Don’t Tell Me What To Do!

Posted: December 30, 2011 in Feminism
Tags: , ,

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/helen-lewis-hasteley/2011/12/feminism-women-rights

I read this article by Helen Lewis in New Statesman, feeling like I’d read it before, it was so familiar:

‘The battles that remain involve telling people — often, but not exclusively, men — that I don’t like things they like, and I wish they didn’t like them either. I’m sorry, I know that you enjoy sexist jokes on TV panel shows, but they make me uncomfortable. I’m sorry, I know that you read lads’ mags, but I find them deeply depressing. I’m sorry, I know that you don’t think it’s a problem that women are under-represented in parliament, in science and in the media, but it is.

As a bleeding heart liberal, I feel hugely uncomfortable with trying to dictate other people’s tastes — and I certainly wouldn’t try to “ban” jokes or magazines or adverts or toys (or whatever) that I disagreed with. But fundamentally, feminism is about trying to change people’s minds. It just is. I am a killjoy.’

This sums up for me, how feminism ALWAYS assumes that its only project is to convince others that it is right, and to encourage (or coerce) people to do things how feminism wants them to be done.

There is no sense that a debate needs to be had, that feminists could learn from people who don’t share their views, that there can be compromise and discussion.

It’s my way or the highway.

But liberal feminists like Lewis tie themselves up in knots, claiming to not want to tell people what to do, but wanting people to do what they want them to do anyway, and sometimes lobbying to make their view Law.

I asked Helen in the comments if she, as a feminist respected the fact that I, as a woman, had differing views to her, in the name of independence. She said she did but I am not sure I believed her because deep down she knows she is right and I am wrong.

Photo via Lorraine Gamman: http://www.facebook.com/lorraine.gamman

Post script: This is Helen Lewis’s comment on men ‘contributing’ to feminist debate:

Comments
  1. Henry says:

    “I’m sorry, I know that you enjoy sexist jokes on TV panel shows, but they make me uncomfortable”

    So. F**ing. What?

    How many things have different people done today that make me feel uncomfortable? Hell even reading feminist writings (and the dizzy feeling of the relentless belittling of masculinity) makes me uncomfortable – self-inflicted I’m sure, But Lewis could always turn the (incredibly PC TV we get) off

    This nonsense about not making people feel ‘uncomfortable’ is indeed one of the pieces of lunacy of our age. How would managers ever do their job, for a start? How would you negotiate with someone who is trying to burgle your house? Tell them they are being “unhelpful”? Or would you want to make them feel ‘uncomfortable’ before they did the same to you?

    “I’m sorry, I know that you read lads’ mags, but I find them deeply depressing”

    Again, some people (idiots, no doubt) may find feminist rants depressing. Shall we ban them too?

    I find the whole merry-go-round of trying to negotiate away behaviour that you don’t like, and the inevitable consequences. one of the big piles-of-poo in life I have to say.

  2. Jonathan says:

    “I asked Helen in the comments if she, as a feminist respected the fact that I, as a woman, had differing views to her, in the name of independence.”

    Sure you did, but only after first writing: “I used to be a feminist but, through the amazing gift of being able to think for myself as an independent woman, rejected feminist dogma as wrong.” – i.e. basically implying that she was an unthinking sheeplike dogma spouting moron.😉

    I’m more intrigued by the paragraph you quote at the top – “The battles that remain” etc – which is just bizarre. The “under-represented in parliament, in science and in the media” bit seems almost an afterthought, following the really important concerns for contemporary feminism: lads mags and the inane witterings heard on panel shows. I shall go and write a strongly worded letter to my MP about these terrible awful dreadful things straight away.

    • I didn’t mean that and I’m sorry if that’s how you read it. I meant that it is feminists who celebrate and take credit for independent women so why don’t they celebrate my independence in disagreeing with them.

  3. I wrote a response to Helen Lewis over there, but NS server is convinced I’m a spambot, so put it on a Twitlonger and will copy it here!
    .

    Well, well, I’m honoured! I’ll confess (or boast) that I wrote the tweet that feminism needs to work out why most women don’t feel represented by feminism.

