Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quizzical Feminism

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons 3.0

Not that Seventeen Magazine is any sort of authority on feminism, but when they published the "What kind of feminist are you?" quiz, a few eyebrows instinctively raised.  I mean, come on.

Never mind that Seventeen is guilty of mind-fucking millions of young women into thinking they're too fat, too short, too tall, their hair is too straight, or too curly, their skin is too dry, or too oily, and their boyfriends are probably cheating on them-- all for the sake of selling the clothes and cosmetics they advertise; not to mention more magazines that possess the secrets of self-improvement. 

It's an endless, overly-critical, self-destructive cycle.  But I digress.

As a feminist, I felt like I was walking into a trap.  You have to be suspicious when you can find what kind of feminist you are and what celebrity perfume is best for you in the same place. 

Having read the magazine (and many others like it) when I was seventeen-ish, I knew the basic set-up of the personality quiz.  Answers marked A were usually extreme, B was somewhere in the middle, and C was always a conservative lost cause who was anything but daring, flirtatious or hot. 

When applied to feminism, I could already foresee the outcome-- A's would be radical, B's would be liberal, and C's would be cultural feminism-- even though I really question Seventeen Magazine's understanding of essentialism.

Now I love to be right.  I mean, I really really love to be right.  In fact, my three favorite words are "you were right."

But this one stung a little.  I mean, the divisions in feminism are puzzling, even amongst feminists.  And it's a rather sensitive subject.  Still, while the breakdown is disheartening, it serves a necessary purpose. 

Back when I was taking "Intro to Women's Studies" I struggled with this reality.  See, I thought I had everything all figured out.  So rather than complete a matching section connecting the label to the ideology, I wrote an essay across my midterm explaining why we should all just get along. 

Obviously, I hadn't "gotten it" yet. 

And many beginners don't-- until that "eureka!" moment when they begin to understand that everyone's picture of equality doesn't quite look the same. 

But the last thing feminism needs is for the delicate balance of differing viewpoints to be trivialized by a ridiculous quiz created by the pushers of the beauty-industrial-complex.

So the next time Seventeen Magazine wants to over-simplify something, I suggest they stick to face wash or the best style of jeans to flatter your figure.  Because really, feminists don't divide into groups of those who let boys open doors for them and those who don't.

1 comment:

  1. I Googled this quiz to find the URL and was interested to read its criticism. I'm the author of it, and while I agree with you that it's an oversimplification of feminism (which is how online quiz-taking works; most CMSs allow only for a points-based system), I'd like to share my reasoning behind writing it.

    I think that the sooner girls understand that feminism isn't one monolith, the sooner they'll want to call themselves feminists. Feminism IS complex--certainly more complex than a five-question quiz could accurately reflect--but it wasn't until I was a senior in high school that I had ANY idea there were multiple ways to be a feminist. I read classic feminist texts and practically memorized them, and whenever I'd find ideologies that didn't mesh with what I believed, I wasn't sure what to do. (I mean, clearly not all those classic feminist texts spoke in unison, but there was an overall thesis that did unify them.) Once I got a little older and learned more about different schools of feminism, I felt like the whole world opened up to me even more--I didn't have to shift my beliefs in order to be a capital-F Feminist; there were a zillion ways to be one, and I remember being so excited to learn about the different schools of thought, even though to this day there's not one that I'd identify myself with.

    Of course feminists don't divide ourselves into groups who let boys open doors for us--but I remember having proto-feminist conversations with friends in high school about exactly that, and about our differing reactions. And, back in 1992 when I was having those discussions, I remember thinking that if I let a guy open a door for me I wasn't being a good feminist, because I was trying so hard to follow some sort of rule. If we can let girls know that that's an okay reaction--as is saying "thanks" and moving on through--we don't bar any of them from wanting to be feminists.

    In any case, the girls taking these quizzes are young--they're not taking Intro to Women's Studies; they're taking homeroom! I hear your points and I'm always glad to see someone arguing in favor of feminist complexity. I think we actually have the same idea here--that there are a lot of different ways to be a feminist, and that they're all legitimate--but we're taking diffrent approaches. I was so pleased to be able to offer something a little more think-worthy than "what kind of prom dress should you wear?" to girls. In fact, I consider it a feminist act.