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There are many problems with the feminist movement in America. As a feminist writer, cultural critic and woman of color, I know this. I live it, and so do the many women, particularly women of marginalized communities, fighting for equal rights. While we’re out there working on smashing the patriarchy and whatnot, we encounter many enemies to the cause. And sometimes that enemy is draped in feminist’s clothing.
Recently, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an opinion piece that originally ran in The Washington Post titled “How to make feminism great again.” The piece is by feminist author Christina Hoff Summers, who calls herself “The Factual Feminist” and uses the tagline “check your facts, not your privilege.” She is here to bring the facts, guys, even if she can’t bring a creative headline.
In her piece, Hoff Summers argues, based on “facts” that she never backs or links to, that feminism is out of touch with reality. She says there is no patriarchy and that claims of online assault, sexual assault in colleges and wage disparities are so “hugely distorted” that they are not actually accurate. She says we need to stop “crying wolf” and that we need to “reckon with the fact that men struggle just as much as women” because they hold more laborious jobs. The problem with feminism, according to Hoff Summers, is that feminists are not “calm and judicious” when we use our voice to discuss our struggles. We are too “hyperbolic and harping.”
I would take a moment here to guffaw but my mouth is slowly filling up with vomit, which is probably not very calm or judicious of me. Whoops.
Apparently we’ve been fighting wrong. We’ve been too loud, too shrill. We are hairy-pitted harpies screeching about cutting off the penises that oppress us. It’s our fault no one will take us seriously.
Firstly, let me point out the painfully obvious. It doesn’t matter how we feminists use our voices because people like Hoff Summers, Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and so on times infinity will invalidate it. We can sit calmly and respond rationally as we have our rights attacked by proven and apparently unchecked non-facts, as Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, did during her 2015 hearing with the House Oversight Committee in which she had to defend her organization from accusations that they receive federal funding for abortions. We can do our duty as policy makers and politicians to ensure the fair and just treatment of women and be harassed, assaulted or murdered for it. We can sit in a meeting with a group of feminists and be told that we are being divisive when we bring race into the conversation. Whatever decibel our voice reaches, people want to silence it.
Secondly, Hoff Summers uses blanket excuses to dismiss the work of feminists when the feminist movement is not one-size-fits-all, nor is the experience of women. A patriarchal society affects all women, but especially women from marginalized communities. She argues that women actually do hold power in the U.S. so why pretend that the patriarchy exists. Ahem, let me light it up with some actual facts.
In 2015, a Weber Shandwick study showed that only 5 percent of the U.S.’s Fortune 1000 companies have female CEOs. That same year, the Center for American Progress reported that although women make up 49 percent of the college-educated workforce, they are woefully underrepresented in leadership roles in corporate America. A measly 4.6 percent can put CEO on their business card.
Catalyst, a nonprofit focusing on female progress in the workplace, reported that Black, Latina and Asian women only make up 16.5 percent of workers in S&P 500 corporations. No numbers were reported at all for women of other races and ethnicities, like Native American, unfortunately, but I’ll venture to guess it’s dismal. I also struggle to find numbers for women with physical disabilities. A staggering 0.40 percent of CEOs are either Asian or Black. Latina women make up 0 percent of CEOs. Zero, as in the amount of fucks corporate America gives about promoting Latinas to leadership positions.
Saying the patriarchy has been defeated because there are women in positions of power at all is laughable. I don’t know about you, but those numbers do not an equal, non-patriarchal country make. If someone delivers me 4% of a pizza, I’m not satisfied with the fact that I got any pizza. I worked hard for that pizza and I want to eat my fair share.
Unsurprisingly, every example she gives of supposedly shrill women speaking out too loudly (Lena Dunham, Katy Perry, Robin Morgan and Tina Brown) is as white as a Pottery Barn throw blanket. Perhaps if Hoff Summers thought to check, she’d find examples of women from marginalized communities that do suit her standards for feminism since they’ve had to learn to be strategic and particularly articulate with their messaging because they’re usually ignored or spoken over by white feminists.
Her entire calm and judicious polemic against feminists is not only complete and utter white feminist bullshit, it’s dangerous to the movement, steeped in internalized sexism and just bad journalism.
We are dealing with an Exxon oil spill of misinformation, arguably more so than ever in the history of journalism. It is dangerous for this writer to mask obvious internalized sexism as fact. It is dangerous to say that the very real concerns of women are not real. They are very real; there are facts to prove it and they have real effects on our lives. And what’s even more dangerous is that a prominent publication would publish a piece claiming facts when, if you check the receipts, not a damn fact is present. You’d expect this from U.S Uncut or some other sensationalist publication, but WaPo and the U-T should know and do better, especially now that the U-T isn’t under Trump-supporting Papa Doug’s rule anymore. This isn’t journalism that serves to inform the people. This is clickbait that will only further fuel anti-woman sentiment and attacks on our rights. We can have our opinions. I certainly have mine. But don’t start talking facts if you don’t have them.
We have made huge and vital strides in the open and honest dialogue of gender and sexism over the last eight years, especially as that conversation has increasingly included the imperative issues of race and privilege. The reason why the feminist movement is often divided is because white feminists have historically ignored or disregarded the concerns of women of color. Hoff Summers doesn’t want to make feminism great again; she just wants to make it white again. She wants it to be quiet and polite. She thinks we can’t acknowledge the experience of men because we’re too busy harping.
Last time I checked, intersectional feminists very much acknowledge the issues faced by men of color. After all, two black women started the Black Lives Matter movement, which openly discusses in particular how black men are the victims of violence that goes unpunished. Feminism does not come without empathy for others who are marginalized. Luckily we have some feminist allies out there who are white and know when to pass the mic. Maybe Hoff Summers should try reading something written by someone other than Lena Dunham, who is most certainly not the voice of the movement or our generation.
Lady, you’re a dinosaur. Your brand of feminism is dead. Check your facts AND your privilege.
You’re right on one thing though. We don’t want your advice. We got this. On Jan. 21, I along with thousands of other women will be marching at the San Diego Women's March, and I plan on harping the entire time. And people will listen because unlike you, they want to.