Can a Feminist Criticize Women?

Spanish Prof writes:

If I can’t make a negative comment about Madonna’s performance during the Superbowl because it would be considered sexist and ageist, then feminism in this country is kind of f**ed.

I agree with Spanish Prof completely. Time and again, I hear this strange suggestion that being feminist is supposed to preclude one from being critical of women. What I find especially funny is that people don’t realize that when they defend the idea that women are always above reproach just because they are female, they actually buy into the patriarchal mentality that only afforded women the roles of a saint and a whore. Women’s humanity and human fallibility is denied by this approach.

One’s criticisms become sexist when one criticizes women (or men) as women (or men). If you say, “God, Madonna’s performance was so awful”, you are not being sexist. But if you add, “Well, who could have expected anything better from a woman?”, you are sexist.

Being held to a higher standard because one is female is as damaging as being given a free pass because of it. Both of these attitudes are sexist because they are based on treating women as representatives of their gender and not as human beings.

75 thoughts on “Can a Feminist Criticize Women?”

  1. True about the phony role options. One of the other issues that plays into the hands of patriarchal ideology is the fact that patriarchal men see a very different side to most or many women than do women themselves.

    Those women who play up to patriarchal power are often conniving, backstabbing, crumb hunters, whom one in their right mind would not want to befriend.

    But many a patriarchal man does not know this truth or has had this truth hidden from him. He experiences women as being very soft, yielding, sycophantic, frivolous and light.

    How can women be criticised if that is what they are?

    He thinks those who criticise them must be particularly nasty.

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    1. Those behaviours arent because of the patriarchy they are about power. Those sames traits are found both in feminists and the patriarchy you seem to think is everywhere. What you seem to be missing is that fact that its just part of human nature for most of us.

      If you truly want to test a person’s character, give them power.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You can’t compare feminists and patriarchy because the former are people and the latter is a system of power relations. Feminists who live in patriarchal societies are bound to interiorize some of its principles. Which is what I’m pointing out.

        I’m not excluding myself, of course. For years, I battled thoughts like “Why am I sitting here reading when I’m so pretty?”

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        1. I don’t like confusion of terminology because it never leads to a productive understanding of anything. Feminism is a philosophy and a political movement. That’s what it is. Comparing it to oranges makes no sense.

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      2. Feminism is a philosophy and a political movement. That’s what it is. (Clarissa)

        Yep, and because its not a monolith it is applied quite differently depending on the individual. Though I do remember you saying that you practice the right kind of feminism, just like the right kind of Christian. 😉
        Excuse me while I go cough.

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        1. “Yep, and because its not a monolith it is applied quite differently depending on the individual.”

          – I also use the passive voice better than everybody else. 🙂 Applied by whom? How can anybody apply feminism to somebody else? I’d love to see some examples.

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    2. Women are often backstabbing and passive-agressive because they have been socialized to exhibit their aggression in this indirect fashion rather than the traditional “male” in-your-face direct expression.

      I have actually noticed an interesting regional difference in direct aggression vs. passive-aggressiveness in both genders. Where I grew up in the Northeast, people were on average much more direct and in-your-face about not liking someone than they are out here in California. In both places, however, men tended to be more direct than women.

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  2. I’d like to take this opportunity to criticize Bruce Springsteen for that rock power slide he did during “Born to Run” at last year’s Super Bowl halftime. The one where he nailed the camera lens with his crotch. Why we’re upset about Madonna’s washed-up-ed-ness or MIA’s bird-flipping when the Boss has teabagged the entire NFL audience is beyond me.

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      1. I’m mad at the words in it and in my head so I’ve locked them up for now. Those words are being dicks. I appreciate that you’re interested, though, thank you.

