A Frank Talk With Jessa Crispin About Why Modern-Day Feminism Is Full of Shit

Images courtesy of Melville House Publishing and Chuck Kuan.
Images courtesy of Melville House Publishing and Chuck Kuan.

In the Spring of 2016, writer Jessa Crispin abruptly closed her beloved literary blog Bookslut and subsequently gave Vulture a fiery interview, in which she revealed that she was writing a new book on why “contemporary feminism is not only embarrassing but incredibly misguided to the point where I can’t associate myself with it.”


Less than a year later, Crispin’s Why I’m Not a Feminist: a Feminist Manifesto is here and, much like her edged statement last year, her summation of contemporary feminism will surely rankle its feminist readers. But unlike other critics of contemporary feminism, Crispin does not seek to be controversial. Instead, she strives to expose just how far feminism has gotten from its original goal—to rebuild a society based on equality and fairness—and how incredibly diluted the word “feminist” has become.

Despite distancing herself from the term, Crispin is indeed cut from the same cloth as the radical feminists of the ’60s and ’70s, when activists sought to confront and tear down the systems that bind us rather than work to fit into them, and when community was stressed over individual success. It’s probably been a long time since you’ve read a book so heavy on references to Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone—particularly one that grapples with their work with seriousness and rigor.

There’s nothing dry or boring about Why I’m Not a Feminist, but it still finds ways to chafe—particularly in its unflinching and convincing condemnation of just how retrograde and blind we’ve become to how our self-empowerment disenfranchises others, and the ways we reward performative victimhood over tried and true activism. By denouncing feminism, Crispin does not fail it. Rather she illuminates how the cause itself has deteriorated over time.

“Don’t worry,” she writes in her introduction (though worry you might), continuing:

...this is not where I insist I am not a feminist because I’m afraid of being mistaken for one of those hairy-legged, angry, man-hating feminists who are drawn up like bogeymen by men and women alike. Nor will I now reassure you of my approachability, my reasonable nature, my heteronormativity, my love of men and my sexual availability—despite the fact that this disclaimer appears to be a prerequisite for all feminist writing published in the last fifteen years.

If anything, that pose—I am harmless, I am toothless, you can fuck me—is why I find myself rejecting the feminist label. All of these bad feminists, all these Talmudic “can you be a feminist and still have a bikini wax?” discussions. All these reassurances to their (male) audience that they don’t want too much, won’t go too far—“We don’t know what Andrea Dworkin was on about either! Trust us!” All of these feminists giving blow jobs like it’s missionary work.

I’ve yet to reach the point where I find contemporary feminism to be an entirely embarrassing failure, but I do agree with Crispin’s assertion that many feminists, in all our eagerness to get ahead and go mainstream, have lost any sense of radicalism—and philosophy—along the way. We’ve forgotten, to quote Crispin, “that for something to be universally accepted, it must become as banal, as non-threatening and ineffective as possible.” Similar to a lot of current day political discourse, we now shy away from intellectualism, perhaps even spurning it in favor of poorly researched, poorly written personal essays and girl power platitudes. Rather than focus on women who are actually disenfranchised, she poses that many of us would rather inflate our own victimhood—a time-honored tactic to avoid responsibility—and make excuses for our greed and lack of empathy.

“To understand how on the surface contemporary feminism really is,” Crispin writes, “we only need note that the most common markers of feminism’s success are the same markers of success in patriarchal capitalism.”


A few paragraphs later, she adds, “Women who conduct themselves as ruthlessly and thoughtlessly as their male peers are not heroes, they are not role models. And they may call themselves feminists, getting themselves a free pass by many, but that does not mean they should be celebrated.”

So her steadfastness is, more than anything else, where Crispin’s writing is remarkable. She does not attempt, as many other writers do, to reaffirm her values and choices, both political and personal. Instead, she confronts them head on—and forces the reader (if they’re willing, though many will not be) to do the same.


She writes:

We keep losing women to participation in the system, instead of where they should be, which is insubordination. The idea that you can make the strongest impact by influencing culture from the inside is naive at best, disingenuous at worst.


In late January, I sat down with Crispin to talk about Why I’m Not a Feminist, the anti-intellectualism of contemporary feminism, celebrity worship, cognitive dissonance, the areas where we disagreed, and more. Our conversation, which you can read below, lasted well over an hour and resulted in a 13-page transcript. It has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

JEZEBEL: Why choose the title Why I’m Not a Feminist for a book that’s so ruthlessly feminist?


