Archive for the ‘Identity’ Category

Feminism-these-days

Neil Lyndon is a brave man. Some might say he’s ‘foolish’; others might think he’s ‘wrong’. But whatever your views, it would be difficult to deny his courage. For over twenty years he’s been publicly questioning, challenging, and countering feminist dogma at some personal cost, and with very little support. No matter how much we are told the media is ‘sexist’ and dominated by ‘boys clubs’ or ‘laddism’, it is very difficult to find a single mainstream journalist who directly and consistently criticises ‘the sisterhood’. As an often lone voice in the wilderness, Lyndon is to be admired. In 2014 he self-published a collection of his writings since 1990: Sexual Impolitics: Heresies On Sex, Gender and Feminism. This kindle book is said to contain ‘the full unexpurgated, uncensored text’ of his 1992 publication: No More Sex War: The Failures Of Feminism. I can well imagine the extent to which editors in the early 90s might have altered and sanitised Lyndon’s original work in order to make it ‘safe’ for general consumption. But, having bought a hardback copy of No More Sex War in a second hand bookshop a couple of years ago, I thought I’d read it how it was first unleashed on the unsuspecting, unsympathetic world back in 1992.

My first observation is about how readable and clearly expressed the book is. As someone who has more recently attempted to write critically about feminism and to point out its flaws and failings, I know it is not easy to sum up exactly what it is that’s wrong with such an influential and seemingly ‘common sense’ way of looking at the world. I also know from my own experiences, that the ‘feminist critic’ has to be capable, rigorous and eloquent, because any weakness in argument will be pounced on and used to dismiss and belittle their positions. So it is a major strength of No More Sex War that it is accessible, always backed up by evidence and examples, and maintains clarity and reason throughout. If feminists and feminist allies have still ignored, dismissed or treated Lyndon’s book with contempt (which I believe they have) this is through no fault of the author. It is most likely that they just didn’t want to hear the valid and important points he makes.

fishbicycle

Lyndon begins by setting out his stall, and explaining why he cannot subscribe to a dogma which claims women and only women suffer disadvantage and discrimination in our society (the book mainly refers to western capitalist society). He cites examples some of you will be familiar with, such as the fact men do not have equal custody rights over their children as women, men have no say in whether or not a woman they’ve conceived with has an abortion, and men have little or, as was the case at the time the book was written, no paternity leave when their children are born. Therefore, Lyndon argues:

‘If any disadvantages apply to all men, if any individual man is denied a right by reason of his gender which is afforded to every individual woman, then it must follow that ours is not a society which is exclusively devised to advance and protect advantages for men over women. It is not a patriarchy’ (Lyndon 1992:9).

This simple statement, that seems so obvious and true, could put an end to the tiresome ‘oppression olympics’ currently being played out across the globe (including or predominantly online). If anyone would take heed, that is. For there’s a sadness that runs through No More Sex War, for me as a reader, and for the author, which stems from the fact that no amount of reasoned argument and critical thinking can quell the tide of feminism’s ‘righteous’ anger, prejudice and sometimes bile. It couldn’t in 1992 and it can’t now.  But that doesn’t make this treatise any less valuable. One of the strengths of the work is how fearlessly Lyndon looks feminism directly in the eye, asks it questions and analyses feminist viewpoints, in prominent feminists’ own words. Critics of the dogma constantly get accused of misunderstanding or misinterpreting feminist beliefs and stances. But Lyndon does no such thing. Rather he painstakingly, patiently dissects feminist texts, from serious tomes such as Greer’s The Female Eunuch and Firestones’ The Dialectic of Sex to throwaway remarks and interview responses in the mainstream media. It makes for grim reading at times. Some choice examples of ‘casual misandry’ Lyndon cites include:

