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Are you really a feminist? And who gets to decide that? These are the questions circulating in the feminist blogosphere after famous feminist blogger and author Jessica Valenti opted out of a feminist panel this week. The panel, presented by More magazine, was based on an article in the current issue, which profiled several young feminists, including Valenti. The Feministing creator said she couldn’t participate on the panel because Allison Kasic of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum would be on the panel as well. Valenti said having a right-wing “faux feminist” like Kasic on the panel hurts the crediblity of the feminist movement and changes the nature of it to one where the question is, “What is feminism?”

Yes, I could go on the panel to argue about the definition of feminism and the co-opting of the movement.  But when I agree to be on a panel I’m accepting the terms of a debate – and it’s not a debatable point whether people whose policies actively harm women are feminists. I don’t want to validate that this is a question open for reasonable conversation.  (Especially given that the success of anti-feminist women and orgs like IWF is largely based on their ability to get on panels and make this an open discussion – it’s part of their strategy.)

It’s a valid point. But it raises some questions, too. Do we have to meet a certain list of requirements to be considered feminist? (It does remind me a bit of the old, “I’m more punk than you” thing from my old punk rock days.) And isn’t this the kind of fracturing in-fighting that conservatives want? Furthermore, hasn’t it always been the Achilles heel of our movement that we can’t always agree on the very basic question: What does feminism mean? So, in some regards, it is the burden of feminism that we have to continue to have that conversation between ourselves and the rest of the world.

But the situation also stinks of a bit of elitism. I admire Valenti a great deal. Feministing was a key catalyst for me to start SCS. But part of being an active member of the community is taking a role in the community. I’ve been on panels here in Las Vegas representing my feminist perspective in different capacities. You don’t always know who else is going to be on the panel with you. And it’s not always friendlies. But at the same time, if you opt out then your perspective and voice are not represented. And the fact is, being on a panel like that is partially about representing the voice of people like you. You’re on a panel because you’re a leader and represent others. Now that particular voice will be silent and Kasic’s voice will not.

I understand where Valenti is coming from but I feel uneasy with her course of action. I don’t know if there is a perfect solution to problems like this. What do you think?

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