Uh, It Didn't Exist Because it's a Stereotype.

Over at The Root, Rebecca Walker interviews Erica Kennedy, the author of the new book Feminista. Walker asks Kennedy to explain what a “feminista” is, to which Kennedy responds:

I never felt comfortable calling myself a feminist because that word has so many negative connotations. The stereotype of the hairy, man-hating woman is just that—a stereotype, a caricature that no longer exists. And there’s a reason that woman no longer exists. Because we’ve proven ourselves. We know we can play with the big boys. We don’t need to beat the drum anymore.

A “caricature that no longer exists”?  Caricatures by definition do not exist, but are exaggerations of things that perhaps do. The myth of the man-hating feminist was (and is) such a widely held belief due to the deliberate distortions of opponents of the movement (example: bra-burning, that universal shorthand for those supposedly rabid, misandrist female hordes in the 1960′s, never actually happened) in their attempts to marginalize it, essentially Jesse Jacksoning feminism and placing its baseline somewhere in the ideological vicinity of Andrea Dworkin. They were apparently very successful, as seemingly every conversation about feminism in the mainstream media involves someone distancing themselves from those crazy, hirsute radicals.

Maybe she’d be more inclined to embrace “feminism” if she wasn’t  further encumbering it with all those “negative connotations” in the first place.

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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

34 comments to Uh, It Didn't Exist Because it's a Stereotype.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Are you saying that there is no more misandry within the feminist movement at all?

  • Feminism, in the aggregate, isn’t motivated by misandry any more than antiracism is motivated by hatred of white people.

  • It’s so ridiculous to see someone recognize a stereotype, then merely reinforce it by not properly understanding what the definition of “stereotype” is. Stereotypes don’t “no longer exist” and/or fade over time; they are challenged and/or dismissed because they, by definition, aren’t grounded in reality. A stereotype is fixed; it’s a widely held belief that either persists or is challenged. ugh @ this “feminista” stuff.

  • Scipio Africanus

    That was my bad for mentioning the feminist movement. I should have asked if you’re saying that there are no people (not just women) whose feminism is motivated in a substantive way by misandry? Because I *know* there’s plenty of people who got and get involved in the movement and their hatred of YT is not an insignificant factor. I’ve never been one to believe hatred of groups is totally in one direction, i.e., whites ——>> blacks, but not blacks —>> whites. Same goes for the sexes.

  • I completely agree with you. I should have done a better proofread before I hit send. But you know exactly what I meant. Shouldn’t this be filed under “semantic nitpicking”?

  • “semantic nitpicking”? You were specifically making a semantic distinction between “feminista” and “feminism” in your answer.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Yes, you could, which is why it’s baffling that you said the man-hating feminists ar ea myth. Of course they don’t all hate men, but some do, just like some MRAs hate women.

  • Maybe you could elaborate on what your distinction between feminism and feminista is.

  • quadmoniker

    There are plenty of reasons to disagree with mainstream feminism, but wanting to avoid the negative connotations people use about feminists is still superficial at best. How is what you said any different from what Limbaugh believes about feminists?

  • imnotemily

    Why is no one acknowledging that Erica Kennedy’s use of ‘feminista’ over ‘feminist’ is coded homophobia against radical lesbian feminism? Calling a feminist a hairy radical man-hater more often than not comes in the same breath with lesbian. Femming and mainstreaming it up by adding an ‘a’ on the end isn’t empowering, it’s obnoxious.

    Also, speaking from experience, us hairy radical lesbian feminists aren’t man-haters, Scipio Africanus, we’re mistrustful.

    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/08/terrible-bargain-we-have-regretfully.html

  • ladyfresh

    frankly it didn’t occur to me
    i appreciate the pov though

  • -k-

    What’s most unfortunate is the extent to which this stance is representative of the way a lot of young women think about and position themselves wrt feminism.. Would’ve been nice for the interview to dig a little deeper into what the hell she’s actually talking about, and what it means to apply the ‘feminista’ label to yourself. Instead, we’re left with this..

    “Feminista is … the modern woman who is making her own choices, whether it’s wearing a short skirt and red lipstick to the office (perhaps one that she runs) or staying home to raise babies. Being a feminista is about tapping into our unique female attributes and living authentically instead of defining ourselves by male standards of success.”

    ..which sounds a lot like what most everybody’s already doing and been doing anyway (seriously- have you met many women lately?), plus that bit about male standards of success tagged on at the end, no explanation given. But maybe I’m hoping for too much from what could very easily be just a marketing ploy.

