“Woman” Is Not My Slave Name (from the DGS archives)

Before vagina hats, there was the “muff match”!

1st published WEDNESDAY, 14 DECEMBER 2011

 

woman slave name

Anne Snitow, Gender Diary in Conflicts in Feminism Eds Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Fox Keller

 

 

I agreed with Naomi McAuliffe in her worry that feminism is doing itself no favours with its choice of high profile campaigns this year in Is the Muff March a cunning stunt? (For more on cunning stunts masquerading as feminism see this blog post) Where we differed was with the principle behind the march; in this case “the very real issue of cosmetic genital surgery.”

A real issue? I understand the personal is supposed to be political, but this is just a bit too personal. It may be the statistical case that “Labiaplasty, vaginal tightening, and hymen reconstruction are all on the increase”, but if women are choosing to do these things with their own highly evolved brains, where is the issue? The (apparently) oppressed women inside the Harley Street clinics were not privileged a voice to enlighten us. If they had, a curt, ‘Get stuffed and mind your own muff business’, might have been the response.

The feminists succeeded in getting headlines, but what benefit to the cause – indeed, what cause? Only WH Smiths could have benefited from the stunt, being spared a few hours of ‘radical’, ‘guerilla’ feminist activities denouncing the female form as pornographic and slapping stickers over pert boobs. In the war against sexual objectification, the next step may well be putting paper bags over pretty girls faces as they walk down the street. Come to think of it, these Object and Feministing girls would do well in Dubai, enforcing purdah.

But back to the elusive “issue”. With nobody being physically forced into anything, McAuliffe invoked the feminist context of collective female shame. Always a safe bet as, not being perfect, humans very often feel shitty about themselves whatever their sex. History is littered with ideologies which have sought to harness this nebulous power. “Women and girls have to live with accusations of smelling like fish, smelling during our periods, having vaginas that are too slack, having labia that is not neat enough, growing too much hair (as though it’s a choice), or not decorating a minge like a Christmas tree with some ghastly vajazzle. They’re reacting to these accusations with razors, wax and a surgeon’s scalpel.” 

If this is anything to go by, feminists are spending far too much time hanging around with teenage boys, (or frequenting Mumsnet – the vernacular is pretty much indistinguishable.) To take serious note of either opinion has the political weight of engaging in a debate on climate change with the Monster Raving Loony Party. There’s an adage about arguing with idiots that some feminists would do well to heed.

Another thing which jarred about this protest was the implication that such surgery was driven by vanity. Many surgical procedures in those clinics are not actually ‘cosmetic’ (as if that were a pejorative term – it isn’t) but reconstructive. But typically, these feminists jumped to the most negative opinion of women as vain, shallow, and easily led creatures. What a woman recuperating after getting a 3rd-degree perineal tear repaired would have made of their caterwauling we don’t know.

It reminded me too of the ‘too posh to push‘ myth; a myth pretty much perpetuated by women in the media. Anyone who has ever been through childbirth knows it is not about being posh, it is a genuine mortal fear of childbirth and wanting to avoid unimaginable pain. So unimaginable, in fact, it’s impossible to imagine it afterwards. That’s a neat biological trick! It’s about a series of trade-offs: between facing that fear and pain (surely an individual choice in a civilised and technologically advanced society) or having a few extra days bed rest and a sore tummy; between childbirth induced vaginal and rectal trauma or a fully functioning pelvic floor.

It’s one of the cornerstones of our civilisation that women do not have to face the mortal horrors of childbirth alone and without help if they need or want it. Why lead them up the garden path, then slam the door in their faces? I find it odd, not to say highly disturbing, that it is feminists, and not ‘The Patriarchy’, who are protesting that there should be limits to those privileges; and not based on medical or fiscal considerations, on ideological ones. Thankfully we do not live in a feminist autocracy, and our reformed patriarchy gives women the choice to avoid these traumas, and to have them surgically fixed, for whatever reason they so choose – bladder control or good sex – without the harassment of the establishment. Feminism once fought for women to have opportunities and choices such as these. Now it almost seems like it wants to revoke them.

As a society, we have come far. No man can now take to the pavement, pious placard in hand, telling women what they ought to be doing, and rightly expect to be called anything but a sexist pig. So what does that make these feminists?

Actions speak louder than words. For all the cries of feminism being a pro-women organisation, more and more it actually appears pro-feminist and anti-women. The disconnect between feminism and women is becoming more palpable as time passes. If it is for women, why won’t it listen to us? Why not take criticism where its due? Why not adapt? The feminists on the ‘Muff March’ perfectly illustrate how orthodox feminism today is not about creating opportunities for women or empowering them to make their own choices. It is about disseminating archaic 20th-century dogma and slavishly following ideology, in spite of women’s wants, needs and lived experience today.

So here’s my question: Does feminism serve women or do women serve feminism? That’s not a rhetorical question. It needs to be answered.

Too often feminism connects the word ‘woman’ in terms of weakness, victimhood and shame. If I could tell these feminists anything, it is that times have changed and ‘woman’ is not my slave name.

