You know what I really enjoy? When some lady decides to write a book about What Is Wrong With Feminism Today! This lady, typically, is the One True Feminist, and has the weighty responsibility of talking down to all us heathens; typically she wants us to stop taking our clothes off, or start taking our clothes off, or get less upset about the date rapes, or get more upset about the stay-at-home moms, or whatever. The point is! The What Is Wrong With Feminism Today genre, whatever its message, relies pretty much exclusively on the supposition that no other feminists in the history of the world have ever done any thinking about these issues, or that all of our thinking has been wrong, wrong, WRONG, and that this one lady can somehow explain it all to us in book form for she is now our Queen. So much fun!
Anyway, some lady (Nina Power? I don’t believe we’ve been introduced) has done it again. Her book is called One Dimensional Woman, and I learned about it from the Guardian review, which makes it sound like… someone wrote Female Chauvinist Pigs, again? But in less readable, more judgey fashion? Anyway. I kind of doubt that Nina Power’s book is going to singlehandedly solve feminism. No, feminism will not be solved until I release my book, tentatively entitled You Are All Wrong, I Figured It Out, Bow Down Before Me.
But what’s fun about it is that she blames Jessica Valenti for the rise of “consumer” or “self-help” feminism! And “consumer” or “self-help” feminism, in case you were wondering, is feminism that is just too darn accessible and easy for the kids to get into. Because the One True Feminism needs to be kept on a high shelf, with a lock on it, like the liquor. You know, so that the kids don’t go boozing themselves up on gender equity!
I admit it: I kind of like it when people decide to start blaming Jessica Valenti for things, although I imagine she doesn’t like it much, because: oh, man! Someone is getting a Valenti-authored blog post they won’t soon recover from! I basically approach feminism like it is professional wrestling, and I am sorry. But this blog post is one of the more memorable hit-’em-with-the-folding-chair (OF LOGIC) things I’ve seen in a while, and you should read it all up, because it’s good for you.
However! What is a blog post if you don’t write another blog post about it? A lonely little blog post unconnected from the great Ouroboros of the Internet, that’s what. So, of course, Amanda “Doctor Serious” Hess of Washington City Paper’s The Sexist and I, Sady “Professor Quentin T. Bummers” Doyle, the world’s foremost experts on feminism that is very severe and theoretical and heavy-hitting and not any fun at all ever, must now have a well-reasoned, extensively annotated, highly intellectual discussion on the question of whether feminism has departed from its philosophical calling.
SPOILER: We make jokes about that one yogurt that lets Jamie Lee Curtis poop. She does not poop often, Jamie Lee!
ILLUSTRATION: Slipping down as easily as a friendly-bacteria yoghurt drink, Valenti’s version of feminism, with its total lack of structural analysis, genuine outrage, or enzymes that help your slow intestinal… wait, what? I got confused.
SADY: Hello! I have chosen to make myself accessible! In the name, of course, of FEMINISM.
AMANDA: On to it!
SADY: Yes! Are too many of the kids today into it? Should we make it harder for them? SHOULD THERE BE A WRITTEN APPLICATION? Such are the questions before us now.
AMANDA: I have to admit, I found the whole accusation that Jessica Valenti is not a serious feminist a bit … puzzling. If Jessica Valenti is a fluffy feminist, then what are we? Are we like marshmallow feminists?
SADY: I am a pure spun sugar feminist made of glitter and twinkles. I am the feminist that floats upon the air, so lightweight am I. And this is the thing, the thing that gets me kind of so angry: For years and years and years upon years, people have been like, “Well, of course The Patriarchy will attack us for being humorless and dour, but that is a harsh stereotype and a lie!”
SADY: And, yes: Yes it is. So why is this lady suddenly piping up to tell Jessica Valenti to keep it down over there and not have so much fun?
AMANDA: Well: I understand the general argument. If people accuse me of being “too serious” about feminist issues—which they do, whenever i write about harassment or assault or rape or whatever—the appropriate response would not be to just sexy up my sexual assault coverage. However! There are issues related to feminism that are, in fact, not depressing at all! Like, when feminism happens, and then we can all have sex with whoever we want to when we want to without being assaulted or called whores. This is, indeed, a sexy development! And I fail to see the harm in celebrating that.
SADY: Right you are! It is extremely sexy. And, I mean, I think there’s a line between “feminism that is accessible” – let us say, YOU, for I am in a complimentary mood this evening – and “feminism that is so very accessible that it is even accessible to people who are not feminists because it is not actually feminism at all” – let us say, Sarah Palin. And I think that a lot of people are just trying to figure out where that line gets drawn. I understand the calls for more “seriousness,” insofar as they are asking you to “seriously” think about the issues in question. But I do not understand “seriousness” insofar as it is like, “I am sorry, this must be written in some modern super-language, for I can read it even without a post-graduate education in Ladyology.”
