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SEXIST BEATDOWN: You Darn (Feminist) Kids Keep It Down Over There Edition

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!

2308923167_1d792d0341ILLUSTRATION: 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!”

AMANDA: Hah!

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.

41 Comments

  1. woodscolt wrote:

    Argh. I love this blog, but I’m dubious about taking issue with Nina Power because of a review (not written by her) of her book. The section of her book criticising Jessica Valenti focuses one one article, written for the Guardian a while ago, which was a pretty shallow description of feminism given the context (a moderately serious newspaper, not Seventeen magazine). The comparison with a yoghurt drink is Valenti’s version of feminism, not Valenti herself.

    I know that I’m now saying ‘You should only judge Power once you’ve read more of her work’ when she’s criticised Valenti based on one article, but the phrase “consumer feminists such as Jessica Valenti” is the reviewer’s conflation – Power critiques the specific article, not Valenti personally. Elsewhere in the book she approvingly quotes Valenti on Sarah Palin, so I don’t think it’s a case of targetting Valenti in particular.

    One dimensional woman is definitely worth reading in any case – Power is certainly not elitist or dry.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  2. D. wrote:

    Excellent. I must link to this. Because the concept of keeping feminism for the adults because it is Too Good for the Kids is a scream.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  3. Let me get the obvious business out of the way: This entry, just like every other one I have ever read on Tiger Beatdown, is, of course, full of awesome. That’s not why I delurked.

    I delurked to tell you that I kind of wish you had some sort of logo and/or merch store, because Oh Man do I ever want a shirt with the phrase, “The Skittles of feminism” on it someplace.

    And might I just say, that in terms of the evil accessibility, you seem to have struck the perfect balance for my style of feminist enjoyment: Capable of discussing the heavy stuff as well as the not-so heavy stuff, with just the right blend of sarcasm, gratuitous capitals, and fiery rage. This blog is proof that discussing the heavy stuff doesn’t need to be an exercise in woe, but can, in fact, be serious, thought-provoking, and still somehow manage to be fun, or at least enjoyable. Because for every situation that can’t be taken lightly, there are so many that really can’t be taken seriously, either. At least, not if one discussing them wants to remain sane.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  4. radsaq wrote:

    L. E. Hairstylist,

    I agree on all counts!

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  5. Courtney Barret wrote:

    L.E. HAIRSTYLIST, I totally agree. Any Tiger Beatdown tshirt would be amAzing.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  6. makomk wrote:

    Woodscolt: this is the Guardian we’re talking about. Let’s just say that the fact it’s not chock-full of trans-mysogyny and transphobia makes it far from the worst article by a big-name feminist they’ve published.

    (Plus, just because someone’s a liberal Guardian reading woman doesn’t necessarily mean that she doesn’t buy into any of the myths about feminism, surely?)

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  7. Helen wrote:

    A lot of US bloggers – within reason, I thought – posted a variation on “if you’re publishing an introduction to feminism for the young’uns (FFF), must it have a cover featuring an airbrushed, Femininity-Y2K-compliant, headless naked woman’s torso on the cover?” I admit that did make me headdesk, too. Disclaimer: I have not read FFF, as we have our own Australian equivalents, such as Monica Dux’s Great Feminist Denial, which is not without its own problems.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  8. woodscolt wrote:

    Makomk – Definitely not the worst, and it’s always good when the Guardian demonstrates that they’re aware there are other feminists out there than the terrible Julie Bindel. But I thought (and others I knew did too) that the tone *of that article* would have been more appropriate for a teenage magazine than a newspaper.

    But I’m definitely not knocking Jessica Valenti – feministing is a great achievement and I recognise that FFF was aimed at teenagers rather than more informed feminists.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  9. Sady,

    I sincerely and fervently hope that your first book is in fact entitled You Are All Wrong, I Figured It Out, Bow Down Before Me. Because that would be fifty kinds of awesome.

    Though I also enjoyed the description of the dystopia where everyone has to take pole-dancing lessons. (Way more, I’m pretty certain, than I would enjoy said dystopia itself. I probably don’t have that kind of co-ordination.)

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  10. Nora Deirdre wrote:

    “…how I finally started to fall out of love with Tina Fey”

    OH NOES! I don’t like the sound of this!

    I do like the sound of “The Skittles of Feminism” on a T-shirt however.

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  11. Erin wrote:

    “Although, short answer: maybe you should check out that one blog Feministing. Because, you know, they COVER A LOT OF THESE ISSUES.”

    ?

    ???

    Maybe I just haven’t been to that site in a while…

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink
  12. orestes wrote:

    @makomk; i always thought bindel was a bit wacky and i certainly didn’t like her lesbian by choice theories which for me came too close to the idea of the ex-gay movement and people being able to change their sexuality if they just tried really hard. the articles you picked though; ugh! the first one especially could have been written by richard littlejohn, for fuck’s sake.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  13. Sady wrote:

    @Woodscolt: Okay. I have a response! And I want to make it clear, before I respond, that I am not going off on YOU, but on a trend I’ve noticed all over in feminist communities and that really ticks me off.

    First: yeah, I haven’t read all of Power’s book. From what I can read of her argument against Valenti, however, it ABSOLUTELY MAKES NO SENSE. It sounds like she’s digested all of the 9,000 arguments – arguments both valid and invalid – against “lifestyle feminism,” and then decided to throw them up on someone who is more well-known than she is in a bid for attention. More than half of what she attributes to Valenti (“chocolatiest sex?” “Friendly-bacteria yoghurt?” “Diamante phone cover?” WHAT IS THIS WOMAN ON, AND WHY HAS IT MADE HER A BAD WRITER?) just does not apply, and is flat-out ridiculous, in the context of Valenti’s work. Not only is it a boring argument that we’ve all heard before a thousand times – the feminist kids today, they are vapid slutty slut-sluts who think high heels and pole dances are EMPOWERING, let’s HATE THEM – she’s applying it to a person who is transparently, and obviously, not a representative of this type of feminism (if this type of feminism even exists, and is not just concocted in the mind of scolding would-be reformers).

