Against fluff feminism

Every so often, ‘feminism’ would bubble up to the surface of the Malaysian mediasphere. It would be shared and retweeted on social media, but it would not stimulate a lengthy (documented) discussion on what it really is, what its aims are, and how people often get it ‘wrong’.

This post is on the latter concern; how people often get feminism ‘wrong’. ‘Wrong’ in this sense means a few things and not the opposite of ‘correct’. ‘Wrong’ here means the mis-interpretation of feminism, that it is a “bra-burning, man-hating, lesbian” enterprise on a warpath to destroy hapless men everywhere.

Being ‘wrong’ in this sense is not necessarily about ignorance, but about unexamined prejudices and naivety. This is not a permanent condition; people can get it ‘right’ after a recognition and critical assessment of this ‘wrong’.

Another way people get feminism ‘wrong’ is by only professing that feminism is about ‘equality’ in its most superficial sense. Equality in the superficial sense refers to establishing equal opportunities for women and men in every arenas of public and domestic life without addressing and dismantling what causes inequality.

Identifying the problems why inequality continues to persist is about pulling the rug from the complacency of everyday life. Being ‘right’ about feminism is about being confrontational, uncomfortable, uncompromising, and provocative towards people and institutions that willfully stand in the way of women.

Fluff feminism, on the other hand, is about being nice and a bland celebration of consumerism and ‘empowerment’. It is the kind of feminism that even sexists and misogynists can get behind because it does not rock the boat of patriarchy. In fact, fluff feminism’s adoration of celebrity and commodified femininity reinforces sexism.

We already live in a society that regards women as the archetypal consumer; she loves to shop because she is obsessed about her looks, clothes, and make-up. This is a society that polices how women look. The tragedy is, women happily self-police themselves, internalising the consumerist narrative of “shop til you drop”. We also must endure a society that worships the unholy trinity of fame, money, and power. So using celebrity to ‘re-brand’ feminism does little to illuminate the hard work and concerns of people who have neither fame, money, nor power.

Fluff feminism reinforces the status quo. It makes no demands, it asks no questions. It is allergic to critical examination and reflection. It is about accommodating all choices that women make as ‘feminist’ because she chose it – whether it is pursuing a satisfying full-time career or giving up work to have ten children or getting a Brazilian wax.

To make feminism ‘fun’ and less ‘scary’, anything can be feminist so long as it is prefaced with ‘choice’. But change on the individual and societal level is unsettling and uncomfortable. The embrace of discomfort and anxiety is radical. Insisting on comfort and convenience is not.

This post is not about putting down women who may be fluff feminists, but an attack on fluff feminism itself. There is a difference between critiquing politics and disparaging a group of people. Women are not born fluff feminists, but they can become fluff feminists when they do not view the world from a critical lens.

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