I first started thinking about the idea of ‘bad feminism’ when I wore a t-shirt with tits drawn on it in front of my mum. The image itself isn’t particularly graphic, but with the general shape and nipple definition it still gets the message across. I think it’s a pretty harmless shirt, but my mother wasn’t very pleased; in wearing the shirt, she felt I was objectifying myself.
My mother identifies as a feminist; she believes in the social, economic and political equality of the genders. However, what I don’t understand is why feminists from older generations still retreat into conservative shell-shock when female sexuality is experimented with or made explicit? Am I the ‘bad feminist’, or is my mum? Honestly, it’s a fair question.
For context, my mother deems the following things to be un-feminist: Cardi B; Beyoncé’s raunchier side, or in other words, her “Partition” side; Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”; Kanye’s “Gold Digger”; and, my attitude towards getting free drinks when I go out, which is that guys can buy them for me, because I’m a poor university student.
I feel that musical examples are particularly pertinent to the conversation around feminism, because they encapsulate what broader society deems appropriate in terms of how we can talk to, and act towards, women. Mum mainly despises “99 Problems” because Jay Z, married to the feminist icon and goddess that is Beyoncé, describes women as “bitches”. The argument that Jay Z is actually commenting on racial violence as a larger problem, by satirising and rejecting other men’s complaints about women who they describe as “bitches”, goes right over my mother’s head. This is because her immediate knee-jerk reaction of hating anyone who refers to women as “bitches” has already been triggered.
Personally, I see women like Cardi B as a means by which we can expand our definition of what feminism is. We can do this through understanding the perspective of a powerful woman who is confident and comfortable with her sexuality. Am I a ‘bad feminist’ for admiring a woman who became wealthy through stripping, and now raps about her sex life as a career? I don’t think so.
‘Good’ feminism, or, indeed, any feminism, should be about supporting other women and not rejecting them as ‘unworthy’ of the feminist label because of how they have become the woman that they are. Plus, it is the ultimate indication of empowerment when your sexuality is totally your own. So, does this make my mum a bad feminist then?
No. My mum’s background, and career in a male-dominated field that has required her to constantly promote herself as a capable woman, means she can sometimes disagree with my more relaxed attitude towards men. Sometimes, guys are allowed to be smarter than me. Sometimes, it is easier to pretend to be silly and flirty to get male attention. And I am always within my rights to have sex with whomever I want, whenever I want. And none of these things should undermine my fundamental right to social, political and economic equality with men.
My mum thinks that if I am not in a position of direct and explicit power in every situation I find myself in with a male, then I am not worthy of being called a feminist. However, I think that the next stage of feminism, once we achieve gender equality, is realising that we shouldn’t have to compete with men, or other women, every second of every day.
The only way that anyone can truly be a bad feminist is thinking that another woman is unworthy of the title of ‘feminist’ because she doesn’t fit with their definition of the word. Feminists are never going to all completely agree on every single issue within the movement, like expressions of sexuality, Bodak Yellow, or male rappers. However, not tearing each other down and proclaiming other women to be ‘bad feminists’ is a good starting point for accepting and promoting one another in however we choose to live our lives.