Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Flaw in Feminism: Conclusion.

Bloody hell: months of blogger apathy and uninspiredness and now two posts in a day. What's t'world coming to?

Before I go any further I'd like to make something clear. I don't AGREE with separatism, or the kind of feminism that criminalises sex workers, as the Icelandic goverment did, pre volcano, but I accept them as forms of feminism. I'm just keen to point out that they are not the only or indeed empirically best feminisms out there, and that the other feminisms often get dismissed or discounted both by some enemies of feminism and some feminists.

That said, back to Dr Who. When Russel T Davies regenerated the series back in 2005, it was with some amusement that I noticed that the term 'assistant' had been ditched and replaced by 'companion' when referring to the women who travel with the Doctor. It's totally acceptable that the power dynamic between them is anything but equal. It's not because of their respective genders that the Doc is superior, but because of their respective species. He is from a more advanced race, so it CAN'T be sexism when he patronises them and orders them about. But 'assistant'? That's an insult. I'm not knocking the doctor/companion dynamic and all credit to Russel T for mixing things up with a couple of male pseudocompanions. It was just something that made me smile.

The companions have a tough time of it though. They exist for bad shit to happen to them so that they can be rescued. It's ultimately a very passive model - although on Doctor Who it is quite often challenged with the Doctor placed in the role of distressed damsel from time to time. Still, it's there. Rose/Martha/Donna/Amy are there to be a bit stupid and need saving. No hiding from it.
There has been talk of the Doctor regenerating as female. Never going to happen. You know why? Because as soon as they do that it looks like an overtly feminist gesture. It becomes an ISSUE. A woman Doctor would be like the one ethnic kid in all early 90s school textbooks: A patronising and insulting piece of tokenism, which, because of the ridicule it would draw, would ultimately do the cause of equality more harm than good.

What I suppose I'm getting at here is that Doctor Who is an incredibly long running series and when the rules of the Whoniverse were first laid down a more sexist mindset was in play. We can't change that without changing the nature of the show itself so far as to be unrecognisable, so a lot of those old sexisms remain, under the guise of tradition. Kind of like real life, when you think about it.

There's one sexist Doctor Who tradition which I would love to see discontinued, though, and that’s the wholesale fanbashing of each new female companion the moment they show up.
Billie Piper? She’s a bimbo, she’s stupid, she’s got big teeth. She’s rubbish.
Freema Agyeman? She can’t act, she only got the part because she’s black. She’s rubbish
Catherine Tate? Good god the sheer venom that was spat at this woman for daring to be a comedian-turned-actor.
Now Karen Gillan is getting the treatment. The consensus seems to be that she’s the show’s weak point. What utter bollocks. Have you SEEN the woman act? She’s fab. She’s just a companion and as such to be hated.

My lovely wife - who actually likes the companions - suggested that this is because, regardless of our gender and sexuality we all fall in love with the Doctor, and thus see the companion as a rival. She’s not good enough for him. We would be so much better. She’s got a point there, I think. A woman in an enviable position always gets clawed at. There’s never a sense of “good for her”. It’s always “who does she think she is?” or, a personal favourite expression of mine “she’s no better than she should be”. Unless she dies, at which point she’s randomly a saint. See Princess Di and Jade Goody for concrete examples of this.
I’d say the venom aimed at companions comes from both sides of the gender divide. It’s not that women are bitchier than men. Some of the nastiest comments I’ve heard about companions have been from blokes. A straight, male acquaintance of mine publically advocated burning Ms Tate. In jest, I presume, but still, a very impassioned and violent reaction. However, there is a gender thing at work here. You see it all the time on reality shows with a phone vote.

