A taut and spirited attack on contemporary mainstream feminism.
Despite the title, Crispin (The Dead Ladies Project, 2015), critic and founder of the pioneering literary website Bookslut, is indeed a feminist. She’s a passionate defender of second-wave writers like Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone, and her chief complaint is that their critiques of capitalism and structural racism have been rejected in favor of weak-tea lifestyle feminism, where empowerment is making yourself attractive to men and activism is social media squabbling—and those second-wave radical feminists are lazily dismissed as men-haters. This transformation of feminism into “something soft and Disneyfied,” Crispin argues, has produced a raft of lamentable and counterproductive consequences: it has alienated women who aspire to lives that don’t demand climbing the corporate ladder, shamed women who speak about abortion in terms besides upbeat women’s rights cheerleading, and excluded nonwhite, non–middle class women. What good is an uptick in women CEOs and politicians if they’re just perpetuating the same divisions? (“Not a more egalitarian world, but the same world, just with more women in it.”) What good is “self-empowerment” if it only translates into making oneself sexually available? Attacking the patriarchy, though, doesn’t mean attacking men: “toxic femininity” is as pervasive as “toxic masculinity,” writes Crispin, and she keenly balances a defense of men’s role in supporting a more viable feminism without excusing male sexism. As with most manifestos, this one is better at laying out the problem—a “patriarchal, capitalistic, consumerist society”—than outlining solutions for it, and her case would be stronger if it addressed real-world divides as much as online ones. But the author’s ferocious critique effectively reframes the terms of any serious discussion of feminism. You’ll never trust a you-go-girl just-lean-in bromide again.
Forget busting glass ceilings. Crispin has taken a wrecking ball to the whole structure.