I was going to write a new post about feminism and my negative view of it, but I decided to post these excerpts from the notes of a talk I gave at a seminar a few years ago entitled from "Eve to Elle" (from Legally Blonde - the film was just out at the time). The seminar was called "can do, can you?" - the other speakers spoke about everything from volunteering to societal constructs - it was mainly attended by female college students.
I hope it explains my views a little better....check out those who disagree with me in the comments below, Fiona at mental meanderings
and Damien Mulley
(who started the whole thing off).
How many of you would readily define yourself as a feminist without qualification? Who many of us would say – depending of the definition? And that’s the crux of the issue – depending of the definition.
Feminism is truly extraordinary in this regard – it has such a unique hold on our consciousness as women – we’re afraid to say no I’m not a feminist – we don’t want to discount the massively positive advances feminism has made in getting us to where we are. In polls in the USA over the last 10 years up to 2/3 of young women were reluctant to define themselves as feminist. Feminists of the 60s and 70s are horrified to think that their daughters while supporting the rights of women to participate in the workplace etc view feminism as something that’s not related to their personal lives, the very area that feminism affects us most.
Depending on the definition is something that ones hears quite regularly nowadays when women talk about feminism – we don’t go round always thinking about feminism and its objectives, we don’t hold weekly bra-burning bonfires but somehow it’s ingrained in our psyche as women in the 22nd century that feminism is something we should cling to.
The exact definition however is a different story – while we recognise the contribution of feminists in the past to bring women to this point in history, most of us don’t embrace the label feminist without some uneasiness.
There is no question that feminism as an ideology has permeated our consciousness in the last 40 years especially becoming an important cultural force.
There is no denying that many of the reforms brought thanks to the political agitating of the early feminists – the right of women to vote, to own property, to participate in the workforce are absolutely necessary and I certainly couldn’t imagine my life without them!
With the 60s and 70s a new wave of feminism emerged – the sexual revolution – a new “woman’s lib” which could have been as easily orchestrated by Hugh Hefner of the Playboy empire!
Freedom for the prosaic and stifling life of the home was promised through free love. The oral contraceptive pill effectively separated children from sex – irreversibly changing the perception of sex – from the procreative to the purely pleasurable changing the context of sex from within a loving, stable and committed relationship to a fleeting physical encounter and changing the expectation of sex for women – instead of mating with her husband for life who would father her children and enable her to fulfil her potential as a mother and as a woman to hoping that he won’t roll over in the morning and tell her that she’s crap in bed.
The sexual revolution promised a new freedom and discovery of self--it was a time when psychology became mainstream and the notions of psychological growth, freedom, and personal exploration came of age. In hopes of "getting in touch with their inner selves" women embraced psychology, the priority of feelings over reason, and rejected the constraints of objective morality, resulting the 4 deadly D’s as described by Mary Ann Glendon – divorce, destitution, disrespect for unpaid work in the home and disadvantages in work for taking time out for family as well as less stable families, teen promiscuity, pregnancy, easy abortion, a culture of individualism and selfishness, devaluing of womanhood and motherhood, isolation, and the tendency to use others as a means to fulfil one's own selfish ends.
An important feature of this psychological revolution was that the self is considered in dualistic terms, the thinking, desiring, conscious self is separated from a person's biological self. It’s just sex – it’s just physical.
Interestingly enough, from a psychological point of view the dualistic perspective is fatally flawed, a fact confirmed by real life experiences. The human person is a human person. She is not just a soul captured inside a body. Intuitively, we all know this. A person's body is part of and expresses the reality of who she is.
Bizarrely enough, modern day feminism while obsessed with rape don’t seem to realise their inherent contradiction in advocating sex without bounds - when a woman is raped, it is the whole person of the woman that suffers, not just the biological body. The mind reacts, consciously and unconsciously, and the soul as well. Healing the memories, mind, and spirit often takes far longer than healing the wounded body. It wasn’t just a physical encounter.
Ms Cosmo Girl now armed with a military ops like manual with neatly numbered instructions on how to get a man into your bed, how to please him and thus keep him. How quickly we moved from being the pursued in the world of romance to the necessity of equipping ourselves with techniques to prove our sexual shelf-life.
In essence, the sexual revolution gave men all the advantage.