This is how it breaks down:

Men will support other men out of a sense of tribalism. Male bonding and friendship are made much of in our society. The Carling ‘belong’ ads tap into this, as does the incredibly sexist expression ‘bros before hos’- i.e. loyalty to your male friends is more important than loyalty to your sexual partner, spouse, or indeed pretty much any woman in your life.
The problem with that is that women tend to do the opposite. Given a choice between supporting a man and a woman, most women stand by the nearest available man, and will criticise, undermine and judge a woman any way they can. For all the songs and slogans about sisterhood, somehow, it’s never really worked that way. ‘Women beware women’ is a far more accurate appraisal of cultural dynamics among western females than ‘friends foreva, boys woteva’ or indeed ‘zig-a-zig ah’. So why? Why is this?
I think it’s because women have been viewed as weak, as inferior, as property, as morally flawed for millennia. And when you are oppressed, one way to survive is to keep the oppressor sweet. We are, as women, socialised around making men happy through either nurture or sex. There’s an element of survival of the fittest as well. We are told that we have to ‘keep hold of our man’, that ‘man eating’ women will ‘steal him’ from us. (It is, of course, never the guy’s fault). These ideas run so deep in our society that we completely internalise them. I do it all the time. If a male acquaintance offends me I’m either long suffering or indulgent. If a female does the same I find myself pouring bile on her behind her back. I have to make a conscious choice not to do that. Sisterhood does not come naturally – there’s a lot of self hatred to unlearn.

So when a new assistant/companion takes her first steps into the Tardis, the male fans, on the ‘bros before hos’ model, compete for the affections of their Galifreyan ‘brother’ by slagging off his girl. The female fans want her out of the way so they can fantasise about taking her place. And all the hapless woman can do to become beloved by her public is suffer some godawful fate, because we can only allow ourselves to love a martyred woman. A happy one is far too threatening. Same with hookers, it would seem.

What an astounding number of people don’t realise, of course, is that this bone-deep internalised sexism affects feminists too. And, as such, feminism has a huge hurdle to overcome. As feminists in a patriarchal culture, we have to challenge the sexism ingrained in our own mindsets before we can even THINK about changing the world.
And just a note to all those feminists jumping down the throats of women like Brooke Magnanti, Jen 'Boobquake' McCreight, Penny Arcade and all other women who make an assertive and conscious choice to use their sexuality as a means to an end... Those women scare you because, deep down, you think they might be sexier and more loved than you are. You see them not as traitors to their sex, but as competition, and you feel the need to take them down any way you can. It’s not our fault, We're socialised into it. Just don’t pretend it’s not happening, otherwise it can never, ever change.

WG x

The Flaw in Feminism. Parte ye firste.

I'm on one about feminism at the moment. My little brain is ticking away all the time with a combination of righteous indignation at the inequalities that women still have to face and just pure head-in-hands embarrassment and frustration at how bloody self sabotaging the whole movement is.

It's like in this week's episode of Doctor Who, Cold Blood, the Doctor assures the Silurians who live beneath the surface of the Earth (turns out the wacko Hollow Earth Theory is right on the money. Nice touch) that Humans are peaceful, noble, highly evolved beings who are worth negotiating with, and you just know he's deliberately stretching the truth to give humanity a chance to be all he sees in them, and you also just know that humanity is going to let him down. Again. And they (we?) do. (By the way, if you're not a DW fan. well, I'm sorry. Doctor Who is guest starring as the frame story for today's rant. Deal with it, and go and watch some - it's right good. But I digress.)
Anyway, that's what feminism's like for me. I try to live my life according to feminist principles, advocating for women's rights and being aware of - and challenging sexism in society. I also advocate for feminism to people who think that it is a redundant/outmoded/hostile/sex-negative/sexist/hypocritical bitchfest. No it's not, I tell them. That's a misconception of what feminism means. Of course you'll meet hostile, man-hating, humourless women who claim to represent the women's rights movement in its entirety but there's so much more to it than that. there are male feminsits, sex positive feminists, funny feminists, genderqueer feminists who REALLY render the separatist argument null and void. Do one of these lovely, atypical feminists come along to illustrate my point? No. Instead, a "typical" feminist - some hostile, man hating, humourless woman - will come along and tear a strip off me for not being a proper feminist. Total Doctor Who facepalm time.