    Sorry Helen, but it’s kind of ironic that this article contains a staggering example of where feminists can get it wrong.


    “The battles that remain involve telling people — often, but not exclusively, men — that I don’t like things they like, and I wish they didn’t like them either. I’m sorry, I know that you enjoy sexist jokes on TV panel shows, but they make me uncomfortable. I’m sorry, I know that you read lads’ mags, but I find them deeply depressing”

    No, no, no, a thousand times NO! Feminism can and should argue why sexist jokes can be damaging and hurtful. Feminism can and should argue why lads mags might be harmful in how they affect attitudes and beliefs. That is entirely different to saying “This makes me uncomfortable, so you shouldn’t like it.”

    I’m male, but it seems to me that many of the women who recoil from feminism do so because they feel they are being hectored and lectured to about their lifestyles, their values, their clothing habits, their sexuality, even their depilatory habits, etc etc. Feminism tells them that they’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy and if only they’d think the way feminists do, they would see the light and reform their wicked ways. To which their response is, basically, f__ off!

    Yes, any activism (including feminism) is indeed about “changing people’s minds”, of course it is, but you don’t do that just by telling people they are wrong and you are right and that they should like the things you do and dislike what you dislike. You do it with evidence, persuasion and above all, engagement. It’s that last one where feminism seems to be failing so badly.

    One final point: I think David said something interesting above:


    “However, we are still effectively dictated to by a cabal of white, upper-middle class, Oxbridge-educated men who do not represent anyone other than themselves, and this is to society’s detriment.”

    I think it is inescapable that the feminist mainstream is (or is perceived to be) dominated by a cabal of white, upper-middle class, Oxbridge-educated women who do not represent anyone other than themselves.

    Unfair perception? Probably, but unless feminism finds a way to shake off that image, it will always struggle to properly engage the vast majority of British women who no more enjoy being patronised by an elite of graduate, middle-class women than they do being patronised by an elite of graduate, middle-class men.

    Yes, yes, this mansplanation was brought to you by…

    • elflojo84 says:

      Characteristically excellent points Ally, although:

      “You do it with evidence, persuasion and above all, engagement. It’s that last one where feminism seems to be failing so badly.”

      I don’t think it is, I think it’s the first one mainly. Persuasion and engagement flow from there, I think the reason feminism doesn’t connect with most young women is that the problems they are told they face, the ways in which they are told they have it worse than their male counterparts they do not see represented in the world they know. Even when feminists tell them exactly where to look, they look there and do not see it.

      My favourite example is the car adverts one. It’s quite easy to look at the way advertising creates / feeds an unrealistic ideal of female beauty and relentlessly pushes it on women, see the way it doesn’t push it on men to the same extent (QRG, I agree with your point that this is increasing for men, but don’t think it has caught up yet) and conclude that women have it worse than men. it takes a little more thoguht, and an open mind, to step back just a tiny bit, watch a car advert and realise it is just a male side to the same coin, selling an unrealistic ideal of male status, confidence and effortless cool. A man without the skill, intelligence or education to make himself the guy in the BMW advert is no worse treated by advertising than a woman without the tits or face to be the woman in the l’oreal advert.

      Most normal women (and men) see this instinctively I think, that different pressures exist for both of us. To use antoher example – they may see the difficulty some women have with losing traction in their career when they stop to give birth, but they also see how lucky women are in that society accepts them staying at home to raise a family while expecting men to go back to work sooner – this is even enshrined in law, of course, how many of the supposed “inequalities” women apparently “suffer” are actually legally-proscribed? Different, but equivalent, problems.

    • Henry says:

      Hi Ally, I agree with much of this. But, from experience, I’m much more pessimistic than you about ever getting a rational discussion with feminists.

      Coming from a mathematical, philosophical, and scientific background, I wonder at the intellectual nerve of people who say or imply (for example) that the existence of DV and rape is ‘proof’ that ‘women are oppressed’ in some general sense (all women, some women? definition of ‘oppressed’?)

      If you say ‘well actually men are victims of violence too, so by that logic men are victims too’ you’re laughed out of court. It’s a whole discussion that is by no means concluded.

