Everyone is problematic. No single person is able to be 100% intersectional at any one time. This might seem simple enough, but it seems a lot of people forget that when they attack celebrities or their peers for not being “good enough feminists”.
I often hear young feminists referring to celebrities, movies or television shows as their problematic fave. The term essentially means that you’re a fan of the celebrity or show, but recognise that they’re not a very good feminist/not a good enough feminist to really be acceptable OR in the case of a show, it’s flawed but so compelling that you just can’t help but love it. It’s almost like having a guilty secret – you know, like your forever love of Britney Spears or Curly Wurlys.
Here’s a few examples: Taylor Swift is your problematic fave cos she twerked in Shake It Off. Lena Dunham is your problematic fave because her (otherwise groundbreaking) show didn’t feature enough sexual or racial diversity. Emma Watson is your problematic fave because He for She only pays lip service to the feminism movement, etc…
(Side note: It’s particularly easy to call a celebrity ‘problematic’ because of the way the media grabs onto short snippets of information and paraphrasing for quotes and interest.)
But these same girls who criticise these celebrities aren’t perfect in themselves. Yes, that’s right, they’re problematic! They can be carelessly racist, they suffer from internalised misogyny and they’ve definitely said transphobic things at one point or another. Hell, they probably said the word ‘crazy’ as an adjective today, despite posting endlessly about how ableist it is on their tumblr.
I know this because I’m like this. My friends are like this. Every feminist I know is like this. We all pride ourselves on our intersectionality but that doesn’t make us perfect. We slip up, we say careless things and we definitely don’t know everything. Sometimes we learn the hard way, sometimes we work it out ourselves and it’s easy to change our behaviour and sometimes it takes time.
Here’s a great example: I occasionally say the word “retarded” in a fit of frustration, despite knowing full well it’s an ableist slur. I know it’s wrong, I’m working on it but sometimes it slips out.
I know feminists who occasionally appropriate other cultures, even though they know better and they misjudged something, thinking it wasn’t culturally appropriative. I know feminists who find it easier to just say “women make 77 cents to the male dollar” in an argument about the gender pay gap because they don’t want to risk the man they’re arguing with trying to derail the conversation into racism, even know these feminists know full well that 77 cents is what white Australian women earn and doesn’t account for Asian Australian, Middle Eastern Australian or Indigeous Australian women… and let’s not even get started on breaking that down by sexuality.
We are people and people, as a whole, are problematic. The fact that we, as feminists, are working on this and trying to be more intersectional is and of itself sometimes just has to be enough.
It has to be enough that we are trying and learning and fighting. It has to be enough that we are questioning our internal biases and trying to assist the feminist movement, even though we won’t always succeed and even though we will definitely offend one group or women or another occasionally with our carelessness.
It’s far better to take those careless moments and learn from them than it is to just pretend we are all perfect in the first place. Because unlearning racism and sexism and homophobia is an endless process, it’s one we just have to keep chipping away at.
Feminism is a movement. It’s not a political party and it’s not a club. There’s no one set charter or rules you have to abide by and not everyone has the same goals for it. Furthermore, your feminism may be more similar to another person’s than you realise, except you’ve only heard a small snippet of what they believe because they’re a media personality or someone you only met briefly.
Feminism doesn’t always have to agree. It won’t always agree. This is especially true when feminism crosses international borders – for instance, this website is primarily concerned with what’s happening in Australia and isn’t really going to cover what’s happening in other parts of the world. Does it mean we don’t care about the USA’s Black Lives Movement or the banning of the burkini on French beaches? No, it just means we know our scope and are sticking to it. Some people will read this website and therefore call us problematic (and we’ve already had one complaint from an American because we haven’t featured any BLM stuff), but we know our strength is in sticking to local issues. Issues we can write about with confidence and ones that affect us and the women closest to us.
All feminists are problematic. No feminist can be across every issue and have the right depth of knowledge and opinion, not while we’re also holding down jobs, studying at school, raising children or doing whatever it is we do with our time. At the same time, there’s no shame in focusing in on and championing a single issue, especially if you know you can actually make a tangible difference (see: Jennifer Lawrence fighting for equal pay for female screen actors).
I’m proud to call myself a feminist but I’m also the first to say that I’m definitely problematic. And that’s worth being proud of too, because admitting it is the very first step to being better.