A few months ago I read a book by Jessa Crispin called Why I Am Not a Feminist: a Feminist Manifesto. It made me mad. Crispin is critical of everyone in her book. She hates on stay-at-home moms and successful single ladies. She criticizes women who “shop for over-priced blueberries.” Then she condemns the woman who buys “the cheap grocery store rotisserie chicken” because “fuck it, the organic chicken is $7 more and not even cooked yet and it was a long day at the office.”
This makes me mad because it seems unfair to me that whether I pick the organic chicken or the not organic chicken I am being judged as a bad person. So eating makes me a bad person.
I’m also mad because I am the exact person that Jessa Crispin is talking about in this book. On the good days I buy organic, on the bad days I buy whatever is easiest to reach, and on my worst days I buy bacon egg and cheese sandwiches from the gas station. You know that there is something wrong with a bacon egg and cheese that costs $1.50. Could be the ingredients, the treatment of the animals, the wages of the people who brought this sandwich into being. Probably all of those things.
Anyway, I ate it.
Recently I was talking to a friend about being subversive and I said, we should all just get rid of all of our stuff and move to the country and live in our tents. And he shook his head and me and said, that’s not really subversive.
But, how dare you, I thought, this is my subversive dream! I’ve been scheming for years about how one day I will get rid of all of my stuff except for my bike, my tent, my toothbrush, my glasses, my contacts and a grimy pair of khakis just like the ones that Mia Wasikowska wears in the movie Tracks.
I’m not the only one who thinks that it’s subversive to sleep in a tent and live off the land. Robyn Davidson, who walked across the Australian desert in the 1970s writes, “If people started living out their fantasies, and refusing to accept the fruitless boredom that is offered them as normality, they would become hard to control.” You have to admit, that sounds pretty revolutionary. At the very least when you’re living in a tent you are buying a lot less stuff and not depositing your checks at a corrupted bank.
I will concede, however, that it’s usually when I’m living in my tent that I eat bacon egg and cheese sandwiches from gas stations.
More concerning still, is that most of my subversive, rugged-adventurer heroes are white and privileged. Their stories have been taken up by big publishing houses and popular magazines and even made into films. Robyn writes in her book that by becoming a myth her story loses its ability to subvert. Is it possible for our most popular stories–like those of Jack Kerouac or Chris McCandless–to be subversive? Or is a popular subversion story an oxymoron?
This is kind of what Jessa Crispin is saying in her book about feminism. Feminism has become so mainstream that it is no longer revolutionary which is why Crispin is not a feminist anymore (sorry I gave away the ending). The same could be said for all kinds of movements and people. It’s easy now to compost and call yourself and environmentalist, or Konmari your room and call yourself a minimalist, or buy a shirt that says feminist and call yourself a feminist.
Or you can be efficient like me–all I do is not shave my legs and it makes me an environmentalist, minimalist and feminist all at the same time. So when I’m feeling guilty for buying an expensive pair of leggings from Under Armour, I tell myself–it’s okay, I didn’t shave my legs today so I’m still kind of radical.
The thing is, it doesn’t work like that. I can’t use my good choices to justify my bad choices. I can’t be like–great I did three subversive things today, that’s enough!
As for Jessa Crispin, I think she makes a good point, but she could have been a bit clearer about everything. Instead of saying, I’m judging you for buying the organic blueberries and the not organic chicken and owning a white noise machine (confusing, right?) she should say, hey, I know you’re buying the organic blueberries because they’re good for you and you’re buying the not organic chicken because it’s easy for you and I get it because I do that too, but how about you do something for someone else instead of you?
And this is where the argument for my rugged individualists really falters again. Because when we go off into the forest it is usually for ourselves. And if we do it for ourselves does that mean it can’t be subversive?
So I guess the take away is to try to be subversive whenever possible and to remember that the most subversive choice will usually mean helping someone else more than helping yourself. And if you buy expensive yoga pants, Jessa Crispin will probably judge you, but I will not. That would be hypocritical of me.