    And the thing is – the continual thing about the damn book cover, the Feministing logo, the “unseriousness” of that one Guardian article, the need of some commenters here to devalue the fact that Feministing DOES cover issues related to class, disability, race, trans experience: to me, that’s just exactly what Valenti’s blog post was talking about. It’s the need to compensate for someone being more widely known than you are by telling yourself that you are More Serious, more of a Real Feminist, whatever. It’s the need to create a feminist elite, and to tell yourself that whoever is the easiest to like or to know about must be non-elite. It’s some indie hipster record-collector shit, but politicized, and it’s fucking stupid.

    Valenti was one of the first contemporary feminists I read. Valenti has, for whatever reason, become the media’s go-to person and face of younger feminists. Because she’s been deemed “representative,” for whatever reason, we find a lot of fault with her work, in ways that we wouldn’t necessarily find fault with someone less prominent. Some of that is fair, and thoughtful; all of us should be held accountable. But some of it is just annoying. She’s done a lot of amazing work, and I honestly think the fact that people are (still!) freaking out over the cover of her first book, rather than talking about what’s inside it – you know, the part of the book she was directly responsible for, which is the writing – is pretty sad.

    I mean, honestly: for much of my young life, I ran around saying passive-aggressive shit about Gloria Steinem, because I had a women’s studies professor who told me that she was just the sexyhot media face of feminism who popularized ideas rather than coming up with them and also “Ms.” was such a sell-out publication and it would have been better if we had stuck to the days of mimeographed feminist newsletters no-one read. So it’s not like any of what we’re doing here in this thread is NEW, precisely. I think it’s fine to celebrate someone for what she’s done, especially if “What She’s Done” is to turn a whole lot of kids onto feminism.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  14. Irised wrote:

    *munches popcorn*

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  15. woodscolt wrote:

    Well, I can’t really disagree with much of that. All I’d say is that One-dimensional woman has a lot more to offer than the controversial bits, and that it would be really interesting if both Valenti and Power took a closer look at each other’s work: if Power ought to be more aware of (or more generous about) Jessica Valenti’s body of work beyond that Guardian article, I think Valenti would also find a lot of interesting stuff in ODW as well. I promise it’s not the tight-lipped and disapproving critique of ‘how the feminists are getting things wrong’ that it’s been painted as.

    As I said, I think feministing is a super achievement – it was my gateway to the feminist blogosphere (and I’m British! The US feminist web is much more vital than what we have going on). I can’t disagree at all about the record-collector, righter-on-than-thou attitude in general; particularly when it comes to cover decisions by publishing companies, etc, over which a writer is clearly not going to have much control.

    I think this blog post is a pretty good summing up of the debate, incidentally, which highlights some of the differences existing between UK and US feminism. (It’s not my blog post!)

    Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  16. Laura wrote:

    Er, you know, Sady, I’m MOSTLY with you on this – elitist feminism sucks! – but this:

    And the thing is – the continual thing about the damn book cover, the Feministing logo, the “unseriousness” of that one Guardian article, the need of some commenters here to devalue the fact that Feministing DOES cover issues related to class, disability, race, trans experience: to me, that’s just exactly what Valenti’s blog post was talking about. It’s the need to compensate for someone being more widely known than you are by telling yourself that you are More Serious, more of a Real Feminist, whatever. It’s the need to create a feminist elite, and to tell yourself that whoever is the easiest to like or to know about must be non-elite. (emphasis mine)

    This is… I don’t know. It strikes me as a bit, um, overly defensive? You’re right about the logo and the book cover. You are. But the fact is that peoples’ complaints about feministing’s handling of disability issues, trans issues, etc are legitimate. There have been boycotts of feministing by trans bloggers, bloggers with disabilities, and countless articles trying to address feministing’s tendency to privilege white women’s voices over women of colours’ – people aren’t just making these critiques out of spite, like someone might critique a choice in logo or book cover design. And to me (poor, queer, disabled) these criticisms aren’t an attempt to just, like, hate on Jessica Valenti because she’s ~*famous*~ or to make feminism more elitist. They’re a genuine attempt to make feminism more accessible by addressing issues that are legitimately alienating to women.

    Folks who have called into question feministing’s coverage of trans, class, disability, etc issues aren’t trying to “devalue” anything. We’re not schoolyard bullies, tearing poor, poor Jessica Valenti and feministing down so we can feel superior (even though, the implication goes, we are obviously inferior) and I am really tired of people telling me this whenever I, for one, say I have issues with the way feministing tends to handle certain things. We’re not complaining because we think feminism isn’t SERIOUS enough – you can be funny and accessible and not dismissive of the issues of less privileged women than yourself! Up until like just this very moment, Sady, THIS BLOG was an example of this, at least for me. Which is why I’m sad to see you turning this into a discussion not just about this one writer and her bogus theory, but into a discussion of EVERYONE who doesn’t like Valenti’s work or feministing, because OBVIOUSLY we must all just be ELITISTS who are hating on Valenti because she’s soooo famous and awesome.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  17. Sady wrote:

    @Laura: Sorry to let you down or come across as defensive, lady. But, again, I’ll just quote another part of that comment:

    Because she’s been deemed “representative,” for whatever reason, we find a lot of fault with her work, in ways that we wouldn’t necessarily find fault with someone less prominent. Some of that is fair, and thoughtful; all of us should be held accountable.