JESSA CRISPIN: I guess the short answer of that is I feel like—and maybe the second wave was the last time that this was true—there used to be an understanding of what the word “feminism” meant. Now it’s been used in so many marketing campaigns and to justify so many terrible things—pro-life groups are even using it. Now I could say “I’m a feminist” and that doesn’t necessarily convey anything to you. That word is not going to give you an understanding of where I’m coming from. And so, while I’m a feminist in the sense that I believe in the philosophy, I am not a feminist in that I don’t think the word is useful anymore.

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.

I don’t even mean to make her a target.

I took out names from the book—from first draft to last draft—because writing it, I was like, if you name someone’s name, Twitter and clickbait media are going to turn it into a feud between you and that person. It’s not gonna be an understandable criticism of philosophy. It’s gonna be “JESSA CRISPIN DESTROYS LENA DUNHAM” or whatever.


Besides it’s not any one person who’s doing the wrong thing. The whole culture has gone to a weird place. But at the same time, I don’t feel that women are in a uniquely terrible place.

It’s been far worse.

It’s just that now, the people who are actually very regressive and retrograde are embracing the word “feminist,” whereas in the second wave, you had mainstream women’s culture refusing to use the name, horrified by the name, and actively getting in the way of the feminist movement. From fashion magazines to journalists to moms to whatever. They were actively fighting against their feminist sisters. And now it’s that the feminists are being blocked by more people calling themselves feminists. It’s the same situation, except now it’s more confusing.


In the book, you write about Twitter mob mentality and the trend that, rather than disagreeing and discussing, people now prefer to pile on and shut down the discussion. The concept of disagreement has been lost.

The thing is that now everybody has a side. And everyone wants to perform bravery or white-knighting or whatever it is. Like when the #YesAllWomen thing—it started off as a conversation and then turned into something insane, which was people stealing other people’s traumatic events and reposting it as their own.


Somebody made the joke, you know, “Why do you think women always go to the bathroom in groups? It’s because they’re afraid of men,” or something like that. But then everyone was saying the exact same joke because they saw that the first person who did it got a lot of retweets. So there’s this performance of “I want attention, how do I get attention?” And right now in the Twitter world, I get attention by trying to destroy someone else.


I think it was one of your Bookslut bloggers, Broadly editor Lauren Oyler, who introduced me to the phrase “fav wave feminism.”

That’s good.

“Self-care” is another one of those ideas that’s been bastardized. It started off as an Audre Lorde philosophy that addressed the struggles of activist women of color and now it’s applied to, I don’t know, getting a blowout. 


And pedicures.

Even if your pedicurist is basically a slave.

That’s the thing. There’s that Rebecca Traister book, All the Single Ladies. It’s all about this self-empowerment feminism—like “look at these brave women living their urban lives and chasing their dreams.” She talks about how the city can provide you the spousal care that a wife used to provide her husband—it can cook your food, launder your clothes, blah blah blah. But the city doesn’t do that shit. Immigrants do that shit. You can’t pretend that “the city” is a benevolent creature.


Or a conveyor belt system.

Right. You can’t think of it as an abstract. People are cleaning your underwear. People are cooking your food and then bringing it to your house and you’re tipping them a dollar or whatever. Because the self-care thing got so warped and turned into something ridiculous, people don’t think about it when they talk about the consequences of who’s caring for you. It’s not self-care if someone else is doing your hair.


I know I personally have been struggling with how to live in a capitalist society—which is inherently patriarchal—and balancing how to exist (which involves accepting the system, to a certain degree) and how to simultaneously resist. The great part of your book, but also the really depressing part, is that I don’t know if there’s a solution to that struggle and it feels hopeless.


Do you think creating a fairer, more feminist society is an impossible effort?

I don’t! I don’t live in New York City, but I feel like I need to get farther away from it because it really is the epitome of capitalism. And it’s mostly women! I mean, men are running it, but there are more women than men and I’m like, “don’t you know what you’re participating in?”


Plus how’s a girl supposed to get a date, right?

Oh, god!

