As feminists who would like to take issue with the text “The Bad Feminist’s Manifesto”, which was published on the website 5Harfliler [5Lettered] a couple of weeks ago, we came together in a roundtable to sketch out what this manifesto made us think. “Personal is political”, a section from an interview with Christine Delphy, was one of the reference texts that fostered our discussion. In what follows you can find the transcript of the roundtable.
“The Bad Feminist’s Manifesto”, authored by Nur Kıpçak, who, citing Roxane Gay’s article published in The Guardian, created her own text by adding her own arguments to those of Gay, offers us a certain representation of feminism. This representation refers to feminism not as a political ideology that incites and encourages us to criticize patriarchy as a system and tackle its appearances and effects in our lives, but rather as an authority that commands everyone what they should be doing. Apparently, this is a rather symptomatic representation, a blatant reflection of the commonly felt rage against the second wave feminism. Interestingly enough, albeit nowadays feminism has been popularized extensively, the feminism offered and criticized by the text is no longer widespread, let alone hegemonic.
“The Bad Feminist’s Manifesto” discusses the states of being a good or bad feminist based on the practices and discourses that originated the second wave feminism. Feminism was radical when it first gained impetus in 1968. Oppositional movements can be more radical when they first rise; and we see the examples of this radicalism in the history of other movements, such as that of the class movement the early days of which witnessed the workers who tore the machines to pieces. 1968 was the year when feminists burned bras, opposed all forms of marriage and severed all forms of dependency bonds… The force of feminism owes much to the radicality of those days. This text indeed engages in the good-bad feminist discussion with the generation of 1968. It goes without saying that there are those who embrace the definitions offered in this text, after all, feminism is not a monolithic movement. However, when we look at the history of feminism in Turkey, not even the 1980s feminism resembles the representation offered in this text. As for today, the picture is totally different. A similar way of reasoning is deployed in the discussions pertaining to mainstream feminism and trans-exclusionary feminism. Taking the discourses dating from 40 or 50 years ago as the basis of evaluating every feminist group expressing their engagement with second wave is not accurate, just as assessing “mainstream feminists” in Turkey based on the discourses of some trans-exclusionary feminists from other contexts.
“The Bad Feminist’s Manifesto” also tries to confine the feminism it criticizes into cultural codes. In other words, feminism is evaluated based on its impact on everyday life, its transformative aspect, or actions such as listening to a specific type of music, using foul language or wearing pink. Issues such as marriage, which is a major site of tension in discussions among feminists is not even mentioned. The author likes Behzat Ç. [a male protagonist (detective) in a TV series in Turkey, translator’s note] despite him being a macho, and a misogynist guy. Indeed, what we are trying to address is exactly that contradiction. We are watching appalling TV series for a variety of reasons; however, we try to avoid setting the terms of the debate as such. Just like the latest Bertolucci incident, even if we love his movies, it is different to say that “The man shot that ‘scene’ but also made so many beautiful movies” since we are talking about being aware of the contradictions from a feminist perspective. Maybe these examples are accounted as the feminist discussions of everyday life as a result of what the pop feminism of our times entails. However, it is interesting that even in this context, the author feels an oppressive force. This text was not authored in an environment where socialist feminism, deemed as oppressive by some, is the hegemonic movement. The fact that the author is having these feelings and thoughts points at an individualistic approach, an “inflation” of an ego-based perspective.
The representation of feminism constructed by this text serves to delegitimize some discussions, as is the case with the statement “I love dresses” uttered as a sentiment of rebellion. Seriously, this statement belongs to feminism of which era? The author talks about making men run some errands stating that some tasks are masculine and that it is not a problem to ask men to handle these tasks. Do feminists engage in these discussions from this point of view? The author states that it is OK to fake orgasm since otherwise is a waste of time. Did the feminists discuss and articulate the relation between faking orgasms and patriarchy from this perspective? In the text, the answers provided as reactions to feminists make one question if feminism articulated and related these issues as such.
Both the author cited in the text and the author of the text, narrate a rather personalized and individualized story based on specific examples, and assume, at the same time, an impossibility of change and transformation based on these specific examples. If we stick to the examples, you might be listening to a specific rap song very enthusiastically and at the same time you might be telling your friend sitting next to you something about that song. You might have been married to someone, but that does not mean that you should not mouth off in the case of a divorce. The text leaves no room for the in-between nuances. We are seeing a black and white depiction. If one understands living a feminist life as a matter of an “ego” then everything is confined to that “I”. Then being a feminist becomes something static and defined in terms of an identity. All these utterances of “I” closes off the discussions.
As Delphy once stated, we are forced into many situations in which we do things that reproduce patriarchy. This is an experience which is better understood as a necessary consequence of patriarchy being a system. However, we can, in those forced situations, still see and tell how our deeds and deeds to come feed into and reproduce patriarchy. Above all, why are “mistakes” such an untouchable sphere of life? It is crystal clear that even if we do not engage in an act that does not conform to patriarchy, patriarchy will not be dismantled. Still, not addressing some of the everyday practices inevitably makes us a part of the patriarchal order. Why is it so difficult and hurtful to accept the naked truth that we take part in patriarchy, just as we take part in capitalism.