    I should have emphasized this last sentence more. Yeah, I’ve seen people call into question Feministing’s coverage of class, race, disability, trans issues. Some of the time, they’ve been right on. And I think it’s worthwhile to call folks out. I will never be opposed to calling folks out, or to being called out. I think being called out is a necessary part of life, for everyone, and it makes folks smarter.

    But, like, there was also that huff where some women took it upon themselves to publish a lengthy, annotated essay on the World Wide Web, the point of which was that Feministing and the other Big Blogs didn’t have any writers of color and that the ones they did have were being “tokenized” and “used,” and the writers of color who actually did work for and with Feministing had to pipe up and make it clear that they didn’t appreciate having these folks whitesplain (like mansplaining! But white) their experience to them in this fashion, particularly not since they were wrong. Which must have been fun.

    And it’s always been my impression that, when someone calls out either Feministing or Valenti, and happens to be correct, Feministing and/or Valenti consciously work on improving. Their staff is diverse, and is not solely composed of heterosexual cisgendered white ladies: it includes Samhita, Jos, Rose, etc. I get the sense that they consciously work to keep that space diverse, and to have a range of voices and experiences represented on the page. In the past week, you’ll find them covering international issues, covering issues pertaining to sex workers’ rights, promoting the work of women of color, and publishing a big long piece about disability activism. Whether those issues could reasonably be given more space, whether there have been missteps in the coverage: those things we can discuss. And I think you and I might agree, when we’re having that discussion. There’s always room for improvement everywhere, including right here on this particular blog. But we can’t say there is no coverage. Because anyone with Google Reader or the willingness to type “www.feministing.com” into their browser can verify that this is factually incorrect. I think there’s good faith there, and I know that’s pretty much what the road to hell is paved with, but I don’t think it’s at all productive to dismiss the efforts that have been made when we’re talking about things we’d like to see in the future. And that – the “oh, Feministing DOES cover those issues? Ha ha, no they do not, that I know of!” – is what irritates me. It’s snarky and surface-level and doesn’t take into account the history of call-outs and improvements that any person or feminist publication goes through in order to get it right.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  18. Erin wrote:

    I guess my problem with Feministing isn’t so much the editors, and definitely not Valenti, but the commenters and community members. No joke, I had decided I was done with feminism at one point after spending too much time on that site. And then I found this website and I became a bit more optimistic about feminists.

    But that’s the thing about a more “accessible” feminism. The more accessible it is to the majority, the less it is to the minority. Most people are selfish and egotistical, and a more accessible feminism draws them in by focusing on things that most affect them. And selfish, egotistical people rarely change, even if they do label themselves feminists. And all these egotistical people are going to spend their lives fighting for a larger piece of the pie for themselves anyways regardless of whether they call themselves feminists, so feminism isn’t really changing their actions that much anyways. So what is the point to making feminism as accessible as possible, unless you think it is an end in itself to have more people labeling themselves ‘Feminist’.

    And the thing about a website like Feministing is that it remains so heavily trafficked in part because there is such a lax commenting policy. And the fact that there is such a lax commenting policy can make it very, VERY hostile to anyone not in the majority. So what makes it accessible to the masses makes it inaccessible to the ones that most need it.

    And yeah I know, there are lots of different feminisms and blahblahblah, and they can stay over there and I can stay over here and all that, but I don’t feel I’m in the wrong that I don’t have nice things to say about it.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Permalink
  19. Brett K wrote:

    *delurks*

    First, I should mention that Tiger Beatdown is my favourite blog in the history of the internet. Seriously. Sady, you are awesome.

    Second, THANK YOU for your discussion / defense of Jessica Valenti and Feministing, in the post and in the comments. Like many other young feminists, I discovered feminism largely through Feministing and similar blogs, and lately I’ve been really disturbed by some of the genuinely hateful attacks I’ve seen directed at it – by academics like Power and by the feminist/progressive blogosphere. The site certainly isn’t perfect, but as you said, I think the Feministing staff works really hard to listen to their critics and to make improvements where said improvements are needed – which makes it particularly upsetting when people go and refer to Feministing as a “cesspool” or whatnot simply because the editors aren’t trying hard enough, or aren’t deleting every offensive comment posted, or something.

    I think it’s part of our tendency, as women, in spite of being feminists, to be way harder on each other and on ourselves than on anyone else. As you said, everyone does need to be held accountable, particularly someone who has become somewhat representative of the movement as a whole. I think it’s great that we are able to do that, and I appreciate that a lot of the criticism that occurs within the feminist blogosphere is in the name of safe space. But at the same time, when that criticism turns into personal attacks and boycotts against groups that, for all their flaws, do some genuinely good work, well, that doesn’t seem like a safe space at all.

    (Sorry if this made no sense. I’m sick, and overworked, and exhausted, but I really wanted to tell you how much I appreciated this post.)

    Monday, January 25, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  20. Isabel wrote:

    The general thrust (hee hee I said thrust) of this blog post, I am very much behind, and also the writing is wonderful as per usual in this place. I don’t have anything interesting to say about the many things I agree with.

    I’d second what Erin said (& adding that their commenting policy, from what I’ve seen – though I haven’t read there in a while – & from what I’ve read on other blogs – so, I’m admitting this is to be taken with a grain of salt – is more lax on some issues than others), and possibly add that I guess (in part because of this commentariat) I am maybe less optimistic than you are about the success rate of this: 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?

    Also – and I’m not asking this to be a wise-ass, I’m asking because I really respect your intellect and am wondering if I’m missing something – I honestly don’t know where you got the idea that Powers’ problem with Valenti is that she doesn’t use enough big words. The Guardian article has a total of this to say about her stance on Valenti:

    She has harsh words, too, for upbeat “consumer”/”self-help” feminists such as Jessica Valenti, who subsume “the political and historical . . . under the imperative to feel better about oneself”. In this logic, “Almost everything turns out to be ‘feminist’ – shopping, pole-dancing, even eating chocolate” – and feminism is sold as the “latest must-have accessory”.

