Is Feminism An All-Or-Nothing Game?

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about MMA world champion Ronda Rousey. Because of her spirit, winning record, and badass attitude, I declared her to be a feminist hero. Well, the ink wasn’t even dry on the article before people came out of the woodwork to question my judgment.

You see, Rousey isn’t perfect. In fact, she has said some pretty terrible things in the past about trans women who fight MMA.

She can try hormones, chop her pecker off, but it’s still the same bone structure a man has,” Rousey said in 2013. “It’s an advantage. I don’t think it’s fair.”

I can’t (and won’t) defend Rousey’s statement. It’s terrible, period. But here’s the question: Do we discount her as a hero because she doesn’t get it right 100% of the time? This, I think, is the crux of why a lot of people feel left behind by many social justice movements.

There seems to be a bill of good you must buy if you want to be considered socially progressive or liberal. You have to be pro-choice, pro-schools, anti-death penalty, among other things. I am, in fact, all of those things. But where would I fall if I was three out of four? What if I believed strongly in access to health care and adequate school funding, but was solidly pro-death penalty?

I’m not equating Rousey’s trans-phobic statements to more nuanced political opinions. But the way some discount her successes based on a single problematic statement reminds me quite a bit of how we treat each other when it comes to political opinions.

In North Carolina, the Moral Monday movement has gained a lot of traction and garnered worldwide attention. I think that’s amazing. For various reasons. I’ve chosen not to participate. Instead of letting the volunteer work I do in other arenas speak for itself, friends have questioned my commitment to socially liberal policies because I haven’t shown up to march in Raleigh.

On a broader scale, I’ve seen this all-or-nothing attitude play out at an organizational level in some non-profit organizations. Judgment of sister groups’ perceived shortfalls seems to be nearly a hobby for some in this arena. There’s no reason for this. Being a feminist, or being socially aware, isn’t an all-or-nothing monolithic proposal.

There is room at the table for everyone — even those who don’t share all of our opinions. In fact, this makes the table a much more interesting place to be. We all know homogeneity serves no one — that’s why we strive for diversity in race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and gender. But we can’t forget to allow for differences of opinion, too.

Just because we don’t agree with someone, or — as in the case of Rousey, someone gets something completely wrong — doesn’t mean it’s time to write them off. Instead we need to keep them in our fold, reach for accord, and help expose them to the diverse viewpoints they need to understand. And while we’re at it, we need to listen, too.

JenFerris-headshotJen is the Editorial Director of Women AdvaNCe, and is a freelance writer living in Chapel Hill, NC.




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