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More Feminist Than Thou

By on June 17, 2017

 

There’s a reason the cliche “a picture’s worth a thousand words” is in our cultural lexicon. This picture, originally posted with Elle Stanger’s “I’m a Sex Worker Who is Sick of Female Misogyny“,  left me both speechless and ready to pen 1,376 words in yet another manifesto. The image hit me in the most personal way.  Stanger’s piece addresses her frustration with aspects of modern feminism which still seek to slut shame women. Her story centers around a particularly rude and dismissive patron at her strip club — a women in a pussy hat. If you’re not familiar with pussy hats, they are the grass roots symbol of the 2017 Women’s March. 

Stanger’s not the first to offer up a critique of the Women’s March and it’s feminism. It seems like the one thing we can all agree about when it comes to feminism is how someone else is doing it wrong. It can be discouraging to hear someone critique your well intended efforts. But, to quote The Handmaid’s Tale, “Better doesn’t always mean better for everyone.” And that’s not better – that’s bad. If people are getting hurt or left behind by your movement, then your movement is not beyond constructive criticism. A lot pink hatted ladies scoffed at the idea of “White Feminism” even existing or that “female = vagina” posters were trans-phobic.  We love pointing fingers across the aisle, but we hate looking in the mirror. It’s hard.

Which brings me back to that image. The pussy hat watching the pole dancer. The pink, pointy, ears usually framed to look mischievous and subversive, now portrayed as judgmental and menacing. It’s meant to convey how Stanger felt being stared down by her “feminist” tormentor. And it hit me hard… because I know that exact feeling.

I talked a big game when it came to writing about my own experience, especially just after it happened,  but I chose not to write. I sat with it. I talked myself out of it. I didn’t want to be a voice of dissension in an important feminist movement. When women of color, or members of the LGTBQ community, voiced their concerns about the lack of inter-sectionalism and inclusiveness of the Women’s March/Pussy Hat movement – I felt they had a right to.  However, I wrote off my own experience, downplaying it’s cultural relevance. Until I saw that image.

Here is my story. At the end of last year, I was asked by one of pussy hat’s co-founders to dance at a pussy hat fund raiser/rally/party thing in January. I was delighted to accept! She asked me to send over my contact info in an intro email to the event’s coordinator. A real “artist and feminist” – someone who I was assured I’d have “so much in common” with. In my email I included a link to my dance reel. It’s a mix of pole and burlesque:

I got no response. I waited weeks, but nothing. I didn’t think too much of it. The event was a month or so away… I started prepping a fun but thoughtful  “You Don’t Own Me” piece, all in hot pink, of course. What better way to celebrate a movement called “The PUSSY Hat Project” than by bringing in a dancer, performing the American art form of Burlesque, confident in the ownership of her own sexuality and self expression? Especially considering the etymology of “pussy hat” comes from  subverting a quote by a man bragging about sexual assault.

At that moment I was probably pussy hat’s biggest fan. But then… As you may have already guessed, I got an email back. It wasn’t good. It was an awkward faux apology from my friend who originally invited me to perform. She was rescinding her invitation.

 

Well, I was “really bummed” and “honestly shocked” too. But not because of the hostess who drew sex negative lines about “what is feminist and what is not” – but because my friend took her side. Yes, she did it politely. But she did it. I felt completely betrayed. Hell yes, I’m no stranger to this kind of slut shaming and exclusion. How observant of her to reference my “Too Sexy” article about an incredibly painful chapter in my life (the most painful parts which were actually not included in the piece for legal reasons.) Yeah. This is old news to me. But rather than rolling over and taking it in stride, because at this point “it’s probably not news” to me, I fought back. I used to be a people pleaser under the facade of being a “peace maker.” But now I’m not afraid to be a fighter.

At the end of the day, this is not the worst case of “feminist on feminist” collateral damage. However, every time we share our stories we empower each other to speak our truths. Elle Stanger did it for me, and now I’m doing for my pole community here at Bad Kitty®. Hopefully this will resonate and someone else will speak up next. To truly be liberated women, we have to stop hurting each other. Especially when it comes to slut shaming. The pole community lived it’s own version of this story with the #NotAStripper trends. It took leaders in the pole community to stand up and push back for those to get shut down. We have an honorable legacy of being a pole community that welcomes and celebrates all styles and expressions of empowered pole dancing. Even, and especially, our founding mothers in the strip clubs. I thought I had an ally like that in the pussy hat project, instead I found a more strawberry milkshake version of that all too familiar “too sexy” door slammed in my face.

As pole dancers and sex positive women in general, we’re already fighting the trolls, meninists, zealots, and traditionalists forever nipping at our heels and leaving rape and death threats in our comment threads. Adding sex negative feminist snubbing is really just insult to injury. Who has the time for that? Apparently a lot of feminists. Not too long after I was kicked out of the pussy hat event, I saw this op ed in the Washington Post: “The Women’s March Needs Passion and Purpose, Not Pink Pussy Hats” –I had a solid 2 minutes of schadenfreude as I read another feminist accusing my accusers of my same crime: not doing feminism in a way they liked or understood. Ha! But then my inner Wendy Davis showed up to defend, of all people, my accusers. I think the pussy hat project is a great idea! I wanted to do burlesque in their honor! Playful, homespun, hot pink, femininity is not bad feminism. But this sort of Ouroboros “More Feminist Than Thou” finger pointing sure is.   So I don’t tell this story here to be anti pussy hat. I wish I had been given the honor to performed at their event. No, I tell this story because it happened. It’s the truth. And because it’s a microcosm for the cannibalism women’s movements have the potential to suffer.  We shouldn’t make enemies, or idle bodies, out of passionate allies. We should stick together and stand up for each other. We’ve got enough people out there trying to keep us down.

I’ll leave you with the piece of comedy gold by Rachel Lark and the Damaged Goods. The song’s called Free the Nipple and it’s a story song that addresses a this serious issue in a funny way. Rachel was asked to write a song about Free the Nipple but thought she had better “more feminist things to do.” … I wish all feminist could catch themselves the way she does. Enjoy!

“One thing that I hate most is women telling other women that they’re doing feminism wrong.”

– Rachel Lark

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Katie Johnson

is a Los Angeles based Fine Art Model, Actress, Writer -- and most importantly - Pole Fitness Devotee. She's been called everything from “magic” and “fearless” to “dependable, bendable” and even “the balliest f***ing model I’ve ever worked with!”

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