Why “bad feminist” is a dangerous humblebrag

I hear this a lot.

Oh dear, I’m a bad feminist!

Don’t tell the sisterhood, but…

And if that makes me a bad feminist, tough!

[Tweet inexplicably followed by the hashtag #badfeminist]

And why exactly does this annoy the fuck out of me? Well. Assuming “bad feminist” means someone who does not actually fulfil the requirements of being a feminist, you might expect to hear something along the lines of:

I want my daughter to grow up believing she’s inferior to men. I’m such a bad feminist!

But you never do hear the phrase in that context. Instead, you hear:

Actually, if we could afford it I’d be happy to give up work. I’m such a bad feminist!

Pink is my favourite colour. Oh dear, bad feminist!

Being dominated turns me on. Don’t tell the sisterhood!

I wasn’t offended by that thing that offended some feminists. Guess I’m a bad feminist after all!

Gloria Steinem may string me up by my toes, but I want to be there for my kids and my husband.

In other words, you almost always hear the “bad feminist” boast – because, yes, it is a boast – in a context where the speaker is telling you they’ve somehow failed to live up to expectations, or failed to fit in with accepted thinking. In other words, a context where the speaker is setting up a proscriptive straw-sisterhood in order to contrast themselves with it. A context where the speaker is none-too-subtly telling the world about their unique snowflakicity.

There are several deep ironies here. One is that the right to determine your own thoughts and actions is a core goal of feminism. Another is that this straw-sisterhood, meeting regularly and laying down the law on all aspects of feminist life, only exists in the fevered imagination of the “bad feminist” herself. But the deepest irony of all is this.

When you describe yourself as a bad feminist, it sounds on the surface like a minor, charming admission of failure. But scratch that surface very gently and it’s revealed to be a boast. Scratch the surface a tiny bit further and it becomes clear that you’ve created a whole imaginary phalanx of nasty, bossy feminists to help you make that boast. And when a fresh batch of imaginary nasty feminists is released into the world, it undermines feminism because it misrepresents feminism. The self-proclaimed “bad feminist” is throwing an entire human rights movement under the bus for the sake of being able to say: “Tee-hee, aren’t I naughty?”

In other words: when you boast about being a bad feminist, you are being a bad feminist. Just not in the way you think you are.

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