Roxane Gay counters Michelle Cottle’s ’ rankly condescending piece of shallow provocation for Politico’, in which every double-bind in the ‘feminist mandates’ is marshaled to undercut Michelle Obama.
Women so often face impossible choices in life, in work, in feminism. We are either “independent and empowered” or we’re tools of the patriarchy. For black women, our choices may seem even more impossible because there are so many persistent, damaging cultural tropes about black women. When we don’t adhere to these tropes, the world does not know what to make of us. There is no middle ground or room for women to make the choices that best suit our lives without those choices being endlessly scrutinized and assessed on an arbitrary scale of “good feminism.” This dilemma is not new but its longevity is certainly frustrating. That we can’t seem to have more complex feminist conversations beyond whether or not we’re doing feminism well is frustrating.
It’s also important to consider why an article like this was even written and will certainly be written again and again. Time and again, lazy journalism reveals that in the sphere of public intellectualism, we can only conceive of feminism as a monolith, an unyielding set of principles about how women in the public sphere should think and act. Feminism remains the go-to topic for inflaming passions and garnering clicks in the online economy. Feminism is the always-reliable narrative frame for explaining why women are making the wrong choices about their bodies, their livelihoods, their children or any other matter.
This lazy journalism is what allows feminism to become “the F word,” with prominent women doing their best to distance themselves from feminism because who wants to be associated with something so rigid and narrow and humorless as the feminism we all too often read about? We get trapped in pointless conversations and continue to lose sight of what feminism, broadly, is, and what the work of feminism, at its best, should do. We forget that feminism is not one mode of thinking. It never has been nor should it be.