Critiquing the gem that is Everyday Feminism’s comprehensive dating guide for the intersectional feminist is no easy feat, but might a dash of nuance help?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly seen the gem from Everyday Feminism, which regularly churns out masterpieces of a similar calibre, “10 Things Every Intersectional Feminist Should Ask on a First Date.”
I am going to resist the temptation to take the title at face value and assume, rather, that our author does not actually intend for us to address these issues on a literal first date. Not that it would be a problem. I appreciate the desire for authenticity early on. Getting a glimpse of my date’s true colours spares me from awkward guessing games later. I could also disregard, at the risk of going against the writer’s wishes, the insinuation that the stances outlined in the article are requisites for the true intersectional feminist, but this is Lara Witt. She pre-emptively blocks people who have never engaged with her and composes tweets that feature the word ‘white’ more frequently than those of Richard Spencer and the lovely folks with 1488 in their bios.
I also acknowledge that such a concession would put me at odds with the explicit observation that there are, indeed, ‘questions we have to ask before we get close to someone.’
Readers would like to believe such articles are written with nothing but the purest intentions. The style, I’m afraid, is an immediate red flag. Characteristic of the quintessential blog medium so conducive to mass sharing and figuring so nicely into the outrage culture of the internet, it drips with condescension and righteous indignation. Familiar, flippant, acerbic, and just hyperbolic enough to catch the well-meaning but unwitting reader with an inferiority complex off guard. Yes, wise one, teach me more!
Unfortunately, there is little substance beyond the glaring conclusion of this fine piece of Tumblr-esque tripe: If your date is a dick, ditch ‘em. Forgive the gendered slur. But what constitutes a dick? There is no denying that the civil, self-aware product of 21st century sensibilities will acknowledge the following facts:
- Bigotry exists and those belonging to historically oppressed classes and minorities, including religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities (gender non-conforming and non-heterosexual individuals) suffer therefrom in varying degrees
- Sexism exists and can manifest in both violent and subtle ways, with the latter including language
- Nations have conquered and colonised others, with devastating and lasting consequences
Having addressed the elephant in the room that is your interlocutor and potential mate’s basic humanity, is it necessary for the intersectional intransigent to further gauge his/her degree of wokeness, and one that is entirely subjective at that?
Sensitive topics that are up for sincere debate–including sex work, the infinitely convoluted situation between Israel and Palestine, the merits of capitalism, the degree to which Islam allows for decidedly non-intersectional feminist interpretations of its texts–are presented as objective facts in a sanctimonious voice and with enough straw men to fill a cornfield.
In order to call myself an intersectional feminist, I thought I would have to acknowledge that a woman’s struggle is shared with different groups according to their socioeconomic status, physical abilities, ethnic origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc, as a common, traditional source of oppression is identified. Minorities of all shades (no pun intended) could band together to fight prejudice under the recognition that they all faced it, in some form or another.
This is, apparently, not sufficient. I would need to unequivocally support ten points of contention and suspend my privileged (read: critical) thinking
- Regardless of whether I found some of the movement’s actions unsavoury, I would need to support Black Lives Matter. It wouldn’t matter whether I truly believe that black lives matter, or whether I recognize the problem of police brutality, or whether I appreciate the unique and often unfavourable conditions that people of colour experience that I am fortunately spared. The straw man here lies in the capitalization. Endorsement of a movement is conflated with ‘an understanding of race, class, and gender.’
- No one should be coerced into conforming to gender roles on pain of being ostracized or shamed or rejected in any way. Essentialism is a tricky topic, and biology and gender studies have proffered, at times, conflicting accounts of what it means to be male and female. Here, however, an arbitrary understanding of transphobia would make it seem that questioning the validity of an infinite number of genders is committing the crime. What if my date believes there are only two sexes, but that we may express them in infinite ways?
