A New Feminist Manifesto With Jessa Crispin

Let’s face it: Feminism is no longer fringe. With celebrities like Beyonce and Taylor Swift incorporating feminism into their public personas, and political figures like Hillary Clinton and Ivanka Trump (yes, she is now a government employee) touting the importance of women in bolstering our economy, it’s safe to say that women’s issues have entered popular discourse. That has both pros and cons, but one thing is for certain–this isn’t your grandmother’s feminism. This feminism is shiny and pretty and printed on a $700 Dior t-shirt.

With mainstream acceptance comes marketability, and with marketability comes compromise. The proliferation of the term and its goals has led to some wrong turns: namely, that in order to become mainstream, feminism abandoned some of the tenants that made it a subversive force to begin with. To be accepted and valued within the existing patriarchal system, feminists chose to lean-in and take a seat at the table rather than burn the motherfucker down.

Author Jessa Crispin, founder and editor of the magazines Bookslut and Spoilamag, believes that this was a grave and self-interested error, because screw that table; it table was built on the backs of the oppressed, and the wood isn’t even fair trade.

Crispin says she is not a feminist. Or rather, she doesn’t identify with the modern-day feminist agenda as we know it. Instead of being seduced by the perks that ostensibly come with being integrated into the existing system (like high-up, equally compensated careers, and quite simply: power), Crispin instead argues that the true impetus for feminism shouldn’t be to rise to the top of the hierarchy. It should be to ensure that exploitation and oppression are eradicated in all forms. It should be re-imagining the organization of society, and navigating our own place in the stratification of it.

Her book, “Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto,” might be the most important and approachable feminist text you read this year. Crispin sat down with BTRtoday to discuss.

Courtesy of Jessa Crispin.

BTRtoday (BTR): One of the things you touch on in the book is this idea that, in order to make progress, feminists have to present ourselves as a monolith: who all feel the same way about certain issues, without room for nuance. Why do we need nuance?

Jessa Crispin (JC): This conversation circles around every time, that the left has lost the position of power, which is “we need to take on the tactics of the right.” And the right is a monolith. The right has a very specific agenda. But the reason that the right can do that is because they are about defending the status quo. That’s the whole point of the right–it’s to stop progress. It’s much easier to stop things than to progress things, to move things forward.

The left can’t be a monolith. Because, if we’re talking about what the future is going to look like, everybody is going to have a different idea of what it should look like. And those conversations are very important, because no one idea should be [representative of all people]. That’s how communism happens; that’s how totalitarianism happens–it’s this monolithic, one idea of what the future should look like.

So as far as the importance of nuance: We don’t win by becoming the bully. We don’t win by becoming the right. We don’t win by finding our own millionaire megalomaniac to run. We win by having these conversations about what the world should be and is not, currently.

BTR: This applies to feminism’s approach to something like body positivity, that instead of saying “let’s stop objectifying women, and stop thinking of beauty as an asset,” feminists said “let’s find a way to make everybody beautiful.”

JC: Yeah, let’s objectify all women! [Laughs].

BTR: Yeah, we’re so accustomed to having these structures in society that feminism has found a way to work itself into them rather than around them. What other systems can we employ that would be more effective than things like capitalism or beauty standards?

JC: Yeah, so who do we value in contemporary culture? And how do we show them that? We give them money, we want to fuck them. There are these very boring ways that we tell somebody that we value them in our culture: by paying attention to them, by giving them our money, or by trying to fuck them.

What are the other ways that we can value a person? How can we express that we value somebody outside of these modes? We can help take care of them, we can listen to them (which is different than watching them) we can not try to fuck them (if that’s not what they want us to do), we can respect their boundaries, we can enact their philosophies. There are all these different things we can do.

I was complaining about this the other day. We were at a bar in midtown, and I don’t know why we were at a cocktail bar in midtown, but I was watching men talk to women and the way that they touch them and I was finding it so upsetting. Even when the woman was into it. I just found it upsetting how predictable it was, and gross. Men kept touching women’s faces, and I was like, “please stop touching their faces!”

(It’s easy to confuse men with the patriarchy and we shouldn’t do that. And so to make fun of men is not productive, although it’s funny.)