    I don’t see that as a critique of accessibility, except possibly for that last quote, and I would be hesitant to read it that way without more context. I see that as an ideological critique, one I have mixed (& unresolved) feelings towards, but one that is taking issue with what Valenti is saying, not how she is saying it. Or: I suspect she’d have the same thing to say if Valenti were making a similar argument but framing it in more theoretical terms. She may be misreading Valenti’s argument, or Valenti’s feminism in general, but I just really don’t see where in that sentence is a call for MOAR THEORY. Are you inferring that from the fact that the review says the book is academic & she’s a philosophy professor? Am I missing something?

    Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Permalink
  21. Isabel wrote:

    So I clicked over to Valenti’s blog post on the subject (which, duh, maybe I should have done before I posted that last comment), and I think I might be able to see more where you’re coming from, especially with the “slipping down as easily…” line (which: ew, what a terrible line).

    But I still am kind of iffy as reading this as a call for bigger words, and I kind of think Valenti may have been conflating previous critiques of her work with this one. I will say, it does seem that Powers may be misrepresenting Valenti’s work in general (though Nowhere in the excerpt Valenti posted, at least, does Powers take issue with her style, which Valenti then spends much of her blog post discussing. I think possibly Valenti assumed the “slipping down easily” thing referred to her conversational style, but it seems to me, based on the excerpt itself (particularly the part where she says that brand of feminism feels the need to compliment capitalism, and the fact that the Guardian review mentioned that a critique of capitalism runs heavily through the book) that Powers was referring to the fact that her argument doesn’t challenge specifically the capitalistic status quo, which as far as I understand it doesn’t (which: correct me if I am wrong!). Or in other words: Valenti wanted to make sure Powers’ words weren’t being taken out of context, but in a full-length book yeah, I think taking a single paragraph, without background of the larger argument in the book is taking those words out of context. I feel like people are reading Powers as saying that Valenti’s feminism is too popular, or too easy, or too fun, but I would put money (if not a lot) on the fact that her main problem with it is that it’s too capitalistic. Which I’m not saying I agree with, or is an unproblematic stance itself; I just think it’s important not to put words in other people’s mouths (even if they did it first), and it seems to me like that’s part of what’s going on here.

    I mean, full disclosure, I have an interest in critiques of capitalism even when I don’t agree with them. Possibly not everyone would distinguish between “I am a moral scold who thinks the kids are too sexy today and shouldn’t say it’s empowering” and “I have been heavily influenced by Marx and his legacy and think that no one in the world has full agency.” And I don’t want to just defend Powers because, haven’t read her book, Valenti seems to make some good points about herself and her feminism being misrepresented, and also, people critiquing capitalism can sometimes be purist assholes about it. I just feel like this has led to a really good conversation about the importance/place of accessibility, and the fact that it’s not necessarily incompatible with “real” feminism (though… see what Erin said, again, as a caveat), but if I’d read those quotes without commentary it never would have occurred to me that Powers’ issue with Valenti was that she wasn’t “serious” enough in the Big Words way, and I’m really wondering why it did to other people. \

    Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  22. Robin wrote:

    I can’t wait to read the 9,000 word post on falling out of love with Tina Fey! Please let it come to be a real thing!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  23. Anodyne Lite wrote:

    Isabel, what you’re saying might make sense if feminism were supposed to be the Bolshevik revolution. But is it, really? And in what ways, specifically, has Jessica Valenti’s version of feminism furthered capitalism, while, say, Powers’ hasn’t? And does Powers present us with an alternative to what she calls Valenti’s brand of feminism, or does she just moan about everyone else’s shortcomings?

    The whole “but it isn’t Bolshy enough…” line of critique just seems so misplaced, but there are certain Eurobloggers who will default to it in almost any discussion. Feminism is perfectly compatible with collective movements toward emancipation on the part of workers/the proletariat, but it isn’t and never will be *synonymous* with them. Feminism can’t be everything to everyone; it is, ultimately, about women first. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be feminism.

    As far as anti-capitalism goes, Feministing posts all kinds of take-downs of consumerism, of “girl power” feminism and misogyny in the media. I think it’s doing just about everything it can do to do rall the masses against Kapital, from a distinctly feminist vantage point.

    The problem with the whole Zizekian Leftist’s mode of engaging with the world (and Powers most certainly engages this way) is that, while they can find fault in anything, can find a way to make anybody seem guilty of the capital offense that is colluding with capitalism, they are curiously low on advice when it comes to finding ways to promote solidarity among the various movements for emancipation that they believe are too widely splintered. These types criticize “identity politics”, yet it seems to be the only card they have to play. And they keep playing it, and playing it. Ok, we get it: you think identity politics are insufficient. But, ironically, if it weren’t for identity politics, they’d have nothiing to define themselves against; their righteous indignation is a sort of oppositional identity in and of itself. Anti-capitalist products are as marketable and salable as anything, and capitalists don’t seem to mind all the guff much.

    It’s no small wonder, either, that most of Valenti’s harshest are European. They live in much more homogenous cultures than we do, where they don’t have to deal with huge culture clashes between ethnic and religious groups. It’s much easier for someone like Power to envision, say, a univocal feminism that simultaneously holds to a staunch set of far-left economic principles and conservative sexual values, because most British people have the same cultural attitudes toward sex and sexual expression as she does. Britain is well-known around the world for being a little stuck in Victorian, prudish attitudes about sex. Mainly, her viewpoint seems to suffer from a lack of understanding of the politics of the diaspora. For better or worse, identity politics are a post-colonial reality, and they’re here to stay.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  24. Isabel wrote:

    Anodyne Lite – just to clarify (WOW should I ever NOT post comments on feminist blogs when I am deliriously tired), I’m not actually endorsing this line of argument against Valenti, or this critique of culture at all. I think a lot of what you say makes sense! I haven’t read either Valenti’s or Powers’ books! Quite possibly I agree with more of Valenti’s opinions than with Powers’! Maybe Powers is completely wrongheaded about everything!

