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The “F” word: feminism and its exclusions

(Emily Mibach)
(Emily Mibach)

Feminism’s popularity in the media is surging. Numerous celebrities including Beyoncé, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Taylor Swift have openly declared themselves feminists. With this new trend in representation, exclusion has also become more visible. The media has been on a feeding frenzy, with female celebrities often being asked “Are you a feminist?” and then criticized endlessly no matter what the response. Exclusion – whether of celebrities, queer or trans people, or people of color – has existed in the feminist movement since its beginning. Instead of promoting equality or fostering improvement, this hostility creates a false dichotomy and further delineates a mental separation between “good” and “bad” representation.

Even those who ally themselves directly with feminism struggle with its exclusions. Beyoncé, who has long openly identified as one – her most recent declaration of power, the flashing display of “FEMINIST” behind her at the VMAs, was seen across the world just last month– has been criticized amazingly often by both the media and other feminists. The critiques, including attacks on her personal life, sexuality and music, are varied and often contradictory. The main issue many seem to have with Beyoncé is that she isn’t exactly what everyone wants her to be. She is attacked for being openly sexual, for prioritizing her family, for making any choice that could be “more feminist.”

This, in fact, the definition of exclusion. I’ve heard the phrase “not a true feminist” used to many times to count. The criticism is mainly used against anyone who doesn’t fit into society’s limited ideals. People of color and transgender people especially have suffered inter-movement discrimination, with disproportionate scrutiny and criticism aimed at both groups. Exclusion, however, is completely without limits: we all seem to think we know best. As a feminist, I personally struggled with exclusion via my sexuality. Many older or more traditional feminists have a more limited view of sexual expression, and I felt limited by and ashamed of my early development. This is a struggle that is surprisingly common, even with third-wave feminism; one of the main criticisms levied against Beyoncé is that she is too open with her sexuality. Unfortunately, sexuality just one of the things we police and shame each other about.

Too many of us attempt to shame and discredit each other. The response to powerful women has been exclusion: we attempt to pick out flaws in performance, personal lives, and pasts. Any woman who now chooses to identify as a feminist lives in fear of being attacked for not being “enough”. Although identifying as one is now much more commonplace than ever before, it is still treated as a coming out due to the personal attacks one must expect when they choose to identify. I say: As long as we’re fighting for and advancing the same cause, we should celebrate each other’s independent decisions. After all, what we can’t forget is that from women’s suffrage to reproductive rights, the core goal of every issue feminists have fought for has been choice. So why, if our ideology is rooted in personal choice, should our inclusion not be?