Follow the link to see the Facebook debate about the Muff March

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An Old Sexual Manifesto from 2011

I wrote this originally in 2011 and it references another old feminist campaign from 2006 (which I had researched and referenced in my university dissertation which was an attempt to unify liberal feminist aims with evolutionary psychology). It’s now 2017 and feminists still haven’t changed the record as we see with the furore over walk-on girls in sport. I have kept the original context in to show how feminist arguments never develop, only get recycled. The links go to the orignal sources I collected along the years.

It’s worth noting that at this time I considered myself a liberal feminist in the way Christina Hoff Sommers does today. I had yet to examine the premises of feminism in detail, compare them with those of egalitarianism and come to the conclusion that there is, in actuality, no such thing as liberal feminism, only egalitarianism. For more of that analysis see this essay which is a further analysis of my contribution to this paper published in the Journal of Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Vol 8(1), Jan 2014, 3–11 Note: the latter link is a live download of the full PDF. Enjoy. Px
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One might be forgiven for thinking the recent rumblings of feminist agitation within the pages of The Guardian signified a progression of some sort. In Moral panic? No. We are resisting the pornification of women, Gail Dines and Julia Long take up arms against the old foe of the ‘pornification of culture’. They repeat scripts written by feminists of decades past, “(P)ornification…perpetuate(s) myths of women’s unconditional sexual availability and object status, and thus undermine women’s rights to sexual autonomy, physical safety and economic and social equality.” This asserted in spite of the fact that women in the West enjoy unparalleled levels of sexual autonomy, control over their fertility, physical safety and economic and social equality. A similar campaign has been hosted on the pages of The Guardian before. That too ended with a live Guardian debate. That one, like this one, was basically a book promotion dressed up as feminist activism. Lets take a step back in time…

On April fools day 2006, media feminist and Guardian regular Madeline Bunting railedagainst the sexualisation of our public spaces, decorated ubiquitously with female bodies, which to her represented, “another insistent, insidious message of how culture shapes expectations of our sexuality, another reminder of one’s own powerlessness to assert other images of sexuality with anything like comparable prominence.” Buntings invective was roused by, amongst other things, a console game advertisement on the sides of UK double-decker buses which had instructed those who just happened to glance at it to ‘Paste your girlfriend’s white bits here.’ Bunting posited a brief thought experiment, “Imagine: could I have an equivalent number of double-deckers trumpeting the message that sex is the magical experience of mutual giving?”, but quickly had a reality check, “Boring … duh … The problem about our pervasive cultural sexism is that the debate is tilted all one way.” The piece signalled her allegiance to radical Marxist feminism in the title, Sex Slaves to the Market, and predictably pointed a highly critical finger at that putative symbol of western patriarchy; capitalism. “Pornography is colonising all other forms of media… a multimillion-pound industry will carry on churning out the websites, DVDs and magazines that are distorting our sexual mores.” 

A week later, Libby Brooks, another Guardian regular and fellow traveller, published a new call to arms for feminism, A New Sexual Manifesto, again, in The Guardian, “This is not about being anti-sex,” she began, pre-empting the oft-used insult of feminists being anti-sex and frigid, “It is not about being prudish, or easily embarrassed, or unliberated. But it is about anger.” 

Both articles were motivated by two recent feminist publications, the primary being Ariel Levi’s investigation into the rise of what she termed ‘raunch culture’ in the US. In the best spirit of the sisterhood, it was called Female Chauvinist Pigs. Both Bunting and Brooks had been roused into action by an attempted broadside at Levi’s exposé from Kate Taylor, Today’s Ultimate Feminists are Chicks in Crop Tops, which appeared in the Guardian on 23 March 2006, and seemed to re-run many of the anti-feminist clichés that Brooks’ attempted to foreclose in her first few sentences.

Taylor opened with, “Men, you can relax. You are no longer the enemy. Instead, judging by recent events in America, modern feminists have a much shapelier target in their sights – other women. Specifically, scantily clad women who use their sexuality to get ahead.” Taylor then subverted this sass by succinctly encapsulating the dilemma facing modern feminism; the same unresolved dilemma that emerged in the UK in the early to mid-1990s, articulated within the media-friendly ‘ladette’ paradigm:

“Levy thinks raunch culture is a feminist movement gone terribly wrong. We are, in her eyes, doing all these things merely to show the men that we are “one of the guys” and “liberated and rebellious”. Naturally, she finds this confusing. “Why is labouring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? The answer is, labouring to look like Pamela Anderson is not empowering. We’re not trying to be empowered. The twentysomething women I know don’t care about old-style feminism. Partly this is because they already see themselves as equal to men: they can work, they can vote, they can bonk on the first date. For younger women, raunch is not about feminism, it’s just about fashion.”