    I just think that whatever the actual merits of her argument, I DON’T think that it had anything to do with how accessible from a “whether or not you need to have gone to grad school” perspective Valenti’s writing is, or how conversational her writing is, or whatever. Or, I think if someone wrote in Valenti’s style something that Powers agreed with, Powers would be okay with that, based on what I’ve seen. I don’t think her problem with Valenti is that she’s too easy to read, or too easy to understand.

    And, also, to reiterate something that probably got lost in my 2-a.m.-penned mass of words – I do also think that taking a single paragraph out of a 300-page book, not providing any explanation of the book’s larger argument, and then claiming to be “putting her words in context” is intellectually dishonest. Maybe not any more dishonest than what Powers did! I don’t know, I haven’t read her book! But I’m not okay with Valenti presenting 5 sentences of this book as being able, on their own, to tell us anything at all about Powers’ thesis, especially when judging from everything else I know about this book (which… seems to be about as much as Valenti does), it really seems to me she might be missing the (possibly utterly incorrect) point entirely. Maybe it’s silly to insist on figuring out exactly in which way a person is wrong but, I don’t know, specifics matter to me.

    Does that make sense?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Permalink
  25. Sara wrote:

    Isabel: but if Power’s problem ISN’T that Valenti is too accessible, then what’s with all her complaining about how “easy” her feminism is, and how easily it “slips down”?

    Seems like a complaint about Valenti being popular and accessible to me.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  26. Sady wrote:

    @Sara: Right. First of all, having read Powers’ take on the matter, on her blog, I can’t see myself being prepared to take back a single thing that I’ve said in the chat itself – and, having made what I think are necessary clarifications in the comment section, I can’t take back much of what I’ve said here, period. I mean, let’s just spend some time with Powers’ prose, shall we?

    Their trouble is they have no analysis of Capital, it’s just considered a background feature. The problem is therefore reduced to being a longue durée misunderstanding – if only we could realise how profitable reducing sexism could be for everyone!

    Except of course it wouldn’t be for capital, for which the division and differences have proved functional (and so been incorporated and reproduced) in the course of its development.

    All of the ‘empower yourself’ stuff is of a piece with all the post-68 libertarian discourses found in management theory, silicon valley and every other (especially US) middle class redoubt where the cool and comfortable polish their beautiful souls whilst thinking others should tighten their bootstraps.

    I mean: seriously. Her blog is full of references to Serious Theory and Serious Marxism and OH HEY GUYS, who wants to go to my SUPER-FUN DELEUZE AND GUATTARI SEMINAR and all of the above is just… well, first of all, she’s participating the common Marxist piss-take of undervaluing or completely devaluing individual agency and individual action, which is a variety of theory I can’t deal with and which more or less every post on this blog has been about demonstrating the wrongness of, either in words or in the plain-and-simple act of registering a domain and fucking posting something and thereby enabling myself to work through the sexist bullshit I deal with every day and maybe help some other people as well. Individual! Collective! Not mutually exclusive, not even fucking separate, as it turns out!

    Second, her problem REALLY DOES SEEM TO BE that not enough people are casually dropping refs to “post-68 libertarian discourses” and “longue-duree misunderstandings” into their feminist analysis, which: how is this NOT, really, complaining about feminism being too accessible? Really. Tell me why.

    Last night, someone told me that I was “anomalous,” in terms of Internet discourse, because I’m well-read in an academic sense and have my Serious Theory down and know my literature in general, and yet I am an Internet writer who seems to get read a fair bit. And… maybe that person is just on the wrong Internet, I am thinking. Because I, along with (I suspect) a lot of the “accessible” feminists, DO know my fucking theory, COULD be discussing this shit in an academia-friendly way, but when it comes down to putting my shit out there and communicating with people, I DON’T START DROPPING THAT SHIT just to prove how smart I am. I write it in a way that I hope will be fun to read. You know why? Because NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE WOULD FUCKING READ IT if I did that. I would be purposefully reducing the potential for my ideas to have impact and to help people. Academic feminism is accessible to academics. Rather than, you know, WOMEN, and dudes who genuinely like women. Which is where I’m aiming, because I get the sense that those people simply comprise a larger circle, on this particular Venn diagram, than “academics,” and therefore have MORE POTENTIAL to make change with that “collective action” of which Powers claims to be so very fond. Maybe I would lose to Powers in a Theory-Off, but what can I say? I’m a pragmatist. I care about getting shit done.

    That and, you know, incorporating one or more of the worse theoretical features of Marxism into her analysis, which is what I have a problem with, if we ARE taking the train into Serious Theory Town for a moment.

