Who gets to say someone is a feminist? And should we vote this woman out?

She’s gay, out and pro-choice.  So what’s not to like?  She’s a conservative radio talk show host.  Gulp.  Still….

I heard her this morning on being both conservative and pro-choice.  She was pointing out that it doesn’t make sense to be anti-government interference about everything except to put government in between a woman and her decisions about pregnancy.   It sounded really good.  Just imagine what the US could look like if the conservatives stopped requiring that their candidates support the religiously motivated anti-choice agenda.  Same-sex marriage might be next.

BUT she’s a conservative talk show host, and apparently that means continuing the destructive hate speech of those who have made their careers out of creating deep and emotionally reinforced divisions in the States.  Her latest?   Michelle Obama is “trash in the White House.”  She has a fake accent; she tries to sound like “a white girl.”

The host is Tammy Bruce and she gets called “a feminist”.  Ouch! 

So feminists don’t really form a club, still less are there membership rules.  But sometimes I think it would be nice if we could suspend a person’s license to be called one.

8 thoughts on “Who gets to say someone is a feminist? And should we vote this woman out?

  1. I don’t know Tammy Bruce but if she is gay and pro-choice these for me are good credencials and I have to give her some credit. In fact I see as disgusting the expressions she uses to speak about Michelle Obama but I can conclude frome here only two things: she is not polite and she does not like the new first lady, and for the moment it’s all.

  2. I completely agree that being pro-gay and pro-choice is really important and very much in her favor.

    But I’m concerned that she’s doing more than expressing dislike for Michelle Obama. The specific content is the sort of thing that appeals to racists, and, more generally, she’s contributing to the hate-mongering that the right wing seem to be going in for. That’s extremely serious; the country is in very bad shape, and I don’t have much respect for those who are whipping up hatred against our very new president who really has huge problems that these people created and that might ruin the country if left unsolved.

    I started out wondering myself whether doing the hatred and racism completely undercut her feminist credentials, and I think that that’s not a bad question. I think it is pretty seriously negative.

    I should also say that of course she’s a great fan of Sarah Palin’s, so her commitment to getting the religious agenda out of politics seems to have limits.

  3. I agree with jj on Bruce’s judgment of Michelle Obama. To call her “trash” for pretending to be a “white girl” is more than impolite and more than disliking the First Lady. In fact, it is a dislike predicated on problematic assumptions about race. Or, at the very least, a dislike expressed in racist terms.

    As for considering someone’s “out” status as a good credential for being called a feminist, well, I think that raises some important questions about the link between sexual preference and politics. Does same-sex desire constitute a political position? Or, perhaps more precisely, does same-sex desire constitute the grounds from which one might articulate a political position?

    Twenty years of Queer Theory has offered a substantial interrogation of identitarian categories, which extends to identity politics, and one of the most significant insights theorists have made is that such categories resist stability. Bruce’s conservatism illustrates quite well, I think, the illusion that experiencing taboo desire places someone in a marginal social space and that, in turn, inhabiting a marginal social space produces a progressive politics. Even if Bruce’s conservative logic leads her to the pro-choice side of debates about reproductive rights, that same logic fails to understand the very reason that governments exist: to regulate (read interfere) with social and economic life. The questions for any political movement must address are how the government interferes, on who’s behalf, at what point.

    I think the fact that Bruce gets called a “feminist” also raises questions about what it means to wear that adjective as an identity. On the one hand, it opens feminism to the possibility of subsuming (or perhaps forces feminism to account for) a number of interests and intents. On the other hand, it may evacuate the political content of feminism by lumping a lot contradictory political positions together. On a speculative note, one consequence of that lumping may be to open “feminists,” already a derisive term within mainstream discourses, to critique from a number of diverse camps, even to accusations of incoherency.

    To answer the post’s question directly, I would say that voting Bruce out of the club, which we already recognize as non-existent, may not be as helpful as challenging the status of that descriptor as a label. We could say, then, that sometimes Bruce does feminism, sometimes she don’t.

    Of course, we’d still have to figure out what doing feminism looks like.

  4. I think it’s walking along a slippery slope to start judging that someone is or is not a feminist based on their views or opinions on one thing or another. I’d rather see feminism as an inclusive rather than exclusive club, even if that means the club has some people in it with whom I strongly disagree on subjects that are dear to me.

  5. I think I agree with Dee Es (we speak different academic jargons, and I’m not fluent in hers/his): the fact that Bruce has feminist beliefs doesn’t preclude her having racist beliefs, and why do we care so much about whether she’s `really’ a feminist in the first place?

  6. I’d like to hear Bruce’s definition of what a feminist is. If feminism is part of humanism, her hate-mongering about Michelle and affection for Palin seems strange indeed. Can we require feminists to be rational? Can we at least do some educating that the women’s movement in the U.S. evolved from the Civil Rights Movement, so a racist feminist would seem to be an oxymoron. And one who supports an anti-woman woman like Palin so grounded in the anti-woman religiosity of the right is also highly questionable.
    Maybe we can’t “kick her out” but some of us should sure be questioning her use/abuse of her “creds”. Are there really that many pro-feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-Palin and anti-Michelle LISTENERS out there?

  7. Dee Es, It is important that it is an “the illusion that experiencing taboo desire places someone in a marginal social space and that, in turn, inhabiting a marginal social space produces a progressive politics.” She’s further than that, though; she’s not just gay, but also out and pro-gay. Still, you remind me at least that being in the minority doesn’t preclude very like the majority, or one’s preferring majority.

    NFAH and noumena, I’m beginning to think that perhaps my original question is a bad one. It seems to encompass a term and a concept of a trait and perhaps even, though this sounds pretentious, a regulative ideal. It may be that we should give up on the term “feminist” or at least on the idea that it precludes things like slandering another and quite stellar woman in racist terms, even when such behavior stems from quite a larger and deeply held political view.

    Since I’ve been working a lot on concepts, it may that I’m too close to technical literature right now to connect well. Still, here goes. I’d like to think that the concept of a feminist is about something like a moral kind, though it might just be an ideal. (There’s a lot of discussion these days about whether human being can have the abiding traits that virtues are supposed to be; perhaps not, but still there can be a corresponding ideal.) This view might be idiosyncratic, but I would expect that in thinking about how to react, some of us might think in terms of what a feminist should do – as though to be a feminist is to have some such trait. If so, there might be a point in debating what it really is, or whether there are several different things, and so on.

  8. Beeing a feminist, for me, is to recognize that woman, in general, has an injust treatement in society , and to strike to alter this situation. A woman, like Bruce, that assumes her sexual diference and defends the right of abortion is doing a lot to improve the situation of women and I think she deserves the title, in spite of her political or religious oriention.

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