Roxane Gay, who is much wiser (and certainly a better writer) than I am, said the following in Bad Feminist:
“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”
I think of this quote often when being trolled by people (both men and women, both in real life and on the Internet) who latch on to any given aspect of my humanity and poke the various bears of my beliefs with “Oh you like ____? But you’re a feminist. How can you like _____ and be a feminist?” Things I don’t like are also subject to this kind of asinine dissection, and a common example is Iggy Azalea. “Oh you don’t like Iggy Azalea? How can you not like Iggy Azalea and be a feminist? She’s a woman in a male-dominated industry! You have to root for that!”
Well, no. I don’t. And here’s why.
As I have written in the past, Iggy Azalea’s rise to fame in the male-dominated rap industry isn’t due to her undeniable talent: it’s due to the whiteness and verbal blackface that has made her a novelty, white privilege serving as a jetpack that skyrocketed her to the top, surpassing black women who have toiled in the trenches of hip hop for decades. Yet Iggy Azalea denies this at every turn, despite her inability to perform some of the most fundamental aspects of rap music (freestyling, for example), blaming sexism for her criticism and nothing more.
And granted, Iggy has faced sexism. I was one of the first to defend her when Eminem made a reference to raping her in one of his songs. I criticized the hacker group Anonymous when they threatened to leak a sex tape they claimed depicted Iggy if she didn’t apologize for her racism. This kind of violence is faced almost exclusively by women, and the way Iggy Azalea handled both of these attacks was admirable in both maturity and seriousness.
But being a feminist does not provide a “get out of racism free” card, and that is the card Iggy has been playing over and over since her rise to fame, which a lot of folks seem to have a whole deck of, from dismissive reactions to Susan B. Anthony’s racism to flippancy regarding Madonna’s use of the N-word. (“But she’s Madonna! She, like, birthed the feminist movement in music!”) When Mikki Kendall launched #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen on Twitter, this is exactly what she was referring to: the idea that the pain of women of color should take a backseat to so-called “overall feminism,” as if the concerns of women of color are not included in the “all” of that “overall.”
Certainly this isn’t an argument of “I’m a bad feminist, but Iggy Azalea is a worst feminist!” Not at all. But I do challenge the belief that because I find flaws with Iggy Azalea, my feminism is further flawed. My praying that Iggy wouldn’t win a single Grammy—thank you, Lord—doesn’t mean I was praying for the downfall of women in hip-hop. My laughing at her two days of Twitter beef with Papa John’s pizza doesn’t mean I don’t think the leaking of her private information is a serious matter. That’s the thing about being a thinking, multi-dimensional human being: I can, in fact, consider two topics simultaneously. I can laugh at the absurdity of a famous “rapper” using her stage name to order subpar chain pizza (and calling it her favorite! God, that’s hilarious) while still agreeing that her private information shouldn’t be leaked by a thirsty teenage delivery guy who was careless and idiotic.
Feminism does not exist to serve as a magical shield to protect women from criticism. I cringe as I write this, knowing that too many (sexist) men have said something very similar, usually while criticizing a woman on sexist grounds. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that we can’t, under the guise of feminist solidarity, allow abusive or abhorrent behavior to go unchecked and uncriticized. And abusive and abhorrent Iggy has been, from now-deleted tweets with racist jokes and denigration of the bodies of women of color to the disturbingly exploitive and pedophilic music video for her song “PU$$Y,” in which Iggy raps about her sexual prowess while sitting between the legs of a black boy who can’t be more than seven years old. Yet on these matters Iggy’s defenders (mostly men and white feminists) have remained silent, insisting instead that she is a feminist icon and blameless of the appropriation for which she is often charged. Between sexist men and white feminist women, then, a disturbing alliance emerges: it seems abhorrent behavior can be ignored, forgiven, overlooked, when the victims are women of color. It seems the preferred brand of feminism is that which is focused on the comfort and terms of white women.
That’s not the kind of feminism I’m interested in aligning myself with. Feminists generally scoff at the idea that shaving our legs, wearing pink, or changing our last name is “bad feminism.” It’s an outdated way of viewing the F-word: only the fools who still use “feminist” as an insult still believe feminists are hairy, man-hating whores. But just as antiquated is the idea that feminism is for white women, and that the Iggy Azaleas of the world can trample women of color—appropriating their bodies, their language, and their culture—and still be flawless feminists worthy of praise and nothing else.
In another world, I might have liked Iggy Azalea. I admire how she has criticized publications for Photoshopping her moles. She can also take a joke; dressing up as a character from White Chicks after being memed online following a beef with Snoop Dogg. But as of now, this is not that world. I may be a bad feminist—messy, human—but as Roxane says, I’m also “trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world.” And if calling out Iggy Azalea makes me a bad feminist (or a worse feminist) then that is just what I’ll have to be.