      You’d never get away with any of this in a PhD on any more neutral subject. People would take your arguments apart. But because it is gender politics, you can make these wild assumptions all over the place. Similarly:

      – the ‘wage gap’ (based on one simplified measurement) MUST be due to discrimination. It cannot be for any other reason.

      – anything other than 50/50% representation in the media and in cabinets MUST BE a) more discrimination, and b) bad for society

      All this is debatable. My pessimistic view of feminism is that if it engaged in rational debate on these matters it would not survive as a political group. For it to survive it needs to shock and scare women. As with any political rhetoric, this emotive message is more important than a sophisticated examination of statistics and arguments

      Add to that the evidence piling up that UK women in fact are doing rather well at work, in education, and in the family, and you wonder if any branch of feminism CAN survive exposure to reason.

      I think it is this that you will find you’re arguing with

  4. Good points everyone.

    I think though that sometimes feminists make out they are not being heard, or don’t have support, when in fact they do.

    I mean, it is Helen Lewis writing in New Statesman here, not a non-feminist or anti-feminist. I think feminism actually has a lot of power in society, but part of its ‘schtick’ is to make out it doesn’t!

  5. elflojo84 says:

    A’right QuRi how’s tricks? It’s been a while, new life circumstances and suchlike, meaning less internet time, although that’s probably been good for me. Happy New Year and all that jazz, hope you’re well.

    “I read this article by Helen Lewis in New Statesman, feeling like I’d read it before, it was so familiar”

    Of course it felt familiar, it’s feminism! I recently returned to the Graun after a few months off, and it felt exactly the same reading the feminism stuff…obviously I wasn’t surprised, but I had wondered / hoped if something might have changed a little.

    “The battles that remain involve telling people — often, but not exclusively, men — that I don’t like things they like, and I wish they didn’t like them either.”

    You know, I actually quite respect this. At least she has the [figurative, natch] balls to say it outright, that what her political position is fundamentally about is deciding what SHE (or, I suppose, THEY) like and forcing it on others (even if ‘others’ is the vast majority) against their will. Most feminists weasle around behind bullshit words like “progressive” and “liberal” to describe regressive and authoritarian opinions. Tell it like it is, sistah – you aspire to be a tyrannical dictator. OK I’ve disintegrated into a slightly crazy ramble, but although I’m still pretty disgusted by the sentiment, I do respect upfrontness.

    As much as anything – by saying “yes, I believe it is right to force some principles onto other people who don’t agree with them; here are those principles” at least it seems to me to (in theory at least) allow for the possibility that the principles themselves may be wrong. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, I dunno. I remember having a vaguely rational thread of well-thought-out points to justify this conclusion, but it seems to have rather disappeared.

    It’s been so long without blogging I’ve forgotten how to organise my thoughts. Maybe I should have eased my way back in by talking about ritual homoerotic rugby tour humiliation on a sporno thread before tackling the Big Feminist Stuff.

    • HI Elflojo! Good to see you I was wondering where you’d got to.

      Yes more rugby homoerotics would lighten the load a bit but whenever you’re ready :D!

      I’ll digest your points and respond soon.

    • I know what you mean. I thought it was less disingenuous than some feminist articles. still annoying though, and still ‘dishonest’ in the sense it says how misunderstood feminism is and how hard it is to get people on side. In a major newspaper article. Imagine how much harder it is to get anti-feminist articles published!

  6. elflojo84 says:

    Also, “lad mags” (the original incarnation, Loaded FHM etc. – I’m not defending Nuts or Zoo on an intellectual level) were a lot better written, more intelligent and more nuanced than most people give them credit for. Not exactly Harold Pinter, but more so than Cosmo and what have you. Also, more to the point, they were a LOT more tongue-in-cheek than given credit for (again, Nuts and Zoo are not included). There were some quite witty gags in Loaded, especially.

    • Playboy used to have great articles !

