Feminism By Any Other Name

Lately I’ve been listening to past shows a radio programme called Media Matters. Two guests I have been particularly looking forward to where Gigi Durham, author of The Lolita Effect and Jennifer Pozner, Executive Director of Women in Media & News (WIMN) (Both links lead to mp3 files). Sadly, I was greatly dissappointed. I was naively expecting a rich, filling feminist feast. I completely forgot that the second you put one feet outside of Teh Feminist Comunity ™, you are inmediately on Feminist Hostile Ground. Silly me! However, it seems that these women have deviced a way for introducing feminist ideas into the “progressive” community, sometimes even reaching the mainstream public space. How? By avoiding any use of the dreaded “f-word”. (I always thought that calling a feminist site “The F Word” was very clever; I never realized the extent to which this was the case). Although their “feminism” is admitedly “mainstream”, it does contain a good dose of core feminist ideas. The male gaze, sexual objectification, competition for male attention, even brushing over topics like violence against women and girls and child abuse. (Keep in mind that these women’s focus is the “media”).
I have the suspicion that this trick doesn’t wash. Feminist ideas sound feminist-y even without the “f-word”. Still, it left me wondering. It sure is a great way to get feminism out there, particularly among the so called “progressive” circles in which feminism is still a much dreaded topic (hence the quotation in the word progressive).
But, to be honest with you, it pisses me off. Isn’t it disrespectful to the many feminists who carried out invaluable work under the feminist label, work that is now at the basis of these women’s criticism of the media? What do you think? Am I being too sensitive over a word? Isn’t it ideas that matter at the end of the day?
For the ones who feel like doing extra work, we could also try to evaluate the ultimate usefulness of these women’s work due to their lack of…, well, teeth. I get the impression that in the end their arguments can be boiled down to

“I have no problem with companies making profits, I just want them to give up the misogyny that works so well in bringing them profits”.

Because for as long as misogyny, violence, sex and all the evils of humanity are profitable, we will always have a misogynistic, violent, sexualised and evil media.

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    JENNIFER DREW said,

    Attempting to promote feminist ideas and concepts without using the actual word ‘feminism’ does effectively negate these concepts. By not stating precisely how and why such issues as how the sexual commodification of women and girls works to ensure that women and girls as a group remain an oppressed group reduces such concepts to ones of individual problems which supposedly can be solved by individual efforts.

    If one cannot actually name the concept then it becomes meaningless. Why not take another step and say ‘ racism will no longer be used because it offends certain groups who do not believe racism exists and also claiming white groups are the ones responsible for creating and reinforcing racist ideology must not be named. If we were to do this then ideas of racist would just become individual ones.

    So it is with feminism – because if we cannot say the word then the ideas of feminism will just be individual women’s beliefs. This means what women experience are just individual acts they have no social meaning whatsoever.

    Pandering to the patriarchy will not effect societal change because this is precisely what our patriarchal society wants – feminism reduced to individualised beliefs not beliefs which are societally promoted because our society is still a male-centered and male-dominated one. Likewise the media too is still male-centered, male-defined and male-dominated. Why else are women still represented and portrayed by the media according to male-centered and male-dominant ideas and standards. Not being able to name the issue ensures it continues to be either hidden or individualised.

    Feminism is about women’s lives and women’s experiences. Much work has been done to uncover the complexity of how our society continues to be male-centered etc. and why it is still widely presumed to be ‘common sense and natural.’ There is nothing ‘natural’ about patriarchy since it is all about power – power over women as a group.

    Feminism has sought to uncover the links and connections and because feminism has been very successful in uncovering this continuum this is why feminism has become a ‘dirty word.’ Challenging the status quo is frightening and so we need to ask ourselves who will gain and who will lose if feminism is re-defined as an obscene term which should not be used.

    Already many are afraid to state that it is not ‘violence against women’ which is the problem but ‘male violence against women’ which operates in such a way as to ensure women are still oppressed, marginalised and subject to male domination and control.

    So we must ask ourselves the pertinent question – why are so many feminist women afraid to state they are feminists and particularly in relation to the media. Why is the media waging a demonic campaign against feminism? Is it because the media which continues to be male-controlled and with men not women holding the power, believes that feminism challenges men’s privileges and rights as a group. The media is a very powerful influence on women’s and men’s lives. Even though the media does not create ideas it does reinforce existing beliefs concerning women’s and men’s supposed ‘natural roles.’

