Sunday, 30 May 2010

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.


  1. *nods fervently*

    i definitely cannot wait for more about doctor who.
    & feminism.

  2. Only you could write about feminism and Dr. Who coherently in the same piece! Cheers!

  3. That's exactly how I feel. We should reclaim the label (though not reclaiming it has its own pros when debating radfems). I did used to wish Brooke had kept the label because she'd be the only high profile sex positive feminist (or at least ex sexworker feminist) in Britain but I can see why she didn't. I think Patrick Califia, when he was a lesbian woman, went through the same thing - being shunned by feminists for being a kinky lesbian.

    -Slutocrat (@Slutocrat,