Subverting the Stereotype of Feminist Writing

Its modern iteration is only reinforcing traditional gender roles in media.

Modern feminist writing has its roots deeply steeped in the early days of Gawker–one of the first media conglomerates to buck the trend. It was home to several women providing a steady flow of blogs on the experiences of living as a woman in America, and even as what’s left of Gawker is but a mere shadow of its old self, the craft still maintains substantial appeal in the current media environment.

The main critique often assigned to Gawker-era feminist writing is that it didn’t focus enough on the systemic dimensions of what feminism seeks to tackle, and was rather just a publicly-broadcast diary entry of affluent white women that reflected little of what the broad female experience is about–that’s to be expected since it is heavily-opinionated by design. But what doesn’t get discussed enough, is how feminist blogging had the adverse effect of defining the career course for many female up-and-comers in media by skewing hiring practices such that women are expected to be inherently more capable of synthesizing feminist literature, thus pigeon-holing them into this niche instead of considering them to be as apt a hire for other domains–take a cursory look at most bylines, and you’d be hard-pressed not to reach the same conclusion.

In essence, what’s happening, is the terms on which women were excluded from media haven’t gone away–they merely changed. Whereas before they’d have to conform an obscenely high set of meritocratic standards, now the easiest way to assert plausible deniability is to say that the feminist blogging spot has been filled, rendering the efforts made in promoting gender parity in media jobs practically moot, since the bias that historically dissuaded women from pursuing the field now has become two-fold–an expectation to either write about feminism and only that, or be so much more capable than a male equivalent to earn a more conventional spot.

Feminist blogging is a laudable force in the rusty cogs of the media establishment–it allowed women to turn their grievances into power, leveraging it to amplify the voices of those whose struggles they best embody. Inadvertently however, the proliferation of feminist writing has ended up sidelining the perspectives of women on other issues–its whole raison d’être now has been perverted to promote which that it cautioned against.

Part of the problem is that feminist writing for the longest time lacked intersectionality. Not just with other issues plaguing women, but other domains of writing which could just as crucially benefit from feminist analysis. To take the example of politics, New York Times columnist Elizabeth Bruenig has often been pestered to center her political analysis on her femininity, and her rejection is often seen as a free giveaway to patriarchy in abstaining to encroach on its power, but what if what she did is precisely the best resistance to patriarchy that could ever be? She’s refusing to fulfill an expectation imposed on her by bodies largely dominated by men, and in that, she has precisely subverted the natural state of gender roles in media by staying true to what she’s most proficient at, which is perhaps accidentally a feminist statement in and of itself given the circumstances.

Liberal identitarian politics have almost cunningly came up with a perfect scheme to maintain the status quo and ensure that the oppressed can only talk about which that oppresses them–Muslims write about islamophobia, black people write about racism, gay people write about homophobia, trans people write about transphobia, and so on. It is this constant cycle of showing very little awareness about what the proliferation of such a practice perpetuates. Women similarly, are expected to only thrive on what emiserates them, and it is such folly to claim that being constantly burdened with the shackles of male adversity is the only way to be truly free.

Unintuitive as it may be, decoupling the necessity of being a woman from writing on feminism may be part of the solution. This unspoken exclusivity has more-often-than-not served as a motif for a certain ilk of radical feminists to assume a confrontational tone when exposed to the experiences of trans women — who to them are beneficiaries of the patriarchy — and in further extending the reach of feminist literature to whom it’s supposed to influence — those being men — letting more feminism-positive perspectives on the male side flourish isn’t exactly an unruly endeavor.

The precedent for feminist writing to have become what it is right now, is a naive belief that what a woman desires, must be beneficial to all other women. If parsing of the 2016 American presidential elections is any proof, it’s that simplistic reads of what a demographic wants instituted proves often deceitful–feminism shouldn’t be about uplifting the voices of women regardless of what they believe, because if that were truly the case, great chunks of it would ostensibly be not feminist. Decentralizing the power of feminist rhetoric by stripping away its close ties to the demographic it was ushered by would be a step in the right direction–if the flag was originally seamed by women, it is now up to all of us to carry it, then plant it on a solid foundation. That foundation, has to explicitly acknowledge the struggles of all, lest it keeps getting knocked over by turbulent winds of social divide.

It isn’t just that feminist writing has conventionally been white, that the established cohort of feminist writers refuse to pass the mantle to the younger generation, or even that their very existence has been used as justification to greatly limit women’s role in media–it’s also that feminist writers have wielded what little privilege they had to establish a new status quo. This status quo, is passed off as the revolution that women have long been seeking, when it is just patriarchy of old with a new coat of paint.