Elevate Difference

American Catfight: Political Wisdom for Women and Other Thoughts Towards Feminine Statecraft in the 21st Century

The biggest obstacle to women, according to Maryann Breschard, is other women. In American Catfight, Breschard posits that even the best-intentioned feminists have, along the way, exploited and undermined other women in their mad dash to power.

Breschard identifies several types of women who prevent other women from succeeding: haters (those who disempower and disenfranchise women they believe are “wrong” or “bad”), perfectionists (women who write off anyone who does not fit their narrowly-defined model of the “right” woman), and femamentalists (women who believe feminism is a “big tent” theory that should advocate for a wide range of issues, including LGBT rights, the environment, and more). Breschard primarily uses anecdotal evidence to support her definitions and observations, bouncing from a rant about Martha Stewart on one page to a critique of the Human Rights Campaign the next.

She then pivots to another modern-day catfight among women in her critique of the wedding-industrial complex. Commenting that, “many women today are similarly fraught about their identity and their dreams when entering marriage,” she suggests that women put away issues of identity and concern for feminist politics upon getting married. This change in priorities—which she dubs femipause—creates divisions and downright hostility between married women and single women. This is a point where in-depth research or quantitative data would have helped flesh out Breschard’s writing and lend a sense of credibility to her work. Instead, Breschard’s anecdotal stories of friends who have gotten married and become disengaged from her social circle do little to build out the concept of femipause or position herself as an authority in her writing.

The book concludes by stating that women are “poised to govern” in the twenty-first century, and Breschard provides several recommendations for feminists looking to do so. Some—like her recommendation that feminists simplify and focus upon certain core elements of feminism—are littered throughout her book and should come as no surprise to the reader. Others—such as putting more women in governorships across the country—are legitimately insightful, but come out of left field.

Ultimately, American Catfight is marred by its inability to synthesize the various political theories, pop culture musings, and personal ramblings of the author into a piece of writing that informs and engages the reader.

Written by: Gwen Emmons, March 17th 2010

Mandy, I think you have a great point – there is a constant struggle to define feminism and a battle to determine which “issues” should be at the forefront of feminism. In “American Catfight,” Breschard discusses the feminist tensions present in economic and political issues, but similar tensions can be seen in feminist conversations around inclusivity and accessibility (i.e., who has a voice in feminism?).

I absolutely agree that the pursuit of homogeneity within a movement as broad and diverse as feminism is counterproductive and, ultimately, detrimental and distracting to the movement. Indeed, Breschard points out that it is that infighting and sniping between women that hurts the movement as a whole. Until feminism can be satisfied that it is a large and nebulous movement with many facets, we can expect to see a movement that is slow and hampered by the very infighting Breschard describes in her book.

When you say the author suggests that "feminists simplify and focus upon certain core elements of feminism," I wonder what core elements those are exactly, and who does she think gets to decide which issues get priority? Are the "catfights" in feminism a result of, say, women of color and queers and working class women and disabled women demanding their needs be represented in the feminist movement? When will folks understand that feminism (and feminists, for that matter) was never monolithic in ideology or action? There has always been disagreement about what feminism is or should be and who gets to be a feminist and who doesn't--that's the space from which intersectionalism and Audre Lorde's work on valuing difference emerged. Isn't it time for folks to stop painting this (false, idealistic, and enormously problematic) picture of homogeneity as a goal that must be obtained (or has ever been obtained in ANY social movement, for that matter) in order for women's rights to move forward? That kind of outdated and ineffective movement building strategy has slowing the feminist movement to a pathetic crawl.