Anna Raeburn, agony aunt: ‘I regard men as a pleasant pastime but no more dependable than the British weather’
Germaine Greer, author: ‘It always amazes me that women don’t understand how much men hate them’
Jane Mcloughlin, author: ‘We’ll wear you [men] like alligator handbags’.
Lapel badge: ‘the more men I meet the more I like my dog’

And of course, I hardly need to tell many of you that a reason No More Sex War is still relevant in the 21st century social media age, is that social media campaigns such as ‘Everydaysexism’ dedicated to noting and exposing sexist remarks and actions, never includes examples of sexism against men.

feministNeil Lyndon writes from the point of view, not of a ‘retro’, ‘chauvinist’ ‘neanderthal’ man who dislikes feminism because it challenges his power and dominance over women. Rather he tells a moving and interesting story of being a young, left/liberal hopeful man in the 1970s, ready for and keen on ‘liberation’ of men and women. But twenty years on when he wrote the book, he concluded disappointedly that he and the ‘radicals’ of his post-war ‘baby boomer’ generation had not quite delivered the new world they were hoping to create. In places I think he can be a bit heavy handed in his damning critique of the politics he encountered in the 70s and 80s,  as it was influenced by Marx and Freud in particular. But it is fascinating for me, a small child of Marxist/Freudian/Feminist parents in the 70s, to hear one person’s perspective on that period. In particular Lyndon astutely examines key socio-economic changes of the post-war era. He shows that feminists not only often take credit for developments they had no role in bringing about (such as women entering the workforce and the invention of the contraceptive pill) but that in many cases feminism reacted against social change and harked back to previous times when men and women had more ‘traditional’ roles. Because if there’s no Great Dark Patriarch anymore then there’s no target for most of feminism’s wrath.

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I’m posting this review later than promised, and meant it to coincide with a review of the same book (or rather the new Kindle edition) by Sarah Brown at Harry’s Place. In it she writes:

‘As I began to read No More Sex War, I was reminded of the arguments used by some counter-jihadists. Their implacable hostility to Islam arises (in part) because they only accept the most austere interpretations as truly Islamic. The book opens with an assurance that he fully supports the advances women have made over the last hundred years or so, but goes on to describe feminism as a form of ‘totalitarian intolerance’ comparable to Nazism or Stalinism. This suggests a ‘no true feminist’ fallacy is at work here – liberal feminists aren’t really on his radar.’

I don’t think this is true. I think Lyndon was open to a ‘liberal feminism’, when he was a young, politicised man in the 1970s. For me No More Sex War reads as a disappointed realisation that feminism is not what he and many others hoped it was and would be. Maybe I see it that way because I share his disappointment. In any case, he anticipates Sarah’s criticism in the original text:

‘feminism, they would probably say, has developed so far and has taken so many different but connected forms that it cannot be discussed as if it was a single body of belief and attitude which can be reduced to three cardinal propositions’.

And I share Lyndon’s response to that common refrain amongst liberal feminists, who don’t want to be associated with the actions and words of their more ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ sisters. He writes:

‘Despite the evasions of the contemporary sisters, there must be a connecting characteristic between all the various forms and styles of feminism, otherwise they would not be grouped together under that umbrella term and the word ‘feminism’ could have no meaning.’

He goes on to identify that connecting characteristic  as ‘ the belief that women share interests which are distinct from men’s’,  that ‘those interests can best be advanced by women acting collectively’ and that ‘women’s particular interests are and always have been at odds with the interests of men’.

If, like Lyndon, and, better late than never, like me, you think that men and women’s interests (and the interests of people who eschew the binary altogether) are not at odds, then I fail to see how feminism has anything to offer you. No More Sex War is not exactly an optimistic book, but twenty years after it was first published, thanks in no small part to pioneers such as Lyndon, I think we can allow ourselves a little bit of hope.

