Are "Conventional" Married Women Ruining Feminist Journalism?

If the personal is political, as the second-wave feminist cliché goes, then it seems like a betrayal of the cause to perform any one belief system in public while living out a different one in private.
Publish date:
July 19, 2013
feminism, beliefs

Of all the ways that pregnancy has challenged my self-image so far, the one I've found most troubling is this: It's made me viscerally disgusted with the idea of abortion, particularly after the first trimester.

Seeing my unborn son on his 12-week ultrasound shocked me. He was already such an obvious person: gesticulating his arms, opening and closing his mouth, turning away grumpily whenever the technician poked him. The idea that babies at this gestational age were anything less than alive -- that they are nothing more than proto-human organic tissue -- suddenly seemed ridiculous to me.

As someone who (obviously) writes about feminist topics for a national website, I faced a crossroads here. Should I run out and Tell The World What I'd Learned? Should I change my intellectual and political stance on abortion, now that my emotions were tugging me in the opposite direction? Was it mature and evolved of me to advocate in public for one morality, when in private I now adhered to another -- or was it a form of cowardice?

If you're hoping I decided it was cowardice: wah-wah. My intellect won.

I know the limits of my understanding of this particular issue -- and of other people’s lives in general. I also believe that government should not be in the business of dispensing medical opinion. Whatever cognitive dissonance now exists between all this and my own personal feelings about abortion, I believe it is nobody's burden to bear but my own.

Thinking my way out of this moral quandary, however, brought me to some even bigger questions. For those of us who identify as feminists, what is the appropriate relationship between private morality and public advocacy? Should I divorce all of my emotional experience from my intellectual beliefs, the way I do now with abortion?

If the personal is political, as the second-wave feminist cliché goes, then it seems like a betrayal of the cause to perform any one belief system in public while living out a different one in private. On the other hand, I just can’t get behind telling other women they need to do what I do and feel how I feel, even though my lifestyle choices work just fine for me.

As my friend Gemma*, a 27-year-old Londoner, pointed out to me in an email, the conflation of personal and political is what produces some of the worst antifeminist writing out there -- particularly about marriage and family.

“Mummy logic,” she called it. “Anti-female journalism…basically hinges on one principle: you know you should think one way, but when it comes to YOUR family/your kids, you can’t help but think another.” You just want to let everybody know, because you not-so-subtly believe that the best advice is what you can’t help but think.

In Gemma’s opinion, Mummy Logic has led to the entire “so-help-me-girls-I’m-gonna-be-the-one-to-say it school of journalism.” Examples include Princeton Mom’s infamous letter and even some of the work of Caitlin Moran, who indulged in some embarrassing rape apologetics in an interview with Australian blog Mama Mia last year.

Here’s what Moran said in that interview: “When I’m lying in bed at night with my husband, I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels, clack-clack-clack. And I can hear she’s on her own, I can hear what speed she’s coming at, I could plan where to stand to grab her or an ambush. And every time I hear her I think, ‘Fuck, you’re just alerting every fucking nutter to where you are now.’”

Aside from my general disgust that Moran would even sort of blame a hypothetical rape victim for what she was wearing, I’m struck by the symbolism of the scene she describes. From the safety of her marital bed, she lobs judgment at a single woman making her way up the street.

It’s the essence of what partnered women are doing when they indulge in Mummy Logic: oozing benevolent concern from a platform of privilege and security. And it’s almost as gross as this post would be if I'd written it all about The Time I Saw My Baby On An Ultrasound And Realized That Abortion Is Gross, Girls.

Mummy Logic is at the heart of much antifeminist writing. I know this. That said, I still haven’t figured out whether it’s possible for married/childrearing writers like me to combine the personal and political in an effective way. Whether we include our personal lives in our writing or leave them out, nearly all of us will find someone who finds that decision obnoxious or hypocritical.

In the comments section of my last post -- a discussion of whether it was a good thing to get married in one’s 20’s -- one woman accused me and several other feminist writers (e.g. Lesley, Emily, and Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey) of misleading younger women like her. She was annoyed that we had all -- at various points, and for various reasons -- expressed skepticism about monogamous relationships, even as we happily participated in such relationships ourselves.

“All of this nonsense is one of the many reasons I’ve become so disillusioned with third-wave feminism,” she wrote. “It’s always the married (or at least the non-single) women trying to convince younger singles that hookup culture is awesome….conventional women trying to seem more interesting than they are and throwing millennials under the bus in the interest of ideals that are abstract for them but real for us.”

The last line of her comment stung me: “I’d love to have a relationship, but married women are the ones telling men that it’s okay to fuck and run.”

As tempted as I was to argue with this commenter about her takeaway, the important thing was that she had this takeaway. She felt personally victimized by married/“conventional” women writers, and she felt we were polluting the waters of feminist discourse with ideas and suggestions that had no basis in our personal reality.

I guess you could say she was accusing us of the opposite of Mummy Logic. At the intersection of How I Should Feel and How I Honestly Feel When It Comes to My Family, we had taken a left where Mummy Logic takes a right, and the result appears to have been equally unsatisfying.

I’m left unsure of how to evolve as a writer. Is it worse to risk alienating women by putting undue emphasis on personal experience, or to risk misleading them in an attempt not to be judgmental? In feminism today, is there any value in the old “personal is political” rallying cry?

*Fake name.