Jindi Mehat at Feminist Current on liberal (what in the US would be called libertarian) feminism.
She started out as a libertarian feminist herself.
For me, then, and for liberal feminists today, the individual is queen. Any choice a woman makes is, by definition, a feminist choice because choosing is a feminist act. Even choices like pandering to the male gaze or self-objectifying must be applauded. As a result, I often engaged in decidedly unfeminist behaviour while uncritically wrapping myself in a comfortingly progressive label.
The other really important word for this view is “agency.” If you question the “choices” of other women, you’re denying their “agency,” which is “paternalistic,” and thus the opposite of feminism.
It’s a fatuous idea, because feminism is inherently all about questioning choices. All politics is about questioning choices. All critical thinking boils down to questioning choices. If you can’t question choices you can’t do anything but praise the status quo, and what’s the point of that?
Uncritically worshipping individual choices ignores the structures and institutions that support patriarchy. Focusing narrowly on advancing in the public sphere ignores the oppression women face in our homes. More worryingly, refusing to examine the context and impacts of our choices allows men and women to continue reinforcing misogyny and male supremacy while patting themselves on the back and failing to work towards liberation for allwomen in any meaningful way.
Supporting misogynist ideas, behaviours, and structures while declaring yourself a feminist requires a stunning lack of self-awareness and critical thinking, and an intricate set of unquestioned beliefs whose main purpose is to preserve a self-concept that’s allegedly based on beliefs in women’s rights, when in reality, that self-concept is based on an illusion.
Nowhere is this creative ego preservation more evident than in the commonly used catchphrases liberal feminists recite en masse, mostly in response to critical thought and discourse from radical feminists who understand that examining our internalized misogyny, analyzing our choices and beliefs, and dismantling patriarchal institutions is essential work for feminists who are truly dedicated to the liberation of all women.
Unless of course the status quo is already perfect, just as it is.
So she’s doing a series called “Shit Liberal Feminists Say” and this is the first post in that series. First up: Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist (SWERF).
Despite repeated evidence that women in prostitution are largely poor women of colour, many of whom were sexually abused as girls, entered prostitution while underage, and identify lack of housing as their main barrier to leaving prostitution, liberal feminists cling to the romanticized notions of “sex work” depicted in movies like Pretty Woman and, in doing so, literally whitewash reality. For liberal feminists, sex work is inevitable, voluntary, empowering and fun, and women who choose it should be unquestioningly celebrated.
Which is strange, when they are (in my experience) all noisily proud “intersectional” feminists who can check their privilege, or at least tell other people to check their privilege, faster than anyone else on earth. What could smack more of privilege than extrapolating from one’s own joy in “sex work” to conclude it’s like that for everyone? Imagine you’re a prosperous middle-class educated presentable man with an eccentric taste for working in non-unionized chicken processing plants. Would it be reasonable for you to say it’s “paternalistic” for journalists to expose unsafe working conditions in chicken processing plants? (Spoiler: no.)
In contrast, abolitionists see prostitution as male violence, as the sexualized practice of dominance and control over women who are coerced, with money, into sexual activity in which they wouldn’t otherwise participate.
Contrary to liberal feminists, who demonstrably exclude most women in prostitution so they can uphold a uniformly empowery notion of “sex work,” abolitionists don’t exclude any women from our analysis. We acknowledge that some women choose to enter into prostitution. Understanding that patriarchy both limits and shapes women’s choices, abolitionists believe the context of more privileged women’s choices — and the impacts those choices have on marginalized women — must be scrutinized as part of the hard work needed to make sure our movement leaves no woman behind.
But the libertarian view is that that’s just SWERFery, which is not just wrong but evil, and shun-worthy.
Supporting an argument that excludes the majority of women in prostitution, while calling the very women who consider the whole picture “exclusionary,” shows how intellectually vapid and hypocritical so-called liberal feminism is. Just like calling support of prostitution, which exposes the most marginalized among us to increased levels of violence and abuse, a feminist position, this isn’t about women’s liberation, it’s about feeling good and progressive and not having to actually change anything.
Supporting prostitution and screaming “SWERF” at abolitionists isn’t feminism, it’s capitulating to male supremacy and writing marginalized women off as collateral damage. It’s living in a dream world of consequence-free individual choices. It’s refusing to go beyond scratching the surface, and instead hiding behind buzzwords and tepid half-measures while trying to silence women who are willing to dive deep no matter the cost. Screaming SWERF at abolitionists is misogyny in feminists’ clothing, and it’s just some senseless shit that liberal feminists say.
I’ve gotten very familiar with misogyny in feminists’ clothing lately, and I don’t admire it.