  • Scipio Africanus

    “The myth of the man-hating feminist”

    When I think of myths I think of things that are not true at all, merely made up stories. Your examples of this myth – bra-burning and misandrist hordes in the 60′s – harkens to crazed counter-culture mobs from a previous era. I would certainly agree that the crazed mob thing is an extreme exaggeration of what feminism is/was. But what you said equates misandry with a sort of feral, anomalous wildness – this is another exaggeration of its own. Misandry and misogyny – misanthropism really – don’t have to look and feel like that. The misogynist/misnadrist can seem like a normal, well-adjusted person, yet still hold these views.

    “My point was and is that it has always been wildly overstated as a way to undercut the legitimacy of the movement”

    I agree with this part, as I said before.

  • Scipio Africanus

    “us hairy radical lesbian feminists aren’t man-haters, Scipio Africanus, we’re mistrustful.”

    Nothing I said suggests this. Peep my latest reply to G.D.

  • yeah, you’re getting tripped up by what i mean by “myth.” In anthropology/sociology, a “myth” is just a story/idea that explains or transmits the values of a given group.

    From Blackwell:

    A myth is a story that has a parallel structure linking the past to the present and suggesting directions for the future. A myth may be a cautionary tale, as in the urban myths that teenagers tell about the dangers inherent in parking on dark side roads. A myth may also be a moral tale, as in morality plays and bedtime stories. Myths also may be about idealized behavioral standards, as in hero myths. As a sociological term, however, the primary use of the word myth has been rather casual. Sociological writers are likely to refer to the “myth” of masculinity… the “myth” of self-esteem…or the “myth” of the mommy role …This use of the term imputes a less-than-factual status to the topic of reference and calls into question the veracity of others’ accounts and theories.

    Peep the “less-than-factual” bit. There are lots of popular myths that are less-than-factual but not completely untrue: the male breadwinner/female homemaker setup that was the dominant image in midcentury American life was a stark contrast to reality, in which most women had some kind of income to supplement the household. Calling it a myth doesn’t mean that it never happened anywhere ever.

  • Scipio Africanus

    “doesn’t mean that it never happened anywhere ever.”

    Then we agree. This was my only point of contention.

  • i’m glad you spent all this time contending a point i never made. what, exactly, did any of this elucidate?

    damn.

  • yep. (apparently the reply chain is exhausted.)

    seriously, what was the point of this contention? is it that people the idea has legs because it maybe anecdotally true?

  • Scipio Africanus

    “i’m glad you spent all this time contending a point i never made”

    But you wouldn’t refute it when I asked you directly, either.

    I made the contention because my idea of what a myth is is apparently different from Blackwell’s (so I guess that means mine is wrong). Further, I felt you tried to replace one exaggeration with its inverse, that misandry regarding this issue is negligible-to-non-existant. You finally made it clear that you agree with me that there are some feminist misandrists (this was why I originally posed it to you as a question – I don’t know why you didn’t just acknwoledge it right then), and I persistently agreed with you that the opponents of feminism try to use those ugly exaggerations to discredit the Feminist Movement.

    Seems to have elucidated a few things.

  • Further, I felt you tried to replace one exaggeration with its inverse, that misandry regarding this issue is negligible-to-non-existant.

    yeah, because you completely misread what i wrote.

    You finally made it clear that you agree with me that there are some feminist misandrists (this was why I originally posed it to you as a question – I don’t know why you didn’t just acknwoledge it right then)

    I didn’t acknowledge it because it doesn’t have anything to do with anything. here’s what i don’t get about this line of argument: what is the usefulness of “some”? you keep saying “but some feminists are animated by hatred of men” and not explaining how that invalidates anything i’ve said, or whether that some is sizable enough to merit discussion, or whether those some should be representative of the movement, or whether the existence of those some should logically validate people’s negative ideas about feminism.

    what is the point here? you said i went too far the other way in saying “Feminism, in the aggregate, isn’t motivated by misandry any more than antiracism is motivated by hatred of white people.”

    Really, fam?

    Okay. Be easy.

  • Scipio Africanus

    I feel like I’ve jacked this thread, and I had no intention of doing that. Sorry guys. I’ll stop replying now. I really do like this blog alot and I’m not trying to get a rep as someone who’s argumentative.

  • Molly

    ah, this is just a revisitation of the post-feminist credo: you can be a heterosexual woman who goes out of her way to appeal to heterosexual men, who eschews all notions or practices of feminism, who badmouths those who identify with and uphold the political tenets of feminism, but you are still in the club, sister-friend! It is still yours for the taking, by virtue of the fact that you are a woman, even though you directly benefit from playing by patriarchal rules and in no way further opportunities for women, actually. By extension of this argument, Sarah Palin is a feminist(a) hero, even though she stands for many platforms that hurt women. I also agree that feminista is a concept designed to distance heterosexual women who for whatever reason dont think that straddling the line between empowered and enfettered wont eventually bite them in the ass from lesbians and also women on the more masculine end of the gender fluidity spectrum. Maybe Erica Kennedy is pretty? That seems to confuse a lot of younger women into playing by the rules, even if they are educated enough to gently allude to feminism.

