Feminism: Cool in college, ugly in the “real world”

"[The word "feminist"] has an ugly ring to it. I actually stopped using the term a while ago because it sounds so mean. It sounds so unsexy. I think it's come to [indicate] angry women who don't like men at all and don't like having sex, so I can see why people stray away from it. It's not one of those things you want to bring up in everyday conversation. But I know I am one....

I think I used to use the term a lot more. When I first got into [porn] I was just out of college, and it's sort of cool to use the term in college. But when you get out in the real world, it has such an ugly connotation, and people don't even think you're strong — you just sort of have to be that strong woman. You don't want to have to sit there and explain yourself to everyone...you can just sort of get your message across by being who you are." — Joanna Angel, in $pread, summer 2009


by Andi Zeisler
View profile »

Andi Zeisler is the cofounder of Bitch Media and the author of We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. You can find her on Twitter.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

17 Comments Have Been Posted


can you really call yourself a feminist if society's perceived connotation of the term keeps you from claiming it? I don't think so. Feminism is about making conscious decisions in your daily life and evaluating how you interact with society. Allowing people's misinformed understanding of feminism to deter you from identifying as one is the opposite of feminist.

The only way that we can change this perception of feminism is both to BE feminist and to CLAIM it, otherwise the myth of angry, "unsexy" feminists will go unchallenged.

She just comes across as

She just comes across as cowardly to me. She seems afraid to call herself what she says she is because she's afraid other people won't like her for it. Sometimes, when things are very important to you, you must stand and be counted. Yes, you can be a strong woman and call yourself a feminist. Yes, you can get your point across by just being yourself. However, there are issues that require discussion AND action if they are going to be improved. How about calling yourself a feminist and showing that you don't necessarily hate men? It is a valid option.

Hanna said it best.

Why can't I ever get my sugarrrr?!

In a nutshell: Some people just won't get it because they can't or are unwilling. Don't bother with these people, you'll never convince them of anything. You don't have to explain yourself to the numb dumb masses of the Limbaugh congregation that you've taken a good look at things and decided NOT to drink the Kool Aid. They don't get it.
And yes, I do agree it's cowardly to switch sides and not take a stand. She can't really outgrow those tattoos or her reputation when and if she decides to "settle down" and resemble the Reagan American standard because it's "the cool thing to do". This whole thing makes her seem incredibly cheap and fake.
On the same brushstroke, I think it's still incredibly difficult to take a stand for something so "taboo" when your income depends on popularity or trends.

I am SO tired of this logic.

I am SO tired of this logic. And Anon, I agree—it's just plain cowardly.

It's always great when a

It's always great when a feminist can "know I am one". Not so great if they won't own it. Feminism is not a thing meant to be kept hidden from the world.

on the positive side...

perhaps this indicates that 'feminism' is still transgressive. lately i've been feeling like it's pretty mainstream and toothless.

Translation: I make way

Translation: I make way more money if I abandon the appearance of actually being a feminist, so I just appropriate feminist ideas when in front of an appreciative audience. This means I can make money on all opposite sides of the political spectrum!


It sounds so "mean"? "Man-hating" sounds mean to me, I guess, but "feminist"? It feels like she's encountered such a backlash in her personal and professional life that she's felt she had to drop the term. I don't know, maybe working in porn skews things a bit, but I feel like in MY real world, feminism is about choices and freedom and equity and sounds awfully sexy! Then again, my real world is skewed towards the very queer, very political, very left.

And I know a bunch of sex workers and folks in porn who totally identify as feminist. I feel like they're not very mainstream, though, of course. Is it sad that when I look at Joanna Angel I think she's sort of mainstream porn? Counterculture mainstream porn, I guess.


Feminism an ugly word?

Feminism exists so that 25 year old women in the workplace don't have to be sexually harassed anymore. Called honey or baby or told your ass looks good in that skirt and then pretend to be flattered when in fact you are ashamed and humiliated. Now its against the law. Should we go back to those "bad old days"? I don't get it.

Feminism and Porn

The ability to be active in porn and still feel oneself a feminist is important. The topic is well covered in the book entitled 'Defending Pornography - Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights' by professor Nadine Strossen, Esq., the former President of the American Civil Liberties Union. I suspect you're familiar with Audacia Ray and her site 'Waking Vixen'. I consider her a feminist and she seems extremely knowledgeable about porn by women and for women and has a link to $pread on her site. I hope in the future women can feel more free to be involved in free speech, porn and feminism. I think they are. Porn needs more strong women of conscience at the top.

agreed ...

... and on that note, I have written off $pread as a magazine worthy of my support. No more.

Where the "ugly ring" May Have Come From

For at least a decade and a half advocates of censorship like Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin have waged a war against all forms of free expression under the guise of feminism. They have argued against abortion, contraception, nudity in artwork, and discussion of sexual issues in literature. I suspect that their long campaign trying to convince the public that their narrow minded agenda was feminism was responsible for people like Joanna Angel associating an 'ugly ring' with the word feminism. The idea that censorship is helpful for women's rights was thoroughly debunked by Nadine Strossen, the former President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law at New York University In the book mentioned above. Women's rights are endangered much more by censorship than by sexual words or images. The freedom to read, film, publish, create. write, and not be muzzled is much more feminist than MacDworkinism. Unfortunately the would be censors of us all are still hard at work trying to sell censorship. Our eternal vigilance is needed to protect free speech and real feminism.

wooo..... easy now with the

wooo..... easy now with the dworkin bashing. let's not blame feminists for the backlash, but Reaganism/Thatcherism, neoliberalism, whatever. And the value judgment implied when you see we need to protect 'real feminism'? It sounds like you have no idea what you're talking about when you tak about feminism.

Yes and no...

I am a feminist, so I don't find the word offensive. I do, however, employ some caution when using the term. If I get the feeling my audience associate 'feminism' with 'feminazi,' I make sure to explain the label feminist and take the opportunity to (hopefully) educate some people.


Doesn't "bitch" have kind of an ugly connotation, too? Have some respect for your feminist foremothers. According to spellchecker, foremothers isn't a word. But bitch is. This is why we need feminism - the real thing- not the "nice" version.

I remember this woman from

I remember this woman from high school. She was fairly soulless and willing to co-opt what was 'cool' and 'edgy' to get attention. I guess some people don't change. I remember talking to her used to make me cringe because she had no internal life. It was all on the surface all the time.

My boyfriend went to a

My boyfriend went to a school that did a decent amount of educating about women's issues and history and its a world of a difference between him and our guy friends who say - went to all boys catholic school. He's way better at being friends with girls and pointing out and picking apart injustices of all kinds - not just sexism. So, feminism is a great subject to learn at school and I see nothing weird or ugly about being feminist.

Add new comment