Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Why I am a Feminist, Yet...

I have been pondering whether to write a couple of articles about my current relationship with 'feminism'. I do struggle with some expressions of feminism, and have wanted to argue against them - but that does not mean that I am ready to abandon the ideal that have inspired me over the past couple of decades. Since it is International Women's Day, 2016, I thought I'd go with the reasons why I call myself a feminist, and come back to the particular difficulties later on the blog. 

I don't live in a world where the current value of a belief system is defined by the quality of Mad Max and Ghostbusters  reboots. I go to lectures by Cara Berger about Cixous, have access to fancy libraries and have enjoyed feminist theory ever since I stumbled upon Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves as a Classics undergraduate. This makes me disconnected from the mainstream, and probably pretentious, but that is consistent with my personality and not just my feminist ambitions.

I'm currently reading Undressed for Success, in which Brenda Foley examines how prohibitions on the presentation of the female body manifest social anxiety about female sexuality. The genius of her argument is to take both burlesque strippers (American variety) and beauty pageants as examples of how this anxiety is expressed.

I came to the book hoping for a defence of striptease, but also got a challenge. While the conclusion offers no conclusions about how future legislation ought to work (for both media), it reveals how the attitudes towards them are implicitly patriarchal.

There are feminists who like porn: there are those who hate.
Some feminists are separatists, and others who ain't.
Some fight for sex-work while this  group aren't so keen.
Whatever you're discussing, there's a feminist meme.
If you're having male problems, I feel bad for you, son.
But I've got ninety-nine problems, and feminism ain't one.

This follows on from the previous point, but is worth its own moment. The habit of MRAs to identify 'feminists' as a monolithic group is a deliberate misreading. Other phrases, like Social Justice Warrior, attempt to reduce the pluralism of feminism to an easily mocked stereotype (notice how they go after the easy targets, like YouTube videos). Having a debate is a good idea, but maybe an effort to take down bell hooks might be more difficult if, like, they actually spoke to her and not the MTV version. 

When I'm not just irritated by MRAs, I marvel at their desire to only debate with populist feminists, and not the serious academics. If they think men are more clever, why not try out their dialectic on a proper scholar?

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