The Princess Diaries Premiere

‘The ideas we give children to play with, tell them what we expect them to be.’ – Sarah Ditum

‘If, after over sixty years of a considerable amount of research effort, direct effects of media upon behaviour have not been clearly identified, then we should conclude that they are simply not there to be found.’ –David Gauntlett

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Earlier this week, born-again-radical-feminist Sarah Ditum took part in a heated radio debate with party planner Lisa Forbes about princesses. As little girls (and boys) across the globe eagerly await the arrival of  Frozen 2, the question of the role of princesses in the media in shaping real life femininity is a pressing one.

Ditum (unsurprisingly) took the view that princess films produce damaging aspirations for girls to follow, and Forbes who runs princess parties for girls (unsurprisingly) didn’t. Their discussion ended like this:

Sarah Ditum: ‘you as a female human are going to have to look like a cartoon character to belong in this world of imagination that we’re giving to you’

Lisa Forbes: ‘That’s your perception, that’s you putting your opinion onto a little four, five year old, they don’t see it like that’

SD: ‘You dressing a girl in a princess outfit is you putting your opinion on a four five year old. They do not pop out of the womb with an innate liking for sparkles and crowns. That is something that we give them. That is culture we make it and we give it to them and we have to be honest and responsible about the messages that we’re giving them’.

pitstop

Here, Ditum is reaffirming a popular feminist stance on the social construction of gender, and couples it with a crude media effects model. One is not born a princess, one is forced to want to be one by Disney films and party planners. But as David Gauntlett has explained, those who have concerned themselves seriously over many years with the issue of how far the media does effect people’s attitudes and behaviours have not found any direct cause and effect relationships.  Gauntlett’s article ’10 things wrong with the media effect’s model’ is well worth reading in full. He makes specific mention of how the media is said to affect children, and argues (as does Lisa Forbes briefly in the radio segment) that children are much more nuanced and critical in their consumption of media than ‘media effects’ psychologists give them credit for. He writes:

‘The same kinds of approach are readily observed in media effects studies, the production of which has undoubtedly been dominated by psychologically-oriented researchers, who – whilst, one imagines, having nothing other than benevolent intentions – have carefully exposed the full range of ways in which young media users can be seen as the inept victims of products which, whilst obviously puerile and transparent to adults, can trick children into all kinds of ill-advised behaviour.

This situation is clearly exposed by research which seeks to establish what children can and do understand about and from the mass media. Such projects have shown that children can talk intelligently and indeed cynically about the mass media (Buckingham, 1993, 1996), and that children as young as seven can make thoughtful, critical and ‘media literate’ video productions themselves (Gauntlett, 1997).’

As someone more fond of deconstruction than social construction I think the princess radio debate is worth revisiting in the context of its overflowing onto social media. This twitter exchange involving Ditum and two others is interesting, because it destabilises her position that media princesses have a negative effect on young girls development. In revealing that her own daughter was ‘a princess obsessive’ for a couple of years Ditum (as one tweeter implies) is admitting her role in ‘constructing’ gender as she sees it, via allowing her daughter to take part in the princess ideal. In adding that ‘it wears off if you have other stuff around’ she is suggesting that kids tend to have access to a range of media imagery and are not permanently scarred by early princess exposure.

Little-Princess-book-cover

Another blogger Ms Vanilla Rose, recently pointed out that Ditum’s new statesman byline describes her columns as “Politics for tired people”.  Rose says: ‘Too tired to question her, maybe.’ I’d add that if you look at them at all closely, most feminist claims within the mainstream media at least, lazily lack depth of thought, research and evidence to back them up*.

*Warning: pointing this out can result in spoilt ‘princess’ like tantrums!

feminism_q07

Happy New Year!  I hope to introduce you to more writers, thinkers and do-ers  in 2014. Maybe I’m a bit tired of the cut of my own jib, or maybe I’ve suddenly gone shy(!). Either way, I think engaging with a variety of perspectives is always a good thing.

