Monstrous Feminism


Amy Tuttle

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Amy Tuttle

With its fourth annual “word banishment poll,” Time magazine proposed getting rid of the word “feminist,” arguing that the label is too easily thrown around by celebrities. Yet, for many self-identified feminists, the label serves as a crucial indicator to others that one believes in equality. Thus, while Time’s survey suggests that the word “feminist” gets thrown around “like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade,” it is also tied to a larger political movement that we still very much need. Some argue that Time’s recent suggestion to ban the word “feminist” is a reductive attack on feminism. Others claim that the controversy over the word “feminist” merely represents the views of a media-saturated capitalist culture’s relationship to the word. But it might be something else entirely. Maybe Time’s recent recommendation points to a fundamental characteristic of all “ists”—that a single word, like “feminist” or “capitalist” or “[insert political alignment here]ist,” stands in for decades of philosophical discussion (and debate) yet is insufficient to adequately explicate the subjective identities of individuals. If a single word like “feminist” is unable to encapsulate the complexities of an individual’s lived experience, then why is one’s declaration of “feminist” such a startling and polarizing political statement?


After realizing that I’ve probably thrown the word “feminist” around like ticker tape a time or two, I started to wonder just what, exactly, I teach my students as a “feminist” teacher. These tensions compelled me to take a closer look at the so-called breaches of “monstrous feminism,” like the ticker-tape feminism mentioned in Time magazine. Do my students respond to my monstrous feminism the way Time magazine responded to the monstrous feminism of celebrities? And, more importantly, since feminism is a social endeavor, (how) can we work to re-shape the popular perception of “feminist” in our culture? It seems to me that the questions that emerge from the margins between “mainstream feminism” and “monstrous feminism” have the potential to give rise to new boundaries, new discourses, and new possibilities, to develop me as a feminist teacher, and to challenge my normative modes of feminist social existence.


My teaching changed when I began to recognize the unstable boundaries of the social connotations of a word like “feminist.” You might say that I became a teacher when I embraced the fact that my feminism, like all other feminists’ feminism, is monstrous. For years, I wrestled with the effects of socially-constructed limitations on my feminist practices. Again and again, I “deviated” from what I “should” do, always assuming that, “should” was non-negotiable for “good feminists.” This hopeless quest led me into a perpetual cycle of rebellion and conformity, which could be measured only in terms of my fidelity to the expectations of others. My feminist existence was a monstrous one; I was part “should” and part feminist. Like a creation of Dr. Frankenstein, I  existed simultaneously as part of the feminist graveyard and as part of the world of living, practicing feminists, yet I belonged to neither. However, once I learned that my perceptions of monstrous feminism as a weakness were a result of socially constructed notions of feminism, and that feminism, in fact, implies difference, I realized that I could take hold of my own monstrous feminism as a strength.


Feminist scholars have long asserted the power of being and becoming different. In Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Rosi Braidotti focuses on dealing with the deficiencies in defining identities and differences in a world where there is no normative central (Braidotti 3). The aim of her work, she says, is to explore the need for and provide illustrations of new alternative configurations/figurations of identity (Braidotti 2). Braidotti sees identities like “feminist” as dynamic and ever-changing. For Braidotti, identities are always incomplete, always in the midst of being formed “by careful, patient revisitations, re-adjustments, micro-changes” (Braidotti 116). On the one hand, then, it’s no surprise that the word “feminist” is insufficient to account for shifting identities that undergo constant redefinition. On the other hand, however, we must not forget that feminist identities are empowered (and perhaps enacted) through diversity and multiplicity.


Considering Time magazine’s perception of ticker-tape feminism as a weakness, isn’t it at least possible for those who self-identify as feminists, to also take hold of their monstrous feminisms as strengths? Can (or should) feminists be the arbiters of "good feminism" for other "feminists"? Diversity enacts feminist power, so perhaps the best way to teach feminism is to live diverse feminisms. A multiplicity of feminist practice must be on the agenda of both modern and future society, not because feminist practices can accurately explicate who we are, but because they can help us understand what we want to become (Braidotti 2; my emphasis). 


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