"I'm not a feminist, but. . . "

Mary Winter in the Denver Post, in an otherwise nice take-down of the inequities in the treatment of and advertising for women’s and men’s sexual dysfunction:

Call me cynical, but when the voice-over says, “This is the age of taking action,” my bar is set just a bit higher. And not to go all feminist on anyone,but I find it interesting that the female version of Viagra — a product called Zestra — still can’t advertise on most television stations, apparently because erections lasting four hours are acceptable prime-time conversation, but allusions to female sexual desire are not.

You may have seen the story on ABC’s “Nightline” this fall: two female entrepreneurs in California developed a botanical-oil-based product that in clinical trials was 70 percent effective in enhancing women’s sexual satisfaction, according to Zestra’s makers.

Now, you would not know it from the $300-million annual ad campaign for erection-enhancing ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but women suffer more sexual dysfunction than men do — 43 percent to 31 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In other words, the potential market for flagging female libidos is huge. But here’s the irony: When the makers of Zestra went to 100 television networks and stations to buy ads, the vast majority refused them. The few stations that did take their money would run the ads only after midnight or during the daytime.

(U haz editorz at the Denver Post?  Or is u now like the non-peer reviewed interwebz?)

Winter’s point is clearly and strongly a feminist argument–women’s sexual dysfunction is treated differently both medically and in television advertising.  Yet, she distances herself from the political movement that made her analysis possible by writing, “[a]nd not to go all feminist on anyone, but. . . ”  Can anyone imagine writing a column about (for example) racial injustice, prejudice against the disabled, or discrimination on the basis of sexual identity this way?  “Not to go all Martin Luther King Jr. on everyone, but the rates at which black and Latino men are pulled over by local police are dramatically different in our town from the percentage of white male drivers.”  “Of course I’m not one of those wheelchair terrorists, but now that I’m piloting a baby stroller I find that a lot of local businesses are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”  “I don’t really care who you love so long as you don’t flaunt it, but I can’t believe it’s still legal in most of the country to fire someone because she’s gay.”

No.  It’s only feminism that can only be deployed by distancing oneself from those awful, monstrous, horrible, evil feminists.  And this is how women’s history and the history of feminism is distorted, friends.  Everyone agrees to forget that feminists ever did anything useful or beneficial for us, and we all pretend instead that feminists were just bitter, divisive, old, ugly, fat, hairy-legged, snaggle-toothed man-haters who focused on trivia like the definition of rape and sex-exclusive language like Congressman and mankind instead of advocating for things that were really important, like legal, social, and economic justice.

26 thoughts on “"I'm not a feminist, but. . . "

  1. I don’t disagree with you on this; I think you’re dead on. But it’s not quite true that nobody downplays their positions when it comes to race: the phrase “not to play the race card” quickly comes to mind.


  2. I have NEVER heard someone say, ‘not to play the race card’ before they continued their statement.

    Men have consistently trashed women and any movement for equality. So the result is that many women have taken men’s trash talk about feminists to heart and believed it.


  3. thefrogprincess–I hear what you’re saying, but in my experience & observations, when people invoke “the race card” they’re not allies of anti-racism. (And it’s usually an accusation that *someone else* is “playing the race card.”) Whereas here, Winter offers a strong feminist analysis WHILE ALSO distancing herself from feminists.

    I expect antifeminists to bash feminists–but it really bugs me when people who clearly are indebted to feminism try to distance themselves from it. That’s what I’m saying here. Crusaders for racial justice are proud of their history and legacy, and they see that it’s useful to them and they evoke it in order to further their cause. Feminists and women? Not so much.


  4. Agreed that you’re right on. Unlike guest, I have heard people say “not to be a racist, but…”

    The deflection just sounds silly; “I’m not an archaeologist, but… [insert patently archaeological discussion].”


  5. Digger–but when people say “not to be a racist, but [something racist],” that’s the opposite of what I’m talking about. (And as a white person, I’ve heard that a number of times myself.) The equivalent of what you’re saying w/r/t feminism here would be someone saying or writing, “I DON’T want to sound sexist but [sexist essentialist bullcrap].”

    This is about women in the political and intellectual tradition of feminism who don’t want to be identified with those ugly, nasty, bitter, divisive, trivial, and (yes, thanks CPP) SHRILL feminists!


  6. yeah, well, lets see how much all those people who say “I’m not a feminist but” are able to change in the next twenty or thirty years. Personally, I would wager its going to be less than those noisy feminists did between 1960-1980. But we have a genuine opportunity to run a social experiment. Lets see what deference gets you.


