F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism

F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism

by Lauren McKeon


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Women are leading the fight against feminism and women’s rights. The question is, why?

From pop icons to working mothers, women are abandoning feminism in unprecedented numbers. Even scarier, they are also leading the charge to send it to its grave. Women head anti-feminist PR campaigns; they support anti-feminist politicians; they’re behind more than 70 lawsuits across North America to silence the victims of campus rape; they participated in Gamergate, the violent, vitriolic anti-women-in-technology movement; and they’re on the front lines of the fight to end reproductive rights. Everywhere we turn, there’s evidence anti-feminist bombs have exploded, sometimes detonated by the unlikeliest suspects. Between women who say they don’t need feminism and women who can’t agree on what feminism should be, the challenges of fighting for gender equality have never been greater.

F-Bomb takes readers on a witty, insightful, and deeply fascinating journey into today’s anti-feminist universe as investigative journalist and feminist Lauren McKeon explores generational attitudes, debates over inclusiveness, and differing views on the intersection of race, class, and gender. She asks the uncomfortable question: If women aren’t connecting with feminism, what’s wrong with it? And she confronts the difficult truth: For gender equality to prevail, we first need to understand where feminism has gone wrong and where it can go from here.

In a world where sexual harassment allegations regularly dominate news coverage and in which 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, F-Bomb presents urgent and necessary discussion on women’s lives today.

This book is not authorized by and has no relationship to the WMC FBomb, an inclusive feminist blog that has been publishing since 2009. See www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781946885012
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 03/06/2018
Pages: 250
Sales rank: 783,887
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Lauren McKeon was the editor of Canada's progressive, independent This Magazine from November 2011-October 2016. Always fierce and feisty, This is like the Mother Jones of the North and has been named one of the most influential Canadian magazines of all time—publishing the country's best and brightest thinkers in its 50-year history, including Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, and more. While at This, Lauren helmed one of the bestselling issues in recent years "Why Canada Need More Feminism," and also organized the corresponding sold-out event, which headlined a diverse, intersectional roster of speakers. Before leading This, Lauren worked as a reporter, editor and writer in the North for several years, living in Yellowknife, and travelling Canada's territories and northern Alberta. While there, she wrote about award-winning work about everything from prisons to pipelines.

Today, she is a contributing editor at Toronto Life magazine, Canada's largest circulation city magazine, where she recently wrote about her experiences with sexual assault in the memoir 15 Years of Silence. In response, Lauren has heard from dozens of women around the world who've shared their own experiences—some for the first time—and was prominently featured in the documentary PTSD: Beyond Trauma, which aired in January 2017 on David Suzuki's The Nature of Things. Her personal essays, which tackle the world and her experiences through a not-so-rosy feminist lens, have twice been featured on Longreads.com, a popular site dedicated to "helping people find and share the best storytelling in the world." Her longform work has won her several Canadian National Magazine Awards, including three honorable mentions, one silver and, in 2015, a gold in the personal journalism category for her Toronto Life piece "Save me From My Workout." She teaches longform writing at Humber College and has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction.

Read an Excerpt


We've got a long way to go, baby: Confronting the dangerous myth that we've made it

One of the greatest lies of the twenty-first century is that women have made it — "it" being some magical place, a Gloria Steinem-esque take on Walt Disney's Tomorrowland where aspiring and talented girls and women flock to rides like Equal Pay Mountain and Mission to CEO Country. I imagine them munching on Get Out of the Kitchen Funnel Cakes, riding the Reproduction Rights Monorail, or having a blast on the Safe Campus Voyage. Don't forget the Violence-Free Zone, the Carousel of Greatly Lucrative Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math Jobs, and Adventures Thru Respecting You as a Person. Feminist Tomorrowland gift shops sell Wear Whatever the Hell You Want T-shirts and Anti-Slut-Shaming hats. It's the best place on earth. But it's all as ridiculous as it sounds.

I was twenty-four and nearly a year into my first big-name magazine gig when I realized Feminist Tomorrowland was very far away indeed. By then, I'd already decided I was a feminist. I discovered feminism in my high school gender studies class, slipping into the label as easily as I did my favorite pair of jeans. I'd read the word before in books, of course, and on some cellular level the concept called to me. I mean, I signed up for the elective even though I knew most of the school considered it an easy pass. I joined idealistic young teens like me as well as a hulking dude who had a seemingly endless wardrobe of camouflage, at least three stoners who so rarely showed up that I was always surprised when I saw them, and our school's lone Jehovah's Witness, who grimaced through the entire unit on gender and religion. Our teacher was a stalwart, gnomish man whom, at the time, I pegged as eighty, but who was very likely closer to a grizzled sixty. He had a doctorate — he was not Mr. Porter but Dr. Porter — and even at sixteen I wondered why he chose to put up with high school kids.

