Fauxminism is the curious phenomenon where people think that featuring, talking about, or even just being a woman is an inherently feminist act and thus renders the person and/or act(s) in question irreproachably progressive with regards to matters of gender. What makes someone a fauxminist is not any particular action or choice that they make or take, but their dogged insistence that anything they do must be feminist because they are a woman or have involved a woman without taking into account how those actions affect the lives of other women. They tend to say things like “Criticizing another woman? Jeez, that isn’t very feminist of you” and “Support all ladies no matter what they do (even if that’s hindering other ladies)!” in response to feminist critiques of anything even marginally involving a woman.
- Girl Power (Rah Rah!)
Girl Power tones the aggression of the actually-radical Riot Grrrl movement down to palatable “feistiness” (or maybe the equally condescending “sauciness“) and sells messages of empowerment through conventionally-attractive bodies. With Spice Girls-style “I get what I want” swagger, girl power advocates manage to convince most members of society that sexism is dead without quite eliminating sexism and gender biases.
These women struggle admirably against often very significant sexist barriers for their success. Unfortunately, as soon as they attain success, they do not attempt to make it at all better for the women following in their footsteps. At times, they actively make their female subordinates’ lives worse. Their defense is that if they managed to make it despite sexism, others should be able to follow suit. Simply put, they are pioneers without being trailblazers and leaders without being mentors.
- Sarah Palin (& Her Imitators)
These individuals believe that if a woman has power, then she must be a feminist — even if she uses said power to actively disempower other women. Sarah Palin types are quite distinct from Ann Coulter’s acolytes in that they like to claim that they are following in the socially-conservative tradition of the First Wave of feminism. In other words, while Coulter has gained power by bashing feminism, Palin attempted to increase her power by appealing to it.
- Respecters of the Womb
Not all who value childbearing fall into this category, but some do hail from patriarchal monotheistic religions that urge their followers to multiply while others might follow religious traditions that revere the sacred feminine. Gender essentialists at heart, they believe that women should be respected because they are mothers, rather disregarding the need to promote respect for trans, infertile, child-free, or otherwise nulliparous women.
- TERFs (aka RadScum)
TERF is an initialism signifying “trans-exclusive radical feminists.” Like the those who advocate respecting women because of the womb, they believe that respect for women derives from a cis-centric view of anatomy: that women who were assigned female at birth are the only people allowed to be “real” women (I’m going to let Natalie take down their arguments).
- Anti-Victimhood Brigade
These women interpret any conversation about patriarchy, sexism, male chauvinism, privilege, misogyny, or even feminism to be an admission of victimhood, and, therefore, powerlessness. They are basically to feminism what Morgan Freeman is to racism in that they believe that the best way to deal with sexism and misogyny is to cease discussing them, as they see said discussions as emphasizing a lack of power instead of empowerment. Dealing with just how the game might be rigged is not as important to them as emphasizing what power women do have and exercise.
- Secret Submissives
While enjoying or even lusting after strong, powerful women does not in itself make someone a Secret Submissive, using reasoning along the lines of “femme fatales are hot” as one’s primary justification for supporting gender equality does. Secret Submissives are people who like to see women in certain types of power because they get off on it, not necessarily due to beliefs regarding gender equality. Add a dash of geeky sincerity and scrape off some of the more blatant objectification and you have Joss-Whedonites, who, while often more well-meaning than Secret Submissives, still predicate their beliefs in female empowerment on some stereotype of a Strong Sexy Woman.
What’s wrong with emphasizing choice, then?
Let’s pretend you are the female half of a male-female couple. Maybe you claim that you do the cooking because you are the better cook, not because your male partner is a sexist jerk, adding that he is so helpless in the kitchen that cooking is really an empowering act for you. Perhaps you claim instead that you enjoy cooking while he does not, and why not do it if you like it?
Now imagine that every, or most, female halves of male-female couples claims that she has freely chosen to do the cooking. Add to this particular phenomenon the fact that most girls are socialized to be caretakers while most boys are not, and you have something a little more complex than “because I want to.”
To quote the ever-excellent Kate Harding:
feminism is not, in fact, all about choosing your choice. It is mostly about recognizing when things are fucked up for women at the societal level, and talking about that, and trying to change it. So sometimes, even when a decision is right for you, you still need to recognize that you made that decision within a social context that overwhelmingly supports your choice, and punishes women who make a different one.
While trying to set up a One True Feminist or Feminism would be problematic (not to mention blatantly fallacious), if feminism really were just about supporting individual women’s choices, then it would simply be called “female individualism.” While choice is an important part of feminism, it is far from the only part, especially in a world where those doing the talking about feminism often have more choices available to them than those they would criticize.
Feminism, then, does not equal blind support for all women and all of their choices, but working towards a world where more and more women have more and more agency in their lives — a world where women who aren’t hot, extraordinarily talented, Republicans, mothers, assigned female at birth, powerful, or able to look sexy while kicking someone’s ass are still able to be people, too.