An independent-minded UK-based blogger/tweeter I like is Jacobinism. He has begun the year with a thought-provoking post entitled Racism; Censorship; Disunity. He puts forward the view that the ‘Left’, and ‘intersectional’ activists and writers within the Left, can be blind to oppression and violence unless it comes from white people. To illustrate his point he uses a case study from within the feminist blogosphere, where a young feminist woman was attacked and then censored by ‘intersectional’ feminism, for her views.  Jacobinism writes:

‘There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power.

The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.’

Jacobin’s discussion of the feminist ‘storm’ that illustrates his points is probably best read in full. To give a flavour of the ‘case study’ here’s some extracts from his post:

‘On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West…

The response to this argument from the bien pensant Left ranged from the incredulous to the vitriolic.

In the comment thread below her article and in a storm which overwhelmed her twitter handle and her hashtag, Wilde-Blavatsky (who tweets as @lionfaceddakini) was derided with accusations of arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, racism and cultural supremacism. She was advised that she had not listened sufficiently closely to authentic voices of women of colour.  Others declared her to be beneath contempt and an object example of white feminism’s irrelevance. She was accused of using a fraudulent call for unity as a way of advancing an argument from white victimhood. It was demanded that she immediately re-educate herself by reading various academic texts on the subject. Her “white woman’s tears” were repeatedly mocked, as were her protestations that her own family is mixed-race. And, of course, there were the predictable demands for retraction, penitence and prostration…

To accept that one’s unalterable characteristics can play any part in the validity of an opinion is to submit to the tyranny of identity politics and endorse an affront to reason. Arguments about rights and ethics must be advanced and defended on their merits, irrespective of who is making them. There is no other way.’

I applaud Jacobin for taking on this thorny subject, and for referring to feminism in doing so. Not only do feminists find it difficult to have aspects of their dogma questioned, they find it particularly hard to stomach coming from a man. But I have a couple of points to make that disagree with his argument.

1) All feminism suggests men are ‘innately’ powerful and women not.  I agree with Jacobin  that actions should not be protected from criticism simply due to the identity of those taking them. But I am wary of Wilde-Blavatsky’s  allusions to patriarchal culture and behaviour in her criticisms of violence against women in ‘the Global South’. Isn’t the term ‘patriarchy’ a way of playing ‘identity politics’ too? Don’t men get dismissed by feminism in general for having views on gender because of their ‘unalterable characteristics’?

2) All feminism reinforces the gender binary There have always been tensions within feminism and different schools of thought within the ‘movement’. However as I have said in my ‘controversial’ piece Against Feminisms, all feminists rely on the binary of man v woman with ‘man’ being found powerful, oppressive and so not worth listening to. And so

‘ feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Julia Serano and Beverly Skeggs, even when they are referring to other divisions such as ethnicity, class and transgender identities, are still relying on the reification of the man v woman binary to support all their arguments about gender.’

3) Feminism is more ‘united’ than it seems I will write more on this another time, but my view is a lot of the ‘conflicts’ in feminism are not exactly fabricated, but they’re superficial.  Feminism does have common characteristics.  I find this ‘flowchart’ that was doing the rounds online recently, laughable. But it does indicate a basic worldview that I would suggest all feminists share to a large degree. It also illustrates clearly how not being a feminist is unacceptable and derided by feminists of all stripes (click image to enlarge):

FEMINIST-570

I don’t want a young woman writer to be censored for having the ‘wrong’ outlook. But I think young men are ‘censored’ from expressing their views on gender before they even begin. Gender studies and media output on gender are dominated by versions of Wilde-Blavatsky. I don’t privilege (‘white people’s’) racism over gender but I don’t think gender inequalities function how any feminist presents them. If that makes me persona non grata at some dinner parties who cares? I can have my own party (and the booze is always great)!

Do You Trust Me?