For an old white man, Porter's introduction to feminism was admirable. I learned about the history of feminism and sampled the smorgasbord of core feminist theory: impossible beauty standards and the male gaze, the wage gap, the prevalence and cultural normalization of rape and violence against women, and the importance of reproductive rights. My introduction was wicked old skool — as I'm only slightly ashamed to admit I would have called it back then — and, I now realize, absent of today's hallmark intersectionality, a term coined by American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in the late 1980s. Today's feminists use intersectionality to examine and acknowledge the interplay between systems of discrimination and oppression — and as a powerful antidote to "white girl feminism." Growing up in a sleepy and not particularly progressive Ontario suburb, I had never even heard the word "transgender." For all the course's flaws, though, it set me on the right path, and by university I was already starting to find my own way through the movement, its theories, and its causes. Today, I can't point to just one moment that defines my choice to self-identify as a feminist, but many.

Even in 2008, when I was twenty-four, being a feminist wasn't a popular pick. I knew firsthand that (according to my demographic, at least) cool feminists were a rarity. I'd been to many booze-fueled parties where intellectual men and women expounded on the troubles in Afghanistan and the silliness of George W. Bush but received my thoughts on feminism like a fart in the room. A couple of years earlier, I'd even published an article about these observations in Chatelaine, a Canadian women's magazine. I argued the single most unattractive thing for a young woman to be was a feminist, akin to gaining twenty pounds overnight. This wishy-washy belief in women's rights, I wrote, was setting us up for a dangerous backslide. Not everybody agreed with me. One woman wrote a letter to the editor that said, in part, "I have a traditional role in my home, but I don't see things as unequal — I see them as how it is. How will you reach your utopian 'equality' if you are born a woman and someone else is born a man? It's your estrogen against his testosterone. It's biology, baby. McKeon needs to grow up, experience life, and get the chip off her shoulder. I'm proud to say I'm not a feminist."

And yet it wasn't until this job at a big-name national business magazine — my first one in my chosen field — that I discovered how much being a woman mattered. The magazine's senior editor didn't seem to like me very much. He was uniformly unimpressed with my writing and never assigned me anything, and whenever I entered his messy office to discuss a story, he demanded I bend over and fetch a stapled report off a stack of teetering paper. He made comments about my shirt, my hair, my shoes, calling my sartorial choices "interesting" and "nice" in a tone that heavily implied the contrary. I convinced myself I just needed to work harder to win him over. I was a newbie, after all, and that's how initiation worked. I was a feminist but also a desperate overachiever. I wanted to believe in equality of opportunity. I wanted to believe that girl power meant showing the old curmudgeon he was wrong about me. And so I ignored the lunchtime comments about cunnilingus. I silently recycled the photocopied articles about weight loss, laser eye surgery, and birth control left on my desk each morning.

Then one night at the pub, during a celebration of our recent round of awards nominations (including one for an investigative feature of mine not, unsurprisingly, written for the magazine in question), I finally saw that no amount of trying would get me ahead. The table was crowded and sticky with spilled beer. During a lull in the conversation, the editor turned toward me, the broad slabs of his ruddy cheeks hitched up in a smile. "I bet you spend your days crying in a corner, writing poetry nobody will ever read," he said. "You should quit now because you'll never make it in journalism." As far as insults go it was a weird one, but the message was clear: get out. He laughed and my colleagues laughed while my mouth did its best impression of a Cheerio. He never spoke to me again; it was like I'd become a ghost. I quit a few months after that.

Attraction name: the Young Woman Who Hit a Very Low Glass Ceiling.

* * *

As far as encounters with the old boys' club go, my experience was depressingly normal. In the several years since, I've had at least a dozen similar ones and, in interviews with other women, heard about hundreds more. Yet what truly scared me as I grew up (as the Chatelaine letter writer so helpfully suggested) wasn't the entrenched patriarchy but just how many women were convinced feminism had won, and a long time ago, too. Everywhere I turned, it seemed more and more women were proudly proclaiming, "I'm not a feminist." They treated the women's movement as a quaint 1960s relic. And why not? The surface gains women have made in my lifetime have allowed us to spin a dangerously sweet bedtime story of success and equal opportunity. It tells us we've already reached our happily ever after, and it's easy and seductive enough to believe.