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  3. Someone said you can’t criticize Madonna for her performance?
    I can understand being perturbed at someone making a lolpic of Madonna at the game with the words “This is why we don’t let grandma into the liquor cabinet”, but that doesn’t mean all criticism is illegitimate. I’m sure I would have some, except I didn’t watch it. 🙂

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  4. As a feminist I have no problems criticising specific women. I do have issues when the criticism takes the form of ‘doing x while female’ and I’m extremely wary about critiques of women as a class – but then I often find myself giving the side eye to people when they critique men as a class too, so that’s not an artefact of feminism, more a dislike of generalizations.
    One of the problems with critiques of female performers is that so often they step over the line of legitimate areas of criticism (performance) and into the area of attacks upon appearance/weight/presentation which are not performance relevant, except in terms of the individual’s personal or cultural sexual preferences. It is not helpful that so many people seem to feel that a baseline requirement for a female performer is being sexually attractive to a high standard – it blurs the line regarding legitimate criticism. (I feel attacks upon a male performer for looks related reasons are just as illegitimate btw, but pragmatically, it happens less, because male performers are not ‘required’ to be pretty in quite the same way. Although that is shifting somewhat, which is not, imo, necessarily a good thing.)

    So I can understand why people get upset about criticisms of female performers for those reasons; as an example, since Madonna was mentioned, I’ve seen a number of comments along the lines of ‘she should GTFO of the stage with her saggy old woman arse’ and ‘who wants to look her wrinkly tits’ and other, extremely repulsive things. However, seeing as OP apparently wanted to critique staging and the way it was performed, I really can’t see why even the strongest of feminist principles should inhibit them from doing so.

    Moreover, I think it’s important that those people with a reasonable criticism should make them, because otherwise we will just have sexist unreasonableness (in both directions) floating around with no fair comment to counterbalance them.

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    1. I’ve seen a number of comments along the lines of ‘she should GTFO of the stage with her saggy old woman arse’ and ‘who wants to look her wrinkly tits’ and other, extremely repulsive things.(FD)

      Considering she intentionally made a ton off people who loved it when her T&A were naturally perky Im sure she understands quite well the sentiment being expressed lately.

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  5. “One’s criticisms become sexist when one criticizes women (or men) as women (or men). If you say, “God, Madonna’s performance was so awful”, you are not being sexist. But if you add, “Well, who could have expected anything better from a woman?”, you are sexist.”

    The criticisms may be completely legit. And not specifically related to womanhood. The problem is that women, especially those in the public eye, are simply scrutinized and criticized more often then men are. Which makes it a difficult problem to tackle on a case by case basis.

    “Why we’re upset about Madonna’s washed-up-ed-ness or MIA’s bird-flipping when the Boss has teabagged the entire NFL audience is beyond me.”

    Exactly.

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    1. The problem is that women, especially those in the public eye, are simply scrutinized and criticized more often then men are.(Isabel)

      Maybe, maybe not. The interesting thing is though, if a man were to complain about being scrutinized he would be told to suck it up. Most women on the other hand would be given sympathy for many of their so called plights. I guess it depends on which end of the stick you are on on any given day. Equalitarian thoughts will acknowledge both sexes get fucked over equally. Im not so sure feminism does that as well.

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      1. “Maybe, maybe not. ”

        Sounds like you aren’t paying attention.

        “if a man were to complain about being scrutinized he would be told to suck it up. Most women on the other hand would be given sympathy for many of their so called plights.”

        Women are given sympathy when they complain about being scrutinized? I don’t think so.

        “I guess it depends on which end of the stick you are on on any given day.”

        Who me, or the person being scrutinized?

        “Equalitarian thoughts will acknowledge”

        Huh?

        “Im not so sure feminism does that as well.”

        Well, it’s kind of assumed by feminists that women get fucked over more than men do.

        Talk to me when 50% of the people running the government, wall street and the entertainment industry are women. When we have a women president in the US. When tv shows feature fat, frumpy women with classy, attractive husbands who adore them. For starters.

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      2. Oh Isabel, you do such a disservice to all those brilliant women who are in charge also. They dont have to be in the spotlight to lead. You seem to miss the fact that most powerful people do their best not to bring attention to themselves. You dont honestly think that the actual power is in the hands of the public persona’s, do you?

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  6. This is an example: “Madonna’s daughter Lourdes will live in her mother’s enormous shadow for the rest of her life and will most likely become a lesbian. Kind of like what Dina Lohan did to Lindsay, and what Cher did to Chaz (well, kinda). I guess Madonna has other children, but lets face it, no one cares about them because they didn’t sport a uni-brow for years like Lourdes did. I could go on about Lourdes for hours (Her nickname is Lola because she probably hates her real name. Can you blame her? Her fashion line “Material Girl” is named after one of her mom’s songs and I’m pretty sure Lourdes had no say in anything. Shame.) but I won’t.

