For anyone spending regular time on the internet — more specifically, on social media — it's hard to overlook the debates over what makes someone feminist enough, or the right kind of feminist. Technically, there is no unanimously agreed-upon test to determine how much of a feminist you are (there is a BuzzFeed quiz, though). However, I've noticed that regardless of whether or not a public figure (usually female) claims to be a feminist, there is often a court of opinion waiting to determine whether or not their actions line up with the popular notions of feminism.
One of the most recent examples of this discussion centered on the pundit Tomi Lahren's pro-choice comments on The View. During a March 17 appearance on the ABC talk show, Lahren said she's pro-choice while talking about her belief in small government. "You know what? I’m for limited government," Lahren explained, "so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body, as well."
Her comment immediately sparked backlash and professional damage. Initially, Lahren was suspended from The Blaze, the Glenn Beck network that carries her show. This week, the New York Post reported that Lahren had been "banned permanently."
In addition to several inflammatory comments Lahren had made — including calling the Black Lives Matter movement "the new KKK" — she has been critical of many events associated with feminism. During the Women's March on Washington, Lahren called feminists snowflakes on her show and said, "It’s not just the marchers — it’s the feminist movement and, really, the collective left who preach tolerance and understanding, but only for those people and issues they believe in."
On March 8, International Women's Day, Lahren said of the Day Without A Woman strike, "I don’t know about a day without women, but I could use a day without this nasty feminist b.s. masqueraded as women’s rights."
Considering these previous statements, perhaps it's little wonder that few feminists have been rushing to her defense. In fact, many on the web have been focused on pointing out that just because she has pro-choice views does not mean she has earned feminists' or liberals' sympathy. At The Daily Beast, Erin Gloria Ryan wrote:
If all of the media was housed in a single apartment building, Lahren would be the neighbor who lives below the three-bedroom the feminists share, constantly blasting loud music or having loud fights or leaving her garbage outside of their door and then, maybe once a month, running crying to them when she locks herself out.
Interestingly, some women who identify as feminists but pro-life were also perturbed to see Lahren suddenly get some potential sympathy because she came out as pro-choice.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is the founder of New Wave Feminists, a pro-life feminist group. She tells Bustle she was disappointed when a friend of hers in a feminist writers group expressed a desire to welcome Lahren into the fold. "Here’s this woman who spews hate towards people all the time, but because she’s suddenly pro-choice, she’s embraced by the feminist community," Herndon says.
But there is a larger question raised by feminists' ire towards Lahren: Is it fair, or better yet, useful, to test female public figures to see if they meet our feminist standards, especially when we don't necessarily hold men to the same?
California State University, Long Beach professor Shira Tarrant, who has written the books Men Speak Out: Views On Gender, Sex, and Power and New Views On Pornography: Sexuality, Politics and the Law, tells Bustle that the binary of evaluating a female figure as a feminist or not may itself be problematic.
Nobody’s really highly concerned with 'Are you a Democrat or are you not a Democrat?' There’s not a litmus test in this highly loaded way that there is for feminists.
Tarrant tells Bustle that she finds it hard to categorize Lahren as a feminist, or at least not solely based on her pro-choice view. "Feminism is a political action that is equated with justice," Tarrant says. "So if somebody like Tomi is talking about abortion and making a constitutional argument, but ignoring racial justice, economic justice, that’s just not relevant to feminism.
Beyond Lahren, though, Tarrant says she has noticed how the online obsession with the perceived feminism of female celebrities not only serves as a distraction, but is gendered in itself.
"The binary of the internet didn’t invent these problems, but it magnifies these problems with a feminist litmus test," she says. "That itself feels highly gendered. 'Are you a feminist or aren't you a feminist?' Nobody’s really highly concerned with 'Are you a Democrat or are you not a Democrat?' There’s not a litmus test in this highly loaded way that there is for feminists."
Perhaps the question isn't whether Lahren is a feminist, but what the significance of identifying as one is.