Books

Jessa Crispin
Why I Am Not a Feminist

Despite its title, the newest book from Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin isn’t actually a disavowal of the principle of women’s equality. Rather, it’s a manifesto arguing that contemporary feminism has become so moribund that Crispin no longer identifies even with the name, let alone the movement. 

She contends that feminism has become essentially a lifestyle brand, a justification for any and all choices a self-described feminist might make. Crispin describes a feminism that is a shadow of its former self, in thrall to the patriarchal, capitalistic systems it once opposed. Her prose is crackling and sharp and she would likely find many sympathisers were her position not so frustratingly muddled and blinkered.

Crispin continually positions herself as the only person to have ever made such critiques. Her intention may be to deliver a searing takedown of the pitiful state of contemporary feminism, without time to slow down and offer citations or reference contemporary thinkers, but the result simply feels poorly researched. The acknowledgements page – a list of admired writers with an admonishment to “read their books” – fails to dispel this impression.

Nor is her credibility helped by her apparent confusion about the meaning of particular terms. For example, she decries the use of the phrase “toxic masculinity”, writing that “we would prefer to think of toxic masculinity as innate, and any problems with women’s behaviour as being socially created”. This is the opposite of what is meant by “toxic masculinity”: it describes a set of socially learned behaviours that are damaging to people of all genders. A seemingly minor flaw, but it speaks to a broader lack of rigour. 

Crispin rails against feminists who make straw-man arguments, yet in portraying contemporary feminism as a monolithic bloc she depicts a straw-movement.  She offers blanket criticisms such as, “The issues most pressing for lower income women, like affordable abortions, childcare, health insurance and healthcare, public housing, and so on, have slipped off the feminist radar.” It’s a claim that would be laughable if it weren’t so insulting to the many feminists addressing exactly these kinds of grassroots issues.

At a time when the future of the movement towards women’s equality – whatever you want to call it – seems especially precarious, Why I Am Not a Feminist is far from the rallying call we need.  DV

Black Inc, 176pp, $24.99 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 18, 2017 as "Jessa Crispin, Why I Am Not a Feminist ". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: DV

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