On Not Being Feminist Enough: An Open Letter to “Nancy”

A few weeks ago, “Nancy” started commenting regularly on Role/Reboot. Every comment was basically some version the same mean-spirited critique: Your website is not feminist enough.

When she wasn’t attacking the site in general terms, “Nancy” went for the jugular with individual writers. Soon I began to worry that the haters club was growing, as commenters by other names started popping up across numerous articles all offering similar insults. But a quick check of the IP addresses associated with the angry comments showed that, in fact, they pretty much all came from “Nancy.”

“Nancy’s” comments about the site included: 

  • It is so irritating to see people benefiting from feminism without giving it the credit it deserves.
  • After 200 years of brilliant feminist analysis and activism, [this website] is a huge disappointment. Please don’t regress.
  • This article made me sick to my stomach. It’s about time that Role/Reboot started to talk about how wonderful the feminist movement is…

Sometimes she got more personal:

  • Why isn’t [your friend] as passionate about [feminism]?…Does she think she is superior to other women? She sounds so stupid.
  • It’s pretty disgusting to see your friend NOT do anything about the wage gap, the violence gap, the birth control gap, the sexual pleasure gap or any other kind of power gap between women and men…And she is so ungrateful that she don’t call herself a feminist? Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

I’m guessing many of you may be thinking: “Nancy sounds like a jerk. Just ignore her; don’t feed the troll.”

But “Nancy” doesn’t actually strike me as your typical troll in most ways. Sure, she hides behind a cloak of anonymity when she attacks others. But unlike the well-documented misogynist trolls who harass and threaten some members of the feminist blogosphere, “Nancy” identifies as a feminist and it feels like she is actually trying to engage in a meaningful way, at times. Behind the bullying there have been some admittedly thoughtful references to gender studies literature, and articulate critiques about patriarchy. But “Nancy” is the thought police, and her punishing ways of keeping people in line killed conversation rather than encouraged it.

And that is what I find upsetting. “Nancy” really should be an ally, not a hater.

Although it’s impossible to confirm who “Nancy” really is, the biographical information she has provided suggests that she is a 60-something self-identified feminist woman. You may therefore argue that her critiques epitomize a generational tension that often crops up between second and third wave feminists, and therefore I should just let it go. But I can’t quite. Her desire to lash out at a site that so clearly shares far more of her values than the vast majority of the world seems not just counterproductive, but also potentially damaging. Perhaps a commenter who provided an eloquent response to one of “Nancy’s” vitriolic rants put it best: “Our causes will be a lot stronger when we live by the maxim that the opposite of evil is not purity but decency and solidarity.”

“Nancy” apparently doesn’t understand that while all the founders of the site—and vast majority of folks involved with it—consider themselves feminists, being doctrinaire doesn’t do our readers any favors since we are attempting to reach beyond the already-converted. We are not the substitute for an advanced feminist theory course, nor do we claim to be. Rather, we are intentional and transparent about our desire to be accessible to folks who may never have taken a gender studies course in college or who don’t know the term intersectionality. Sure, many of our readers are probably well-versed feminists, but we’d like to help others develop a bit of a gender analysis too, even if they’re not starting from quite as liberated a place as “Nancy” would like.  

Why does that make us not feminist enough?

I have deep respect and affection for the women’s movements that came before me (as well as my generation of the kickass feminists at places like Feministing and Feministe to name a few of my faves) and I believe that what we’re trying to do at Role/Reboot is a complement to the ongoing work of many incredible feminist women, and a smaller, but also exceptional group of feminist gents. At Role/Reboot we want to be a place where the personal becomes political for men and women. We do that through showcasing narratives that allow folks to have the kind of “ah ha” moments that lead to more liberated choices and deeper respect for the choices of others—no matter how unconventional or nontraditional they may be.  Shouldn’t there be room for open-minded folks to thoughtfully question gender roles, even—gasp—if they don’t identify first and foremost as feminists? After all, and pardon the cliché, we really are all in this together.

Nicole Rodgers is the president and founder of Role/Reboot. Follow Role/Reboot on Twitter @RoleReboot and like Role/Reboot on Facebook.

Photo credit looking4poetry/Flickr

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