ENG 363 – “Why I Am Not A Feminist”

“Why I Am Not a Feminist” by Jessa Crispin starts out like so many other feminist manifestos: a plea to not be treated like “every other feminist”. She takes it one step further by declaring she’s not like the other feminists that are claiming they’re not like other feminists. The conversation about feminism internal to the movement seems to be a bunch of accusatory navel-gazing that completely excludes everyone who is not actively trying to be a feminist. Crispin directly calls out that feminism can’t be palatable to the masses in order to make a difference in society, but then who is this manifesto for? (Hint: not me.)

The first section of the book makes me think of why I don’t identify myself with (as Roxane Gay put it) Capital-F Feminists—Crispin comes from a place of privilege where one can just stop doing things that are damaging to the feminist movement, whatever that may be defined as. This “Just Stop” mentality is great for people who can do it, but they seem to forget that not everyone is them, and not everyone can “Just Stop”. Just Stop, Just Do It. Easy words to say when you’ve got safety nets, maybe that’s why there are still “reluctant sisters”. WE KNOW OUR “ROLE IN THE WORLD IS FUCKED” CRISPIN. Crispin keeps turning to the second wave as what NOT to be and what has caused so many people to NOT be feminists now. Growing up there were many “hairy biker dyke” stereotypes in the media I consumed, but I never associated that with feminism (or Feminism), but rather with assholes who fought against feminism. Why does Crispin keep returning to this strawman? Is she so out of touch with reality? Or am I? Crispin is right to call out the identity politics of the feminism label, but this seems like a really flimsy argument. She claims the label of feminist has become so weakened by trying to be mainstream—so why does she care at all about the label (even so much as to put it in her title)? Rather than spend the entire manifesto railing on the weakened state of the label and naming names of people who have weakened it, couldn’t she have, instead, I don’t know, actually provided suggestions and insight into how to make actual change?

Section two … again straw man arguments and false dichotomy. She rails on a fictional other faction for not taking into account all aspects of a woman’s life but then fails to take into account anything other than her limited “feminists” and “traditional women”. She ends with a real good question: “Has feminism created the space for men to take on traditionally feminine traits at the same level it has created the space for women to take on traditionally masculine traits?” (35-36), but the question I’m left with is why did it take so many pages for me to get the point where I’m actually interested in what she has written? Feminism is about smashing the patriarchy (which damages both men and women) and she has only thus far focused on how the label of feminist has damaged women.

Section three opens with insults to Andrea Dworkin, who I had first heard of in this manifesto as Crispin’s strawman’s scapegoat. “Obese, frizzy-haired, without even a hint of lip gloss.” Congratulations, Crispin, you just insulted the majority of American women, myself included. But wait! That insult you gave is what the strawman says about us, not you! Please stop. Please. Crispin again advocates for “Just Stop” radical feminism. She calls the counter to her advocacy “Choice Feminism” – merely the act of making a choice (without a man) is an act of feminism. She addresses reality only slightly but quickly dismisses it with her “Just Stop” attitude. She addresses the privilege white middle class women have with “Choice Feminism” but conveniently doesn’t acknowledge that her own choices, specifically her choice to JUST STOP doing non-feminist things, is from her privilege as well.

Section four acknowledges that the problem is people and society, not men and women, which I am in absolute agreement with Crispin on. She advocates getting into the system and being a rebel rather than getting into the system and begin comfortable. This is what feminism should be, and what she’s been arguing against up until now. I could have saved 30+ minutes of my life just starting at section 4. Everything up to this point has been logical fallacies and poor arguments of an angry feminist; everything up to this point would have made me stop reading if I didn’t have to read the book for a class.

Section five is full of hypocrisy. Crispin calls out human nature to form the dichotomy (us-vs-them) but the first three sections of her manifesto were doing just that. Again, this manifesto would have been much better without those sections. The psychology presented in section five is sound and something I’ve thought before reading this book; people use projection to paint their “enemy” with whatever bad things they see in themselves. It’s easier to paint a strawman with bad qualities and claim to be “not that” than to acknowledge your own failings. I think in this section Crispin is projecting herself onto a hypothetical “you”, a reader she’s pleading for forgiveness from for her failings in the first part of the book. She set up a human nature that refuses to examine itself and then claims to be “not that.

In section five, Crispin brought up that no one talks about “toxic femininity” in the way they talk about “toxic masculinity” – I think that in that sense both are part of the patriarchy and the patriarchy is the problem. However, Section six talks about the revenge culture of feminism: this is the “toxic femininity” that needs to be talked about. Shouting down and destroying someone for disagreeing or for saying something disagreeable will have the desired effect of silencing dissent, but it silences all conversation as well. “Using the excuse that men have controlled and dominated the conversation for centuries does not justify using their methods to try and wrench control our way” (103). Crispin is clearly an advocate for humanism over Feminism, as this sort of outrage culture tears down the humanity of all, degrading “them” to nothing more than another label, and making “us” just as shallow.

Section seven solidifies that Crispin and I are mostly on the same wavelength when it comes to the manifesto portion of her manifesto. Everything before she got actually serious was garbage that was either included to pad her word count or to draw in those that might disagree with her in order to get them to read what she REALLY means to share. Or its just fomenting literature, as the first section of section seven is summed up with “fuck off men.” She again has a “Just Stop/Just Do It” attitude in regards to how men become/remain feminists, but then wants cooperation in building a new, equal world, where romantic love and relationships are not central to personal worth.

Section eight is entirely on one point that I live by (though not in her exact words) – “The way we deal with other people’s inhumanity is to insist on our humanity, not by insisting we are somehow a better, more honest version of human” (136-7). “Our job is to act like humans” (137) echoes what I often tell my son why we do things like consider what we say before we say it, consider our actions before we take them, and apologize when we make the wrong choices. We exist together for each other, everyone. Make it a good existence.

Section nine, if the casual reader ever makes it that far, is serious backpedaling from Crispin’s earlier stance that Choice Feminism Is Bad And Hurting Feminism. She again takes a “Just Stop” stance at the very end, but this time says “Just Stop” calling yourself feminist if you aren’t going to be a radical feminist. By stating in the title that she is not a feminist, Crispin admits to not being a revolutionary that can change the world, but then why write a book? “I’m a western white woman, listen to me!” but she has almost nothing to say. “I’m not like other girls” but then explains exactly how she is like other girls. She decries the injustices of the world and says “you’re all doing it wrong” but then also does it wrong. Then says “but we’re all human and capable of doing it wrong!”.

Crispin said some things I agree with, but not in some insightful, inspirational way that would make me raise this book up and say “Read! Read and be enlightened!”; especially when she devoted several pages to how men should seek enlightenment elsewhere. Yet she wants to rally everyone to addressing how the patriarchy fucks over all humans? But fuck off men. Not a fan of this lady.

  1. avatar
    • Lucy Biederman
    • June 17th, 2018

    This is such a wonderfully comprehensive *structural* critique of Crispin, Amanda, beginning with your extremely insightful reading of that common “plea not to be treated like ‘every other feminist'” (reminds me of self-help books!)! I read Crispin’s provocative description of Dworkin as satirical–I think Crispin admires Dworkin for being “obese, frizzy-haired, without even a hint of lip gloss”; the “terror” (39) in her appearance for what Gay would call bad feminists and what Crispin would call choice feminists is that by being a feminist, one no longer places being “sexy” or appealing to some male ideal at the top of one’s priorities, and Dworkin stands in testament to that. This text is a *total* provocation, all the more for how easy it is, ultimately, to agree with, as you point out gorgeously here.

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