Fangirl Saves the World

just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

how to be a better feminist: a beginner’s guide

with 5 comments

Let’s start with this: I’m not a good feminist. I’m still working through my own issues around race, class, gender, sexuality. You name it, I’m still working through my issues on it. On the whole, I try to keep my privileged mouth shut, because most of the time, I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s possible that I don’t know what I’m talking about in this post, either – but here’s how I’m starting to learn how to talk about it.

I made notes of as many identities as I could think of on the “about me” page,* so I won’t list them again here. They might be worth looking over if you want to know where I’m coming from.

I mentioned in my open letter to Feministing that they had strongly influenced me as a budding feminist, which, given what I’ve recently discovered, makes me uncomfortable. A lot of people have a lot of problems with their brand of feminism – what some have called narcissistic feminism – and I don’t want to be the kind of feminist that people within the movement have problems with. I have problems with a lot of those problems; I don’t want to be an ableist feminist, a racist feminist, a transphobic feminist … I want to be a feminist feminist.

But where to begin? When one of the biggest feminist blogs has failed you in this regard, what to do and where to go? Go everywhere. Follow links left by commenters to their blogs, and the blogs of other people. When you stumble across a blogger you agree with, don’t just read her blog, read her blogroll.†

For that matter, when you read a blog you don’t agree with – specifically, one that makes you feel defensive or uncomfortable – examine why. Maybe they’re just transmisogynist/homophobic/racist/classist/ableist/generally asshatty douchebags whose opinions are better left ignored. Maybe – and this is why you have to examine why you feel so uncomfortable reading what they’re writing –  they’re hitting you where it hurts: right in the privilege zone, which I imagine to be located around the solar plexus. (Have you ever been kicked in the solar plexus? I was, once, during martial arts: it hurts, and it sort-of makes you feel like you can’t breathe and want to throw up – all in all, quite the unpleasant experience.)

Confession time: sometimes Womanist Musings makes me feel uncomfortable which is why I keep reading it. Renee has some brilliant insights, many of which force me to examine my own privilege. It’s uncomfortable, like when someone tells you that there’s something stuck in your teeth … as you’re heading home from the party. Only it’s worse, because it’s not just that you’ve looked silly all day without meaning to or realizing it, but because you’ve been hurting people, possibly for your whole life, without meaning to or realizing it. Obviously, it’s more comfortable for you to just not know – but it’s not more comfortable for the people you’ve been unconsciously inflicting your privilege on.

While we’re on the topic of unconsciously inflicting your privilege, this is also why I don’t comment on WM: because I have issues that I still need to work through before I can be anything more than a well-meaning troll. Well meaning, certainly, but on the whole, my contributions would still detract from a generally more intelligent, more experienced dialog. Sometimes, it’s okay to speak up, but sometimes you should just sit down and shut the hell up.

(Never, ever try to tell someone else how it is for them. I shouldn’t have to say this, but it does happen and now stop it. The oppressor does not get to tell the oppressed what is and is not offensive. Write that down and stick it next to your monitor. Look at it every time you engage in conversation online about feminist issues.)

(Oh, and notice I made that a link? Don’t use other people’s ideas without crediting them; it’s not just good feminism, it’s good writing – whether that be blogging or academic writing or fanfiction.)

So there it is. Perhaps it’s a bit conceited or overblown to call this post “how to be a better feminist,” but I figured it might at least catch your attention. I’ll add the caveat “how to learn to be a better feminist if you’re a college-educated white woman just getting involved in this whole equality thing” (Have you noticed the blog title? I’m all about hyperbole.) I hope you even learned something, or found a link to another, more experienced and articulate blogger who taught you something.
(Also, reading real books is a good thing to do – but books, like blogs, tend to be dominated by a privileged “mainstream” few. Also, they’re expensive.)

*with the exception of a distinct class identity, because I’m not sure where I belong in that spectrum (more on this later)
†hi there, feminist men with feminist blogs! I don’t mean to erase you, but in my experience, the majority of bloggers (that I read) are female (actually, I read one blog authored by  a man)


Written by Fangirl

October 12, 2009 at 1:27 pm

5 Responses

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  1. This post has been added to a link roundup. Thank you!


    October 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm

  2. Hi! I think this is the first time I’ve been linked to from outside Dreamwidth. (Would you like a Dreamwidth invite code, by the way?)
    Why does “without crediting them” also link to me, though? It makes me a bit nervous, like I missed something…

    Legible Susan

    October 14, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    • You said “I’d got the impression that they were part of the mainstream white middle-class feminism that claims to lead the movement while neglecting intersectional issues and failing to credit other people’s work,” which was the first time I had seen that raised as an issue, but it was a very good, very important point.

      (I’m on Dreamwidth as well – same username as here (fangirl42), but thank you very much for the offer!)


      October 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm

      • It’s not original! If I’d known I was going to be quoted as some sort of authority, I’d have done more research …

        I was thinking of an incident a couple of years ago (early 08, according to secondary sources). BrownFemiPower had a blog where she did a lot of work publicising the struggles of immigrant women (in the USA, from Mexico and points south), and someone with a much bigger audience published an article (IIRC) based on that work, without giving proper credit. There was a big fuss and BFP and at least on other WoC blogger deleted their blogs.

        I can’t find the primary sources, woe! (partly because blogs were deleted), but I’ve found some of the follow-up posts, including this one: with quotes from BFP.

        (I keep expanding the list of people I should be reading and I still can’t get rid of those invite codes!)

        Legible Susan

        October 14, 2009 at 10:03 pm

  3. […] you’ve been wondering how to be a better […]

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