But we have these very limited ideas of how these interactions can go, and what life can be like. Men seem to have these very limited ideas of what to value in women, how to express that value, and how to organize a kind of romantic relationship.

How do you imagine something outside of that mode? It’s really hard, because it’s really hard to get other people to participate in that. It’s really easy to fall back on these cliches because then at least you have some idea of what to do.

It is hard to reimagine romantic relationships, flirtation, sex, the power dynamic of heterosexuality, without falling into these outdated modes. Or getting somebody else to understand what it is you’re doing.

In a heterosexual relationship, it’s not always easy to get somebody that you love and treasure and care for deeply to understand that monogamy is not the only way to express that care. Or living together, or marriage is not the only way to express that care. Some people are not going to understand that monogamy and marriage can be really oppressive to women. And to men.

BTR: Do you think that the central failing of modern feminism is trying to be incorporated into society as we know it? In what ways does it do that, and why are they damaging?

JC: Yeah, I do. I think that the second wave was the last time that people were really experimental as far as creating alternatives. You saw the commune movement, you saw women opening their own banks, you saw women opening their own healthcare centers and abortion networks–at the risk of being arrested for practicing medicine without a license. Some of them were arrested for that.

That was the last time, and part of the reasons why those things “failed” (some of them are still going, and what is failure, etc.) is because it does become very difficult to sustain that over a lifetime of resistance to a culture. It is much easier to enter a culture than to create something else. To aspire to something else.

I think that’s why there is a lot of resistance in contemporary feminism to second-wave feminism, because people think of experimentation as failure. We tried these things, they didn’t work, so let’s just reform the culture from within.

But I think that’s a mistake, because look at contemporary society! It’s somehow getting so much worse, in terms of income inequality and housing issues, and health services, which were all central issues for second wave feminists. Entering society to fix those things and change them obviously didn’t work, because things have deteriorated.

I think we need to go back to experimentation. And understand that, just because these specific communes didn’t work out, it doesn’t make them failures.

I’ve been having this argument with a friend of mine, who is a historian. His argument is that participation is how reform happens, and mine is that abstaining is how real reform happens. Actually, in that conversation we realized that you need both.

But there is not an organized alternative in the way that there needs to be. There isn’t that experimentation happening, so I’m willing to be the crank throwing the brick through the window if no one else is going to do it.

BTRtoday: So participation can’t just be women taking on positions of power, and claiming that their success within the patriarchy is proof of its demise?

JC: There is so much naiveté about the idea that if women run things, then it’ll somehow be better. There is definitely an idea that women running corporations will be more compassionate towards their workers. But people in power think that they have power over other people, and they’re going to exert it. The problem isn’t gender, and it’s not race, and it’s not religion. The problem is power. We see it again, and again, and again.

The fact that people can’t let go of the idea that it’s gender or race or whatever on the left is the same problem as the people on the right thinking, “Oh, it’s women who are fucking everything up!” It’s the same stupid idea, just differently expressed.

BTRtoday: The closing sentiment of your book is, essentially, that if all you want is a comfortable life and to experience success in this very traditional way, then you’re not really a feminist. What does being a feminist mean to you?

JC: That’s a big question. I think that the primary difference between somebody who is politically engaged, and somebody who is a t-shirt feminist, is, “am I willing to rethink what I want out of life, in order to create something different, to push forward a new political reality; am I willing to actually make a sacrifice?”

I don’t look at my life and see the things that I have decided to go without, which include marriage, children, property ownership, financial security. I don’t necessarily look at it as a sacrifice, because I feel like my life is exactly how I want it to be. I feel like you get other things that are actually maybe even more rewarding than cash money when you commit yourself to something like that.

The thing I keep thinking about is that, in the early years of the church, (I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not in any way Christian or Catholic), going into the church the requirement was that you had to give up your property. The reason why you had to give up your property was because you were giving up the power that you had over other people. Because if you owned property, that meant that you owned people. You owned slaves or workers.

So, in order to enter into the church, and into Christianity, you had to withdraw your ability to have power over others. That was the basic entry point.

That, to me, is like any sort of cause. If you’re actually going to devote yourself to something, if you’re actually going to live a life by the political ideals or values that you possess, that means giving up your ability to have power over others. That’s the most important thing to me.