    But mostly the problem I have with Power is that, even given the thick and chunky gravy of Theory-Talk she’s poured over her apparent inability to construct a sentence, her critique still boils down to “this is dumb sexy feminism for dumb sexy girls!” And it’s still motivated by pissiness and status-seeking rather than good faith. And you know how I know this? Because on her blog, her very Serious Theory Blog for Very Serious Theory Discussion, she’s COMPLAINING. ABOUT. THE FEMINISTING. LOGO. Big words can’t save you in the end: your petty shit is going to come out, one way or another.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  27. Isabel wrote:

    Sady – I took the comments about being easy/slipping down as meaning, basically, it doesn’t do enough to challenge the status quo, i.e. it’s not radical enough I guess – i.e., it’s a feminism you can adopt without actually asking yourself hard questions or truly questioning your assumptions (which: not agreeing with that! just.. have got way too bogged down in the nuances of like 15 words total of a woman whose book i haven’t read and now feel this urge to clarify what i said), which to me is a different complaint than being accessible since I think you can make very radical arguments in accessible terms. I didn’t check out her blog though, so maybe I misread the intention behind those two statements. Or maybe I always did! I don’t know why I got so weirdly hung up on this point I feel no emotional attachment towards.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  28. XtinaS wrote:

    Now I want to write a post about the difference between accessible as in “Let’s not talk 18-century political/ideological structures to that group of teenagers and then say they’re bad feminists if they don’t get it”, versus accessible as in “Anyone can call themselves a feminist! Yes, even that sexist loser who won’t stop staring at your tits! Yes, even Sarah Palin!”.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  29. Just to clarify: the quote that Sady has in comment 26 isn’t by me, it’s by someone who wrote a comment on another blog here: http://codepoetics.com/poetix/2010/01/19/5o-133t/

    And the Deleuze conference that Sady mentions isn’t organised by me either, I just put up links to events I think my readers might be interested in.

    While I do talk about philosophy (among other things) on my blog, I try to do so in a clear and accessible manner: I’m not interested in being obscure for its own sake. Theory in a vacuum is useful for nothing and nobody.

    All best, Nina

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  30. makomk wrote:

    Oh dear. I thought this was ringing alarm bells in terms of potential similarity to some of the really nasty radfem stuff. That’d explain why – same Marxist-inspired, anti-individual, one true form of feminism (for academics only) attitude.

    Isabel: That’s not exactly reassuring either. It smacks of the whole “examining your desires” attack used against, for example, women who’re into BDSM – and that’s far from harmless. (Ironically, this actually allows the person using it to avoid having to question their own assumptions.)

    Competition based on “questioning assumptions” and “asking yourself hard questions” is not all that meaningful. It’s often really about questioning the right assumptions and coming up with the correct answers, and that’s highly subjective.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  31. Lara wrote:

    Nina’s not elitist. So perhaps you’re just dumb?

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  32. Isabel wrote:

    Man I really need to get better at expressing myself – I never meant to imply that I agreed with or wanted to defend Powers’ line of thinking (or even understand it as, again, haven’t read the book), & I totally agree with what you’re saying, Makomk – my concern, which maybe because I’m trying to sublimate some kind of personal issue in my life I’ve spent way, way too many words at this point trying badly to express, was never to say that Powers isn’t wrong or even that her mistakes aren’t that bad, just that I felt the specifics of her mistakes might be different from what people were discussing them as. which is the least important distinction in the world, I am never starting a comment thought after sleep deprivation again.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  33. Sady wrote:

    @Infinite Thought: My mistake. It was a dumb one, and I don’t mind admitting it, and I’m sorry. I still don’t see the connection between a lack of “collective misery” (or the assumption that this isn’t where we start from, on some conscious or unconscious level, ANYWAY, or the denial of the fact that taking part in a movement and individually empowering oneself on a day-to-day basis by resisting sexism in one’s personal life and environs – yes, I still hold that they’re part of the same project – shouldn’t be celebrated for its power to alleviate some of said misery; our bootstraps are not all-powerful, but our agency as individuals is not negligible) and an inherently capitalist and therefore ineffective viewpoint. It’s entirely possible that you and I could talk about this, and find something to say to each other. And it was probably shitty for me to express this in such a rude and ad-hominem sounding way.

    @Lara: APPROVED! Just so that we can have a record of how productive and highbrow this discussion has been throughout.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  34. Sady: appreciate the correction. I agree that we probably have more in common than it might seem on the surface (with Jessica too, perhaps). Of course I don’t think there’s only ‘one way’ to be a feminist or that all personal resistance is in vain, not at all, that would be a truly ridiculous thing to think (and it’s certainly not what my book says at all!).

    My (admittedly polemical) critique of what I perhaps overgeneralise by calling ‘mainstream American feminism’ comes out of the concern that if there’s not enough attention paid to broader changes in work that negatively affect women, and the way in which the rhetoric of feminism is mobilised at times to justify war and Islamophobia, then feminism runs the risk of losing sight of the bigger picture.

    I certainly don’t think that making feminism accessible to young women is a bad thing, and I definitely don’t want it to remain in the academy (where there’s barely any of it left anyway, at least in the UK: almost all the women’s studies departments have now closed). Despite being a part of it, I despise academia for the most part! I like my students, but it’s not in general a great world for having discussions about things that matter. That’s really why I wrote the book. No one has yet complained that it’s too obscure or elitist.

    I think part of the problem (maybe a bit of a misunderstanding on both sides) is cultural: I think there are strong differences in the UK and the US in the way feminism is understood, and it has different opponents in each case (obviously the religious right is not so strong over here; but the UK has problems specific to it too). At the time I wrote the book I was cross with what I saw as a kind of self-promoting rhetoric in some of the language of US feminism: precisely not because I have anything against proper self-confidence and true feelings of self-worth (obviously!), but because the job market too is constantly trying to tell you to be perky and positive and so on. I do believe in looking at the negative, paying attention to feelings of exclusion and anger and starting from there but much more could be said/argued about this question of where to begin. Perhaps I should send you a copy of the book!

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  35. amandaw wrote:

    OK, Sady, srsly?

    And the thing is – the continual thing about the damn book cover, the Feministing logo, the “unseriousness” of that one Guardian article, the need of some commenters here to devalue the fact that Feministing DOES cover issues related to class, disability, race, trans experience: to me, that’s just exactly what Valenti’s blog post was talking about. It’s the need to compensate for someone being more widely known than you are by telling yourself that you are More Serious, more of a Real Feminist, whatever. It’s the need to create a feminist elite, and to tell yourself that whoever is the easiest to like or to know about must be non-elite. It’s some indie hipster record-collector shit, but politicized, and it’s fucking stupid.

