Girl, Accept Your Constructive Criticism

Being a woman in a patriarchal society is hard, but it doesn’t make you a feminist.

Let me say it louder for the people in the back.

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BEING A WOMAN IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY IS HARD, BUT IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU A FEMINIST.

Feminism is about beliefs and actions aimed at dismantling the patriarchy, the systematic inequality that inhibits people of all genders. Feminism doesn’t mean that everything a woman does is good or feminist, that women can’t be called out (including by other women), that any criticism of a woman is an act of misogyny, that all women must lift up all other women all the time.

I would say it louder for the people in the back but I don’t want you to have to read a whole paragraph of capslock.

Feminism definitely means you should examine your instincts and intentions when criticising women. Some questions you could ask yourself: am I upset about what this woman is doing because I have been socialised to believe that it’s not something a woman “should” do? eg. doing something or acting in a way that is stereotypically masculine like being stern or bossy, or choosing a high-powered career over having children. Would I have the same reaction to this if it were a man doing it? Are there men doing this same thing that are escaping criticism while I focus on this woman? Note here that this doesn’t mean that what is being done doesn’t deserve to be called out, but that maybe you should be looking at the wider picture as well.

You can criticise women and women’s actions and be feminist. You can even pit women against each other and be feminist (see: the love and power triangle of the three complex and unlikable women of The Favourite).

Some people espouse a sort of Girl Power notion that women should celebrate all wins for individual women as wins for women as a whole, no matter how harmful those individual “wins” may be. In some instances, the reason for this is ignorance, a naive belief that there is a net good that stems from having more women in power, even if those women are using their power for bad. An example is an article from a Washington Post writer celebrating Karen Pence’s return to work as a victory for women because the First and Second Ladies of the White House have historically been discouraged from working during their husbands’ administrations. While the deeper point may be valid, there is nothing feminist about teaching at a school that openly discriminates against LGBT students, especially when Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden also worked during the Obama presidency and could have been a worthy subject of the article.

More insidiously, the idea that women have a duty to support each other as a feminist sisterhood is often used to justify anti-feminist actions. Every female politician from Sarah Palin to Margaret Thatcher gas been dubbed “feminist” just for being women in a male-dominated field, and critics have been accused of trying to tear women down for not supporting them. Jessica Valenti writes:

Amassing professional power at the expense of other women isn’t feminism — it’s self-interest.

And it’s not just in politics that this “lift up all women always” mentality is used to deflect valid criticism. Rachel Hollis, the author of the bestselling self-help guide “Girl, Wash Your Face,” has faced criticism for her book’s materialism and santicmoniousness, as well as for portraying a one-size-fits-all recipe for happiness and success that doesn’t account for external hardships and systematic oppression. She has also been called out on the fact that her instagram pages frequently feature plagiarised quotes. Obviously even the most thick-skinned writers are going to be hurt to have their work criticised, but instead taking these reviews to heart she dismisses them as “haters” who are simply jealous of her success or want to tear women down.

Then there’s Caroline Calloway. You can read a full report on her haphazardly-planned”creativity workshop” tour here but basically it was supposed to be four hours long, feature orchid flower crowns and handwritten, personalised letters (neither of which made an appearance), and, oh yes, it cost $165 (but she was looking for a photographer and videographer who would work ~for exposure~, of course). Writer Kayleigh Donaldson detailed all of this (and the subsequent tour cancellation/reinstatement) in a twitter thread before writing the linked article, posting Calloway’s own words and images to provide evidence of her greedy-at-best, scammy-at-worst antics. Calloway’s response? Add a “Stop Hate-Following Me, Kayleigh” t-shirt to her online merch store, while inexplicably using Michelle Obama’s call to grace, “When they go low, we go high,” as justification for making and monetizing a personal attack on her critic.

Railing against “the haters” is a common technique of want to couch their actions in a “if a woman is doing it then it’s feminist” lens. And to some extent, it’s understandable. Any woman with any modicum of publicity probably does have haters. For every person with a valid criticism of Rachel Hollis, Caroline Calloway, or your friend who tries to sell her MLM as a #girlboss #bossbabe entrepreneurial enterprise, there are others who just want to say “you’re fat” or “you’re ugly” or “I wouldn’t do you.” But that doesn’t mean that all criticism is hate or that all critics are haters, and it especially doesn’t mean that those who criticise are doing so with an anti-feminist stance.

Lift each other up, but don’t lift up the patriarchy or those who uphold it.

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