Why I Am Not A Feminist by Jessa Crispin
Best for: People interested in feminist critique who have a lot of patience.
In a nutshell: There is something called universal feminism, which is what feminism is now. And it is bad, because it is not doing nearly enough. Also, if you don’t worship Andrea Dworkin, you are the worst.
Line that sticks with me: “It’s easier to complain about the power you don’t have than to think about how you are wielding the power you do have.” (p 83)
Why I chose it: Someone in a Pajiba-adjacent Facebook group posted an interview with the author. It seemed like it might be challenging enough to be enjoyable.
Review: I wrote in the margins of this book more than I have in a while, and nearly every comment was negative. Right up front she makes the claim that today’s feminism is trying to be ‘universal’ but doesn’t provide strong evidence to that claim (at least, I didn’t see it). And I get what she’s going for here, but it really doesn’t work. It feels more like she came up with this idea and decided it would be the focus of the book, and then refused to ‘kill her darlings,’ as it were, when it didn’t end up working out that well.
But let’s say she’s right, and that the problem with feminism today is that it tries to be universal. This does not save her from spending a large portion of this book both railing against women who tell other women how to be feminists, while then telling us how we are doing feminism wrong. It’s like she’s decided that the Alanis Morissette definition of irony is correct, and thus chooses to ignore how so many of the complaints she has about ‘universal feminism’ can also be found in the pages of her own book.
She also really has a problem with ‘identity politics,’ which maybe she doesn’t fully understand? Because later in the book she seems to support the concepts behind recognizing that people have different intersections of marginalization. The writing makes me think that this is what might happen if Bernie Sanders and Susan Sarandon had a child, and that child grew up to write a lot of strong words with not a lot of support.
And the thing is, she does have *some* good things to say. And some interesting things to say. For sure. I didn’t always agree with her, but some of her more challenging ideas were certainly interesting. One section, albeit brief, talks about marriage as problematic. In later interviews I think she said something about how feminists don’t get married, but in the book at least, her point wasn’t entirely ignorant about the current state of marriage; she instead seemed worried about what it means to younger women when marriage is the goal. So not so much that marriage itself is the problem, but what choices we make to guarantee we will get to marriage. Not totally ground-breaking, but definitely interesting.
But she absolutely, unreservedly refuses to show her work. If I were grading any of these chapters for a college course, she’d get maybe a C at best in most of them, because she makes wide sweeping generalizations without supporting evidence. In other interviews she has said this is because she didn’t want her message to get lost in the inevitable claims of cat-fighting that would follow. And I am sympathetic to that … but she still has to support her claims. This isn’t a personal blog or a letter to friends. She’s making very strong claims about an entire political and social movement; I shouldn’t have to write “citation needed” in every margin.
The author clearly has a lot of problems with our current society. And so many of the concerns she raises are, I think, valid. She just, in my reading, does a very poor job of creating any sort of cohesive narrative around how these problems and feminism – the current reality of it, not the straw man she’s invoking – are currently at odds. But I’d love to discuss it with others who have read this.
Last thought – she repeatedly expresses her frustration that feminists aren’t fans of Andrea Dworkin. But, as I understand it, Ms. Dworkin was very supportive of anti-trans author Janice Raymond. I admittedly am not that familiar with either of their works, but considering Ms. Crispin only name-checks maybe three feminist authors in the entire book, this seems an odd choice for sure.
I wavered between giving this book two and three stars. If we had half stars, this would be a solidly 2.5 stars book. I did, however, choose the higher option because there are very interesting ideas in here – I just don’t think she does a good job of communicating them.