By Tracy Walker
The exercise of debunking the myths of feminism is a trap.
Lisa Miya-Jervis of Ms. magazine writes, “As long as the yeti of the anti-feminist world–the hairy-legged, man-hater–roams the earth, we need to counteract her image.”
That image is hauled out time and again to keep feminists and their concerns on the margins of political and social debate, as peripheral not central.
Typifying a politics as extremist absolves centrist governments or society from the responsibility of addressing them. It is easy to dismiss concerns about wage equity or daycare when the people voicing those concerns are characterized as rabid feminists as opposed to everyday women. Acknowledging that feminists are a diverse, representative population of people with legitimate issues instead of a pack of raging man-haters is a frightening proposition. It obliges the political ear to pay attention and make changes.
But why is what a feminist looks like, how she behaves, what she does or doesn’t eat or with whom she chooses to share her body so important? Giving voice to anti-lesbian, anti-vegetarian, essentialist arguments muddies the waters of feminist discourse. It also subtly cements the sex of a feminist as female, negating that men can be feminist as well. There are feminists that fit perfectly into the hegemonic construction of what women ought to look like. Naomi Wolfe is one such prominent feminist; she is conventionally beautiful and dresses like any other power-suited female executive.
There are also feminists who don’t conform to the social expectations of women. They may choose not to eat meat or to love women, they may be vocal and uncompromising, refuse to shave their legs or dress like the militia. So what? If vegetarianism is such a crime, why is it that only feminist vegetarians are marginalized? Does anyone ask the Snack Pack what foods they munch on while devising strategy in Ottawa restaurants? Svend Robinson and Real Menard are not discredited as politicians because they are homosexual; in fact, their sexual orientation enhances their standing as politicians in some respects. Feminists, however, are constantly required to defend their lifestyles holistically while adherents to other political persuasions are not. The agenda is to discredit feminism as a politics.
Anyone who taunts a budding feminist with the potential of being aligned with so-called undesirable women is trying to reduce his or her conviction. She or he must confront the detractor and demand to know what is politically wrong with hairy-legged women, lesbians, vegetarians, or women who speak their minds. The answers will demonstrate that these accusations are red herrings introduced to strip legitimacy from feminism.
Anti-feminists keep the image of the man-hating, unshaven, belligerent feminist alive as a scare tactic. The mundane reality of everyday women demanding substantive equality gives breadth, scope and political legitimacy to feminism. That is no myth–it’s just everyday politics, and that is what scares the mainstream.