    Madonna needs to stop flashing her crotch everywhere. I mean, after you hit 40, it’s time to put the crotch away. People don’t like to think about middle-aged people even having crotches. *shudder* Never mind whipping it out all the time.”

    http://lilyincanada.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/dear-madonna-please-stop/

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    1. Ha, the comments only make them all look pathetic for being obsessed with someone they don’t even like.

      “Yep, there is nothing worse than a 50+ woman who pretends to still be a lithe rock star–unless it’s a 50+ man or woman pretending to be a heavy metal fan. Complete and total yuck.”

      Hey kids-here’s an idea: invent something new if you want to keep the “oldsters” away. We never complained when our parents still liked big band or sock hop music after they turned 50.

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      1. Madonna strikes me as being FAR more lithe than the typical teen/20something I see when I drive by the local community college every day. Don’t care to see her crotch or anyone else’s unless it’s the one belonging to my hubby’s, however…

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      1. “What a nasty post that was. And why so horrified at the at the juxtaposition of a middle aged woman and sex? Of course it will never happen to her. She will be young forever.”

        – It mostly made me feel sad, you know? Such an intense fear of getting older will not make this person very happy. This same blogger later wrote a post about clinging to immaturity. What won’t people terrified of growing older do to preserve the illusion of staying young forever?

        Sad.

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        1. “http://partialobjects.com/2011/07/how-to-tell-if-a-movie-is-made-in-usa/

          Interesting take on the difference between american and european films.”

          – What a brilliant post! I love it.

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      1. He’s had way too much plastic surgery. What’s the deal with those lips anyway?

        Hey this is kinda fun. No more Mrs. Nice Guy!

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  7. I agree feminism is about accepting and meeting people’s humanity but I also think certain kinds of criticisms of other women by women are un-feminist for sure. Body snarking is un-feminist – it doesn’t matter if you’re saying a woman is too fat or too thin. On the other hand, simply saying you don’t find whatever attractive isn’t un-feminist it’s making a personal statement. I think a lot of this has to do with delivery but that the delivery tells us where the comment comes from.
    So body snarking and making fun of fat people for example comes from a cultural ideal that women should be thin because thin is beautiful. Or the reverse, may come from an internalization of this belief and be the result of one’s sense of discontent with our own bodies whatever… That certainly is un-feminist in that it pits women against women to compete for approval of the patriarchal system.

    Overall though, I just try to de-construct my criticism of other women to really see what’s behind them. Sometimes it’s cool other times I know how much work I have yet to do.

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    1. Fat shaming hurts men, too. My mother-in-law fat-shamed my husband on Saturday and he’s been absolutely shattered by that. She told him he is so fat that he will become impotent soon. Which I find to be an extremely inappropriate kind of discussion. It’s just wrong when people do that.

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      1. I agree, but I was using it as an example of how what we say reflects where our issue lies – and that is kind of what makes certain criticism un-feminist.

        Fat shaming in general I think is just plain cruel and rude. My ex’s mom fat shamed him and it pretty much shattered his already fragile self-esteem too. I was pretty livid about it really at the time.

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  8. Patrick :
    “If you truly want to test a person’s character, give them power.”
    Best statement of the week so far.

    Yes, as I stated those traits are about power. Really, you must have a reading comprehension disorder. They’re about power. They’re about the way that power is expressed when gender is essentialised, more specifically.

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  9. Titfortat :

    The interesting thing is though, if a man were to complain about being scrutinized he would be told to suck it up. Most women on the other hand would be given sympathy for many of their so called plights.

    It’s like I said last night, from a patriarchal male’s perspective, women are nothing but sugar and spice who bestow sympathy upon each other. Their “many plights” are treated with tenderness by other women and by the men, presumably, who think there is no harm in bestowing sympathy for women’s many, trivial concerns.

    Women ought to be less sensitive. They’re already surrounding by pure benevolence all the time.

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  10. Titfortat :
    Women ought to be less sensitive.(scratch)
    They’re not, its an illusion.

    That’s true. It’s an illusion. An illustration. An engagement. A myth from the Bible. Eve ate the apple and then got all upset because an ape said it was her fault. Get over it slag.

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  11. Oh silly person, were so far removed from the bible. There are so many defining ideas on who we are its mind boggling. Lets both just say were on the same level and call it a day. If you cant agree with me on that one then dont get offended if I call you a whiny ass when you bring up the patriarchy shit.

