns for the movement that you voiced to those people only spoke to one of those identities, and in my opinion, it’s the one least worth addressing: whiteness.
When a young woman asked you what the biggest concern was for the future of feminism, you did not take that time to bring awareness to the fact that racism, transphobia, heteronormativity, ableism, and classism are rampant, and that women like you (and to a certain degree, like me) are given undue respect and credibility over our often more qualified and interesting peers of color, of varied ability, gender, etc.
No, instead, you were concerned with whether or not people in the movement were getting paid for their activism. You spoke of Feministing’s writers as people “working for free,” and wished for a world where they could be compensated. While this is perhaps a worthy goal from the perspective of a career activist, it is certainly not the biggest problem with feminism today.
When you were asked to name a major piece of legislation that feminists could work towards passing or repealing, and the asker referred to VAWA and the Fair Pay Act as “symbolic” and “not a big deal,” you not only didn’t call her on the gross privilege in her question, you also summarized your answer with “no, I can’t.” Yes, the first word you said was “Hyde,” but you did not explain what that was or even bother to continue on that thread. It was effectively a stutter that began a response I honestly couldn’t believe I was hearing from someone I looked up to years ago.
Similarly, when asked if you knew of any feminist conferences or think tank style organizations, you also came up short. CLPP and Take Root are two I can name off the top of my head, and a really quick google search reveals the National Young Feminists Leadership Conference. Are those not feminist?
As for “thinktank” style orgs, I have the utmost respect for groups like SisterSong, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, the people behind Make//Shift Mag, RH Reality Check, Women’s Media Center, (to some degree) the Peace Development Fund, CLPP (again!), and a host of other organizations that would turn this letter into a laundry list. Do they not qualify as think tank orgs?
Yet you still said “none,” that you were working on one with Harvard, but that nothing was done yet. (Do all think tanks have to be university affiliated?)
From the back of the room, I was devastated, disappointed, and angry.
If the kind of leadership that young women can expect from their heroes is the kind that glosses over or considers irrelevant the contributions of those who are working on causes other than the trouble women have networking in corporations (another issue you brought up at the expense of mentioning a more serious one), feminism is dead. Feminism is a purely white, staid set of principles designed not to eliminate but to cement inequality, just with more (probably white, cis, straight, and able-bodied) women at the top of the pile.
It took me a long time to fully buy into the idea that white women were killing anything meaningful in the movement. I thought that surely some concerns were overblown, that women like you were doing their best to include more voices at the table and to promote the work of marginalized people alongside your friends’ and your own. If I was not bought in before I heard you speak, I am fully bought in now.
So consider this my resignation letter. I’m no longer a feminist. I will continue to work towards goals that have tangible effects on people’s lives, like reproductive justice, queer/trans* youth homelessness, anti-racism initiatives, and all those other things that feminism is leaving behind because it’s been offered a seat at more powerful tables.
(Major acknowledgements to Flavia Dzodan and INCITE!, as well as a lot of Tumblr feminists of color who helped shape my thinking on this issue before I was even present in the room with Valenti.)