We here at TRN have a philosophy about criticizing women. We avoid the trash talk and click bait that’s found on other sites. That’s not to say that we should never call out or criticize a woman but there are ways to do so without sacrificing the sisterhood or turning away from your feminist principles. This is not intended to come across as tone policing. It can be hard for people, especially those with multiple marginalized identities who have justifiable anger towards white women or straight women or cisgender women or all of the above. I would never want to tell oppressed women how to express their anger but I do think we can have a conversation about how to criticize a woman’s words or actions that leaves internalized misogyny out of it and elevates our voices. Here are some tips for objectively criticizing a woman when necessary.
Avoid criticizing a woman for her appearance.
Let’s think back to that time that Kellyanne Conway showed up at the inauguration dressed like the logo for the Patriots. Yeah, it was funny but I felt bad laughing at that because the fact is that there are a million more important things to criticize Kellyanne Conway about and reducing her to her fashion choices or her appearance distracts us from the real issue which is how she chooses to use her influence for policies that restrict the rights of others.
Keep the focus on actions and words.
If you’re going to make a critical statement about a woman, make sure it’s about her actions or statements. When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made offensive TERF-like statements about transwomen, that was an appropriate time to call her out. The important thing was to stay focused on the part that was wrong — the transphobic statements — and not go off track and start talking about Adichie’s personal life, her appearance, etc. This is often what happens to women when they’re called out; we lose focus and our critiques start spiraling out into other, less relevant, topics.
Avoid criticizing how a woman expresses her feminism….unless she’s a threat others.
Most of us aren’t born knowing what we know now about feminism. We needed the time and space to grow into our feminist selves. When a woman says something that doesn’t align with your version of feminism or she has an immature understanding of feminism, ask yourself if it’s threatening anyone else’s rights. When a woman’s version of feminism is a threat to others like TERF feminism or white feminism, feel free to call her out. But if her idea of feminism simply differs somehow from yours, try to allow for diversity of opinions. You can offer your perspective. Perhaps it will help her grow in her feminist beliefs but if your perspective is unwanted, leave it be.
Avoid gendered insults.
You can criticize someone like Ivanka Trump without calling her a cunt or a bitch. When we use gendered insults, we’re implying that the reason she’s so reprehensible is her gender. Of course part of the reason we dislike Ivanka is because she’s a woman who is complicit in the wrongdoings of the evil Trump regime and we just don’t understand how any woman could support this president’s policies. Even so, the use of gendered insults undermines the very valid argument that her actions and words, or lack thereof, are problematic and puts the focus entirely on gender.
Don’t stop with just criticizing one woman.
When you hear of a woman who has said or done something that’s not cool, you can use that to draw attention to a larger problem. Instead of only focusing on how Miley Cyrus or Amy Schumer have used black women’s bodies as props in videos, you could call them out but then move the conversation in the direction of the larger issue at hand — the oversexualization of women of color, cultural appropriation, etc. White feminists spend a lot of time talking about the actions of one white woman and fail to draw the connections between that woman’s behavior and the larger issue and that larger issue is the thing we really should be talking about. Better yet, in this scenario, talk about what you’ve learned from women of color instead of just focusing on white celebrities behaviors.
Avoid insulting a woman’s intelligence or mental stability.
I often see internet comments with women responding to other women with comments like “You must be really stupid if you believe that”. This doesn’t further the conversation at all. There’s also an ableist element around using words like “dumb”, “stupid”, and “moron”. When you use words like that as swords during an argument about feminist principles, you’re being hypocritical as you’re using words that have been used for decades to malign and denigrate people with intellectual and physical disabilities to fight back against someone in the name of feminism. The same goes for using the term “crazy” which is ableist towards people with mental health issues and sexist since people are so quick to label women as “crazy” whenever they say or do something they don’t like.
Accept that some women are just horrible.
There are women who are hateful, prejudiced bigots who will never, ever see the error of their ways. When you see that woman in the world who is full of hate, you may want to consider moving on. Your feminist energy can be better spent elsewhere. There’s a reason why they say “don’t feed the troll”. There’s no sense in getting into it with these women and you will probably just wind up angry with a headache. There are a million different ways that you can fight against bigotry and oppression that will have an impact on people like this but your direct efforts to fix this woman will be frustrating and ultimately a failure. Of course, all bets are off in this scenario if you’re being targeted or attacked by this person.
It can be difficult learning how to ethically and responsibly critique your sisters but there are ways to do it that are focused on the issues. No one is saying that you have to take the high road 100% of the time and you certainly don’t have to take the high road if you’re being attacked for your identity. Whenever we are able to criticize women in ways that elevate our voices instead of lowering ourselves to name calling, insults, or gossiping about women’s appearances, our opinions will be heard louder and respected more often.