Wither Feminism?

This isn’t the first time I’ve lamented about the sorry state of feminism in the culture wars, and it certainly won’t be the last- nevertheless, the time has come for me to really lay out exactly what it is that’s killing feminism.

Sure feminism was necessary at one point, but it’s just not relevant anymore

You never hear that stated outright, but it seems to be underlying most responses on why feminism isn’t as major an issue was it was in the 70s or the 60s or the 50s or whenever exactly it was that the last wall of patriarchy supposedly fell.

Let’s face it, women can vote, run for and hold public office, be CEOs or workers, and so on and so forth. Really, shy of being able to serve in combat (American women, anyways), one might argue that all doors are now open. This mentality even seems to be affected most contemporary feminists, who though I am sure have the very best intentions, really can’t find much to rail about themselves. I’ve been through blog post after blog post, article after article, and found that overwhelmingly the subjects being discussed are mostly rants against Todd Akin (not to say that idiot doesn’t deserve it) or retrospectives on the battles of the past. Take a look at the contents of the latest Ms. magazine:

With Wonder Woman at the helm, the issue celebrates 40 years of fearless reporting with 40 Ms. and key feminist moments that shaped our history; birthday letters from dozens of life-long readers; and essays from founding editors Gloria Steinem and Letty Pogrebin, and current Executive Editor Kathy Spillar.

In the special 40th anniversary issue, you’ll also read about:

– What’s at stake for women in the 2012 election

– The significant ballot initiatives in your state

– Record numbers of women running for office

That’s their central points for their fall issue.

Now let’s take a look at Jezebel.

I had a rough time sifting through the articles for one that best demonstrates my point (I know Jezebel isn’t so much a “feminist” website as it is a “women’s interest” one- though exactly what that means I can’t rightly say)- for the most part, they seem tangential at best. “What is it with Women and Law and Order: SVU?”  or “Should Women Run? You’re Damn Right They Should.

That last one’s not talking about running for office- it’s literally about jogging. ‘Cuz apparently there was some blog post asserting that women with a certain body type aren’t cut-out to be runners, and that merited a response. Sure, whoever said that was wrong, but is that what feminists have been reduced to? Chasing down solitary quips of (comparatively) benign misinformation in the ugly bowels of the blogosphere? If that’s the standard for a worthwhile target, Evan and I should be beaten to death for mixing up when the premier of Community is going to be shown.

Please don’t beat us to death…

If this is the substance of the contemporary feminist movement, can you really blame people for feeling that all that’s to be done has been done? Can you really blame people for stereotyping self-proclaimed feminists as just angsty or contrarian? Is feminism just going to wither away?

I hope not- there’s still plenty of work to be done.

See this picture?

It’s from Dove’s “True Beauty” campaign. A series of advertisements aimed at combating anorexic and unrealistic standards of beauty. I’m sure the owners of Dove- a corporation by the name of Unilever- would be proud.

You know what other company Unilever owns?

Yep- these guys.

Now as I have family who read this blog, I’ve got embedded for you below the mildest Axe commercial I can find- be assured that it’s prudish and progressive compared to the rest of ’em.

That’s what we’ve got here- a corporation that on one hand is hawking their products by telling you that you’re beautiful just the way you are, and on the other hand depicting women as mindless dolls in low-cut dresses who can be manipulated with aerosol bottles. The latter alone would be a slap in the face, but that fact that the company is two-faced enough to shamelessly operate both utterly discredits their “True-Beauty Campaign” and exposes the fact that they’re ready, willing, and able to use feminism itself as a vehicle for controlling and objectifying women and perceptions about ’em.

This is Paul Polman, Unilever’s CEO, and he can go **** himself.

See, there’s this offshoot of modern feminism called “Sex-positive feminism” (you might know it by other names), which broken down to its most basic elements asserts that women’s use of their sexuality is empowering- and while no one would deny sexuality as an integral part of any human being- more often than not, this line of thought is used to justify strip clubs, prostitution, pornography, etc. as being actually good for women.