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Identity, internet, Writing
Tags: ,

 

above clip from Hal Hartley’s film, Trust (1990)

Trust is a funny thing. Every morning as we are forced from sleep into consciousness, we trust that the world is not too different from how we left it the night before. We trust that we’re not going to fall downstairs before even our first cup of coffee, that there is milk in the fridge, that the electrics haven’t blown. Even in a simple morning routine we put our trust in strangers – the postman, gas companies, engineers, the people who made the kettle and the toaster, the rubbish collectors, farmers, supermarket staff, cows. Human life relies on trust.

But sometimes trust between people breaks down. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment it happens, the precise cause of the splitting of the seams. But the effects are clear enough. Someone says something and you pause, sceptical about their words and the motives behind them. Your lover mumbles in their sleep and you wonder if they’re dreaming of someone else. The sunny weather that started the day looks like it could let you down any minute and turn to rain. Buying a paper in the newsagents you check your change twice, expecting the worst. That person who smiled at you on the tube must not have meant it.

Maybe your heart has been broken more than once. Maybe someone who posed as a friend turned on you, fast. Perhaps your parents didn’t protect you well enough when you were a child. You might have good reason not to trust.

But living without trust must be scary. Monsters loom behind every corner. Those people and organisations you once relied on now look like thieves and fraudsters. A hand held out to you could just as easily slap you in the face.

Some might find me naive, but despite of all the evidence mounting up to justify wariness, I still think it’s worth it, to trust. I still believe someone, somewhere, will catch me when I fall.

 

‘Boyfriends/And girlfriends/And enemies/Those upon which we rely’ – Low

When I was a child I treated friendship as sacred. If I were to attempt some clumsy psychoanalysis of myself, these many years later, I might begin to see why. My parents broke up when I was four years old, and my world collapsed. (Unconsciously then), I think I decided that in my own life people would not be so unstable, unreliable, so breakable as my parents. But of course they were.

I say ‘child’ but this dangerous belief has of course followed me round through adulthood, so that when friendships (and romantic relationships) have broken down, I have felt a loss, an inadequacy, an anger, a shame, akin to that first big break-up of my early life. It wasn’t my fault. But nobody told me that at the time. And, even today, in the complex world of adult relations, I tend to blame myself deep down, for most things that go wrong.

But there is in me, and it is getting stronger, (thanks in part to some recent and very helpful psychotherapy), an ability to step away from that ‘guilty’ child. To see life, and people (including me), as complex and unpredictable, and to accept that. Not all friendships (or romantic relationships) last forever. That doesn’t necessarily diminish them. I broke up with my ex partner over eight years ago now, but it is only very recently I have been able to feel happy and grateful that we knew each other, were very close, had some laughs, were best mates. A Buddhist might find my revelation amusing, for they know that if life itself is temporary, the things within it are hardly going to be permanent. I always was a slow learner.

I don’t think I am the only one afflicted with a perfectionist side when it comes to friendship. I can think of one or two people out there, who are probably even more ‘extremist’ (and less reflective?) than me. They hold onto this romantic notion that if someone is not utterly wonderful and nice and the kindest bestest friend in the world, they must be some kind of devil. Freud knew about this dichotomising amongst friends and even admitted to doing it himself:

‘An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable requirements for my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy coincided in the same person.’

I think if we want to keep our friends, and to make new ones, to keep open to life and love’s possibilities, we have to acknowledge that negative aspect in people and relationships. In hindsight, I think my ex understood it better than I. After a row, or an affair, or a terrible sorrow-filled night, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage, he would always treat me exactly as he had before the crisis. He didn’t seem fased by our ability to be ‘enemies’ at times, as well as lovers and friends. Maybe he had a bit of Nietzsche in him, and thought:

‘The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.’

I’m not quite there yet. I still have a slightly rose-tinted view of friendship. And I still get crushed by messy imperfect reality on a regular basis. But I am learning to accept, much more than that heartbroken four year old could at least, that humans have frailties and that’s ok.