    I don’t know whether you paid much close attention to that whole clusterfuck over disability at Feministing, but for the record, it started because a couple people took a look at Feministing’s history of posts addressing disability, found four total articles over the history of the site that addressed disability in any more depth than a link or short quote, and every one of those four posts and ensuing discussions perpetuated the harmful ideas about disability that make our lives hell.

    Several feminists in the community had been contacting Feministing over years of time without response, and finally (for whatever reason) one post caught their attention. They then started including several posts on disability, many of them also problematic, the rest of them focusing almost exclusively on sex positivity, sexual assault and (the cis white het abled class-privileged version of) reproductive rights. Which are important topics, to be sure, but it is frustrating that the only part of our bodies abled feminists give a shit about are our vaginas and uterii. The rest of them, apparently, don’t catch their interest.

    If you interpret all this as “devaluing” the fact that they have made a few posts on disability, the content of which is most tactfully called counterproductive, and akin to creating an “elite” and maintaining a hipster record collection — when we are talking about various leaders in our community perpetuating ideas that have immediate effect in our lives — that’s just a little insulting.

    See, look, I like Feministing and appreciate what they do. I don’t think they’re unserious. I think they’ve raised consciousness for a lot of women, nurtured a sense of social activism, and given a lot of women a framework for addressing the things they see in their own lives and the lives of the people around them. That’s important stuff! I just also think they live with privilege that makes it easy for them to gloss over issues that they don’t have to think about personally, which means they are going to trip up sometimes, and sometimes that means they are doing things that actively harm other women.

    It would be nice if those women could say “Hey, you are hurting me” without almost the entire fucking community standing up to say “How dare you devalue the attempts these women have made not to hurt people!” That’s lovely and all, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t just hurt someone.

    Those of us who tried to stand up and tell Feministing that what they were doing hurt went through a lot of shit that has made most of us pretty much decide to leave that fucking topic alone from now on, because clearly the community, as a general matter, does not want to hear when their leaders fuck up something for members of that same community. And we already spend so much energy just trying to be a part of this community in the first place, wasting it on the clusterfuck that results when you call out a venerated leader just is not fucking worth it.

    Honestly, the only reason I haven’t said “ah, fuck it” and deleted this comment before posting it is because I admire you, Sady, and trust you to actually step back and consider things in good faith. That doesn’t mean you’ll come to the same conclusions I have, but I at least trust you to put in that effort.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  36. Anodyne Lite wrote:

    First, please excuse the typos above. I called Nina “Powers” instead of Power up there. Second, I think it’s an interesting detail she relates–while women’s studies programs are shutting down in the UK, they seem to be growing here, in number and popularity (I’m just basing this on my own observations, nothing very solid. Someone correct me if I’m wrong). At one job I had, nearly 2/3 of the female employees had been women’s studies majors in college, and in fact human resources sought women’s studies majors out because they’re supposed to be good problem solvers and communicators.

    It may be interesting to ask ourselves whether feminism is making women more successful in the workaday world of corporate interest. Studies seem to indicate that women do very well in corporate situations where “communication” is key. There have been all sorts of NYTimes think pieces about the feminization of corporate America, how collaborative models are overtaking competitive ones, how women will be in more leadership roles in the future.

    I’m ultimately skeptical, though, of the notion that being perky and happy-go-lucky make you more employable, or more likely to further capitalism. If anything, I’d say the opposite is true; being cute and chipper may get you an interview for an entry-level position, but if you want to make senior management or partner, you’re expected to be one of the guys. There are recent studies that suggest friendly people make less money and get fewer promotions than extroverted, pushy people do. Either way, if capitalism is as deeply structural as most Marxists claim, then individual attitudes/affect don’t much matter, do they?

    I think it’s a little facile, the idea that negative affective states correlate better with productive or creative energy than positive ones. It’s also a classically masculine and romantic posture, to worship destructive forces. Happy people can get just as angry about the right things as miserable people can, and without the added stress to their nervous systems. Some people find themselves much more creative and full of energy, less weighed down and oppressed, when they’re content in their personal lives. Of course, it’s hard to even say exactly what happiness is anymore because it’s been so cheapened by cheesy rom coms and chick flicks and hallmark cards. But I think you could say the same of depression and anger. So focusing on feminists who seem too happy just seems divisive and beside the point to me.

    Another reason why I think our feminism is different in tone is because I just don’t see people in the U.S. responding to angry tirades well. We already have a media culture where we’re innundated with loud, brash punditry and hyperbole. People do care, I think, but they just don’t want to get all tangled up in the overblown rhetoric. It just comes across like more whitenoise when you get shouty over here. I think the British media are probably more measured and reasonable than ours, so perhaps polemics and anger are an easier sell. Maybe it’s even refreshing to see people get heated there. Here it’s just like clockwork.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  37. Anodyne: Oh, I’m not into anger or depression for their own sake (and certainly not for ‘romantic’ reasons – indeed I take issue with this in the book). But I think it’s worth paying attention to phenomena of self-harm and feelings of sexual worthlessness as part and parcel of what it means to be a ‘successful’ woman today. And I genuinely do think that anger is a mobilising emotion.

    You said:
    ‘if capitalism is as deeply structural as most Marxists claim, then individual attitudes/affect don’t much matter, do they?’

    Well, if you’re a ‘proper’ Marxist (and I’m not quite sure that I am) then you’d stress the link between material conditions and consciousness so you’d precisely be interested in individual attitudes because they’d reveal something of the contradictions of the whole. My book was a self-conscious tribute to Marcuse so I particularly focussed on the points where it looked like supposedly ‘individual’ decisions (about childcare, marriage and so on) might have a collective or social dimension that was worth pursuing.