After all, in recent years, gender-equality awareness has surged across North America. We are saturated with tampon, soap, and food commercials that proclaim girl power. Brazen feel-good feminists like Malala Yousafzai, FEMEN, and Pussy Riot are household names. In every industry is one famous woman who has made it, allowing everybody to believe we all have — as if women are dolls on a paper chain. But painting feminism as triumphant poses an insidious risk. At best, this post-feminist lie means buying into the rebranding of the status quo as sexy, fun, and free. At worst, it means accepting the status quo as the best we can do. Such victory blindness can freeze us in second place and threaten to send us rocketing backward. What would happen then? The more women I met who snubbed feminism, the more I craved answers and the more I kept writing about them. Soon, I couldn't help but see these stories as connecting pieces of a bigger picture.

In 2013 I published a profile of a young and prominent anti-abortion activist in Canada's biggest city magazine, Toronto Life. My mother and grandmother couldn't finish reading the article. My granny, a former union head who'd fought for equal rights in the workplace, had put her husband through school and kept working even after he earned enough to support the family, just because she liked her job. As for my mom, she'd always told me that being a mother was a woman's choice, not her duty. She ensured that both my sister and I were on birth control as soon as we were old enough to have sex, which was something she believed we should do with pleasure. That any woman could fight to end reproductive rights was unfathomable to either of them. "Why write about this girl, Lauren? She could ruin everything!" They had a point: why her indeed?

As I delved deeper into the anti-feminist movement and continued interviewing women who appeared to advocate against their own rights, I often encountered the argument that I'd be a better feminist if I left them alone. By paying attention, my critics (and loved ones) argued, I legitimized them. I understand the concern. We hope that if we don't pay attention to people whose ideas we find repugnant, they will disappear, silently slinking away until — poof! — they have no public platform and thus no power. This unfortunately ignores the fact that online communities and social media enable the viral dissemination of ideas without any help at all from mainstream media. We should ignore scary movements that are so far on the fringe they might as well be dusty 1970s macramé, but the anti-feminists aren't hiding in a dark cave, quietly talking to their three trollish BFFs. Why would they, when they can connect with and broadcast to thousands? As a journalist, I've always believed the real danger comes in ignoring and dismissing, particularly when we don't like what we uncover. If we ignore these ideas we don't like, they don't go away; they fester unchecked. We can't engage with something, critically or otherwise, if we pretend it doesn't exist.

Perhaps if I interviewed enough anti-feminist women, I thought, I could understand them. If I only knew why they'd abandoned feminism, I could convince them they were wrong. I also hoped the interviews would prove me wrong: they'd show I'd overreacted, that things weren't so bad. If only. Every time I interviewed one — from a young antiabortion activist to a self-styled trophy girlfriend to a woman re-embracing housewifery — I asked the question, "What about feminism?" More often than not, I received a variation of the same shrug: What about feminism?

I knew we were really in trouble when the Women Against Feminism campaign went viral in August 2014. It featured selfies of women holding up signs on which they'd written reasons why they were against feminism. Full pages, Post-it Notes, giant poster boards, even paper plates detailed their beefs. The same themes emerged: feminism is a hateful and violent force, one that exponentially exaggerates women's oppression, dwells too much on small personal slights, devalues traditional roles, turns all women into victims, and dresses men up in villains' costumes while simultaneously ignoring their issues. It is petty, constrictive, probably racist, totally useless, and 100 percent irrelevant in the modern Western world. Here is just a small sampling of what you would have found on the movement's Tumblr and Facebook sites:

"I don't need feminism because equality of opportunity already exists."

"I don't need feminism because I don't see women as weak and pathetic victims of a nonexistent patriarchy."

"I reject feminism because being a wife and mother is the greatest joy in my life."

"This isn't 1920. We're not fighting for anything anymore. Women have freedom!" "I don't need feminism because I love men. All my friends are men. They're way nicer and less dramatic than women — especially feminists."

"I don't need feminism because your vaginas can't silence my voice."

When the movement's memes went viral, many feminists rushed to poke holes in the anti-feminist argument. The campaign had feminism so wrong, they said. It was as if those other women had taken the definition of feminism from a dictionary published on another planet: Mars, maybe. Headline after headline blared smug sentiments such as "Actually, women, you do need feminism."

Others cheered the anti-feminists. Some felt we'd already won: feminism was beating a dead horse. Perhaps capital-F feminism, the movement as monolith, deserved questioning? It had become tone-deaf, too turned in on — and against — itself. "These arguments need to be engaged, not dismissed and ridiculed," wrote Cathy Young, a Boston Globe journalist who frequently and critically tackles gender issues, often sympathizing with the rhetoric of men's rights. "The anti-feminist egalitarians," she wrote, "believe that, whatever feminism's positive past gains, its dominant modern version is hostile to men and demeaning to women. They are right."


Even a self-proclaimed diehard feminist like me could see feminism was constricting on itself like a snake, squeezing out criticism. The result was a broken sisterhood, its fault lines both varied and numerous: race, class, age, sexual orientation — it went on and on. White women especially were guilty of pancaking all women's experiences together, flattening out differences and erroneously adopting a skewed Musketeers all-for-one mentality.