By removing the traditional protective context of sex, women were stripped of their feminine armour and the new “free love” left women in the situation described excellently by Danielle Crittenden in “What Our Mothers didn’t tell us – Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman”
“In Freidan’s time, the problem was that too many people failed to see that while women were women, they were also human, and they were being denied the ability to express and fulfil their human potential outside the home. The modern problem with no name is, I believe, exactly the reverse of the old one. While we now recognize that women are human, we blind ourselves to the fact that we are also women.”
Feminism in the 1980s and 1990s kept moving.
As more and more women broke through glass ceilings – many were left with long term scars.
“I am childless and angry. Angry that I was foolish enough to the take the word of my feminist mothers as gospel. Angry that I was daft enough to believe that female fulfilment came with a leather briefcase” Virginia Hausegger, ABC Australia, Anchorwoman.
The notion expressed by Gloria Steinem that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” is in contradiction to what most women go to the cinema for – in the recent years Sleepless in Seattle, Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, You've Got Mail, Kate and Leopold, Sweet Home Alabama, Maid in Manhattan, Notting Hill, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding haven’t been about single women wanting to live their lives in a commitment-free sex career-is-everything world. It’s the exact opposite.
Meanwhile women started making choices which favoured family life – the root of the much touted statistic that women make less than men. Equal work for equal pay is only applicable when equal hours are worked, equal experience attained and the choices made by women to avoid high stress management positions or professions (eg surgeons) is not a reflection of bias against women but the positive and welcome ability of women to choose what suits them.
The feminist mantra used to be “We don’t just want a bigger slice of the pie we want a different pie”
To a certain extent that has being abandoned by the feminist establishment – a different pie in terms of work and life isn’t wanted – it’s about being men in skirts and beating men at all their own games, in recent years, the game have moved to the pub as the “ladette ”proved. Choosing the life affirming and important role of spending time with growing children often comes at a career and financial disadvantage to women and this is not what worries feminists – it’s that women chose time off to begin with. At some point women stopped being activists and just got on with it – degrees, careers, family etc -they chose to fill their lives with the activities they wanted.
But feminists continued agitating so much so that modern day feminism is alien to experience of everyday women.
Men are the official enemy. They rape us, beat us in our homes, oppress us in the workplace – every situation in a woman’s life can be feminised - that is victimised.
Now more than ever is the stereotype of the weak woman unable to hack it reinforced by those sisters claiming to speak for all. The reason most women continue to associate with men, the spawn of Satan, is that they’ve internalised the system of patriachrial oppression that they don’t and can’t know any different until we’re all reconditioned.
Another interesting feature of modern feminists is that they insist on the welfare state, as it’s called in the USA. Some people use the term “nanny” state to describe government that seeks to interfere and play a role in all areas of our lives – feminists believe that “it takes a village” to raise children, as Hillary Clinton put it, including psychologists, social workers, doctors, nannies, etc. While all these people have a role, it is very peripheral; parents should be first and foremost in the raising of their children. Feminists exalt single motherhood, and expect the “daddy state” to step in. “Liberal patriarchs” have become acceptable to women. We’re all victims anyway, why bother take responsibility for your own life when the daddy state can do it for you?
Academic departments are now in most Western universities, dedicated to the study of women. But they’re busy feminising words, like history to herstory, because as women, we find every instance of the word man to be deeply insulting and painful. Again, we’re victims, unable to cope on our own – so the sisterhood will fix it for us. The fact that fewer women are interested in science and maths is another problem that the sisterhood want to fix - women come to most knowledge by intuition and men found out most information about science by using yucky stuff like logic and experimentation. So we need to need to emphasise “female ways of knowing”. We need to reconstruct the world from a female standpoint. That is of course the feminist point of view – we need a new knowledge because we’re basically not good enough to get the “male way”.
What we really need to do is to reclaim “the freedom to enjoy equal education, equal opportunities, equal rights, and to be treated as men are – as ordinary people on their own merits and not as a special tribe” Irish Murdoch.
I’m trying to move up to Elle the main character in Legally Blonde!
Elle goes to Harvard to study law – in the original logically legal way and from a professor who believes in the inherent structure and form of the legal system.
