Updated: Apr 29
The question I'm responding to this week is the following:
"Over the years, feminism has become increasingly mainstream. As we can see in the texts Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom and Remapping the Resonances of Riot Grrrl, for Riot Grrrl politics and feminism to truly be considered valid, the movement should not be mainstream and should instead focus itself on protest. As we have discussed previously in class, ‘feminist’ is no longer a bad word, so more people are willing to adopt the label. Is it valid to be worried that modern, mainstream feminism detracts from the political aspect of the feminist movement?"
I'm glad to see that you asked this question. This is something that's become increasingly important to bring into public and academic debate, especially considering how commodified everything under the sun (and on platforms) has become. Whenever movements gain power (especially in an era post the MeToo campaign) the system does everything it can to appropriate their values or otherwise diminish their power and resonance with the public. Hence, the emergence of the neoliberal organization "Times Up" that has granted no legitimate forms of justice for everyday survivors, and even actively brushed Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden under the rug.
When we say feminism has become increasingly mainstream, I think it's even more important to recognize that it's not really that feminism has become mainstream, it's that neoliberal transnational and global capitalism has co-opted feminist traces and slogans for profit (like it does with virtually everything). Feminism isn't for profit, and never will be. Feminism isn't meant to perpetuate the status quo. We should be hesitant linguistically to conflate feminism with products claiming to be preaching feminism, whether in material objects or in mainstream artistic expression. C'est n'est pas un feminism. Pussy Riot's music speaks to that. They didn't care how many times they'd get arrested, they're going to keep on demonstrating and speaking truth back to power.
Like we questioned in class a bit this week: Is something mainstream just because it's been exposed to the public via mass media (demonstrations, protests, anarchists destruction of property, etc)? I'm not so sure. I think maybe these representations in the public eye are a bit more nuanced. On the other hand, it is problematic to presume that the revolution will be televised. Because as Gil Scott-Heron reminds, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised":Link (Links to an external site.)
To answer the second part of this question, I didn't ever believe that feminism was a bad word. To be frank, I don't attribute legitimacy to anything that's ever attempted to lob that kind of hegemonic disapproval. Disenfranchisement of feminism is just too to be expected. On one hand, I do believe this expected bastardization of feminism is very harmful to people who would without it's wayward sway not believe in its hollowed out false idea of "feminism". In other words, sure, maybe this typical control response to dissent has detracted some people who could've otherwise been potentially useful allies. However, on the other, if someone is going to learn about what feminism really is, hearing a narrative bashing such as the one inquired about in this question probably wouldn't end up being the final nail in the coffin of their allegiance. Being a feminist isn't something that people just do because they want something to do, it's an ideological system of beliefs which is predicated on a continued lack of gendered justice that follows us all throughout our lives. People are feminists because they have to be, not because they bought a t-shirt that says "feminist."