The oversimplification of the feminist movement
Feminist. Even the word has an impact. Feminism is a loaded concept with layers upon layers of different theories and views. In fact, to call feminism by the name “feminism” probably does the movement injustice when you take into account all the different views that exist within it. There are multiple forms of feminism. That being said, what would a feminist utopia look like? That’s not a simple question to answer. The concept of feminist utopia can come with just as much variety as the concept of feminism itself.
For Catherine Mackinnon, author of “Feminism Unmodified,” it would be a world with no pornography. For Monique Wittig, author of “The Straight Mind,” it would be a world with no heterosexism. For Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a feminist utopia was one where women had the right to vote. For every strain of feminism there is another five theories that come along with it. All diverse, all legitimate and all with different views as to what utopia would look like. Perhaps it’s time we demystify a “feminist utopia.”
This is the story of my journey to try and find feminist utopia.
Upon enrolling in a feminist theory course, I expected to finally uncover the mystery of what it really meant to be a feminist. I expected to gain some sort of clarity, but the reality is that clarity oversimplifies the complexities that exist within the movement. To be a feminist means something different for everyone who chooses to use the title, and therefore the idea of a ‘feminist utopia’ is one that takes away from the movement as a whole.
When I decided to discover a feminist utopia, I decided to try and write an article asking the real expert feminists what feminist utopia meant for them. The response? Virtually none. I spent weeks tearing at my hair, sending email after email, struggling to find someone who would clear up this mess for me. Though I was frustrated and angry, I finally got one response. Linda Zerilli, a professor and the director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago emailed me some short, but incredibly helpful answers to my over-simplified, generalized questions trying to get a grasp on what a feminist utopia is.
When I asked which way to feminist utopia, she shed light upon the fact that no such thing exists. In fact, by even bringing up the term I was homogenizing the movement. “Honestly, I don’t really work with utopic visions,” Zerilli said. “I think feminism needs the idea of hope and the sense of a future, but I think utopias tend to get feminists involved in a practice of politics that is too instrumental for my tastes.”
This instrumentalism is something she described as “dangerous.” She argues that to work with an idea of feminist utopia we must work with what she describes as a “means-ends” political viewpoint. But there are consequences to thinking through such a narrow scope: “This is a means-ends conception of politics that is not only false — we can never control or predict the effect of our action — but [it is] also dangerous,” said Zerilli.
Too many forms of feminism exist for a view of utopia to be feasible. I should have seen this sooner, considering that for my feminist theory class, the pile of required reading takes up more than half a shelf. But it took this harsh wake up call from Zerilli to really bring this to fruition. Yes, there are some overarching themes that string these feminisms together, but for Zerilli, the overarching theme is one that is simple: equality. But even within this concept there are diversions. Equality, she argues, has been misconstrued: “This is often misrepresented as equality with men, where man is the measure,” said Zerilli.
But the moral of this story stands at the simple fact that though equality may unite these feminists in their struggle, there are too many theories, thoughts, essays, films, poems, drawings (I could go on) that are designated as “feminist” but could not be more different from each other.
New forms of feminism come and go like the wind. They all add something to the dialogue and further the struggle for women’s rights and social justice issues on the whole, but to simply ask for a utopia is a preposterous request. It is an unhelpful, obsolete term that oversimplifies a complex social struggle. I finally got the wake up call. I no longer should ask “which way to feminist utopia?” but rather, “where do I see feminism taking me?” The path is not a simple one; it diverges and there are many choices to make, but the importance lies within the thoughts and theories that are produced when we meet and diverge on our own individual feminist journeys. So, I challenge you, don’t go forth and search for a feminist utopia. Instead, run into the woods of feminism and get as lost as you possibly can along the way. The results will surprise you.
Timothy Bidon is a sophomore journalism major who is still MIA, lost in the woods of feminism. Email him at email@example.com.