- Whether a woman wants to be a mother or not is her choice and no moral judgment should be cast upon her should she prefer to embark on a different path in life. And excusing offensively infantile or even abusive behaviour as simply part and parcel of being a boy is retrograde and insulting– especially to boys. But nestled in an otherwise benign paragraph is the generalization that men (‘cishet men’, an appellation that starts to take on the air of a slur) are guilty of misogyny in virtue of simply being men. While the author rightly rebukes those men who see women as a ‘monolith,’ void of individuality, she does the very same with the men she addresses. This is in addition to the loaded language that is, again, passed off as authoritative. The author has taken legitimate grievances and applied them so indiscriminately and inappropriately that they’ve become farce at this point– and that is what is harmful to women.
- ‘Pro-heauxism’? Many feminists could be argued to be pro-sex worker in that they strive to create a world in which sex work is abolished precisely because the intricacies of power dynamics, consent, and ‘oppressive structures’ make this sort of work especially delicate– and a mine for potential problems. I will assume we are on the same page and refrain from confusing sex workers with sex work itself, as even the staunchest of feminists (and activists, more generally) disagree on this topic. The author would do well to investigate the work of Kathleen Barry, for example.
- The rhetoric here is emotionally manipulative. Our author, after having come to ‘understand the terror, trauma, and stress of having everyone you love and care about get killed,’ advocates that ‘being pro-Palestine…is a necessary part of intersectionality.’ You brute beast! How could you ever say otherwise? You must enjoy watching people suffer and die! The complexities of a geopolitical situation that is one of the most contentious conflicts in the last century is reduced to a black-and-white, you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us theatre show of revolutionary romanticism that simply plays on sympathies without even sniffing beyond the superficial.
- Yeah, colonialism is dark blot on history. I’m curious to see how it would come up in conversation, but if your date shows up in war paint, ululating and talking like a bad stereotype from Peter Pan, it’s probably a red flag.
- Unregulated capitalism does indeed have the potential to exploit the poor. Victorian England was a good example. What alternative we are being offered? The Nordic model? Cool. Still has a bit of free market capitalism in it though. Communism? May want to think twice about that. Communism favours conformity and something tells me the Everyday Feminism crowd doesn’t appreciate gender roles.
- Again, the appeal to emotion here is strong, as is the reductionism. This is better suited to narrative fiction, of the threadbare sort at that. How can we call our fellow humans aliens? We are just apes spinning around in an infinite, senseless universe, and here they want to tell us we are not allowed to murder? The humanity. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have borders. We would all be part of a global, human family. Unfortunately, the real world operates on documentation and laws. And yes, sometimes those laws do create victims. But neither the demagoguery of Trump nor frivolous idealism is the solution. I repeat: complexities.
- ‘I can’t think of any other religion which has been vilified and lied about more than Islam in a cultural and systemic way.’ Really? You can’t think of any? Not even one? The Venetian Ghetto and ‘blood libels’ would like to have a word with you. Uncomfortable jokes aside, anti-Muslim bigotry is a very real problem. But there is something essential to clarify here: No belief is immune from criticism. Theologians, historians, linguists, and scholars of every shade should have the freedom to openly debate–and denounce, should they find it necessary– the merits of any belief system, including Islam. And it would not mean for a second that they are engaging in anti-Muslim bigotry.
- I could take umbrage with the generalisation that ‘humans are awful and lack empathy’ or with the statement implying that people who have not directly experienced something must stay silent on it. But I’ll leave this last point be. There’s a special place in hell for people who think disabilities can be approached light-heartedly. Though, if you haven’t heard stand up comedian Michael O’Connell call himself a ‘wheelchair comedian,’ well, you’re missing out.
Most concerning about this article is what it contributes to conversation. Though the title is most likely clickbait, it does reflect upon the wider tendency to ascertain whether the people we engage with are not perfectly aligned with our politics before we enter into even casual friendships with them. This is part of a larger problem that safe spaces and echo chambers are only symptoms of. We are sacrificing the quality of our relationships by disregarding the individual and individuality itself. Take a chance. Talk to someone you disagree with. By no means enter into a lifelong contract with them, but please, take the time to have a well-researched discussion on which economic system is best suited to prosperity. Though you could probably wait until the third or fourth date. Doesn’t anyone talk about what movies they like to watch anymore?
Sarah Mills is a managing editor and writer at Uncommon Ground Media.