At the heart of feminism is a push for the liberation of women. There are obviously people who disagree on the best way to achieve that, but the one thing we all agree on is that women are not free. Because it’s a political movement that’s trying to achieve real change in the world, it’s not a static philosophy, so we can’t have rules and regulations because it evolves. People come to it from different angles and different experiences. As different women come together and find out more about the way they each lead their lives and how they’re affected by other forms of structural oppression, so the philosophy of feminism develops.
Take pornography and prostitution. Whereas Andrea Dworkin would say the root of the problem is that women are socialised or forced into those jobs, another feminist would say there’s nothing wrong with the jobs and it’s the attitude society has to them that causes the problem. They’re different analyses of the central problem that feminists agree on, which is that women aren’t free.
“But I don’t expect women to be perfect. That’s actually a feature of patriarchy.”
Women in the public sphere like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lawrence saying that they’re feminists is a huge development and an unalloyed good. It makes it easier for other women to have those conversations. Feminism was a dirty word in the 80s and 90s and anyone who was a populist female role model would have said she wasn’t a feminist. Do I necessarily think that everything they do is the kind of feminism that I would promote? No. But I don’t expect women to be perfect. That’s actually a feature of patriarchy: thinking that because a woman does one thing that Andrea Dworkin wouldn’t sign off on, then she isn’t allowed to call herself a feminist. If Beyoncé believes this is how she wants to free women, then this is her way of trying to achieve feminism. I think criticising women like her is a blinkered, short-sighted attitude.
I think Andrea Dworkin’s analysis is difficult to argue against. Where it comes up against problems is when you try to integrate it into real women’s lives. It’s a very pure, hardline philosophy. I buy into that analysis but I believe women can’t lead their lives as pure political essence. There’s theory and philosophy and then there’s women trying to survive in a world that wasn’t built for them and every woman has a different balance to strike.
Caroline Criado-Perez is the author of Do It Like A Woman.