Feminism Isn’t About Moral Perfection

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When Amber Heard chose to donate all the money from her divorce settlement to various charities for domestic abuse victims and children, the internet gave its rousing support. Finally, here was the evidence that she wasn’t a scheming gold digger.

The Cut called it “the perfect ‘screw you’” to Depp and to Heard’s doubters. Slate’s XX Factor called it a “huge power move,” because she could have “slunk away with her $7 million, building a beautiful life for herself” but instead she used “the product of these painful past few months of press scrutiny to help other women overcome the legal barriers she’s faced.”

“Heard took the tools at her disposal and built her own version of redemption,” wrote XX Factor’s Christina Cauterucci.

It’s telling that in this paradigm, Heard needed her own redemption story, as though she were another villain in the story. A villain entirely made up by those that called her a scheming and conniving whore.

Despite this selfless act, Heard still has her critics who don’t believe her and the feminist internet has come to her defense, calling this a symptom of victim-blaming rape culture.

This is quite true – those that still doubt and judge her are living in a sea of toxic masculinity that hates women for getting beaten by men – but this critique is not enough because it neglects another fundamental issue, which is that if Amber Heard had chosen to take her settlement and spend it all on her personal life and happiness, she would not have gotten the same feminist praise or support. It’s the latest in a long and colorful history of people hiding behind a feminist veil and faulting women for their moral failings.

Rihanna shouldn’t have sought to capitalize on her abusive relationship, according to feminists like Dunham. It sets a bad example for young girls and encourages young boys to turn into Chris Browns.

When Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna in 2009, people were shocked and disappointed. “He’s such a good guy!” was the refrain. Her own father supported the couple’s reconciliation, since Brown is “a nice guy” and “everybody’s entitled to make mistakes in their life.” The mistakes they make that affect those closest to them being irrelevant, naturally.

Many took the well-traveled road and blamed Rihanna for provoking Brown into beating her, or defending his actions as passionate acts of a man much too in love.

Then there were the meta-feminist critiques of Rihanna for taking Brown back. Lena Dunham, ever the problematic white feminist, said that the couple’s post-abuse duets and their Instagrammed pot-smoking cuddle sessions “cracks [her] heart in half a way that makes me feel like I’m 95 years old.” She later said that the reunion makes her “want to go hide under Gloria Steinem’s bed for 72 hours.”

Critics like Dunham weren’t, and aren’t, alone. The notion of a glorious, universal feminist sisterhood is naïve and inadequate but equally toxic is our eagerness to jump on ironic feminist critiques of other women instead of the men who have wronged them.

Rihanna shouldn’t have sought to capitalize on her abusive relationship, according to feminists like Dunham. It sets a bad example for young girls and encourages young boys to turn into Chris Browns.

Rihanna bore the bulk of the moral responsibility for the assault, because women bear the moral weight of their relationships. Turning her assault into a lucrative career move was a failure to be the perfect nurturer, i.e. the perfect women. Especially so because she failed to be a role model for young girls, goes the argument. Perpetuating the notion that women belong as caretakers, both in private and public realms.

Heard, meanwhile, gave all her money to charity so she can retain the feminist moral high horse and therefore remains a perfect woman. Doubly so since one of the charities goes to a children’s hospital.

Hillary Clinton received avalanches of rage over her husband’s philandering. It was her fault he cheated, her fault he assaulted women, her bad for not divorcing him. When he “did not have sex with that woman,” feminists raged at Hillary for “standing by her man.” His actions were surely wrong but it seems many feminists have an easier time leaping on the judgement train for other women, the toppling of the patriarchy too exhausting an endeavor.

Katie Couric recently took a $1 million pay cut to save jobs at CBS, drawing warm praise for her sacrifice and especially for her request that there be no
“public or private acknowledgement” of the deal. She, too, is the ideal woman because she doesn’t want money or praise.

XX Factor popped up again in a piece entitled “Ivanka Trump Finally Loses Her Famous Composure and Snaps In Cosmo Interview.” Already, the focus is on a woman’s failure to retain a pleasant demeanor.

The piece referred to Ivanka Trump as a “usually composed and genteel businesswoman” before depicting how she finally “bounced” and lost her cool when asked tough questions. The dichotomy was set up perfectly: Trump was previously the ideal female businesswoman because she was composed and pleasant and now she’s behaving in a rather unladylike way. She was really just evading questions like any politician would and like no male politician gets flack for, but since women are socially obligated to be moral lighthouses in a dark and seedy world, it’s no wonder her evasions would draw extra ire.

If the point of feminism is to liberate women from socially constructed roles that prevent bodily and personal autonomy, and to give women the freedom to choose what roles we want (including the aforementioned ones), then feminists have to accept that not all women are the fairer sex. Not only that, but not being so doesn’t make those women reprehensible humans, just humans.

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