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Michelle Rempel is a feminist. The mainstream media? Not so much.

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A funny thing happened the other week. After the feminist National Post published a feminist article from Michelle Rempel, feminists everywhere rejoiced.

The level of rejoicing varied: from ecstatic feminists who were happy that their right-wing feminism was receiving national attention from a high-profile feminist, to more critical feminists who praised Rempel with caution.

Three feminists wrote that Rempel’s analysis was an example of bourgeois, or liberal feminism. Feminist Emily Leedham writing for Vice, and Sarah Beuhler and I writing at rabble.ca essentially had the same argument: Rempel's appeal to men to help her fight sexism needs to be seen through the lens of her actions, and the actions of her party.

Neither article questioned whether or not Rempel is feminist.

That's because to argue that Rempel is not a feminist would be a deeply unfeminist thing to do. It would be contradictory. It would leave us vulnerable to right-wing forces who wanted to turn this debate into a catfight.

Both articles instead critiqued the limits of identity or representative politics. Essentially that it's fine to talk a kind of talk but if your walk doesn't mirror the talk, you leave yourself open to criticism.

It should have been obvious that progressive women would have something to say about Rempel's article. She wrote it to get a reaction. The main reaction was to trigger men into realizing their complicity in sexism. But of course there would be feminists like us who also would enter the discussion and bring a rational, reasonable and fair critique from the left.

The reaction that the piece I wrote with Sarah received reminded me that no, you cannot have a rational discussion about feminism in the mainstream media. Despite the fact that neither piece argued that Rempel isn't a feminist, criticism of what we wrote centred on something we didn't actually write.

Sarah received several media calls. She took one (Canadaland) and bounced one to me (CBC Radio's The 180). In my conversation with their producer, I went through great lengths to insist that this would not be a conversation about whether or not Rempel is a feminist.

Because that's not what we wrote.

My interview never panned out: no one was available to debate me.

Sarah's interview started off in the same vein. Her feminist interviewers though didn't continue in this line of questioning, and instead they had an interesting discussion about feminism.

Then there was Laura Payton writing for the National Observer. In "Ignore the critics, Michelle Rempel is a feminist" she tries to undercut our arguments with snark like: "Writers for Vice and rabble.ca point to her membership in the Conservative caucus as disqualifying Rempel from the sisterhood,” despite the fact that we do not argue this.

Rather than engaging with the arguments (for example: "this is why liberal feminism is great!" or "identity politics is good enough for now!"), Payton's hatchet job based on something that we didn't say reads more like PR for Rempel than a column from a parliamentary journalist.

Payton and I debated on Twitter. We didn't arrive at a consensus.

(It was announced this past weekend that Payton will be returning to CTV's Ottawa Bureau to be an online producer. The Sisterhood congratulates you, Laura!)

She was not alone in her defense of Rempel. The National Post's Jen Gerson accused "women of the left" of shutting other women out of the feminist movement. Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne didn't like the piece either.

One of the themes that has emerged from this affair is that feminism is apparently undebatable. That, as Payton concludes with her piece, "in response to a well-written and thoughtful piece, [Rempel] found herself not only defending against sexist attacks, but attacks from the very women who should be working with her to fix the problem."

As if qualities like "well written" and "thoughtful" absolve a potential leadership candidate for one of Canada's two natural governing parties from critique. Anyone that dares to engage with Rempel will be attacked in the same way as she apparently was attacked. It was "too soon" to criticize Rempel, as Payton said on Twitter.

Who is served by columnists who render any debate "undebatable?"

Herein lies the problem of how narrow mainstream commentary has become in Canada. Both articles critical of Rempel were engaging in a debate about the kind of feminism that we believe to be most effective at addressing the concerns that Rempel identified. In all movements that seek to undo systemic injustice, similar debates happen.

Perhaps it would be different if critical voices were more often reflected in the mainstream press. A culture of debate that considers a progressive perspective that's left of the Trudeau Liberals could improve the quality of all public policy discussions. Maybe it's time to stop marginalizing those of us who have "thoughtful" and "well-written" things to say that clash with mainstream orthodoxy.

But I'm not naïve: there's a reason why these voices were so quick to protect Rempel, facts be damned. Maintenance of the status quo requires all hands on deck, mainstream journalists included.

Don't get me wrong: if Feminist Comrade Rempel can change the Conservative Party by undoing the damage they did to racialized women through their xenophobic hype and denying dignity to Indigenous women and their families, I'll be the first to make her a cake.

But I suspect there's a greater chance that I'll be handed a column at the National Post than seeing Rempel become an agent of feminist radical change.

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