    If we were to say ‘I have no problem with companies making profits, I just want them to give up the misogyny that works so well in bringing them the profits.’ Well just who are these ‘companies?’ Are humans involved in running these companies or are these companies operated and run by computers? What is the relation between these companies and our human society? If we cannot make the connection between the fact these companies are owned and operated by mainly powerful white, middlle-class men who are determined to maintain their male privileges and power, then obviously these individuals are operating individually and their actions have no impact whatsoever on society as a whole. Instead we are all supposedly just individuals who are free to pick and choose what we believe and each one of us is supposedly given the opportunity of achieving all that we can wish. If we fail it is supposedly due to our own failings and has nothing to do with how our society is constructed.

    We need to keep saying the dreaded word feminism and we need to remember how powerful the media has become but the media can be challenged and we can hold these powerful men accountable for their actions. Fortunately many feminist women are not afraid to speak out and challenge those who believe feminists are now the 21st century version of witches. The media is responsible for creating the myth feminists are all man-hating, hysterical women but this myth must be challenged not meekly accepted.

  2. 2

    marytracy9 said,

    Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your comment, it was very insightful.

    I am interested in your idea that if feminism is not presented as such, then any analysis of society is reduced to individual’s beliefs, and in your agument that the reason why feminism has become a dirty word is precisely because it draws the connection between the individual’s ideas and actions and the structure of society and the powers that be.

    I’d also add that this “bringing down politics to a person’s individual actions” has become the norm nowadays. And the reason may be that this is the best way to ensure that nothing is ever changed.

    Also, I’d go further and state that yet another reason to keep feminism out of the public discourse is that if you let feminism spread, you run a very high risk of having people falling on the traditional “Left” side of the economic paradigm. This is what I was referring to when I said that these women’s arguments banish in thin air. If you don’t change the economy, tied so closely as it is to patriarchy, then you don’t stand that big a chance of ending patriarchy either.

  3. 3

    While I believe a lot of what Jennifer is saying, I think it’s more accurate to say that introducing feminist concepts without saying the word “feminism,” is still good. The problem is that it’s not good enough. It tells people some things that are right and true, and this is always important. The problem is that it doesn’t say why these things are right and true or supply a coherent political position that ties the sexualization of young girls to other issues affecting women.

    Honestly, despite her brief and ringing endorsement of capitalist exploitation which you quoted, she’s coming off as way more critical of industry and advertising than of patriarchy, which is probably why her book is in the mainstream and she was allowed on air.

  4. 4

    Polly Styrene said,

    The problem with the “I’m not a feminist but” position is surely that it boils down to:

    “I’m aware of things that I can see are unjust, but I am too scared/too worried about disadvantaging myself materially/too afraid that men won’t like it /too afraid that I will be called an ugly hairy frigid lesbian to say so”.

    Which is kind of like the suffragettes saying ‘well women not having the vote is unfair, but we don’t want to say so in public, because it might upset people’.

    You have to name and recognise things before you can begin to do something about them.

  5. 5

    Level Best said,

    I certainly can’t offer the level of excellent analysis that Jennifer Drew has, so I am very appreciative that she posted here on this subject.
    Somehow I started receiving emails from WIMN, and I’ve found the articles just. . .weak. WIMN’s concerns and approaches aren’t of much interest to me, because I love radfems and have been reading them for 30 something years and now see everything through some facet or another of their various worldviews. For me, as a working-class, older woman, WIMN’s career-woman views are too privileged and rarified for me to relate to. I don’t feel hostile to Pozner and kin at all, and I think they are doing some good things ON THEIR LEVEL, but it’s not the revolution of kindness and nurturing that I dream of that will follow the toppling of all power hierarchies. (No, I don’t expect much, do I? Heh. And I was never a hippy, so don’t blame cannibis.)

    In the meanwhile, though, there have to be women of good will inside the existing structures to ameliorate their cruelties, and groups like WIMN do this. Me, though, I love the vision and dreams and askance glances of possibilities that radfems give me. That’s why I read here, and on Polly’s blogs, and other good sites. It’s hard to “go back.”

  6. 6

    marytracy9 said,

    A-F S keep in mind that that wasn’t an actual quote, but just my interpretation of what their ideas boil down to.

    I think we all agree that though feminist-y criticism of the media is good, it’s just not good enough. As Level Best has put it, it’s not the revolution we all dream of.

    What I worry about is whether this kind of analysis will be able to achieve something at all, or whether it’s just too weak to bring about any change. I agree with Polly that

    “You have to name and recognise things before you can begin to do something about them.”

    Note: For a (somewhat off topic) discussion about feminism and how it should be presented to the world, here’s Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town.


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