Patricia Arquette unwittingly revealed the privilege problem during her 2015 acceptance speech for the Oscar for best supporting actress. "It's time for all the women in America," she said, "and all the men who love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we've fought for, to fight for us now." She stuck to her statement, even as other feminists, particularly Roxane Gay, wondered at the implications: Did Arquette think racism was a thing of the past or that all those groups were mutually exclusive?

This myopic view isn't limited to the rich and famous. Women of color repeatedly report being relegated to the sidelines of the movement. Many give up and are pushed out entirely. A handful of them have even become vocal anti-feminists. They're not the only women the movement is hemorrhaging. From the start, feminism has been notoriously unkind to transgender women. Even today, one of feminism's grandmothers, Germaine Greer, has repeatedly, publicly, said transgender women are "not women" but men.

She's not alone. In response to the increasing advocacy around transgender rights, a whole branch of anti-trans feminism has sprung up, calling itself "trans-exclusionary radical feminism." The TERFs, as they've dubbed themselves, have derided any attempt to include transgender women in the movement, barring them from their own feminist events and bullying them at others. When I organized a "We Need More Feminism" speaker series in March 2015, one transgender speaker almost bowed out because she was so afraid of the TERFs; they were already targeting the event, calling it a celebration of fake feminism and fake women. While she ultimately went on stage, she admitted she wasn't sure if feminism still had a place for her. I heard the same painful uncertainty from the women of color who spoke at the event. Women with disabilities, women in the sex trade, those on the LGBTQ spectrum — anybody, really, who doesn't neatly fit into the binary of what we like to deem normal — echoed it.

It occurred to me that night, and not for the first time, that for all its dedication to equality, feminism suffered from institutionalized exclusion, and it wasn't doing much for its bad image, not to mention the women who felt abandoned. This wasn't a case of respectfully arguing over what direction battleship Feminism should steer, or what issues it should focus its missiles on. A war was brewing within the movement, between women who believed feminism already included everyone it needed and those who knew it did not. No wonder the anti-feminists were gaining traction: we were handing out ammunition like free candy and helpfully showing them where to point the gun.

* * *

In October 2014, with the shaky state of feminism heavy on my mind, I went to the Women's Forum des Femmes, held in Canada's capital city of Ottawa. More than one hundred women of all ages filled an auditorium with laughter and hisses, cheers and boos. My thoughts were on the recent criticism of the movement, its discord, and the high stakes of it all: our lives. As feminism publicly crumbled, and the undercurrents of anti-feminism spilled over, we were already losing ground at home, at school, at work, on the streets, and in our bedrooms, courtrooms, and boardrooms.


Excerpted from "F-Bomb"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Lauren McKeon.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 How feminism became today's dirtiest word

1 We've got a long way to go, baby: Confronting the dangerous myth that we've made it 9

2 Feminists eat their young: The fourth wave, a fractured sisterhood, and the cataclysmic divide between feminist generations 33

3 F-bomb generation: Empowerment, millennial women, and the "I'm not a feminist, but…" choir 59

2 On the front lines of the new women-on-women gender wars

4 How a feMRA is made: In conversation with the leaders of today's rising women-led anti-feminist movement 81

5 The domestic wife: The problem with retro revival, the new motherhood, and the glamorization of pre-feminist gender roles 107

6 One at the top, five million at the bottom: How we sold ourselves the equal-opportunity lie and grew the violent push to keep women out of the workforce 137

7 It's your fault: How anti-feminists narrowed the definition of rape and revived the deadly, viral culture of slut shaming and victim blaming 165

8 Teen spirit: Clinic closures, access attacks, and the pro-woman rebranding of today's anti-abortion activists 195

3 The future is feminist

9 Reason for hope: The young women and girls who are giving misogyny the middle finger 221

10 Defining the new feminism: How we can harness the discord and create a better feminism for the future 245

Epilogue 261

Acknowledgments 270

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“However you define feminism, read this book . . . This compassionate airing of our failings clears the ways forward. Race, privilege, gender, sexuality; the work to be done, your invitation to the conversation, is here.”

—Karen Walton, screenwriter, Orphan Black

F-Bomb is a wonderfully uncomfortable peek into the lives and perspectives of folks who need to be seen, heard, and understood for the good of the feminist movement . . . a much-needed commentary that will both anger and inspire you.”

—Rachel Ricketts, founder, lossandfoundxo.com

F-Bomb is the antidote to feeling at a loss for examples of why intersectional feminism is so very urgently needed now . . . McKeon has written a necessary call to action.”

—Erin Wunker, author, Notes from a Feminist Killjoy

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