    • Henry says:

      Cosmo have an recent article (reprinted by Yahoo news*) entitled “Could male attention at work ruin your career?”. It describes some wonderful research by a Dr/Professor Sarah Gervais showing that (quoting the Cosmo article):

      ‘Research conducted at the University of Nebraska found that women who were subjected to an “objectifying gaze” by men performed less well at maths tests than those who were not’

      Sounds promising eh? Here’s a description of her work (from socialpsychology.org):

      ‘Professor Sarah Gervais’ research examines power and subtle prejudice. Examining behaviors like the objectifying gaze, flattery, patronization, and interpersonal confrontation, she has found that the discriminatory acts of powerful people are often more subtle and nuanced than previously thought, but they still have negative consequences for recipients from negatively stereotyped groups (like women, racial minorities, and people from poor and working class backgrounds)’

      So no bias there, then😀

      * http://uk.lifestyle.yahoo.com/male-attention-work-ruin-career-102500969.html

      Gervais is ‘Dr’ here, ‘Professor’ on another site – rampant sexism is probably behind this confusion!

      • Jonathan says:

        “women, racial minorities, and people from poor and working class backgrounds”

        To which she could add: “and men”.

        Cosmo has plenty of “objectifying gaze, flattery, patronization, and interpersonal confrontation” stuff about men. Personally I find this entertaining rather than threatening – possibly because it’s another world to me; I don’t know anyone else (of any gender) who reads Cosmo – but you’re right: a lot of it is just rampant sexism.

  7. redpesto says:

    @Ally F – thanks for articulating what might have been my response much better than I would actually have done.

    The shorter Lewis-Hasteley: everyone should be a feminist activist just like me, and the only reason they’re not is because they too stupid or too brainwashed (women) or too busy wanking to copies of Zoo (men) to care as much as I do. Come the revolution, everyone else will do what they’re told.

    The idea that ‘Feminism’s biggest challenge for 2012 [is] justifying its existence’ is the same rhetorical trick that’s been used for decades – the idea that a movement that is over 40 years old (in its current incarnation), and has a wide range of adherents of various persuasions, is somehow in grave danger of disappearing of the political, social and media radar – and that it is necessary for all good women (and the odd bloke) to come to the aid of the party. That’s a problem of activism, not of ideology. Lewis-Hasteley is simply looking for recruits for a demo, rather than thinking about how specific aims can be achieved.

    if women (and men) engage in other forms of politics, or choose not to get involved in politics at all, or are capable of reading Loaded, Cosmo, the New Statesman or porn while agreeing with broader principle of equality, then it’s no good Lewis-Hasteley mounting her bully pulpit to tell them how they ought to live, think, feel or behave. Other people are just as capable of caring about more than one thing at once, let alone of agreeing with the idea that there should be more women in parliament – but wondering what would happen if they were all Tories. Feminism, even of Lewis-Hasteley’s variety, does not have a monopoly on anger, let alone all the answers.

    PS: I think this video echoes QRG’s choice of picture and the title of the post. Enjoy.

    • I was thinking something similar redpesto – as if suddenly all these people supporting ‘the cause’ would change the world. It doesn’t quite work like that it is a lot of bluster you’re right.

    • Jonathan says:

      “That’s a problem of activism, not of ideology. Lewis-Hasteley is simply looking for recruits for a demo, rather than thinking about how specific aims can be achieved.”

      Yes, indeed.

  8. redpesto says:

    Maybe I’ll embed the video as well…

  9. redpesto says:

    Funnily enough, the late Jill Tweedie satirised precisely this relationship between feminist activists and ‘ordinary’ (i.e. non-activist) women in Letters from a Faint-Hearted Feminist over 30 years ago in the Guardian.

  10. This post is really, really good. I keep writing page long replies and deleting them because I *still* haven’t said half of what I’d like to say.

    1.) I like the honesty of Helen Lewis in the original piece.

    2.) If there’s anything that bugs me more than someone else dictating my tastes, its when it’s done hypocritically. (I’m not trying to implicate Helen specfically. I’ve just dealt with a lot of that.) “Gay men are gross; girl-on-girl is hawt!” That sort of thing.