So yeah, I need to get away, but I don’t feel hopeless because I know how quickly things historically change. One day there’s a Berlin Wall and the next day there’s just fucking not. One day there’s a dictator and the next day there’s just fucking not. Change is possible, but we’re in a weird place where people on the left, particularly writers and artists, have lost their imagination of how things can be different.


There’s that Mark Fisher quote, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” There used to be a real socialist resistance in America, but we’ve all given up, like, this is how it is. I feel like a lot of the reasons so many writers are even in New York is not because this is where the jobs are, though that’s somewhat true, but because we’re hooking into another generation’s imagination of what a writer’s supposed to be—“a writer is supposed to be in New York.” But that’s the fucking post-war generation!

So we need rethink ways of simply existing on the planet.


Right, me going to work at the Univision offices is hardly close to being holed up at the Chelsea Hotel with a bunch of heroin or something. Point being... we should all do more heroin.

We should definitely do more heroin.

That’s going to be my pull quote.


It writes itself! Do you think it’s possible to be a feminist and not devote every action of your life to feminism?


[Long pause] No.


[Laughs] I don’t feel like feminist acts are just making posters and knitting caps and marching in the street. As a writer, it’s become increasingly important to me that everything I write lines up with my value system and not make work that doesn’t or write for publications that don’t line up with my value system. I do feel like we’re in a place where even at the baseline, we don’t know where to find value. We used to get our value from religion, but that was bad so we got rid of religion. But where do we get it from now? Do we get it from the capitalist culture that values greed, competition and selfishness?


Where do we get it from? I think that we think that we can figure that out on our own, but we can’t. Human beings are not that smart. We’re not that logical and rational. We absorb shit just from observing, so really rethinking and understanding that our values need to be recalibrated is really important—especially for feminism, which has, if anything, taken on patriarchal values. In the last 20 years, feminism has embraced competition and greed, like, “I’m making in-roads if I make six figures a year because I’m a woman.”

It’s very much that thing of asking for a seat at the table instead of just fucking smashing that table to pieces. It is hard, though, to imagine a world where everyone can participate in the bucking of capitalism and the patriarchy. Most poor-to-middle class people can’t afford to buy fair trade clothing that we know are made in ethical environments. They have to feed into the capitalist system because buying clothes at Old Navy is all they can afford and it’s how they get their basic needs met.


But, on the other hand, that’s why capitalism is so insidious—it makes you crave it and it makes you need it.

Yeah, but the solution to the problem of consumerism isn’t better consumerism or smarter consumerism. I run this radical reading group [laughs] and we were talking last night about how we, as a society, have recently decided we can buy independence, we can buy radicalism, we can buy political participation rather than create it. So we think we can donate money to Planned Parenthood and fix Planned Parenthood. But it’s not about “if I buy the organic blueberries then I’m a hero” and it’s not about “if I donate money to Planned Parenthood, I’m a hero.” It’s, again, “I live a life in alignment with my values.”


Do you or do you not? Do you even know what your values are?

And you touch on this a lot in the book: giving up the idea of heroism because it inherently means that you’re holding yourself above the community that you serve.


Yes. And that’s a very patriarchal notion, rescue. So just having integrity is a radical act. Being uncompromising is a radical act. In this era, we’re really afraid—and maybe this is more true pre-election than post-election, but having standards and sincerity was not really looked well upon by the writer community or intellectual community. There’s much more of a cynical remove from everything.

And this is extra cynical, but I think we—and I include Jezebel in this, though we’ve gotten much better about it—have latched onto phony displays of anger over constructive argument. The sort of “one man did something wrong, let’s go fuck him up” kind of thing. And I get the impulse because it feels good, when you’ve been historically disenfranchised, that taste of power feels so satisfying. These online displays of anger read similarly, like here is a scapegoat, go after him instead of reforming the system that created him.


Yeah, I mean it feels really good and it feels productive. What doesn’t feel productive is just sort of living your life and organizing within your community. It doesn’t have the same thrilling bloodlust of “I destroyed a man and got him to lose his job or whatever because he told a bad joke or wore the wrong shirt.”

In the book, you give context to the anecdote about British scientist Tim Hunt who faced intense backlash for saying “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.” Yeah, it wasn’t a wise thing to say at a conference, and it’s especially inappropriate when he was speaking to a room of female scientists, but it turns out he was making a joke about his wife [immunologist Mary Collins] who, yes, he met in a lab.