She’s a fashion major from California who wants her boyfriend back – who’s gone to Harvard with half-baked political ambitions – she’s a Marilyn and he needs to marry a Jackie!
She comes up against all the problems faced by modern women – hard to find a good manicure, a cheating boyfriend, sexual harassment, and the anti-female nature of knowledge. Instead of setting up a support group to explore her feelings and bitch about the men who want to keep her barefoot and pregnant and rape her when she’s not looking – she doesn’t whinge.
She starts studying – writing essays, reading big books, wins a prestigious position in a law firm where a middle aged white heterosexual male (the Devil Incarnate as per feminist gospel) makes a move on her – she protests and walks out.
Handling everything with dignity and glaring hot-pink-ness.
Elle doesn’t have her feminist consciousness raised – she’s just an ordinary girl who works for what she wants, does manicures with friends, loses her boyfriend and marries a gentleman shortly after graduation and manages to win an important court case with her knowledge of perms.
And does all this with a whiff of Clinique Happy (what I’m wearing now) pink Manolo Blahnik stilettos and is very comfortable in her female skin.
Admittedly, if I had to spend much time with her I’d probably have a breakdown or an inferiority complex but as a post-feminist icon she rocks.
She doesn’t grow a beard or talk about menstruation as a major feminist concern as many do; she’s unashamedly fond of men and expects a high standard of behaviour from them.
Not to go on and on and on about the West Wing as some of you have probably heard me do but I think this exchange sums up the relative unimportance of modern feminism.
Sam, the deputy White House director of communications compliments Ainsley Hayes, a the White House Counsel, on how well she looks in an evening dress.
“Hayes, you could make a good dog break his leash,"
Celia, a temp office worker then tells Sam that his comments demeaned Ainsley.
Celia then tells Ainsley “I’m surprised that you're willing to let your sexuality diminish your power.”
Ainsley: “I don't even know what that means. And I think you think I'm made out of candy gloss, Celia. If somebody says something that offends you, tell them, but all women don't have to think alike.
I like it when the guys tease me. It's an inadvertent show of respect I'm on the team and I don't mind it when it gets sexual and you know what, I like sex.
I don't think whatever sexuality I am have diminishes my power. I think it enhances it.”
Celia: And what kind of feminism do you call that?
Ainsley: My kind.
Celia: It's called lipstick feminism. I call it stiletto feminism.Isn't the point the Sam wouldn't be able to find another way to be chummy with a woman who wasn't sexually appealing.
Ainsley: He would be able to but that isn't the point. The point is that sexual revolution tends to get in the way of actual revolution, nonsense issues distract attention away from real ones: Pay equity, child care, honest to god sexual harassment, and in this case, a speech in front of the UN General assembly, so stop trying to take the fun out of my day. With that, I'm going to get a cup cake.
And that’s what I’m going to wrap up with – that the sexual and feminist revolution gets in the way of the actual revolution.
The theme of this seminar is “can do, do u?” so I feel I should end with something practical –
If someone asks me if I’m a feminist – I say no, I’m most definitely not a feminist.
Maybe I’m a little extreme but it’s no harm to distance yourself from something you don’t believe in.
We need to start defining what we mean by feminism and if it doesn’t match up to the so-called feminist agenda well why are we calling ourselves feminists?????
Practical policy issues need to be introduced into this country to improve the lot of families. The impact of women working with young children has not be given due attention in this country and we need to hurry up and get initiatives like parental leave, flexible time arrangements, varied career paths which allow women to move in and out of the workforce as it suits them, we need to support the choices made by women in terms of career and family and that includes the validation of the work done by women in the home.
Most of us here are college students so these are peripheral issues to most of our lives at the moment – but I believe that we shouldn’t be afraid of our femininity – we’ve the freedom to say yes to casual sex, the freedom to postpone pregnancy to whenever we want, the freedom not to get married and not suffer stigma for it, the freedom to pursue independence, the freedom to work wherever and at whatever we want.
But we now need to reclaim the freedom to save sex for commitment, to be fertile, to get married whenever we want and expect it to be “til death do us part”, the freedom to be dependent on other people (men included) and the freedom to stop and start work for family reasons and still have a career.
But most of all we need to reclaim the freedom to be feminine.
Labels: I'm Not A Feminist