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Why I moved away from 'feminist' (the identity) and 'feminism' (the ideology)

It's not because I'm rejecting the women's movement
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I’ve spoken with number of people about my political shift(s) over the past few years, and recently explained to Canadian journalist, Jon Kay, why I’d begun to distance myself from feminism, the ideology, and the “feminist” identity. But considering my career and investment in the feminist movement over the years, I felt a more detailed explanation was in order.

There are a lot of reasons I’ve moved away from explicitly identifying myself as a feminist, and none of those reasons have to do with a lack of interest in defending women’s rights. In fact, this move away from feminist ideology and identity is very much related to the fact I remain interested in defending women’s actual empowerment, interests, and rights.

The thing is that I want to do that in a way that is actually effective, honest, and understanding of a variety of experiences and interests. I want to see women as people, not as political categories.

Here’s the thing: “feminism,” the ideology, is never going to appeal to a broad group of women. Particularly not when it demands commitment to a broad range of other political positions, issues, and ideologies, from socialism, to racism, even to abortion rights.

What can appeal to a broad range of people are things that make sense and are good for them and those around them. This is why we have been able to make headway with arguments in defense of women’s sports and of women-only spaces. These things make sense for women and girls, and protect them from predatorial men. These things make the lives of women and girls better in demonstrable ways.

From my perspective, anti-porn and anti-prostitution arguments can also appeal to a broad range of people (men included), on account of the fact that porn and prostitution harm not only women and girls, but relationships, sex, our minds, as well as men and boys.

Things like the vote and property rights similarly appealed to women as a whole. And even to some men who cared about rationality and the betterment of women’s lives.

What doesn’t appeal to a broad range of people is academic-sounding jargon and an in-club/out-club type of approach that treats those who ask questions or fail to be persuaded by mantras as stupid or evil.

Feminists do themselves no favours in these approaches in particular, if indeed their aim is to connect with women. Telling women that if they don’t vote Democrat they can count themselves out is a good way to count them out. It’s also a good way to ensure you don’t understand what real people care about. It reeks of condescension and elitism, which one would think the feminist movement would want to avoid.

There is more. Unfortunately, what was once a movement for women became a movement for everything: racism, immigration, socialism, transgenderism, the legalization of prostitution, the “right” to be a “slut,” hormonal birth control, surrogacy, and more.

And if you want to fight for these things, fine. But what I’ve learned over the past 10-15 years of being a feminism devotee (as well as a leftist) is that movements that focus on specific aims are more successful. I think it’s easier to reach and connect with people if you talk about the specific issue of prostitution, for example, rather than talking about liberating women from patriarchal oppression and also demanding that if a woman is to fight exploitation in the sex trade she must also support open borders.

Does that make sense?

But I also moved away for more personal reasons. I had become intellectually bored with focusing all my work and analysis on “feminism.” I wanted the freedom to explore ideas and topics outside the limitations of that analysis. Ironically, I had begun to feel oppressed, in a way, by feminism and feminists themselves. I felt monitored, controlled, and policed by those I was working with or “allied” with. I was constantly being cancelled for stepping out of line — for standing up for free speech, for example, on account of my determination to support the free speech of everyone, even those deemed “racists” and “sexists.” I was cancelled for speaking to men in non-combative ways and for trying to understand and empathize with their views — even for befriending these men. I couldn’t get away with joking around, either (sometimes cliches turn out to be rooted in some truth, I’m afraid), as I would be taken seriously and accused of thinking rape or racism was funny and declared a ball-palmer (I quite enjoyed that one, to be honest). A group of feminists I’d worked with and supported for many years determined I was “not an ally” because I wouldn’t monitor what members of the general public said at my events, to their liking, and was expected to engage in repeat-after-me-type public statements confirming my comittment to “anti-racism.” (This was really the peak of my “I don’t want to be a part of your cult” trajectory.)

I also started to realize that if I was truly going to be an independent thinker, I had to reject ideology completely, and just take people and policy and politics and ideas as they came, without applying an ideological lens to my analysis. I wanted to be free to work outside the box and with whomever I liked. I wanted to be free to explore ideas with genuine curiousity, not just with the intent to analyze the idea “as a feminist” (or reject it on the same basis).

To be clear, I have met and read and worked with some amazing feminists over the years. And I certainly would not balk at being called one. The women’s movement has been one of the most important movements in all of history, and has acheived things that I consider pivotal to our quality of life and autonomy. I continue to fight for women’s rights and against dangerous, exploitative industries and practices. I want true empowerment for women, as well as for women to be able to live with dignity and pride, free from abuse. I truly think I can do that work in a more productive and authentic way outside the limiting walls of “feminism,” the ideology, and without being directed (and monitered) by the “feminist” identity.

I think my work over the past 10+ years speaks for itself, in terms of my commitment to women’s rights and voices. I have interviewed probably more feminists on my podcast than any other podcaster in existence. I have published the work of countless women who would never have had the opportunity otherwise. I have promoted the activism and ideas of hundreds of feminists over the years. I am proud of this. I absolutely plan to continue supporting and platforming women in my work, as always. But what I don’t want to do is to speak with, work with, hear from, learn from, engage with, or platform only those I agree with or only those who have an interest in the feminist movement. That is not a good way to learn, to better understand people and the world around me, or to advocate for good policies and practices.

I will be moving Feminist Current, the site I founded and have run since 2012, in a more specifically woman-focused direction, as opposed to a feminism-focused direction, in upcoming months, as well as move to a more subscriber-based model to better reflect the work and learning I am doing, the changing nature of the internet and social media, and to be better able to approach the issues and fights we, as women, are faced with today. I hope you will stay with me on this journey, even if it doesn’t fully align with yours.

If you do wish to stay up to date with this new(ish) direction for Feminist Current and continue with me as we fight for women’s rights, spaces, autonomy, and safety, consider subscribing here on Substack, if you haven’t already. My work at The Same Drugs will go on as always, exploring heterodox ideas, hosting difficult and interesting conversations, advocating for free speech and civil liberties, promoting free thought, and ensuring Justin Trudeau is never let off the hook.

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Meghan Murphy