The days of Stalinist feminism are over. So when Michelle Obama said “Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice” I had to respond. Her remark was enough of a sweeping generalization to be described, with a bit of humor intended, as Stalinist feminism.
“Stalinist” is monolithic, thinking only one way. To be Stalinist is dictatorial, privileging a voice on high, especially a political one, letting a prominent, charismatic individual determine how others should think.
Not what we want. Cherish your unique voice. Women have fought for it for centuries.
Here is the full quote from CNN: "Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice," she said at the Inbound 2017 conference in Boston, according to video from inside the event. "What does it mean for us as women that we look at those two candidates, as women, and many of us said, that guy, he's better for me, his voice is more true to me," Obama said. "Well, to me that just says you don't like your voice. You like the thing you're told to like."
I admire Michelle Obama as a mom. (Daughter at Harvard, wow!) But the days of Stalinist feminism are over, as I said on Fox and Friends.
Voice is perhaps the most essential part of feminism. Articulation is the antidote to alienation, subjugation, to being the second sex. Voice your presentation to society whether spoken written, danced, painted, etc. Voice is also the feminist heritage. The 14th Century voice of Christine de Pisan was one of the first feminist beacons. Think of many others: Abigail Adams, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan. They highlighted ways society is set up against women (structural feminism) and showed us their take on dealing with it.
Second wave feminism illuminated the social construction of gender identity in society. Some feminists explored Marxism as a sympathetic body of literature also tuned to social construction, alienation and other common themes. Structural feminism boiled this down to reading society as set up against women. Quick example? HIStory. Calling out structural inequity drove the creation of gender studies across humanities fields and as a subject in itself. If you took a course in women’s studies or like the idea of Harriet Tubman on the $20 you have seen structural feminism at work. In fact, I published some of the earliest work on gender and international relations, way back when and I have second-wave feminism to thank for that vantage point.
There were always some women, like Phyllis Schlaffly, who were never allowed in as feminists because they didn’t endorse enough of the second-wave agenda. And that was fine with them I suspect. Anyway the exclusionary lingo has stuck. If you do X you are not a feminist. Recently we’ve heard Ivanka Trump can’t be a feminist because she wore pink dress. Stalinist feminism again!
Feminism spends a lot of time defining itself. The voice is core to the identity. Sadly, only 18% of Americans call themselves feminists, according to a 2015 poll cited here https://www.vox.com/2015/4/8/8372417/feminist-gender-equality-poll.
To me, the internal struggle of each woman balancing her roles in family and society is also a rite of feminism. I would never presume to characterize the voice of another woman. Her voice reflects her decisions, values, choices. That's American feminism.