Sorry, Kate Cohen, you don’t get to decide what’s feminist

Another day, another misguided feminist who mistakenly believes she has the right to define feminism.

Writing in The Washington Post, Kate Cohen feels it necessary to tell us what she thinks about other women’s personal choices, in this case women like Jennifer Lopez who change their surname after marriage:

… some claim that changing their names is in fact a feminist choice…

Defenders of Affleck’s new name have taken a similar tack. “True feminism means each and every woman has the freedom to make her own choices, J-LO included,” tweeted one. A writer in the Irish magazine Image opined, “Feminism revolves around equality, and a woman’s freedom to make decisions as she sees fit.”

You get the idea. Feminism is about choice; therefore Affleck’s choice must be feminist.

No, sorry. It’s the opposite.

Cohen appears to have her own personal definition of feminism.

Every choice to conform to sexist social norms makes it harder for other women to choose otherwise. Every woman who has plastic surgery or Botox or gets her hair dyed or, yes, changes her name makes it harder for other women not to.

Some argue that what matters is how a woman feels, not what she does. “The non-feminist likely shaves because she feels that she has to for others,” explains one blogger, “while the feminist will shave because she wants to do it for herself.”

Goodness, no. The feminist knows that the reasons she wants to shave are deeply compromised — and that as long as men aren’t expected to do it, doing it for yourself is an illusion.

In other words, according to Cohen, “real” feminism must be transgressive.

But defying “authority” doesn’t make you more feminist; it just makes you defiant.

Cohen reminds me of anti-vaxxers. The fact that there is no scientific evidence for their claims is elided by ignoring the actual science and focusing instead on whether people agree with health professionals. Defiance is imagined to be the hallmark of independent thinking when, in truth, it is the hallmark of failure to think.

Defying health experts doesn’t make anti-vaxxers smart and defying cultural norms doesn’t make women feminist. Unreflective defiance is just the flip side of unreflective acceptance. Only teenagers think that refusing to do what authority figures recommend marks them as independent. Adults know that doing the exact opposite of what authority figures recommend is a sign of immaturity, not deliberation.

It isn’t transgressive behavior that marks some women as a feminists; it is the conviction that they are intellectually and morally equal to men and entitled to the same political and economic rights.

Cohen indulges in humble bragging:

But still, as a feminist, I faltered many times on the way toward the aisle. I lost weight for my wedding, shaved my underarms, wore heels and lipstick and virginal white.

Guess what sort of choices those were. Sexist ones. Sure, I could say I looked good in white or I liked the feel of smooth armpits. But any excuse beyond “I gave in” would disrespect the women who do stand up to patriarchal traditions, downplay the enormous power of the forces arrayed against us, and disregard the potential harm created by my sexist choices.

How adorable that Cohen believes that lipstick and underarm shaving are feminist issues!

Or it would be so long as we ignore the 47,000 women murdered each year by men or that this Supreme Court believes women do not have the right to control their own bodies. When you consider the stakes the fact that Cohen focuses on heels or surname changes as hallmarks of feminism seems absurd and even grotesque.

It isn’t specific choices that make women feminists, it is the conviction that choices should be made BY them, not FOR them. It’s anti-feminist for women to knuckle under to specific choices prescribed by patriarchal societies but it is EQUALLY anti-feminist for women to knuckle under to specific choices prescribed by other feminists.

Sorry, Kate Cohen, you’re not a better feminist for making transgressive choices. Indeed you are not a feminist at all if you believe that you have the right demonize other women’s choices as insufficiently transgressive.

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