    In the book I was interested in the rise of employment agencies, which are typically aimed at young women with the promise of ‘flexibility’ and so on: in practice this means embracing your own precariousness, not ever knowing who your colleagues are (who are the other people who work for the agency?) and having little or no provision for holidays or sick pay. If you still need to ‘act like a man’ to get to the top, as you say, well, in a sense, that’s the point: too much has been made of the odd woman in a ‘top job’ as if that was somehow proof that feminism was no longer needed.

    I’m still confused as to why you wrote this though:

    ‘It’s much easier for someone like Power to envision, say, a univocal feminism that simultaneously holds to a staunch set of far-left economic principles and conservative sexual values, because most British people have the same cultural attitudes toward sex and sexual expression as she does.’

    Do you really think that my book is sexually conservative? Sounds like a cultural prejudice of your own! I think you’ll find that the idea of Britain as a nation of prudes is a bit outdated these days. The idea of Britain (or Europe! What all of it?!) as having an ‘homogeneous culture’ is also deeply bizarre to me: have you not noticed the rise of the far right in Britain, Holland, Switzerland etc.? The opposition between states typically associated with welfare provision and those at the hard end of neo-liberal reform (much of Eastern Europe, with the shifting patterns of economic immigration in relation to EU membership/the decline in the strength of the pound, etc.)? I appreciate that America is a country riven with contradictions, but part of my initial annoyance with its mainstream feminism was precisely that it didn’t talk enough about women in other parts of the world: this may have been an over-hasty assumption on my part, but I think if we’re going to have a discussion about what feminism means in the 21st century, we can’t just stick to the experiences of women in one country.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink
  38. On the ‘angry tirades’ point: sure, I appreciate that Fox News and talk radio etc. pride themselves on bile and hyperbole. But I suppose I was trying to think about how to use different media. Whether it worked or not, I was trying to write a ‘pamphlet’ in the sense of making something that was polemical, cheap and accessible. Publishing always prides itself on ‘proper’ books, and I suppose Zer0, the publisher, wanted to do something that related to an older literary/political tradition that has died down quite a bit over here. I think it still has some life in it.

    It depends where you are, I think, what the best way of saying things might be: I am, for example, perfectly happy to be calm on the internet if there is too much shouting on here already.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 12:25 am | Permalink
  39. tinfoil hattie wrote:

    They live in much more homogenous cultures than we do, where they don’t have to deal with huge culture clashes between ethnic and religious groups.

    You’re kidding, right?

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  40. Anodyne Lite wrote:

    Well, I don’t know what to say about employment agencies. They’re not new here, they’ve been around for a very long time, and they’re used by men and women just about equally. Apparently, a lot of women are opting into part-time work on purpose in order to have more time with their kids. Beyond that, I’d have to defer to someone else, since I don’t know enough about the economics to know how employment agencies relate to feminism.

    On being aggressive to get ahead, however… The fact is, “acting like a man” isn’t some kind of concession to patriarchy in and of itself, because the sexes don’t actually have essential and immutable characteristics or personality traits. The typical traits we associate with men and women are a product of what I’d call “gender” conditioning, not necessarily the pure outgrowth of a solely biological mechanism. It’s not some sort of horrible betrayal of a woman’s primal essence if she learns to navigate social situations that call for more direct, aggressive communication styles. What it means to act ‘like a woman’ or act ‘like a man’ is mutating and evolving, in part due to the increased presence of women in the workplace. This isn’t a new development, of course, it’s been going on since the early days of industrialization. I think the breakdown of essentialized identities is actually one of the upsides capitalism, however. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

    As for sexual conservatism- most of my experience of British attitudes comes from British media and the occasional run in with a British person in the U.S., which may not be entirely fair. But as far as media goes, I find British media to be much much more focused on slut-shaming and paternalistic ‘protectionism’ (esp as regards female drinking and rape) than Americans would generally tolerate. The notion that any time a woman behaves sexually outside of a monogamous relationship she is being taken advantage of by a man is deeply, deeply conservative. It’s patriarchy’s central tenet, a form of social control, and the method by which cultures have succeeded in guarding male property rights over women’s bodies for centuries. It’s ultimately aimed at preserving the “family”, every fascist’s obsession. So, that’s mostly what I meant when I said that British feminists seem sexually conservative to me: most of them seem to hold very firmly to the belief that women aren’t sexual subjects in the same sense men are, and/or that they shouldn’t try to be.

    We have women in the U.S. from all over the world, millions and millions of them. They bring with them discussions about women’s issues from their home countries. The feminists I know personally, for example, are involved in the fight to unionize sex labor in Cambodia, Thailand, and other Asian countries where the vestiges of colonial rule imported Westernisms where they didn’t belong, transforming the sacred rites of temple prostitution into a crime. Of course, since then, violent crime against the sex workers and HIV infection has sky-rocketed, while condom use/possession is an offense punishable by law. Sex workers are being sent to “re-education camps” where they are denied medical treatment, then dumped back onto the streets and left to die. The trans sex workers catch the worst of it, unsurprisingly.

    I just don’t know who these American feminists are who don’t care about anything but pole-dancing and consuming fun products. I imagine they’re largely a figment of the right wing’s imagination: the hacky feminism of outrageous sluts and bimbos has been a right wing bugaboo over here for, oh, about 30 years now.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  41. Anodyne Lite wrote:

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    No, I’m not. Exaggerating a little, maybe.

    It’s a question of degree. Europe has its issues and its divisions, no doubt. But in terms of volume and frequency, I think the U.S. has more problems related to “diaspora” and culture clash. It’s a numbers thing. It’s an Empire thing.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

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