Non-fiction review: Why I am not a feminist
Mass movements, not 'fringe cultures', can win feminist change
Helen Pattison, East London Socialist Party
When I picked up a copy of 'Why I am not a feminist: A feminist manifesto' I thought it was just what I needed to read. A book that calls for the "total dismantling of the system of oppression" sounded appealing.
It sounded appealing because - as its literary critic author Jessa Crispin identifies - the establishment portrays feminism as simply being about getting more female executives, or the first female president of the US, at the top of sexist capitalist structures.
This is opposed to socialist feminism, which fights to end inequality and oppression for all women, as well as the system that prolongs sexism.
But unfortunately this book isn't a useful tool for taking up different ideas about what feminism is and should be, partly because it's quite a confusing read.
Crispin uses very few direct quotes when attacking ideas she disagrees with, so it's often unclear which strand of feminism she is arguing against. She prefers to write imaginary dialogues between her ideas and "other feminists."
But I don't want to read her rebuttal of what she imagines other feminists might say. I want to know what other feminists are actually saying, and why she thinks they are wrong.
Crispin's own ideas are also unclear and contradictory.
'Why I am not a feminist' is an attempt to attack what she sees as mainstream feminism taking the focus away from the massive institutions which maintain sexism, and instead blaming the individual. But ultimately her own "radical" feminism isn't very different.
While feminism shouldn't have a "condescending attitude" towards women in less developed countries and the sexism they face, Crispin takes a condescending tone when she asks the reader to "do something difficult... Look at what you are participating in when you are engaged sexually or romantically with a male partner... Think about how you are contributing to these imbalances through your own personal choices."
She is nostalgic for a time when she believes feminism was "a fringe culture." She equates feminism growing beyond a small group of radicals with it 'selling out' and becoming ineffective.
This is where I disagreed with her the most. We have seen and will see mass movements of women and men against capitalism and sexism. But sadly, in this book, Jessa Crispin seems to conclude that we are not up to the task.