    3.) I’m also really not fond of people who think they’re being fair by ‘allowing’ or ‘encouraging’ me to like what they like the same way they like it without considering the practicality given my situation. Those “The poor have no bread.” “Then let them eat cake.” moments. This could take the form of operating under the same restrictions they operate under. (“You can have all the sex you want! I’m sex positive! You just have to be in an ordained exclusive monogamous marriage first.”) And it can also just be my fun being minimized when presented in a form that doesn’t minimize theirs. (“What? All the food was boiled. Why aren’t you enjoying your boiled grapes as much as I’m enjoying my boiled potatoes?”)

    I’ve got more real life examples than I’d care to list of women who thought they were being fair with what they’d ‘allow’ men, when they were really being very self serving, and not even realizing it. It’s almost like it’s hard to dictate how someone else with an entirely different experience in life should enjoy said life. Go figure.🙂

    • Hi Jay
      Thanks, I think the comments are better than the post tbh!

      On twitter when Ally made his comment to Helen Lewis she said a very patronising thing, I thought, about how men ought to feel included and heard in feminism. Why? because a feminist laydee says so? If I’d have been Ally I’d have told her to fuck off. Well I did tell feminism to fuck off but if I were a man I think I’d have done it a lot sooner.

  11. redpesto says:

    On twitter when Ally made his comment to Helen Lewis she said a very patronising thing, I thought, about how men ought to feel included and heard in feminism. Why? because a feminist laydee says so?

    Please tell me she didn’t do this. It’s a refrain even pro-feminist men have heard too many times before, usually followed by a kicking when they do try to be involved but fail to be ‘on message’ (I bet you AllyF’s got a million tales along those lines). That ‘ought to feel’ doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘are’.

  12. redpesto says:

    Oh, and one more thing… has Lewis-Hasteley actually thought about why men don’t feel included in feminism, or is that their own stupid fault (again)?

  13. Gs says:

    All I’ve really been able to describe is that the article is annoying. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much.

    Logically, it seems she’s, probably, broken every rule of logic. I’m fairly certain she’s guilty of the ad hominem fallacy of attacking the person rather than the point. Ex. “I’m sorry, I know that you enjoy sexist jokes on TV panel shows, but they make me uncomfortable. I’m sorry, I know that you read lads’ mags, but . . .”

    How does one reconcile wanting to escape the stampede of illogic with the legitimacy of publication? Maybe the best we can expect is for the publishing industry to provide a corral or pen within which this sort of illogic can roam safely.

    • Gs says:

      It’s occurred to me that maybe all of contemporary feminism’s problems arise out of a kind of ad hominem fallacy. No longer issues of voting rights, property, or abortion, but instead issues with men.

      Maybe these arguments ‘at the person’ explain feminist backlash. The person is presented as the issue. Without being logicians, subconsciously, we know this seeming ‘issue’ is actually a logical fallacy.

  14. Jim says:

    “This sums up for me, how feminism ALWAYS assumes that its only project is to convince others that it is right, and to encourage (or coerce) people to do things how feminism wants them to be done.”

    Feminism has been a social reform movement for at least 60 years now and so it has always had the same moralizing tone as the temperance movement and other social reform movements. The bad class backgrounds – bourgeois parasite – of the the leading members of almost all these movements contributes to this, I think – people who are convinced they can prech to the rest of us because they are so “successful” and “conscious”.

    • I think you may be right there, Jim! I’m middle class too. But I luckily don’t have that attitude – or maybe I did once but certainly don’t anymore!

      • Jim says:

        I’m middle class but an outsider and that helps. You are too really. I don’t know anything about your past, but I doubt you ever had that superior attitude where oyu thought you were in apsoition to tell other people how to live. You are to much a sceptic for that. It comes down to two opposite personality types.

  15. Jared says:

    The picture that accompanies the OP reminded me of the wikipedia aritcle of Riot Grrls and how they were shocked (shocked!!) that they were often booed for telling men to go the back of the mosh pit to let the girls up front.

    Turns out punks don’t like being told what to do… go figure

    • That is interesting Jared. I used to be into Riot Grrl hence my blog name, but lately I have read more of their ‘manifestos’ and I don’t like them. They are very pro-women and can be anti-men.

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