Why I Won’t Have a ‘Fleabag’ Era
Dear Diary, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m sick of feminism.
Don’t get me wrong, I would still like to eliminate patriarchy and abolish the systemic inequalities that women face on a daily basis. But I’ll be burned at the stake if I have to hear “Run The World (Girls)” one more time.
The hyper-positivity of mainstream feminism has people on the streets chanting “Pussy is power!” or emblazoned “#girlboss” on baby pink mugs. But just below the surface — bubbling in a black cauldron, mixed with spilled mascara and Lexapro — is budding a new iteration of feminism that more and more women are beginning to identify with, a growing voice in pop culture: feminism. dissociative.
Coined by Emmeline Clein in 2019, dissociative feminism describes a subset of feminism characterized by weariness and the “internalization of our existential pains and anxieties, knowingly smiling at them.” Dissociative feminism describes women who, once exuberant soldiers of the movement for gender equality, are now exhausted beyond anger. Feminist author Leslie Jamison identifies the root of dissociative feminism as “painfully become implicit,” reflecting a reaction to the recent plateau in women’s rights reforms.
In the second half of the 20th century, women joined the workforce in droves, began to out-compete men in earning college degrees, and saw the expansion of their reproductive freedoms. However, this progress has since slowed with the stagnation of female employment and many women still struggle to break into the many male-dominated fields. Dissociative feminism reflects women’s sense of apathy in the face of the stalled gender revolution with the persistence of the pay gap, discrimination in the workplace and, more recently, the vulnerability of reproductive rights.
Pursuing an era of genre reform has proven terribly difficult and exhausting. We live in increasingly horrific times where our leaders can’t even come together to stop the school shootings, let alone achieve equality. In the race for gender equality, the finish line looks like a mirage, taunting us with the fantasy of something we will never achieve. To be a dissociated feminist is to sit in the sand and make a sarcastic remark about having to cross the desert in the first place.
On an individual level, what makes dissociative feminism so appealing is its dissociative aspect, which compels women to come out of their pain to comment on it – to be indifferent or even to revel in it. In the 2019 series “Fleabag,” the titular protagonist constantly leaves her body mid-scene to cheekily comment on her disastrous life as it unfolds. Fleabag’s awareness and detachment from her actions and their consequences reflects the core of dissociative feminism, albeit in a more extreme way.
Dissociative feminism resonates with many women as it describes women’s exhaustion from the stagnation of gender revolution and the catharsis of female misery. But there is a dangerous potential for fatalistic aspects of the movement to block the broader struggle for equality.
The way dissociative feminism is portrayed in shows and books may seem relevant to many women, but it really isn’t. As “Another Gaze” writer Rebecca Liu describes, the dissociative feminist archetype is “pretty, white, cisgender, and tortured enough to be interesting but not enough to be repulsive. Often described as relatable, she doesn’t is actually not. Self-destruction, weariness, and nicotine addiction are easily romanticized when portrayed by a conventionally attractive, upper-middle-class white woman. Being disillusioned with mainstream feminism is a luxury that those who have no other choice do not have the means.
Intersectional feminist writer Ione Gamble wrote, “Dissociative feminism is interesting to talk about and gives people a language to understand things maybe. But what would be the next step? The value of dissociative feminism stops at reflecting women’s disillusionment or escapism, as characters like Fleabag live in relatively inconsequential realities. But what then?
Phoebe Waller-Bridge alone will not guarantee that working-class women have enough to feed their families or that Black and Indigenous women and women of color are free from racial violence. The gloom and nihilistic tendencies of dissociative feminism push somewhere between “unproductive and genuinely dangerous,” Clein wrote. While internalizing and joking about her pain can be a good way to numb it, it does absolutely nothing to fix it. Dissociative feminism is really feminism in name only. As such, we must look elsewhere for the next wave of the gender equality movement.
That in no way means I won’t be seeing both seasons of “Fleabag” again, knowingly smiling every time Fleabag looks up at the camera. Dissociative feminism highlights a moment in feminist history when we are all, yes, still angry at patriarchy, but also exhausted from fighting it. But that doesn’t mean we should stop. We can all still enjoy a dramatic cry between advocating for material change and liberating the marginalized among us — as long as I never hear “Run The World (Girls)” again.