February Top Shelf: Why I Am Not a Feminist

Each month, we choose one book as our Top Shelf selection. This month, that book is Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto. 

9781612196015

Are you a feminist? If yes, what called you to declare yourself a feminist? This is the core question in Jessa Crispin’s anti-feminist Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto. Did you look at the world around you and discover that you are excluded, abandoned, and oppressed by a capitalist power system that rewards masculine values and attributes, and did you decide this system needs change? Or did you just need to feel better about yourself?

Stick with me, we’re about to slip into something…uncomfortable.

This work is an indictment of feminism’s status quo. At some point, feminism transformed from a philosophy into a lifestyle. With the advent of “choice feminism” (because I am a feminist, each choice I make is a feminist choice), feminism was assimilated into consumer culture. Feminism became less and less a struggle for empowerment of the oppressed and more and more a way towards self-empowerment. Feminism’s goal now is being comfortable with one’s self. Crispin is here to remind us that being comfortable is not resistance.

Did feminism do its job? Obviously not because we don’t live in an egalitarian world. Historically, feminism prioritized the needs of the white (cis-gendered) middle class woman over the needs of other women.  We need Black Lives Matter; we need Pride; we need other movements to tell us that we have forgotten them–that we have never spoken for them–to make us uncomfortable.

It’s tough facing women who don’t make the same choices you make, because then you have to question your own choices. So we end up with heavily populated Facebook groups who, rather than share information and resources on low-income or pro bono attorneys or health care stipends or domestic violence, share inspirational stories. Turns out that Facebook groups aren’t the equitable platform we hoped it would be, but rather a desperate attempt to return to the isolated bubble of the status quo.

We’re trying to rebuild when resistance is needed. Being comfortable in a patriarchal system is the same as participating in our own oppression–and worse, the oppression of others: poor, non-white, non-genderconforming groups. Crispin demands that women contemplate the system in which they participate.

“Now that women are raised with access to power, we’ll see not a more egalitarian world, but the same world, just with more women in it.” Women are only carving out places among oppressors. With this in mind, when we ask ourselves why it took a spoiled, reactive bigot elected to the highest position in our country rather than true discourse to pop our comfort bubble, the answer should be clear: this is not our system.

Frequently off-putting, with sentences crusted with salt, Crispin’s prose is raw, which contributes to the confrontational tone of the whole work. Some ideas, seemingly inconsistent at a glance, lead to the impression that each section can be read as individual essays. However, I imagine Crispin, who implores feminists to constantly reexamine our motivations and hidden biases towards others and towards the movement itself, seeded these inconsistencies as a reminder for us to check each other as we scrutinize ourselves.

Crispin’s manifesto is a call for revolution. This is not reestablishing the status quo. This is not surrounding yourself with like-minded people who reaffirm your own values. Unless your goal is to tear down the system of oppression, you are not a feminist. Unless you are a threat, you are not a feminist.

If you’re not a threat, pick up this book and become one.

-review by Jan, 2nd Floor Inventory Manager

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