Things that look like feminism but aren’t

Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner, a leading candidate for New York City mayor, listens as her husband speaks at a press conference on July 23, 2013 in New...
Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner, a leading candidate for New York City mayor, listens as her husband speaks at a press conference on July 23, 2013 in New...
John Moore/Getty Images

It might seem strange to point out, but not all things written by women are feminism. Nor are all things that are written by women in the name of feminism–at least if you define feminism as fighting for the right of women to have equal personhood and participation in society.

Nowhere is this clearer than the excruciating parade of prominent opinion columns about the women around Anthony Weiner. Sydney Leathers may not be winning the prize for the world’s most prudent young woman any time soon, but she is definitely not the middle-aged guy asking the people of New York to vote from him after appearing to have learned nothing from his first go-round with scandal.

And Huma Abedin might not be acting in the way you believe you would if you were married to Weiner, but you are not Abedin, and her choices about whom to marry belong to her and not to you. Neither Abedin nor Leathers are advancing policy that harms women as a class. (Nor is Weiner, for all of the fond fantasies of Republicans who would like to I’m-rubber-you’re-glue “the war on women.”)

Neither of these women claim to represent or speak for all women. But let that not get in the way of a good tirade about what these women are doing wrong.

Below, an opinionated guide to what is and isn’t feminism.

Susan Jacoby, “Weiner’s Women,” for The New York Times:

“People ask how Mr. Weiner’s wife, the soulfully beautiful and professionally accomplished Huma Abedin, can stay with him. My question is why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with strangers… Women who settle for digital pornography are lowering their expectations and hopes even more drastically than their male collaborators are.”

“As a feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine a vibrant young woman sitting alone at her computer and turning herself into a sex object for a man (or a dog) she does not know… [it] expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all.”

Things that are not feminism:

  1. Asking a question about why women do or want things and answering with why you do or want things, and calling it feminism. (Or, as Julia Wong put it, “My feminism demands that women be allowed to speak for themselves.”)
  2. Assuming that a “vibrant young woman” (separate from a “soulfully beautiful and professionally accomplished” one) suffers from false consciousness about her own sexuality, and that she needs your pity and implicit shaming, and calling it feminism.
  3. Claiming that you are not judging women’s sexual behavior differently from men’s, and then judging women’s sexual behavior differently from men. And calling it feminism.

Maureen Dowd, “Time to Hard Delete Carlos Danger,” for The New York Times:

When you puzzle over why the elegant Huma Abedin is propping up the eel-like Anthony Weiner, you must remember one thing: Huma was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet.

Things that are not feminism, part II:

  1. Proffering baseless knowledge of a woman’s motivations, premised on a potent cocktail of cultural stereotypes and actual facts, to explain a woman’s personal decisions in her marriage.
  2. Assuming misogyny is a thing that happens in other countries, or that only women in Other Places choose to forgive their partners.

Sally Quinn, “Blaming Huma,” for The Washington Post:

Though [Huma’s] friends say she is strong and resolute and defiant, sadly she makes all women look like weak and helpless victims. She was not standing there in a position of strength. It was such a setback for women everywhere.”

Recent things that are actually a “setback for women everywhere”:

  1. This guy is still in office.
  2. So is this guy.
  3. Or maybe that this still happening. And it’s getting worse.
  4. These barely-varnished takedowns of women for their personal and sexual decisions, in column form, purporting to be feminism.

Related link: What a (male) feminist looks like.