Feminism | Posted by Erin McKelle on 02/16/2015

How Feminism Turned Into a Popularity Contest (and What We Can Do About It)

Of the many important issues for which feminist activists today fight, intersectionality is certainly one of the biggest. There’s been a big push for inclusion as we recognize that we must correct this movement’s upsetting history of racism, classism, heterosexism, and ableism. This undertaking is long overdue and the progress we’re making is commendable. But we still have a long way to go. In fact, we may have created other problems related to inclusion along the way.

I can’t help but notice that feminism has seemed to turn into a popularity contest. Have you ever heard feminists gush over “famous” figures in the movement, brag about how many media appearances they’ve gotten, or even flat-out ignored feminists who don’t have as many Twitter followers as they do? I have and I think it’s a problem.

Although I was hesitant at first, I’ve chosen to speak out about it. I’m a passionate activist and blogger who has been deep in the trenches of feminist work for 3+ years. I tried to make as many connections as I could along the way and tried desperately to connect with the role models whose books I’ve read. After all, isn’t feminism supposed to be about sisterhood, about supporting and empowering others? But I found that it’s not as easy as it looks to break into what is in fact a hierarchical circle in the movement. In fact, it’s a huge challenge.

I realized quickly that while there are a ton of great feminists doing life-changing work, most of them aren’t getting any credit. Most of the recognition goes to big names who have already profited from their work. These figures are generally known for writing for nationally recognized publications or making TV appearances and are more often than not white, upper-class, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied women. While our generation may talk about inclusion, it seems like when it comes down to acting on that belief we fall short.

Feminism should never be a popularity contest because it creates hierarchies, which are inherently patriarchal. Activism has turned into a competition when its entire point is to unite.

The only way to change this is to take a stand against it. We must refuse to play the game and instead work to be as inclusive as possible. By refusing to define our success by how many likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter we have, we can start to work together and collaborate, to cheer each other on rather than try to get ahead.

I’ve committed to doing this in my own life. I almost quit my activist efforts entirely because I was so sick of trying to prove myself or somehow convey that I was worthy. I should have known I was worthy all along. I focused on my own projects, was better able to strike a balance and became much happier for it.

My advice is for all of us to focus on amplifying the voices of others as much as possible. Share work and projects you admire. Make new friends. Live by the principle of intersectionality. Make sure you’re including a diverse group of people in your efforts and work to take down the media’s increasing domination (and simplification) of feminism.

I hope you’ll stand with me in making a change.

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