Let’s critique feminist scope.
“You’re asking for too much. That’s not reasonable.”
“That is such a little thing to complain about. You’re too easily offended.”
Scope critiques may be second only to tone critiques among criticism of feminist advocacy.
One might assume that those who critique feminists for not taking a more big picture approach are different people than those who critique feminists for not taking small enough steps. In some cases, this is true. Some people are sincere in their concerns about scope, particularly within the feminist movement. I have noticed that some feminists consistently prefer incremental change approaches over more sweeping changes and vice versa. Personally, I consider both scope and tone when making decisions about which feminist projects I participate in.
However, in my experience as a feminist, I’ve also found that people who oppose feminism in general tend to critique feminist scope whether it is large or small. Scope can be as elusive as tone; feminists will always be accused of not having it right. Both tone and scope critiques bypass the main issue, avoiding engagement in a conversation about gender inequality.
Opponents of women’s ordination regularly accuse its supporters of having both too small and too large a scope in the same breath: “It’s not appropriate to ask for such a big change. You should think of something more reasonable. And why are you worried about priesthood when there are starving children in Africa? There are bigger problems in the world.”
When critics bring up scope as a tactic to avoid a real discussion about inequity, the best response is usually no response. But when a response is warranted, here are some talking points you can borrow from me. As someone who is frequently accused both of scope-too-small and scope-too-big, I’ve become something of a veteran in scope defense.
Responses to the Scope-Too-Small Critique
- If this is such a small problem, there is no reason why we can’t find a solution.
- Just because this problem seems small to you, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a big effect on other people.
- Accomplishing even small changes breaks down institutional inertia, removing barriers to global change.
- Incremental change chips away at the big problem.
- I’m working within a conservative environment that is hostile toward change. Baby steps may be the best I can accomplish at this point.
- This is my community and these are my people, so I am most qualified to address problems here, even if big problems exist elsewhere in the world.
Responses to the Scope-Too-Big Critique
- We could address small issues one by one, but issues will keep cropping up until we address the root of the problem.
- Even very small changes require a great deal of work in an environment so hostile to change, so I would prefer to invest my time where I can make the biggest difference.
- We are likely to get less than what we ask for, so it makes sense to ask for more in the hopes of at least moderate improvement.
- I have too much respect for myself and other women to ask only for slightly less discrimination. Women merit equality.