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        1. “Nah, its not you. Though Im sure you could use a massage to relax. ”

          – Now, this is just mean. 🙂

          Yes, I totally need to schedule a massage soon. I gave N. a massage as a St. Valentine’s gift but he is nervous about that. Weird.

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  12. bloggerclarissa :
    Am I really really tired or is there another reason why I can’t even figure out what this discussion is about?
    It must be me.

    It’s about calling women whiny. It’s a cool thing to do. It makes many people happy. If you cant understand something, then it’s because of a woman and she’s no doubt complaining to you in some way that you can’t understand.

    I’m sure I heard a high pitched whine in there somewhere? It didn’t come from my grapes.

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    1. Then I really stepped into it by whining about being tired. Shit.

      Thank you for explaining what was going on, Jennifer Frances. If I don’t beat this insomnia soon, I will start keeling over in mid-sentence.

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    2. Oh no, no, no…………..if youre going to go there get it right. I was about to call you a “whiny ass”. If you want to equate your bullshit whiny ass temperament with being a woman, well, that is your choice as an individual.

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      1. Ok, that is might pleasant.

        And likewise, if you want to equate your your bullshit whiny ass temperament with being a woman or with being a male then I am happy, too.

        Let us eat, drink and whine!

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  13. bloggerclarissa :
    Then I really stepped into it by whining about being tired. Shit.
    Thank you for explaining what was going on, Jennifer Frances. If I don’t beat this insomnia soon, I will start keeling over in mid-sentence.

    Nevermind. Whining is all good. There is no whine that isn’t a good wine. Let’s call it a libation.

    On a more serious note, it’s a general troll pattern to call women whiners. Generally, I interpret that as “you just said something over my head and I’m sure it was wrong because…..I don’t know, really…I’m sure we’re really far from thinking in terms of Biblical mythology, but I just get the deep feeling you have no right to say anything to me, because you’re an agent of Satan who just wants to lead me away from paradise and make me suffer. Oh, I’m a victim of your evil whining!”

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  14. bloggerclarissa :
    Yes, the victim card. That is definitely the best. I especially like the sense of entitlement behind it. How dare anybody disagree with ideas I don’t even manage to express?

    Anyone can disagree with any ideas I don’t manage to express. 🙂

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  15. Titfortat :
    Cheers.

    There’s a lot of really great stuff by the philosophical writer, Georges Bataille, but one aspect of his thought that seems to enrage a lot of people is his idea of mystical experience, which he expresses as a from of ‘non-knowledge” that nonetheless has a structure. He begins some of his papers with the suggestion that he will now proceed to talk about non-knowledge and that he will not be able to describe it in language, because language itself conveys definitively non-linguistic.

    He says, “I have failed to convey my sense of non-knowledge all the previous times I’ve tried to explain it and I will fail this time, too.”

    You’ve got to love the French and their sense of irony. There is nothing French without irony.

    As I said, this kind of irony makes some non-French people very angry and also very suspicious. “What is he trying to do? Is he a crypto-fascist?” they murmur under their breaths.

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  16. Sorry–some mistake happened…

    There’s a lot of really great stuff by the philosophical writer, Georges Bataille, but one aspect of his thought that seems to enrage a lot of people is his idea of mystical experience, which he expresses as a from of ‘non-knowledge” that nonetheless has a structure. He begins some of his papers with the suggestion that he will now proceed to talk about non-knowledge and that he will not be able to describe it in language, because language itself is about knowledge and what the non-knowledge he conveys is definitively non-linguistic.
    He says, “I have failed to convey my sense of non-knowledge all the previous times I’ve tried to explain it and I will fail this time, too.”
    You’ve got to love the French and their sense of irony. There is nothing French without irony.
    As I said, this kind of irony makes some non-French people very angry and also very suspicious. “What is he trying to do? Is he a crypto-fascist?” they murmur under their breaths.

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  17. “What a brilliant post! I love it.”

    Yeah, I loved it, too. Guess who wrote it? TheLastPsychiatrist.

    FYI: partialobjects.com is where he posts his short musings. Basically, stuff that’s not developed and researched enough to put on his main site. He encourages guest posts, too, so not all the stuff is his.

    Like

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