Oh, my god, that guy!

It’s one of those things where I remember the hubbub, which I took at face value. I need to train myself not to do that.


Yeah. I mean part of the problem then is that there’s a large population of Jonathan Chaits or whatever who are ready to ready to write condemning think pieces about political correctness and mob mentality in feminism. And fuck those guys, too.

Actually Jonathan Chait’s the one person we should always take at face value and never dig deeper on. But let’s move on from that dork. Do you feel it’s more productive to use your book as a critique of feminism rather than a greater critique of the patriarchy?


I feel like you have to do both. We were talking about this last night at the reading group, too—the Meryl Streep speech at the Golden Globes. I feel like her time would have been spent more wisely if she addressed the room in front of her. If she had said, “We need to do better. We need to understand that the stories that we tell affect this culture. We need to understand that for the past 20 years, we’ve been doing movies where Muslims are nothing but terrorists, et cetera.”

I think that’s a more productive conversation than “Aren’t we all so brave,” which is essentially what she said.


The amount we look to celebrities, especially woman celebrities, to be our moral and ethical guiding posts is ridiculous.

Yeah, because they’re rich! But their values are different than ours.

And they’re going to be fine pretty much no matter what happens.

Right. Like Amy Schumer threatening to move to London if Trump won the election. [Editor’s note: Schumer later stated that the comment was made in jest.] Like, you’re the least likely to have anything affected by the Trump administration. Maybe give your money to people who need to go to Canada for abortions. Just send all the women from North Dakota who need abortions to Canada.


Speaking of the election, you touch on the over-eagerness we had to embrace a woman candidate, even one who’s a Wall Street-friendly war hawk. But ultimately, despite Hillary Clinton’s faults, we’re learning that there’s a huge difference between a Clinton presidency and a Trump one. 

Yes, of course! Environmentally and with women’s health issues, absolutely. But was she going to be a terrible president? Yes! That’s a conversation we should have had during the primaries, but instead what we had was Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright with their “special place in hell” speech. That would have been the time to have that conversation, but people who tried to have it, the women, were—what did Gloria Steinem say? That young women were backing Bernie Sanders because it was a good way to meet men?


[Editor’s note: Steinem’s exact quote, in a February 5, 2016, appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher, was, “Not to overgeneralize, but... men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age. And, when you’re young, you’re thinking, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.” The day after it aired, Steinem apologized and clarified her statements.]

And it’s one thing people have always said about Gloria Steinem—she was never without a boyfriend. She didn’t marry any of them, but she was never without a male partner. [Ed. Note: Steinem married David Bale in 2000; he died three years later.] And I think that says something. I don’t trust someone who always has a boyfriend. I don’t!


I’m in a partnership for the first time in a really long time and it’s something I struggle with all the time. I have to question myself a lot more than before because everything I did before was independent just by virtue of me being alone. It’s interesting to see my reactions now that I’m in something more traditional because I keep find myself automatically slipping into a more patriarchal role because it’s comfortable and there’s safety in that.

Yeah, I find it so weird that after we got rid of marriage as a way to pass down property and control family and women’s sexuality, we were still like, “I still want to do it! Just for fun!” I don’t understand! That’s another thing—like people who get married, I’m like, that’s not a feminist! You’re not totally with the cause if you’re married and calling yourself a feminist.


A friend of mine and I have been discussing this at length recently—like yeah, it is programmed into your head that marriage is what you want or, at least, what you should want. So it’s very hard to then turn around and ask yourself “why do I want it? Why do I want to be a part of an institution that has historically enslaved women, an institution that now barely matters?”


I saw my older sister get married. She was, you know, the hairy-legged, army boots-wearing feminist, then all of the sudden she’s wearing a fucking veil and white dress and it was like... all right? My dad walked her down the aisle and handed her over. It was disgusting, but I couldn’t discuss it with her because this is what she wanted. It’s amazing how every person in this culture just happens to want the same fucking thing, isn’t it. Like we don’t question that maybe we’ve been brainwashed by years and years of entertainment.

You write about how we, as feminists, have yet to provide a system that’s a good alternative to marriage and I’m curious about what an alternative system would look like to you.