We might not be able to impact great changes in our everyday lives but there is also no need to be so satisfied with this fact. We have to see that we are involved and living in a dynamic world of contradictions. We are always in a state of transformation. Feminism is about fighting contradictions, and that is exactly why it is so tiresome. You always see a contradiction and try to transform it, and this is exactly why feminism is so backbreaking. There is always a gap between your utopia and what you can do and achieve. For instance, you can accept this situation as it is and still organize a campaign called “there is life outside family”. We should be accepting this contradiction and still try to overcome it. Once again, it is important to see and avow the contradictions. There could be various reasons for one to get married such as lack of money, a very conservative family, neighborhood pressure, etc. However, this should not amount to disavowing our political fight for the realization of our utopias. “Personal is political” operates on two layers: if one layer concerns the transformation of our personal lives, the other points at how this personal sphere is woven with patriarchal relations. If we cannot change anything in the first level right now, it does not mean that we should withdraw our struggle and word from the second level as well.
In recent years, feminist politics directed itself towards addressing incidents which are linked to feminist issues rather externally, such as the abuse cases pertaining to Ensar Foundation or the legislation concerning the muftiate which reflect the consolidation of the patriarchal politics on the state level. We also discuss male violence through the cases that can make it to the public sphere or in relation to the state policies. This gives the impression that feminists are not taking on anything individually. A rather expansive definition of feminism is being made. Let’s take into consideration the case of Turkey. In Turkey, the political struggle is not against AKP’s anti-feminist stance, but rather against its sexist politics, to which everyone is opposing. While opposing sexist politics as such, we do not observe many changes in our personal lives, and we do not engage in politics to address our personal lives. As Delphy has stated, for sure, feminism is not like socialism, it is a movement that demands the transformation of everyday lives and practices, it is a challenging movement. This is not something easy to do. While addressing one issue and changing things, we might be wide open to some other thing. A woman may not get married, and still have children out of wedlock, but then again, she could be caught in the patriarchy in her relations with her children. This is a situation where one might be “open” on different spheres of life since we are circumscribed from all sides including the extended family, state, society, etc. Therefore, there is no perfect feminist model, but we pursue the dream of a feminist society. However, while dreaming about this society, it is rather awkward to normalize everything. It is important to relate to each other without being judgmental, without tagging each other, without being discriminatory. But we should never stop questioning the foundations of the current system. For instance, it is not of much help if we, after being present at the court case of a woman who has been killed just because she did not pass the salt on the table, state that it is not the duty of the women to cook all the time but still keep on passing the salt on the table all the time. Let’s not normalize and rationalize this situation through discourses such as “I love it”, “I am happy”, “I do it willingly”. Feminism brings about a certain dose of unhappiness. If we say that “I am a powerful woman, and as I occupy a high position in the hierarchical order of the workplace, I also get into hierarchical relations with women rather than acting in solidarity with them, and I am happy”, then this is not the kind of feminism we embrace, and actually, it is not a good thing. Of course, there are still those who do not perceive feminism as an ideology and a worldview.
We take women’s solidarity as the basis of feminism. If one end of this solidarity entails one not to judge women and to keep in mind the specific conditions of women in our assessments, the other end requires us to be aware of the possible harms we can inflict on other women. Marriage is of course the subject-matter of another discussion since it is an act that reproduces and strengthens the patriarchal system. Yet, the conditions might necessitate such an act. The real issue is rendering this subject-matter undiscussable, because once discussions on marriage are off the table, then one falls into the position of an accomplice and this hurts women. For this reason, we have to be careful about our utterances solely orchestrated around “I”.
It is essentially unacceptable to impose a standard on “how to be a feminist”. None of us should impose such standards. In the end, each and every person lives their lives under specific conditions and the changes they effect in their lives differ accordingly. For instance, Kurdish women, when discussing the family, base their arguments on the motherhood labor. A social movement cannot achieve its goals directly through the understanding that “there is life outside family”. Feminism, as a social movement, follows the path of transforming those who are part of it from the inside, which might eventually lead to the realization of the motto “there is life outside family”. One cannot impose one’s lifestyle or one’s transformative practices on another. If one tries to suggest that theirs is the right way to do something, then those suggestions become judgmental, discriminatory and derogatory. This is something we should refrain from doing. In the end, we will not grow as a movement only with unmarried women with no children or lesbian women. Each and every woman is born and raised into patriarchal society and finds a way to change their lives through their own strength. What is important is not to let go of the solidarity. For us, there are two things a feminist should not do: misogyny and lackeying men. Misogyny involves judging, humiliating and side-lining women.
Roxane Gay’s arguments are well-suited to the neoliberal era. She is fighting with the windmills. She says, “I like shopping at boutique bag shops”. One wonders where are these events taking place? How come “I am a very good feminist and I hate shopping” can be a feminist principle? If we return to where we began, yes, this text is wrestling with a specter. Feminist women were “naturally” radical in the beginning, they not only opposed marriage but also saw this stance as a necessary condition of feminism. They raised their voices, and perhaps, they hurt each other. They divorced their husbands. It is important to establish a balance and acknowledge that there will always be contradictions, and we live feminist lives not despite but with those contradictions. It is important to speak about those contradictions; it is important not to sweep them under the rug… We cannot realize a feminist utopia out of the blue and instantaneously. We are restless, and we will be restless. We will not only be restless at the face of the fact that each day five women are being killed. We will be restless about ourselves. We will be restless in our relations of every kind, while we do politics in mixed spaces, and in our work lives.
 The acronym of Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi [Justice and Development Party] which has been the governing party in Turkey for the past 18 years. (Editor’s note)
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan