Who's Co-Opting Feminism?

"Are you an ifeminist? Take this quiz to find out."

I click on the link. 'Interesting,' I think to myself. 'This will be an entertaining yet informative way to kill an idle ten minutes before my class.'

But what is "ifeminism," anyway? More than likely, we are all at least somewhat familiar with liberal feminism, radial feminism, ecofeminism, and a whole host of others. But I for one had never even heard of ifeminism. Curious to learn about it, I happened upon a website called ifeminists and read the introduction.

I came to discover that Ifeminism, formally known as "Individualist Feminism," premises itself on the goal equal rights between the genders. That makes perfect sense to me. After all, isn't that our goal? So does that make me an ifeminist? I didn't see why not.

But as I continued to read, I began to feel less and less sure. States Wendy McElroy, the founder of ifeminism.com: "Ifeminists believe that freedom and diversity benefit women, whether or not the choices that particular women make are politically correct. They respect all sexual choices, from motherhood to porn."

According to ifeminism, "freedom and choice do not threaten women. Government and orthodoxy do." Functioning within a libertarian, post second-wave politic, ifeminists propose that women are both intelligent and empowered enough to know what is right for them. They believe that telling women what is or is not best for them by enacting legislation against pornography is "paternalistic" to women who choose to work in the sex-industry, and affirmative action only "embeds gender privilege" for women in the law.

So then what's wrong with ifeminism?


As feminists, we all want equality. But according to ifeminism, "equality" is synonymous with equal treatment under the existing legal, economic and social systems. In other words, rather than opposing the status quo, ifeminism operates within it. While other feminists view the law as inherently unjust and in need of reconstruction, ifeminists have absolutely no desire to prosecute pimps, legislate against sexual harassment, or otherwise compromise and challenge the default male standard.

And this is supposed to help women progress as a class how?

What ifeminists need to realize is that because the law was designed without significant input by women and other minorities, it innately disfavors them. Ifeminists argue that affirmative action tramples on the rights of individuals, thereby completely disregarding the fact that the system is fundamentally flawed and unbalanced. Common sense, however, dictates otherwise. If the system was not designed by a privileged group, then there would have been no need for affirmative action in the first place, because women and other minorities would have always been equally represented from the very beginning.

But there you have it. The crux of ifeminist analysis can be summed up in two words: Anything goes. There's nothing inherently sexist about the sex-industry (but where are all the male prostitutes and victims of the sex trade?), and all women who participate in it are doing so of their own "choice" (hell, if I had no economic privilege and a history of sexual abuse, I'd probably "choose" to sell my body too!)

Are these responsible positions for a feminist to take?

A decent dose of "individualism" is the cornerstone of mental health and productivity for all each of us. As distinctive human beings, we often find ourselves placed at different intervals on the full spectrum of political beliefs. This is a good thing. Without individuality, there would be no difference of opinion and therefore no progress.

But by denying that current inequities even exist, do ifeminists have a legitimate claim to feminism, or is the very term "Individualist Feminist" an oxymoron?

So what kind of feminist am I? Well, I don't know - I never bothered taking the quiz. But I do know for certain that I am not an "ifeminist", nor am I inclined to take ifeminism, or any other specious euphemisms for conservative/libertarian agendas, very seriously.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.