Here we had some dissent from the ranks, some space for real debate to emerge, not simply the usual rhetoric regurgitated for a new generation. Here was a voice from that generation, disrespecting the matriarch with a message from the front. But Bunting was not about to privilege this particular female voice, “They may recruit a naive cheerleader – such as Kate Taylor on these pages last week – but she’s only a token; this phenomenon is driven by the market. While the cash rolls in, millions of lives are muddled, sometimes even ruined, by the multiple misconceptions being peddled.”

That was Kate told. She was a ‘token’. The ‘pornification of culture’ was a problem only Marxist feminists could solve. The message was clear: Don’t you dare disrespect the non-hierarchical sisterhood! The title of Levi’s book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, invoked a similar, uneasy paradox. The elephant in the sisterhoods room; female intrasexual competition. Yes, once again, the great nemeses of feminism, other women, play footsie with patriarchy while Amazionia burns.

Pigs, was ostensibly a ‘new’ broadside against the ‘pornicopia’ of the West, but which suspiciously looked to me like a Stateside reworking of Imelda Whelehan’s Overloadedwhich charted the rise of ‘Loaded’ magazine and lipstick feminism in 1990s UK. In it, Levi railed against women living in the false consciousness of sexual liberation. The message was: You’re not liberated. You’re still being exploited and to make things worse, you are willfully abetting the patriarchy! To a feminist, there could be no greater crime.

So, not being able to parade these women for shame with heads shaven in the marketplace, Levi levelled at them the accusation of being not just chauvinists, but pigs too. Talk about tough love. Not since Faludi’s ugly-sisterly rant against Betty Friedan in Backlash for having the gall to be a (spit) liberal feminist, had feminist competition been so disseminated.

All this would not have appeared so ironic if there was any sort of agreement within feminism about female sexuality. But the truth is, now as it was then, that orthodox (aka ‘radical’) feminists object to ‘false’ representations of female sexuality in the media, even though they, within the multitude of feminisms, can’t actually agree on what female sexuality is. All they can do is agree on what it is not. A tenacious attachment to such stagnant and conservative feminist values is very well documented within the published articles of media feminists over the years in the Guardian, and more than illustrates just how little the discourse has adapted to changing times.

Taylor’s lonely dissenting voice found support however in the unlikely form of Lynne Segal in A Misguided Manifesto. Segal attended the live event even though she, “was reluctant to join the fray, feeling I had been here many times before.” She charted her journey to such weariness, ending with a defence of the young women castigated by Levi and co, bringing with her a healthy dose of historical perspective, “Superficially, it is easy to see the appeal of this attack on raunch culture: young girls are not “liberated” by wearing thongs, waxing their bodies…or buying sex toys. But then again, I’m rather glad they feel free to do this without getting stoned alive, without being arrested as whores and hookers.” Refreshingly free of feminist cultural relativism also.

Fast forward five years and we have a re-run; same script, same stage, different characters. Moral panic? No. We are resisting the pornification of women. No you’re not, your co-opting feminism to sell your book. Having read the script already many times before, I’m not buying it. Feminism was in crisis in 2006 and it still is today. The last thing it needs is the cynicism and, yes, conservatism of Gail Dines. Re-reading Brooks and Bunting, Dines and Long, it’s easy to forget true pioneers like Olympe de Gouges who in 1791 wrote one of the first feminist tracts, Declaration of the Rights of Women and Women Citizens; who spoke out for her sex and against the Terror and was guillotined for it; or modern-day feminist pioneers like Egyptian Aliaa Magda El-Mahdy. Dines, Brooks and Bunting & co cannot support El-Mahdy as her chosen weapon, her young, naked female body, is precisely that which they do not understand – the unbound power of female sexuality.

It’s easy to forget that feminism desperately needs a new manifesto, one that reiterates its duty of care and allegiance to all women (not just card-carrying feminists) above and beyond defunct 20th-century ideologies. It’s easy to forget that feminism is an essential movement in a world where we know men will attempt to constrain female choice if cultural mores allow them to. It’s easy to forget that we in the West are the exceptions to the global rule of female oppression, that we should stop navel gazing and use our power and influence to help less fortunate women, and by proxy their children and menfolk, enjoy the rights and privileges Dines, Bunting and Levi seem to take so much for granted.

Back at the Guardian debate in 2006, Segal came away with a subversive message:
“Let me share a little secret with you, something that hampers any attempt to rectify sexual behaviour: sex is all about wanting to be objectified, wanting to be the object of another’s desire, another’s gaze (even if, like a traditional straight man, we pretend that this is not the case). However, it is about wanting to gain this attention in ways that are reasonably safe from risk, harm or hurt – except, perhaps, for when these are the very things that turn us on.”

Predictably, after much sound and fury, the event ended up signifying nothing. I could not attend, but I did email Bunting asking her if the debate would be published. In a brief reply, she reported that she thought there would be a podcast on Comment is Free. After waiting some months for it to appear I emailed again to be told ‘I don’t think there is any podcast’. I have a feeling this next event will similarly be lost to history, and survive only as a strategy to be re-run with the next publishing deal. More fool us if we fall for such cynical, superficial nonsense masquerading as feminism.