When Did Feminism Become So Embarrassing?

When Did Feminism Become So Embarrassing?

By Heather Wilhelm - July 23, 2012

Marissa Mayer is young, blond, attractive, and six months pregnant. She’s also, as of last week, the new president and CEO of Yahoo, a Fortune 500 tech company, and—much to her chagrin, I’m guessing—the fevered subject of dozens of angst-laden feminist blog posts.

As a woman, Mayer is a rarity in the world of Silicon Valley power players, but she’s not too hung up on the whole feminism thing. The term itself, she pointed out in a PBS-AOL interview, is tainted with “negative,” “militant,” “chip-on-the-shoulder” connotations. “I was always very gender blind,” she told a recent audience. “I think if I had felt more self-conscious about being the only woman along the way, it would have actually stifled me a lot more.”

Mayer, in other words, got over it, got a job, and got on with her life—and this does not sit well with the sisterhood. According to Slate’s Amanda Marcotte, Mayer’s rejection of the feminist label boils down to pure cowardice: “Those who take up the mantle of social justice have always been people who, for whatever reason, are willing to be hated and willing to suffer repeated losses that affect them personally. . . . Someone who would rather do what's right than what's profitable simply isn't going to climb very high on that corporate ladder. ” Mayer, feminist writers seem to agree, is ditching the ideological date that brought her to the dance.

Luckily for disgruntled, abandoned-feeling female advocates, there’s another woman burning up the Internet, boldly embracing all things feminist. Caitlin Moran, a quirky, often drunk, often foul-mouthed, often much-too-candid British writer, has earned gushing praise for her new manifesto, “How to Be a Woman.” Her goal is “to jump-start a new conversation about feminism,” and indeed she has, collecting rave reviews along the way.

Moran, whose book is half autobiography, half women’s-lib instruction manual, and was just released in the States, has been described as a “rock-star feminist,” “totally brilliant,” “a feminist heroine for our times,” “outrageous,” “delightful,” and “precisely what feminism has been waiting for.”

So, I read “How to Be a Woman,” and here’s the thing: I consider myself a feminist, and I was definitely not waiting for this book. I was certainly not waiting for excessive information on Moran’s excruciating journey through puberty; intimate details about her gross dog; her annals of awkward sexual exploration; and, most mystifying, her passionate defense of abortion and pornography, irrationally paired with her equally passionate condemnation of strip clubs and Botox.

The problem, I suppose, is that most “real” feminists I know of—Caitlin Moran and Slate writers like Marcotte likely among them—would probably consider me a weapons-grade woman betrayer with a full-time residence on Planet Patriarchy. I am, after all, pro-life. I have been known to vote for Republicans. If you want to be a stay-at-home mom, I think that’s fine. If you want to be the CEO of Yahoo and say you’ll only take three weeks of maternity leave—interestingly, Mayer is getting pilloried for this decision as well—that’s fine too. I believe that casual sex is destructive, not empowering. I often don impractical footwear crafted by male oppressors.

I also generally shy away from celebrations of meaningless vulgarity, which, sadly, seems to be the leading theme in both Moran’s book and in the gigantic, flaming, multi-car pileup that is modern-day feminism. In “How to Be a Woman,” it’s OK to be a “slag” or a “slut,” as long as we’re “simply being honest about who we really are.” In interviews, Moran expresses approval for the recent rash of mortifying “Slut Walks,” in which young women strut down the street in ill-fitting, body-baring “clothing” in order to prove that they are empowered, not sexual objects. Which totally makes sense, if you’re crazy.

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Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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