|John Irving’s 1978 novel "The World According to Garp" satirizes 1970s radical feminism in a way that seems dated today. I do think it has some useful concepts, though. The protagonist is conceived via rape when his mother, a nurse and feminist activist named Jenny Fields, rapes an unconscious, intellectually disabled, male patient. This exaggerates the then-current narrative of women’s “sexual liberation” and the idea that an independent woman “doesn’t need a man” — to dangerous extremes. Shockingly, Jenny is considered one of the least radical feminists in the novel.|
The most radical are the Ellen Jamesians, a group of women who cut out their own tongues in a sense of misguided solidarity with Ellen James, a real, twelve-year-old girl whose rapist cut her tongue out. The real Ellen James wants nothing to do with them. She’s horrified that people have co-opted her, willingly inflicting a trauma on themselves that she never would have chosen. They also apparently view her disability as a metaphor. Instead of respecting her lived experience, they tried to apply it to themselves, making a general point about women being metaphorically “silenced.” The Ellen Jamesians’ biggest sins include appropriation, ableism and exploiting it for shock value, and self-serving, false allyship.
Who are today’s Ellen Jamesians? Those who uphold white feminism and white supremacy, TERFs, SWERFs, and appropriators in general. Ellen Jamesians are people who proudly self-identify as feminists who exclude trans people, but when you repeat that description (TERF) back to them, they suddenly claim TERF is a “slur.”
Long before Thomas Hazlett coined the inflammatory term “feminazi” and Rush Limbaugh popularized it, Irving’s Ellen Jamesians exposed a paradox of feminism without making inappropriate comparisons to Nazis. They misrepresent feminism by betraying its ideals of sex and gender equality. Ironically, they’re exactly what misogynists think radical feminists are like.
Most white people, including me, likely considered some kinds of appropriation OK at some point, until people of color explained why it was offensive. We can learn from other people’s mistakes without repeating their behavior. If we feel tempted to directly compare our own experiences to a form of real bigotry that doesn’t target us, like racism, let’s stop and consider why that’s appropriation and erasure. Let’s take a more intersectional view and consider that racism, sexism, and ableism affect many of the same people. Let’s listen to each other because we’ll never know everything, but we can keep learning.
Let’s be real feminists, not Ellen Jamesians.
Abridged from Grace Lapointe's text published at www.medium.com on Nov 11th 2019.
You cand find the whole text here: medium.com/@gracelapointe/dont-be-an-ellen-jamesian-c2a1b423c7e3