  7. I won’t push this any further, other than to say I’ve heard it used countless times in precisely the way Historiann means, i.e. a deflection before continuing on with an anti-racist argument. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it myself. Maybe it’s a generational thing; there are lots of places and contexts in which it is not okay to bring up racial inequality, and so the deflection is required to even be heard. People of color are probably the only ones who use it, and they do so in hostile contexts, which would probably explain why so many of you claim to have never heard it.

    That said, I do think Historiann makes a good point; I’m just not convinced by her argument that this is a phenomenon unique to feminism.


  8. I’ve heard “not to play the race card” in this context. While discussing early jazz music with a student during a large lecture course! Something like “Not to play the race card, but Louis Armstrong had to struggle against the racism of the music industry. I think that’s wrong, he should have had access to the same performance opportunities as Glenn Miller.”


  9. Interesting points about “playing the race card,” thefrogprincess and wini–I’ll have to keep my ears open for that context in the future. Thanks for your further explanation of the phenomenon.

    Every time I hear “the race card” evoked, it brings me back to 1994-95 and the O.J. Simpson trial, when it was repeated ad infinitum. Good times!


  10. widgeon is right about “humorless.” That adjective seems to be holding on tighter than “shrill.” Denouncing injustice straight on, no giggles, is perfectly okay for one of the other kinds of unjust oppressions. But when you point out an oppression + injustice against women, you are expected not to take yourself or your point so damn seriously. (But, uh, funny thing: I’ve never heard a man written off as humorless when he remarked on some phenomenon that hurts women.) Lighten up, ladies!


  11. Someone will win the internet forever if they start a facebook page called “proud to be a feminist”. Any takers? I can’t have facebook, long story.


  12. I think this is one case where anti-feminists have been very successful at painting a straw person of feminism. My best friend once said she’s not super-feminist or anything like that, but she didn’t like the way a guy at work treated her. I am super-feminist (should I get a t-shirt with a giant S on it?), and I said, “Oh, so you only want to be somewhat equal?” The problem is exactly what you pointed out, that the public perception of feminism is more about man-hating and hairy legs than about equality.


  13. Anna–I don’t do the fB either, but from what I understand, a fB site called “proud to be a feminist” would attract more trolls and drive more feminists away from signing up for public online abuse. (That’s not just fB, it’s the world-wide non-peer reviewed intertoobs in general.)

    Good response, bananacat, to your friend: “so you only want to be somewhat equal?” Love it. Have it printed on cards to hand out, along with that SuperFeminist superhero jersey!

    Coming “out” as feminists is the only way to fight the straw woman “scary feminist.”


  14. Well, I am a feminist and don’t have a problem announcing it to the world. Believing 1/2 of humanity is entitled to the same rights as the other half does not a bad person make. Other than that, I agree with your argument.


  15. “She says I am not a feminiiiiist…..F@CK YOU”
    Courtney Love off of “Live Through This”

    My personal favorite response to said distancing and disavowment.


  16. I hear you, H’Ann. I read these all as framings of “I don’t want you to think I’m X [a racist, a feminist, a homophobe], but now I’ll say something that clearly indicates I am X.” As though just saying something isn’t so, makes it not so… wait. That’s politics these days.

    “Coming “out” as feminists is the only way to fight the straw woman “scary feminist.”” Agreed!


  17. You forgot that we all burned our bras….along with being humorless, ugly, shrill, hairy legged man-haters.

    Back in the dark ages, when I was in college, I was going around canvassing for the Women’s Center (c. mid-1970s) and even then there was the “I want to be equal, but I want my boyfriend to hold the door for me” routine. Sigh. Ze who gets to the door first holds it for the person who follows. What’s so hard about that?


  18. Pingback: A More Zest(ra)-y Sex Life for Women? « Kittywampus

  19. I AM a feminist.

    I have a penis, a Y chromosome, and a male gender identity.

    I’m trying to overcome the bogeyman of the “scary straw feminist” that our reactionary elements have puffed up, like the giant fear-puppet of Stephen Colbert.

    I hope it works. 😦


  20. If any more reasons were needed NOT to say ‘I’m not a feminist, but…’, it’s the chumps I constantly encounter on the internet, telling me that ‘most women’* think feminism is ‘outdated’ or ‘irrelevant’. ARRRRRGGGHHHH. Not this one.

    * By which they mean, of course, ‘All the women I know. No, I haven’t asked them. But *I* think so, and I am the Default Human, so what other view could they possibly hold?’.


  21. “I’m not a feminist, but…I AM an opportunist and a coward”

    Fixed it.

    For all those fellow travellers who want that oh so soothing feeling of equality but know when to duck.


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