The thing about it is—God, where to start. Cities are organized around couples now. New York City used to have hotels for single women that had automatic communities available to them, so that they could live their lives within that construct and be fed socially and systematically. There was a system of support set up. Now you have to do everything on your own. You have to cook your own food—unless you pay someone else to do it for you—you have to create your own sense of style, and you have to create your own social networks because we’re so divorced from community.

We move every couple years—we’re very mobile, very cut off from family, so we have to recreate that everywhere we go. There’s no institutional support for living a single life without participating in the oppression of the underpaid care workers, like we spoke about earlier. In Manhattan, there’s micro-housing now, these 250-square-foot apartments that come with an app called Hello Alfred that helps you take care of all the things you can’t take care of in your tiny fucking apartment. They do your grocery shopping for you, they pick up and deliver your laundry, walk your pets. It’s an unseen force and it’s all done for you and it’s $2,500 to live in these apartments.


When I lived in Berlin, there was this proposal for housing—your apartment was small, but it had a private bathroom, living space and bedroom, but then a communal kitchen and other communal living spaces. The idea was that every age group would live in these spaces, so the elderly would live alongside children alongside single professionals alongside married couples and the expectation was communal care. So if you didn’t come down for breakfast for three days, someone would notice and come check on you. Just how different the Manhattan idea of independent life is—it’s so sterile compared to the vibrant and interconnected world of the Berlin proposal... which is not being built, apparently.

It certainly shows a lot about where we assign value. With the Manhattan building, it’s saying “these are the years that you’re deserving of our services,” when you’re a young professional making money. Whereas the other system is more of a net that can catch you at all points of life.


Moving on, I was really intrigued by the idea in your book about safety versus peace. You write, “Safety is about control. In order to feel safe, things have to be made predictable. And the only way in life to make something predictable is to control the outcome. Whether that is through manipulation or abuse, it is an unethical impingement on other people’s freedom.”

It made me think a lot about what safe spaces have come to mean. What we should be stressing is empathetic spaces—spaces where we’re being thoughtful and kind to one another and considering each other’s experiences.


I feel like something people don’t talk about is how the “safe space” thing started at these very hoity-toity university systems where you can basically buy your experiences. Like, if you pay enough money, you can control your experiences in this world, which begets the expectation of “I paid this money, I don’t want to feel uncomfortable, I don’t want to be offended, I don’t want to read anything that I don’t want to read.”

I think that’s a bad mentality to walk into the world with—where if I pay money, then I don’t have to experience things that I don’t want to experience.


You can climb into your Oberlin nap pod and block it all out.

I went to the Google office to visit a friend and talk about fucking safe spaces! They have these little cubbies that practically hug you while you sit there and read. It was very kindergarten. Silicon Valley should be called out on their safe space bullshit more than anyone else. Like, “I need the Google bus because I need wi-fi and tinted windows so I don’t have to look at the homeless people on my way to work.”


Ugh, fuck those people.

A lot of the rhetoric in your book is a call to arms—this idea that “we need you on the side of radical feminism.” Do you view yourself as someone who manages to live outside of the patriarchy?


One is always trying to get to that space, right? I mean, if you have sex with a man, you’re automatically in the patriarchy, so that’s a problem for heterosexual girls like myself, but, you know, you try!

I try to work mostly for women and women editors, but a lot of publications are owned ultimately by men. You do what you can, but I feel like there exists this kind of damaging need for purity. I talk a little about this in the context of investigating women’s pasts to discredit them. I remember reading this thing about Simone de Beauvoir that was like, “Look at her relationship with Sartre—you can never take anything she said about feminism seriously if she was in a subjugative relationship in her romantic life.” Counterpoint: the bitch knows something about subjugation! Whenever someone takes a radical position, the easiest way to not take them seriously is to investigate their life and say, oh but she slept with this guy, or she worked this way for the patriarchy, etc.


But I try to live an open enough life.


It’s interesting, though, how resistant people are to the critiquing their own sex lives.

We like to think that we have control over our desire, that we’ve chosen it. I mean, you see that with straight people talking about gay people. You know, “I’m not gay so that means I chose to be heterosexual and they could to if they really wanted to.” We want to think we have control.