AMANDA: Right. Like if you’re a teenager who happens to not identify as a feminist, which is the group Valenti was largely writing her book for. I think one of the arguments against the happy-go-lucky feminism was actually like, Oh no! If we pretend that feminism is a wonderful happy thing, these women will be sorely disappointed when they become feminists and realize that there are like, some serious issues to deal with as well. Again … I fail to see why the soft pitch ends up being a bad thing. If a girl decides she’s interested in feminism because she understands what Valenti has to say about the more “girl power” type stuff, and then she ends up realizing why it’s important to support feminism for ALL women, what is the problem?
SADY: Right. And, I mean, there is something to be said for the gateway drug. The only problem is if the kids don’t get past the gateway. Like, let’s just point out that I am not talking about Feministing or Valenti here, because they have in fact always managed to cover the hard stuff as well as the basics – more of the hard stuff than I have, in fact, because my goal is basically to be the Skittles of feminism – BUT. There is, in fact, something to the idea of “consumerist feminism” or “lifestyle accessory” feminism. Which is, I do think there are some ladies whose involvement with feminism is exclusively confined to their own problems, which they elevate to the position of WORST PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD, even though they are like, “a guy won’t like me unless I shave my personal regions” or “I worry that women nowadays are taking the pole-dancing classes, which is gross!”* Which: nothing to be said against those problems! Mandatory bodily presentation or the idea that women are always sexual and that “sexual” equals “sex industry performance” at all times are things we can talk about! BUT, it’s when we get stuck there, because then feminism becomes sort of obsessively, exclusively personal, and you’re not thinking about anything else.
AMANDA: Agreed. I’ll reiterate that presenting Valenti as the representative of that kind of feminism is whack, however. I mean, Nina Power compares Valenti to a “friendly-bacteria yoghurt drink.” What the fuck does that mean?
SADY: I have NO IDEA. It reminds me of those Activia commercials, though. And, on the overpersonalizing-feminism thing, can I say? I think that’s a line everybody has to walk, and I fall on the wrong side of it sometimes. If by “sometimes” you mean “A LOT OF TIMES.” But I think that this is the thing, like the core problem with the argument insofar as I understand it: she IS CONFLATING “accessible” with “shallow.”
AMANDA: Yeah. I’ll tell you one thing that’s not going to make feminism accessible to the masses: Feminist infighting! I realize I’m implicating this very Sexist Beatdown by saying this, but feminists arguing about who is the bestest feminist? Not particularly riveting to non-feminists.
SADY: BUT I WAS GOING TO GET THE BEST FEMINIST AWARD! WHY ELSE WOULD I BE DOING THIS.
AMANDA: But since Nina Power is concerned with feminism becoming too accessible, perhaps this was her plan all along! “I know. I’ll write a book dedicated to feminist infighting that makes absurd claims about several well-known ‘accessible’ feminists. That’s sure to throw them off their work of making feminism more accessible! At least for a few blog posts!”
SADY: True! Now we can all quote Serious Theory at each other until we fall asleep. Also, in the morning, there might still be some sexism? But whatever! I get Cixous!
AMANDA: I get Yoghurt.
SADY: Um, OK. Lightweight.
* This is the part of the chat where I, Sady, sound like a total douche! But what I am saying, now, is that both of those problems, as quoted, are actual problems. The issue is that they are also problems that directly affect the person in question (or, in the case of the “I don’t want to take a pole-dancing lesson” thing, problems that actually do not affect you directly unless you live in a dystopian hellworld where everyone is forced to take pole-dancing lessons in order to vote, like the thing in Starship Troopers where you have to get decapitated by giant angry bugs in order to be a Citizen, but with less death and more twirling) and take place in a realm that is generally regarded as “private.” And it gets into this whole weird area, with some people, where you are only concerned with Feminism insofar as it concerns your right to sexualize or not sexualize yourself, get a promotion or not get a promotion, etc. It’s a very privileged dialogue, in a number of ways. And some people really do focus on this to the extent of, say, non-sex-workers failing to concern themselves with the marginalization of sex workers, or cis women failing to recognize that if they’ve got problems with people policing their body presentation and sexuality, you can bet solid cash money that a lot of trans ladies have got WAY MORE PROBLEMS in that area. It’s pretty easy to do that, if you are a privileged lady! Like, say, me! No-one’s denying that the personal is political; the problem is when you only focus on your personal and don’t make room for anyone else’s. That’s when feminism becomes a “lifestyle accessory,” or a way for you to feel righteous (I didn’t take the pole-dancing class! PROBLEM SOLVED) instead of a way for you to engage with a community and start figuring out and/or improving this whole Human Condition thing. And when I eventually write my 9,000-word blog post on how I finally started to fall out of love with Tina Fey, that is what it will be about. Although, short answer: maybe you should check out that one blog Feministing. Because, you know, they COVER A LOT OF THESE ISSUES.