An article caught my eye this morning, as I was scrolling down my newsfeed and psyching myself up for a busy day. The title of the El Informador article read ‘El feminismo actual me produce bostezos: Valeria Luiselli’ (Feminism nowadays makes me yawn: Valeria Luiselli). I didn’t read the piece immediately, instead making a screenshot to remind me to go back to it later and find out why one of the best Mexican authors of the moment, Valeria Luiselli, thinks modern feminism is boring. And that I did.
The piece talks about her El País column titled ‘Nuevo feminismo’ (New feminism) which, according to El Informador, sparked a ton of debate online when it was published almost two weeks ago now. It discusses a few of the phrases in particular that caused this seemingly instantaneous outrage, including gems like ‘cuando lo oigo venir, me predispongo a una sordera selectiva’ (‘when the topic of feminism comes up, I’m predisposed to selective deafness’). However, the piece also mentions the comments Luiselli herself has made in response to her critics, claiming that her text is not anti-feminist, rather that many have misunderstood it. In light of this, I read the original piece and you should too. Here you go.
Brief, to the point and as well written as anything Luiselli does, in the piece she parallels the feminist movement of the present with the feminist movement of the 60s. She talks of WASPs sewing pink pussy hats, women marching to defend their reproductive rights and her students claiming intersectionality in class (she’s a lecturer at a university in New York). She goes on to claim all the intelligent, brilliant women she knows have given up free and complex thought and reverted to marching with banners in the street. Her closing lines state that ‘Me queda claro: el nuevo feminismo vendrá del espacio exterior. No será ideológico, sino muy material, micro-meteórico, lunar y colorado.’ (‘It’s clear to me that new feminism will come from outer space. It won’t be ideological, but rather tangible, micro-meteoric, lunar and colourful.’) In short, she appears to imply that modern feminism is boring.
On the one hand, I feel like her points are valid. Feminist discussion has stagnated. However, that is because women’s rights continue to be sidelined by many. Just this year, a president took office in the US and immediately began hacking away at reproductive rights, trans rights and, generally, human rights. Women around the world face repression on a daily basis, both in the US (where Luiselli is based) and further afield. In fact, in her native Mexico, seven women a day are still killed by men in acts of femicide for no other reason than that they are women. I agree that the discussion has stagnated but that’s because the progress has too. How can we move forward in the things we talk about and the rights we fight for when far more basic ones remain out of our reach? Therefore, her apparent rancour towards women protesting about ‘the same old topics’ seems misguided and short-sighted.
Her reference to an Afro-American friend scoffing at the reproductive marches strikes me as inflammatory, insinuating that black women aren’t interested in their reproductive rights. Seemingly her intention was to show that black women have far more of a struggle on their hands than white women, but really, does claiming they’re tired with fighting for reproductive rights best demonstrate that? Furthermore, I actually think the fact so many women and men mobilised to march in support of reproductive rights was incredibly important and the banners that got so much traction on social medias on helped to spread the feminist message further. That’s no bad thing.
Honestly? I’ll let the pussy hat comment slide, because do I find that ‘activist’ side of today’s feminist movement a little twee and distracting, taking attention away from the actual matter at hand. But still, I wouldn’t actively criticise the women coming together in the name of feminism, because it strikes me as, dare I say, anti-feminist?
Overall, I can see why this piece has been misinterpreted. I don’t believe that Luiselli either intended to or did entirely write an anti-feminist article. She makes good points about the stagnation of feminist discussion but only demonstrates that her response to that isn’t to understand why the conversation has stagnated, but rather to roll her eyes and write a thinkpiece about it in a national newspaper judging women who actually are engaging with the movement. This is bad, mainly because the last thing such an already so hugely misunderstood and misrepresented movement needs is an influential, prevalent and, above all, articulate woman writing in contra to it.
One key thing to note though is that feminism is not referred to in and of itself as boring. Instead, she calls the preoccupations and tactics of the feminist movement boring and I don’t entirely disagree – I’m also sick and tired of hearing the same old arguments over and over again, and of having to defend my feminist views to students who think I’m a man-hating weirdo. Even so, I’d argue that the really boring part about feminism is actually the amount of people who are still so apparently confounded about why it needs to exist, rather than the apparently endless marches Luiselli finds so tedious.
Having said that, and taking into consideration all the misinterpretation this article admittedly lends itself to, I still think it’s a shame that a successful Mexican author like Luiselli would deem the feminist worries of the day and activist activities as ‘yawn inducing’. As a writer, you’d think she’d know just how readily people misunderstand and misinterpret, and as someone with the status she has, you’d also think she’d know just how many of those people would be ready to blindly accept her opinions, misconstrued or otherwise. That’s why it’s really such a shame that she called feminism ‘boring’.