Susan Faludi, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of the 1991 feminist work, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, has released a new book about her relationship with her transgender father. In the Darkroom is a family memoir exploring the complex relationship between Susan and her estranged father after he underwent sex reassignment surgery. “In many ways ‘In The Darkroom’ is an exemplary feminist memoir because the story crystalizes around two women who face each other, and who in turn arrive to deeper, more nuanced understandings of themselves and one another through their engagement,” wrote Marcie Bianco in an article for Salon.com.
The idea of women facing each other is important in this time of social media, when exposing your nipples on Instagram masquerades as women’s liberation and pop culture icons are making feminism cool again. As the media dissects, compares and critiques Beyoncé and Taylor Swift’s particular brands of ‘modern feminism’, the reality is that multi-millionaire pop stars espousing female empowerment are as feminist as the ‘girl power’ slogan the Spice Girls spruiked in the 1990’s.
When it’s cool to call yourself a feminist because Beyoncé says she’s one, do young women recognise the misogyny on which our society is constructed? Do they understand that feminism is the fight for political, economic, social and personal equality? Are they aware of the intersection between racism, sexism and homophobia? If you analyse social media today, the answer to these questions has to be an emphatic no. When we judge other women for their physical beauty, their weight, their sexual partners, their sense of style or their mothering skills, we’re acting out of our own internalised misogyny. When we posit that successful women must be manipulative bitches, we’re agreeing with the sexist stereotypes and rules society has set down for women. When we criticise the choices that other women make, we reject our own right to choose how to live our lives. Just as Susan Faludi was confronted with her father’s expression of his gender identity, we are all facing the realisation that gender identity, gender expression, biological sex and sexual orientation are independent of one another. The traditional binary gender roles that are entrenched in and reinforced by our culture are being exposed as social constructs, not physical realities, which limit all people. When we women face each other with a spirit of acceptance and embrace our individuality we empower everyone. When we stand together in solidarity and harness our collective voices we hold the power to create social change. When we fight for the inclusion of all people in our society we understand the essence of modern feminism.