Guilty pleasures: feminism with compromises

The other day, I wrote a little bit about the need for nuance in feminism, and uncoupling the identity as a feminist with what we do, and what we like. I’ve been thinking more and more about how we all do things which conflict with our own politics, and the often complicated feelings that accompany this.

There’s the definitely basic survival stuff, like having to work in a supermarket despite supermarkets being literally manifestations of Satan’s gob, or calling the police after having experienced violence despite the police being literally the fucking worst, or accepting donated food from religious organisations who would literally happily force women into pregnancies. Sometimes doing these things which are politically fraught is necessary, and yet I have seen shit levelled from a position at privilege at people who have found they needed to do those things.

Then there’s the stuff that’s higher up Maslow’s hierarchy: the stuff which is often considered something that could be done without, even though I’m not so sure. Take, for example, sex. Politically, I feel like having sex with men is riddled with political problems, both in the abstract and as a direct threat to my own personal safety. I believe that the power difference between men and women complicates any intimate relationship for the worse. Sex is not always nice or good for you. I have a lot of sympathy for political lesbianism. And yet, I have sex with men sometimes. I’ve drawn lines where I feel comfortable for my own safety, but I have sex with men on my own terms despite this being largely at odds with my politics. I have sex with men, and I like it, and it makes me feel happy.

There’s lots of other things I do and enjoy which I find problematic. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film or TV show which completely passed my high standards, and I have a shelf full of eighties bonkbusters of the distinctly sex, shopping and shoulderpads genre. Every single thing I enjoy, I will have my moments where I sit and cringe, but I’m not going to stop, because if I did I’d find myself sitting under the bed (and probably feeling guilty because I have a large shoe collection, compatible with many stereotypes about women).

Nothing happens inside a vacuum. Literally everything we do–and enjoy doing–happens within this oppressive power structure. Kyriarchy permeates everything, and I am not convinced any of us can ever live up to our own ideals. I’ve personally ended up in more than one guilt-spiral and it’s never ended well.

The fact is, we all draw our lines for getting the fuck away from something somewhere. We all decide which little things we can let slide for not being compatible with our politics because it is impossible to opt out of absolutely everything. And many of us turn this negative into a positive: for example, we enjoy media critically and it shapes debate and discourse. We are conscious of our actions, and the everyday problematics that pervade our lives.

It’s a personal thing where the lines come in. For example, some survivors cannot watch anything with rape in it, while others find catharsis in watching a rape scene. Some find playing a submissive role in BDSM empowering, while others find it vastly disempowering. Some might drink Starbucks coffee and enjoy it, while others might reject it and bring their own tin of instant to work. Ultimately, all of these choices are equally valid and pretty harmless to other women. They’re dependent largely on a personal level of tolerance, which is always tied in to a unique personal history.

All of us are hypocrites, and that’s OK. It was never going to be possible to reach the standards we want to reach. In enjoying our guilty pleasures, it is vital that we are critical of what we consume, but it does not mean we need to duck out; nor does it mean that we ought to police the guilty pleasures of others. For the most part, personal enjoyment of something problematic is not the problem: it’s the thing itself that is. We’re fucked right now, but we may not be in the future. For the time being, enjoy–and enjoy critically.

5 thoughts on “Guilty pleasures: feminism with compromises”

  1. Yes to all of this. I live my life in this way (because, for me, there is no other way to do it) and still I have to give myself a stern talking-to every so often when I feel guilty for enjoying “problematic content”. It’s possible to enjoy something – to love it – whilst still acknowledging its problems and not getting defensive about them. And sometimes it’s necessary to put aside your political qualms and dig right in, cos TV is nice and binge-watching Netflix is the greatest joy.

    Enjoy critically. Indeed.

  2. Bravo! Well said. Living by principles instead of rigid rules means being aware of what we do and say – reflecting, accepting, changing course – being flexible! We are human and make mistakes, but we can also live up to our own standards by dint of being kind to, rather than punishing ourselves. That often makes us kindlier to others, as well. Let’s work on creating THAT stereotype: kindly feminists! 🙂

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