Example. When Billie Piper somewhat inexpertly interviewed Brooke Magnanti following the revelation that she, (Brooke), an intelligent, assertive and sane scientist was the mysterious Belle de Jour - previously believed by many to be either fictional or a tragically damaged and deluded victim - I leapt out of my seat and actually cheered when she linked her decision to go into prostitution to feminism:
"One of the main tenets of feminism is a woman actively choosing what she's going to do." she said to a blinking and uncomfortable Piper. i.e. it was her RIGHT as a woman to CHOOSE whether or not to be a prostitute, just as it was her right to stop when she was ready. If a woman has a right to say no, surely she has a right, just as inalienable, to say "yes, and that'll be three hundred quid, please."
So, great. B de J (snigger) is a feminist. You can be a feminist and be paid for sex. It's nothing to do with wearing dungarees and shouting at blokes, any more than wearing pink and having limp wrists makes you gay. It's a state of mind which says 'don't tell women what they are and aren't allowed to do based on their gender: that's ridiculous'. Done. And on international TV. Really. I was just so happy.
And then, oh the humanity, this. Brooke Magnanti renounced her feminism. I actually cried.

But who could blame her? In the absolute vile shitstorm that rose up in the comment boxes and internet forums following her 'coming out',who had the most faeces to fling? was it the religious right? Not really. Was it sexist arseholes making comments such as 'I wouldn't pay £300 for that'? Well they came close, but that, sadly, was to be expected. No, the stinger was that it was self proclaimed feminists who lined up to put the boot in. I, for one, genuinely did not see that coming. Naive of me.

Apparently, feminists who want to 'protect' women from the nasty side of the sex trade don't want voices FROM the sex trade that are off message. Voices saying "Actually, I've done this and might be able to bring my experience to the table when fighting for the rights of sex workers and women." They want broken and vulnerable women who will illustrate their point and strengthen their argument. They want, genuinely, to help and protect and rescue these women from the evils of sex work, because they, not the sex workers themselves, know best.

A noble and laudable goal, sure: as well as all the happy, well paid, safe-ish call girls out there, There are millions of unhappy, vulnerable sex workers in dire need of support and rights. But do just explain to me again how speaking FOR sex workers but verbally attacking them when they speak for themselves is feminist. Wasn't that the argument against giving women the vote? "We will speak for you. We know what's best. And if you disagree we will drag you through the mud."

And so, as usual, we're down to words.
Is a feminist a) A person who believes that it is a woman's right to choose her own lifestyle, her job, her value system, whether or not it is considered too dangerous and irresponsible for a woman to do, or is a feminist, b) a woman who, in the name of feminism, seeks to dictate what is or is not acceptable behaviour in other women, because an anomaly (if such Belle de Jour is) in the grim picture of sex work simply cannot be tolerated?

I know which one I think it is. It's the one who doesn't call herself a feminist anymore.

But that's oversimplifying things. Sometimes it feels like the meaning of the word has been hopelessly lost and only the destructive, self-hating culture that has sprung up around it remains, but that isn't true: the dichotomy above is not an accurate portrayal of all feminisms.
The problem, in the UK more than any other country I've visited, is that the feminists who don't fit the stereotype have stepped away from the label, lending credence to the myth that feminism is indeed nothing but a redundant/outmoded/hostile/sex-negative/sexist/hypocritical bitchfest.
Ladies, gentlemen and others who feel excluded by the 'members only' culture, take heed; it is our right to own our feminisms. Reclaim the label. (And the night, of course).

WG x

There's more to this. I want to talk about WHY it is women put the boot into women, even under the guise of fighting for women's rights. Why men will band together against a woman out of a sense of brotherhood but nine times out of ten, women don't.

In short, why 'Bros before hos' but never, particularly in the case of Brooke Magnanti, 'Hos before bros?'

I've got more to say about Dr Who as well. I'm sure you just can't wait.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Let's give this another go then, shall we?

I am a bad blogger.
If my blog were a goldfish, or a puppy, or even a bonsai plant, it would currently be dead from neglect, and the RSPCA (or bonsai equivalent) would be knocking on my door.

As it is, I am going to have a bash at resuscitating the poor thing and see if I can get back into the habit. Discipline! Routine! Focu...ooh! iSketch... Back in a bit...
Well. we'll see how it goes.