The book is called Why I Am Not a Feminist, which is, of course, a lie as well as a provocation, for its author’s feminism runs through her veins like blood. Crispin’s principles, however, have their roots, radical and angry, in the second wave of feminism, not the third: she, for one, is not about to renounce the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone, whose uncompromising books she has, incidentally, actually read.
What she disdains, then, is what she deems lifestyle feminism: a bland, ultra-inclusive marketing exercise that demands absolutely nothing from those who buy into it save for to ask that they use the word “feminist” as frequently as possible, preferably while looking utterly adorable. “Dior has this $600 T-shirt that says on it: ‘We Should All Be Feminists’,” she tells me, when she talks to me on Skype from New York (where she is ill and rundown, her pink kimono almost matching the colour of her feverish cheeks). “But what does that say about the person wearing it other than: ‘I can afford a $600 T-shirt’? Feminism has been entirely co-opted by consumerism.”
The new feminism, which is not really feminism at all, is by Crispin’s telling as shallow as a martini, and a good deal less good for you: “This is a T-shirt you can wear in order to cloak your bad behaviour, to let you think of yourself as some kind of political hero or rebel without you actually having to do anything.”
What, she wonders, is the end result of so many younger women choosing to call themselves feminists? “It’s about individualism, and self-achievement. It’s about pop stars and television and narcissism. It’s not about subsidised childcare, or institutional and structural social change. It’s meaningless.” This self-obsession and ideological laziness extends, she thinks, even to their reading matter. “Roxane Gay [the US feminist writer] is on the record as saying that she hasn’t read Andrea Dworkin [the anti-pornographer campaigner], and that we don’t have to, either. Really? Isn’t there work and sacrifice in being a political person?”
Crispin looks out at the world and sees a hyper-masculinised realm in which women must mimic men if they’re to survive, let alone to rise in an upwards direction. “I realise that using words like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in this way can get you into trouble these days,” she says. “But where are the [feminine] values of community, care and empathy in our modern world? Their absence doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people.”
“Good intentions are nothing against the system,” she writes sombrely. And then, more terrifyingly: “The system is older than you. It has absorbed more venom that you can ever hope to emit. You will not even slow it down.” She would also like it to be known that not getting what you want is not, by any stretch of the imagination, oppression.
The Women’s Marches which followed his inauguration seemed to her to lack focus. “This is a repeated problem with the American left: the lack of clear goals. Those marches were celebratory. They were good for the heart. But we’ve had [municipal] elections in the US since then where the turnout was, like 15 to 20%. During the Women’s Strike [on 8 March], I saw a journalist ask a woman what she was going to do instead of working. She said: ‘Oh, I’m just going to do something empowering like watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer!’ I mean, come on! Let’s do something, here.”
Well, now I’m going to have be a little tough myself. If our marches are pointless and our workplace aspirations without worth, what should we do instead? She can’t be allowed to get away with writing a feminist manifesto with no plausible suggestion for the society of the future.
“You can start by all divorcing your husbands!” she says. For a moment, I wonder if she’s joking. But, no. “There does have to be a process of understanding the way you participate in these systems of oppression. Marriage’s history is about treating women as property, and by being married you’re legitimising that history.” Another good start would be to remove your money from the big banks and put it in a small, local credit union instead, “even if you only have $80”. Above all, maybe women should start listening to one another again.