You may remember the Kinsey Sicks from my recent enthusing over their unique brand of ‘dragapella’ extravaganza. Now this irreverent barbershop (nail salon?) quartet are celebrating their 20th birthday with a rather brilliant song and video.

Why The Fuck Aren’t We Famous? is not only a very good question considering the talent, wit and style of the Kinsey Sicks, it is also a timely comment on contemporary celebrity pop culture. Aping  A and R men and Pop Idol judges, the Sicks list reasons why they’re not Top of the Pops along with the Biebers and Gagas of the world.

‘if you wanna be commercial minimise the controversial, people want their chicks with sticks to cut off the politics’.

I think there’s a very serious point here, in amongst the make up, stilettos and oh so lovely harmonies. In a world where popular culture has pretty well entirely  gone gay – see Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Eurotrash, Jersey Shore, Big Brother, The Golden Girls, etc etc – actual gay men writing and singing candidly about their sexuality, politics, and gender, still come across as a bit too much for the mainstream. In other words, Kinsey Sicks, darlings:

‘why can’t you all be like Ru Paul?’

I particularly love the therapy sessions in the vid, with the Kinseys taking it turns to sit on the couch of ‘Dr Fraud’ and tell him their woes. I have a sneaking suspicion that the original, unacceptably intellectual and open-minded Dr Sex would be a fan of the Kinsey Sicks, should he be alive today.

Famous or not, I am glad these talented performers are still here…er…sticking it to polite yet often hypocritical, celebrity-obsessed, trash TV society, and proving that good old-fashioned Camp is alive and well, and as brash yet subtle as ever.

Spare-Rib

I must say I was a little bit surprised to hear recently that Spare Rib, the feminist magazine that began in 1972 and ceased publication in 1993, was about to make a comeback.  It is one thing that a lot of contemporary feminists spout a kind of souped-up retro  mumsy cupcake version of  70s feminism. It is another that an actual relic of that era has come back to haunt us.

Or haunt me, should I say. For I don’t know many women of my generation (in our 40s) who both had quite as strong a feminist-influenced 1970s childhood as I did, but who have also rejected that part of their heritage. I remember seeing Spare Rib lying around my family home, and as I got old enough, picking it up and reading it. It is not really possible to recall the actual process of what? feminists might say ‘consciousness raising’; I might call it indoctrination. But I know that Spare Rib was part of my early education about gender politics, that has taken quite a lot of soul-searching and pain to begin to ‘unlearn’.

The resuscitator of Zombie Spare Rib, Charlotte Raven,  is only about a year older than me. I met her when I first went to university. I found her a bit severe and scary. Charlotte lives in a ‘big, beautiful house in north London’ and is married with two kids. I can’t help but feel as I read about her rediscovery of Spare Rib, that Raven’s  view of 1970s feminism as rebellion, and radicalism, and fighting ‘oppression’ is a romantic and nostalgic one, that doesn’t relate to the reality of the 1970s or of the 21st century. And that her enthusiasm for that period and this project,  may be borne in part from getting older and ‘settling down’. Some people buy fast cars, others try sky diving. Could this be the signs of a mid-life crisis?! Is my rejection of my feminist upbringing the mirror opposite?

Because if I am completely honest, whilst I haven’t ‘settled down’ like Raven, and also would not go to a ‘consciousness raising group’ if you paid me, I can relate to that desire to bring something back to life, to feel urgent and angry and right. Looked at through a different lens to my usual one, I can see some of my ‘anti-feminist’ fervour as a (subconscious) attempt to rekindle some of my youthful passion and energy.

But maybe I’m a bit too self-aware to start thinking I can put on my pixie boots  and leg warmers and go back to the 1980s with its demos, parties and political meetings. And actually, I remember some pretty grim things about those days. Youth is attractive if you wilfully forget the confusion, anxiety and terror that goes with it (don’t tell me that’s just me I know I’m not alone in that).

I am happy to be where I am and who I am now. I don’t need Zombie Feminism to drag me back to where I’m from.