Madeleine Davies talks to Jessa Crispin

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Why do you think so many current self-proclaimed feminists feel the need to distance themselves from the second wave definition of feminism and, even more so, second wave radicals like Andrea Dworkin or Catharine McKinnon?

Once assimilation became a possibility—and I feel like this happens with pretty much every marginalized group that’s fighting for equality—once assimilation becomes a possibility, you kind of abandon your principles because it’s much easier to just enter the system than destroy it. The more radical thinkers in the second wave make contemporary feminists really uncomfortable. I’ve seen a lot of people working really hard to say, “Oh, well, I’ve never read Andrea Dworkin, but here’s my opinion on her” and, “Oh, you don’t have to read Firestone. You don’t have to read any of that stuff. You can understand feminism within your own self and experiences.”

And that’s the new thing. You don’t have to understand history, you don’t have to understand the philosophy. It’s just, “your experience is the only thing that’s valid.” So understanding the second wave feminist stance that the whole system is broken and gross and has to be destroyed—that’s gonna make someone who thinks that it’s only their experiences that are necessary feel uncomfortable.

If I can push you to elaborate a little more, you write a lot about white feminism and empowerment feminism, the message of which is always “You go, girl! Whatever you’re doing is exciting and feminist even if you’re stepping on other women to do it.”

I will say, I don’t use the term “white feminism,” just because it also doesn’t necessarily convey what people want it to convey, which is power. It’s power feminism. It’s self-empowerment feminism. So when they’re saying “white feminism,” it’s not. It’s people who are aligning themselves with power. Beyoncé is a really good example of this kind of feminist. So I try to stay away from that term.

I struggle with criticizing Beyoncé, though, because I think she means more to black women and black feminists than what I can necessarily comprehend. Yes, she’s a ruthless capitalist, but she’s also a very important symbol for a lot of people.

Sure. It’s craven, but it’s important. It’s not so much that you have to critique these things, it’s that you have to understand the context. And of course it’s easier to point fingers than deal with your own shit. [Laughs]

I see that with a lot of celebrity feminists. There’s not a lot of study that goes into the opinions of say, Lena Dunham. It’s just “I’m a woman and I feel like I deserve certain things.”

Yeah, but the thing is she wouldn’t be popular if she didn’t speak to the desires of a lot of women by saying, “Everything you do is brave and important and you don’t have to think about what it is that you’re doing and you don’t have to think about the consequences of your actions and you don’t have to make yourself uncomfortable and you don’t have to do the hard work of understanding our history. Just do whatever makes you feel good, whatever makes you money, etc, etc.”

So yeah, Lena Dunham’s obviously a problem.

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