Now I’m not going to start accusing the founders of “Sex-positive feminism” of selling out their own movement- I don’t think that’s what their intention was. But then again, such things are what the road to hell is paved with, and even if the goal of this off-shoot was to make sexuality just as empowering as brains or brawn, the simple truth of the matter is that the prostitute isn’t probably viewed by her client as being a more well-rounded person because of her job. Heck- using this logic, I might argue that a twelve year old Honduran girl whose working for 32 cents an hour in a sweatshop is likewise “empowered”.

Strange how “Dead by 26 feminism” isn’t quite as popular…

Feminism isn’t dead- it’s just got a knife at it’s throat, and if saving feminism from becoming a tool of the very system that it was first established to combat isn’t a worthwhile endeavor- I don’t know what is. To anyone who would complain that all the important battles have been won- I present to you this. “Your solution to saving feminism is by saving feminism?” you might ask- and hey, it’s a valid point. But this isn’t just some circular exercise- this is a struggle for what’s really empowering. It’s a fight over messages- will we be told “These shoes are empowering!” or “No- they are shoes– empowerment comes from how far you walk and how much butt you kick.” Isn’t that worth something?

At the very least it beats writing an angry article about how body shape doesn’t exclude you from jogging.

P.S. I know I should also say some stuff about the “Slut Walks” (“Slutwalks”?, “Slut-Walks”?), the issue of rape, the continued problems of worker-manager ratios, etc. but it’s past 1:30 in the morning- please excuse the narrowness of this post.

4 responses to “Wither Feminism?

  1. SO while feminism may not be relevant in the “we want to vote” sense, I do feel that it is still important.

    As a woman, the sexism that I find the most prevalent is the idea that women are “illogical” or “irrational” because we present ourselves as being more emotional. I hear phrases like “women logic” from sexist people, and when I get angry, it must just be that time of the month. We may have gotten the right to vote, but we haven’t gotten rid of the prejudices that kept us from voting in the first place.

    Also, take a good look at a lot of modern movies/tv shows with empowered female characters. Many of them feel that empowerment is equivalent with abandoning what has been viewed as “girly” stereotypes. To be a strong woman, one must leave the palace and fight in battle with the men. They seem to say that to be an emancipated woman, one must become like a man, and that is still sexist.

    • Speaking as a man- I object to the idea that a man’s place is on the battlefield anymore than a woman’s place is in the kitchen. In defense of the whole “warrior-princess” bit, I’d argue that this isn’t about a woman being “strong” by taking a “man’s role”, but by kicking ass in general (as is both right and natural).

  2. I think feminism is developing. The prejudices are become more clear as they are manifesting in a more subtle ways. You see a significant relash from the “happy homemaker” theme but it’s swinging a bit far afield. Personal example: when I became engaged the final semester of my senior year, I was slammed with the “MRS degree” shaming technique – despite the fact that I was graduating from a top school with honors and going on to graduate school. I had professors and peers comment (some obliquely and some less so- I had one professor challenge me to come back in five years and see if I still had a ring on it.) to the effect that I was throwing it all away, etc. There’s this idea that being a wife and/or mother means spitting on feminism and it goes like this: feminists of yore fought for the freedom to work, to learn, and to be considered equals and if you don’t use that hard earned right then you’re just as bad as those misogynistic pig-men. I have a HUGE problem with that. I think we need to work on some definitions because to me feminism is about equal right to choose. I can choose to wear an apron and bake bread and have babies, or wear a pencil skirt and crunch numbers and have a paycheck or both. As long as I, the woman, the human being, am choosing and not society/someone else/ the way it’s always been, then any of those options are good and right. The problem with women or men being angry that I’m not out sexing it up (like a man? That’s pretty insulting to many honorable men I know) and beating my way to a corporate office is that it unintentionally reflects their true beliefs: homemaking really is this sort of sad, lower caste side-job for the losers who can’t make it in the real world. That’s what feminism needs to fight- it’s own over-marketing. By being so eager to break out of the proscribed role of happy housewife, we’ve accidentally tarnished in our own minds a way of life that is good and worthy- for some. Giving the option to choose without judgement based on gender (either gender restrictions or gender possibilities) is what feminism should move towards- both internally and externally.

  3. Pingback: Banning Bossy | Culture War Reporters

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