There’s a certain segment of feminists who are like “pole dancing classes are so empowering” and “bikini waxes are so empowering blah blah blah.” No, it’s not. You’re trying to make yourself available. Just say that! Just say it! I don’t understand why people need to cloak certain things under a feminist label that are clearly not feminist. But they do it in order to not feel cognitive dissonance. You can have two conflicting ideas. You can want to be fuckable and you can want to destroy the patriarchy. I have this same conflict. Everyone does.

We now use the word “feminism” to defend ourselves both against ourselves and against other people. Well, this is a feminist act so I don’t have to interrogate it, basically.


I don’t have any problems with conflicted behavior as long as the person understands that they’re conflicted.

Yeah, I mean I love the Real Housewives and The Bachelor, but I’m not gonna try and say that they’re feminist TV shows.


People spend so much time giving feminist critiques or feminist defenses of the Kardashians, and I don’t think you can legitimately do that. Under no definition of feminism are the Kardashians feminist. So let’s just admit that you like watching garbage and then go watch your garbage! I watch garbage, too!

I notice that forced feminist lens often coupled with accusations of “[blank]-shaming.” There are times when it’s very much legitimate, but I feel like it’s increasingly used as a way for privileged women to feel victimized over stupid things so their lives feel, I don’t know, brave? Like, if I say I don’t like bob haircuts, it becomes hair-shaming. For the record... I have a bob and think they’re GREAT.


I used to have a bob, but I’m too lazy to get a haircut.

That’s very feminist of you.

I’m pure like that. [Laughs]

Do you think your ideal feminism is too strict? That kind of lifestyle feels like a big ask because, as you point out in the book, we might never see the rewards of that sacrifice, but maybe our children’s children will if the world doesn’t melt first. So I get why women might be like, “fuck building a new system, I’m just going to exploit the one we already have and that I’m stuck in.”


Yeah, apathy. But who wants to live their life like that? Not to get all preachy, but what’s actually rewarding? We think that it’s money. Everything we’re told we want and what we’re told feels good—all it does is take us farther away from our actual lives.

What actually feels good is talking to other people, taking care of one another, supporting other people so that you’re supported, having conversations, being engaged, and participating in your own existence. And everything about our culture tries to get us as far away from that as possible.


The more I travel, the more I talk to people—the people who seem the happiest and most satisfied are poor organizers who are actively engaged in their communities and their own individual lives. The most miserable people I see are rich assholes who treat other people like garbage. So to me, it’s not a question of not being rewarded for becoming radicalized. It’s that the rewards you expect aren’t going to come to you and that’s fine.

One reason people are drawn to you as a writer is that ever since Bookslut, you’ve been very fearless about criticism. People can disagree with you and you don’t mind, it’s fine. Reading Why I’m Not a Feminist, I found certain passages that can and likely will be taken out of context. Do you have a way of preparing yourself for that or is it just that you don’t care?


I’m going to India. Anytime I have a book come out, I leave the country, like, nope, I’m just gonna go!

I deleted my Facebook account because there were a lot of people who thought I was an idiot and needed me to know that they thought I was an idiot. And I’m fine with strangers thinking I’m an idiot, but when they want you to know it…


You have to ask yourself do I respect the person saying this about me? If the answer is no, then who fucking cares. But if someone I respect is suddenly saying, “Hey, you crossed the line, I don’t understand you anymore,” then I hope that I would have the strength of character to examine where they were coming from. But if it’s just some trash can person on the internet thinking that I’m an asshole, I don’t fucking care.

Besides, I had a dick for a dad, so I’m used to arguing with somebody. [Laughs]

Why I’m Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto is out now.

Full disclosure: Following this interview, Madeleine was asked to participate in curated conversation with Jessa Crispin at the New York Public Library this Spring.



Do you think it’s possible to be a feminist and not devote every action of your life to feminism?

I think you can, but you cant go around acting like every action you do is feminist just because you are a woman and you did something. I (usually) shave my legs. And sure, I like the feeling of them being smooth. But I would never even have considered shaving them to begin with if it wasnt for a patriarchal society that constantly pounded into my head how unattractive being hairy was. Shaving my legs is not a feminist action, it isnt self care;it is me bending to social norms. And you know what? Thats ok to me. Fighting the patriarchy is exhausting, and there are no brownie points for being the perfectfeminist. We can pick battles, and shave, or take your husbands name, or get cosmetic surgery. Just dont pretend those things are feminist.They arent, and that isnt the end of the world.