In Defense of Imperfect Feminists

Poor Patricia Arquette. I bet when she wrote her award speech for the Oscars, she had no idea that the feminist movement would turn on her the way it did. “How dare she insinuate that the LGBT community and communities of color have already achieved equality. Here comes a rich white woman telling us we’re not doing enough for her. I’m rolling my eyes.”

When I heard people say this shit, I got mad. Really mad. REALLY FUCKING PISSED OFF. I wanted to throw my TV across the room. Instead, here I am, writing a blog post about it.

Look, I get it. Arquette is a person speaking from a place of privilege. She’s wealthy and white and straight and non-disabled. And when someone with privlege stands up and says “Hey. I see an unfairness happening to women, and I want it changed” it’s easy for those without privilege to get mad and say “ORLY? Your life is all cushy and you’re demanding more? Why didn’t you use your power to speak for a group that has it worse off than you? You don’t get my pain and you are blinded by your privilege.”

Here’s the thing. Nobody is perfect. NOBODY. I have met plenty of feminists whose ideology is beyond reproach, but whose actions do the exact opposite of what feminism is supposed to be about. They are not part of the sisterhood because they shit on their sisters. They’re NOT perfect. They’re assholes and they are making it impossible for the movement to achieve its goals.

Goals. What are our goals, as feminists? Are they to convince everyone to see the world as we do? To understand the complex intersections of race, sexuality, and gender? If so, is rolling our eyes at people who aren’t there yet a good way to reach that goal? In fact, IS that really our goal? Or is it to improve the lives of women? Why did we want the right to vote? Why did we want equal access to higher education? Was it merely because we wanted an ideology of fairness, or was it bigger than that? 

When I look around, I see women struggling. I see women who can’t leave their abusive partners, because their employers pay them less money than their male peers for the same job. I see women who must work 2 jobs just to make ends meet, because they make less money than their male peers. And I don’t see a feminist movement that has accomplished pay equity for them, depsite decades of fighting for it.

Part of the problem, in my mind, is that we, as feminists, have spent too much time shitting on women who aren’t perfect feminists. We have alienated women who should be our allies. We have taken our eyes off the prize–equal pay, changes in the legal system to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, paid maternity leave–and instead focused on defining the perfect feminist, the perfect feminism. And then when a woman like Arquette stands up and says “I want this thing for women” that feminists agree we need, we shit on her and we dismiss her, instead of saying “We want that too! Let’s do it together.”

As a feminist, I am opposed to anyone and anything that stops our movement from improving women’s lives. Including feminists who demand perfection instead of bringing allies into the movement. We have to stop demeaning women who want to help us, and come together to achieve our goals.


Since The Cancer, a lot of friends have said things to me like “This seems so unfair. You’ve been through so much trauma already, and now this? Why does this have to happen to you?” But strangely, I haven’t asked that question myself. I haven’t wondered why I had to be the one who got cancer. Which made me wonder, why haven’t I wondered why?

At first, I thought it might be because I am not religious. I don’t believe in a divine plan, and even if there WAS one, I don’t think God would be such a dick that he would give someone cancer.As I’ve said before, if it brings you comfort to think that God did this and it’s for some important reason, well, OK, but that doesn’t bring me any comfort, and if you say it to me, I will probably tell you that I think your god is an asshole. (Freedom of religion: it cuts both ways, doesn’t it?) Because, I think illnesses happen because they just happen, and it’s not fair or unfair, it just is. This is also why I think health care should be a right and not a commodity, but we’ll save that for another post.

So, yeah, I thought, maybe it’s just my world view that makes me not ask why. But, then I thought back to how I reacted to The Boy’s early birth, and remembered: I did a LOT of asking why, but from a medical perspective. Not at first, but as time went on, I desperately needed a reason for why my water broke, how this all got started, what went wrong. And none of the doctors could tell me. They had hypotheses, sure, but no way to prove them.

For a while, I blamed myself. I must be the reason, if only I had done something differently, if only I had been more in tune with my body. Looking for a reason for the shitty things that happen can be a dangerous thing. It can lead you to blame people who aren’t really at fault. Including yourself.

It took a long time and plenty of therapy to come to accept that I would never know for sure why The Boy came early, but eventually I did. Doctors just don’t know all there is to know about the human body yet. They are researching as fast as they can, and they know a hell of a lot more now than they did even 10 years ago, let alone 100 or 1000 years ago. But they don’t know everything. And sometimes, they just don’t have the answers. Doctors know a lot more about cancer now than they used to–they know enough to tell people not to smoke, and to wear sunscreen–but they don’t have all the answers about why cancer happens. Especially when it’s a rare form, like mine.

We did ask my oncologist, who is extremely kind as well as extremely smart, how this could be stage IV already, when I just found the lump, and I do self exams regularly. (My paternal grandmother had breast cancer in her 70’s, lived 10 more years and died of non-cancer old people diseases, but her cancer was enough to get me doing regular exams.) He said that my type of cancer is really aggressive, and that there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent this from becoming stage IV.

See? Shit just happens. That was a totally adequate answer for me.