  • I admit up front that I haven’t read the entire exchange between Scipio and GD, but Scipio, I think you’re being disingenuous. Your original comment asked if GD was saying there “is no more misandry within the feminist movement.” Like “when did you stop beating your wife?” this is hardly an innocent question. Asking about “misandry within the feminist movement” implies that misandry is *inherently* part of the movement as such, rather than a coincidental of some individuals who happen to be feminist. And asking if said misandry “is no more” implies that it once was a significant, if not major, part of “the feminist movement.”

    You don’t get to ask a question like that and then try to back pedal into claiming that you’re *only* asking whether *some* individual feminists might *also* happen to hate men, rather than trying to imply something about “feminism” itself. I call bullshit.

  • Of course, but couldn’t you say this about any school of thought? (Some people’s support for a two-state solution is motivated by an antisemitic hatred of Israel, etc.)

  • wow, okay. if you picked out every feminist in the world, would you find some who hated men and fit Kennedy’s description? i’m sure you would.

    but it seems like you’re arguing that those women are feminism’s baseline and are rightly the shorthand for the movement. By that logic, the popular depiction of black men as violent is valid because the FBI stats show that we’re dramatically more likely to commit/be the victims of homicide.

  • Scipio Africanus

    “but it seems like you’re arguing that those women are feminism’s baseline and are rightly the shorthand for the movement”

    False. This is not what I’ve said here and you can’t quote anything I’ve said which matches this idea. The piece of your reply I just quoted is the strawman you set up in your original post. Please don’t attribute that thinking to me because it’s not what I think, nor what I’ve said.

    I’m refuting the other point you made, the absolute which says that “man-hating” and “feminist” are two words that go together only mythically, i.e. there is no such thing.

    This:

    “if you picked out every feminist in the world, would you find some who hated men and fit Kennedy’s description? i’m sure you would.”

    …is the only point I was trying to make, and it runs counter to what you originally said.

  • steve

    I read it as coded homophobia too.

  • let me try this again.

    Caricatures by definition do not exist, but are exaggerations of things that do. The myth of the man-hating feminist was (and is) such a widely held belief is due to the deliberate distortions of opponents of the movement (example: bra-burning, that universal shorthand for those supposedly rabid, misandrist female hordes in the 1960’s, never actually happened) in their attempts to marginalize it, essentially Jesse Jacksoning feminism and placing its baseline somewhere in the vicinity of Andrea Dworkin.

    where, exactly, is my absolute? I can’t see where i said that feminism and misandry don’t/can’t overlap in any instance ever. My point was and is that it has always been wildly overstated as a way to undercut the legitimacy of the movement — because that’s how stereotypes work.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Was this directed to me?

  • Scipio Africanus

    Testing to see if my reply went through.

  • Scipio Africanus

    “yeah, because you completely misread what i wrote.”

    No argument here – we eventually got to the bottom of that.

    “what is the usefulness of “some”?”

    To refute a perceived exaggeration. Isn’t that what this whole discussion is about? The power of exaggeration and its effects on things?

    “it doesn’t have anything to do with anything”

    It does, though.

    “and not explaining how that invalidates anything i’ve said, or whether that some is sizable enough to merit discussion, or whether those some should be representative of the movement, or whether the existence of those some should logically validate people’s negative ideas about feminism.”

    We eventually discussed all those things. Just like you left some of your point unsaid and I had to ask you what you felt, you did the same with me and I answered each of those questions. That’s what happens in a dialogue, unclear points get cleared up adn stated plainly.

  • Scipio Africanus

    “it doesn’t have anything to do with anything”

    It does, though.

    Just realized I didn’t explain why.

    It matters because the effect is it paints a good guys vs. bad guys scenario where all or most people (male or female) who call themselves feminists can be counted as good guys (no pun intended) through and through. It’s really subtle, and most people won’t catch it. But in addition to being subtle it’s unnecessary. You don’t have to shy away from the idea that there are some feminist misandrists in order to stand by the idea that the thrust of feminisms aims are just, righteous and worthwhile.

  • ladyfresh

    The emphasis on the existence of those few and your persistence on it is worrisome. Although you seem to be consistently denying the intention of stressing what seems to be an obvious exaggeration to me, those few seem to be important to you. Point of fact you misunderstood “myth” and misunderstood G.D.’s use of it. The back and forth only sees to have over stressed what is obvious and what G.D. had no intention of implying.

    This is disappointing. I don’t know if you realize the effect of your nit picking but frankly I now view it as your affirmation of the image problem feminists have. Surely there is a better way to make your point?

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