This is not the year for watered-down, flimsy-ass feminism. Women’s rights to bodily autonomy hang precariously in the balance; Black women are still three times more likely to die in childbirth in this country than white women; Latina and Hispanic women who flee to the United States seeking safety with their children are finding themselves criminalized and separated from them; all of us still get paid less than men (and women of color get paid less than white women). My point is, if your feminism isn’t inclusive and intersectional and nuanced and tough, maybe you should consider moving to an island where you and Peggy Noonan can be happy together saying things like, “It’s not racist to point out that she comes across unprofessional…,” about women like barrier-breaking vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
I get real worked up when some conservatism appears in my feed masquerading as women’s empowerment. I’ve been having some pretty weird (and realistic!) pandemic dreams lately, and when I came across a voting PSA featuring Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, my home state, recorded for the Skimm, a newsletter which happens to specialize in watered-down, flimsy-ass feminism, it seemed a little too on brand. If I had to read the Skimm regularly, my eyeballs would be permanently fixed toward the back of my skull from rolling them so hard. The language is cutesy at best, infantilizing at worst, and its approach immediately brings to mind words like “empow-HER-ment” and “SHE-E-O,” punny approaches to addressing inequality through language that could never fix anything, but gosh aren’t they adorable!
It’s not so much that Blackburn exhibits this sort of silliness—she does not at all, actually—but she was Trumpian before Donald Trump ever thought about running for the presidency, and when he was elected, she fell in line so fast it’s a wonder she didn’t accidentally launch herself into the sun with all that momentum. She is, however, a master at wrapping herself in the sheerest cloak of white feminism possible. Over the years, she has led attacks on Planned Parenthood and abortion rights broadly, all in the name, of course, of protecting us women. She has voted against equal pay protections for women several times, claiming, “women don’t want it.” She co-sponsored the wildly unscientific Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. But yeah, Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court was a big victory for women! Sure.
So when I see Blackburn encouraging people to vote on the Skimm—and when I see the Skimm, which reaches some 7 million inboxes each day, giving her such a big damn platform—you’ll forgive me if I meet it with some skepticism. Because all I can hear is a woman who has benefitted from wealth and white privilege encouraging others like her to vote in their best interests, not in the best interests of the disempowered and disenfranchised in this country. I guess it makes sense for the Skimm, which specializes in taking deep social and political issues and simply skimming the top off of them, discarding the substance. —Becca Andrews