I’m finding myself drawn and attracted to the actions of ‘older’ women. Perhaps it’s because I’ve now entered my 50’s, perhaps because I have many women friends a decade or more older women have cared for and mentored me, perhaps it’s (hopefully) wisdom gained through the years where you place value on deeper insights into life, on substance over shallow and on what matters. On Saturday night I had the great pleasure of hearing American blues singer-songwriter, musician, and activist, Bonnie Lynn Raitt who is touring Australia currently. Sassy, smart, passionate, she had us in her hand with her silky smooth voice and command of her guitars. She is 67.
It caused me to reflect further on this piece by Lori Day, an educational psychologist, author, consultant and parenting coach in the US. It sparked huge interest when I shared it on my Facebook pages. So many women related. Some urged their daughters to read it. Lori writes:
‘Ageism is a life-altering injustice affecting women in ways that are different than the effects on men — different in age of onset and degree and personal consequence. If we continue to be erased in the second half of our lives, we will remain stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflating youth with greater social relevance in the first half of our lives, and the patriarchal axiom that women are only valuable when they are young, hot and fertile will continue unchallenged’.
Aging while female is not your worst nightmare
by LORI DAY
I’m going to tell you a story that is so common and so troubling it is effectively split off from the emotional lives of young women, tucked away into whatever neural recesses exist for the purpose of shelving information that feels irrelevant yet distantly threatening. I wonder if young women will read this? The irony is that they probably won’t, and the silently nodding heads will be ones that are graying, like mine.
After passing out of childhood and into puberty, I, like most women, entered a three-decade phase of my life that included an adolescence and young adulthood that was peppered with the sexual harassment, sexism in the workplace, mommy wars, pay gaps, and gendered put-downs that few females escape. It was a huge chunk of time. The issues feminism took up during those years were critical, and they continue to be. I am grateful to all of the women and men who fought and continue to fight for women’s equality, reproductive rights, and freedom from violence and harassment. It is brave and necessary work.
But then something happened, and if not for the mirrors in my house, I would be very confused about what changed and why. Young women, you’ll experience this too, some day. You’ll catch your reflection and your breath at the same time and be abruptly reminded that your exterior no longer matches how you feel inside, and that it now undermines the power of your voice, the voice that took decades to build up. I was talking about this to a friend recently who is 50, one year younger than I am. She said, “Oh wow. I remember my grandmother telling me the exact same thing about being shocked by her reflection in the mirror because she still felt like a young woman inside, and she was 80.” So this probably will not end for me, nor for any of us given the gift of not dying young. It bears remembering.
Men do not catcall me anymore, and I’m happy to have aged out of that, although some of my friends are not. My daughter is grown, so the mommy wars rage on without me. I’m now happy to be self-employed—an escape hatch from workplace sexism that is not available to all women, and one that I fully appreciate. I charge what I want as a consultant and will never again stumble across information at the office that a male co-worker who is younger, less educated and less experienced than me makes more money than me simply because he belongs to the penis-owning gender. I am not free of the physical and sexual dangers all women live with, but they have receded somewhat for me at this stage of my life.
All of this liberation, however, is not entirely freeing. I have simply been transported into the next phase of sexism that comes with middle age, and it’s a dramatic change well illustrated metaphorically by the female body that is ogled and objectified transforming into the female body that is invisible. If the loudest and most heralded voices of contemporary feminism most often belong to the youngest and most sexually appealing women, is this not a hypocritical replication within feminism of what happens in our patriarchal society at large?
I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street. I temporarily stopped the oncoming freight train of ageism right in its tracks with my indifference, like everyone else my age did. Even in my late-30’s, middle age seemed light years away. I did not read articles like this. They were not about me.
When I recall how I thought about middle-aged and older women when I was younger, I realize I bought into American stereotypes and did so mindlessly. I ascribed to older women a lack of relevance and an inability to contribute meaningfully to a world and a dialogue that was no longer “theirs,” as if ownership of culture rationally belongs to any particular age group over others. My ideas came from where? Television? Movies? Magazines? How silly.
Must this lesson only be learned woman by woman, with the passage of time, and not by the perspicacious use of ones eyes and ears? Because women like me are writing and talking. Trees in the forest are falling. I ask that young women hear. Elective deafness will not stop the train. It will keep rolling down the track, silently and dispassionately. It always arrives.
For me, aging as a woman in America is less about injustices done to me than it is about a subtle undermining of my place within this society and a not-so-subtle disrespect that pops up more with each passing year. For example, if I condemn pornography as systemically damaging to women, it is my age that provokes my labeling as a prude and a pearl-clutcher. It cannot be that I base my opinion on studies and statistics and the understanding that feminism is a movement—one that supports the liberation of all women, not to be confused with individual women who choose to reduce their identities to the sexual uses and abuses of their bodies, calling that empowerment. My age sets me up for a kind of disdain only partially experienced by younger women with the same views. The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you what it isn’t, at least for me. It isn’t to try to look or act younger. It isn’t to write blog posts about how hot/thin/beautiful/sexy middle-aged women are. They are, but wasting my written voice on championing shallow efforts at continued conformity to what is expected of women in a patriarchal society does not feel productive. It is an insidious capitulation. It entices women my age to trade away opportunities to weigh in on important matters for a chance to be among the “seen” again. I won’t play a game I despise, and that I did not create and cannot win.
To be an aging woman in America is to be constantly bombarded by imagery and media that distance your younger feminist sisters from you, because the idea of no longer resembling those youthful images of femininity and becoming invisible terrifies them. I look like a typical 51-year-old, and it is just bizarre realizing that my appearance is something many young women dread.
Ageism is a life-altering injustice affecting women in ways that are different than the effects on men — different in age of onset and degree and personal consequence. If we continue to be erased in the second half of our lives, we will remain stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflating youth with greater social relevance in the first half of our lives, and the patriarchal axiom that women are only valuable when they are young, hot and fertile will continue unchallenged.
Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped. Whatever you think of Madonna at 56, or Jamie Lee Curtis at 56, let’s acknowledge that most of us will one day be 56, if we aren’t already, and we’ll want to define for ourselves what that means.
Surely it will involve relevance and influence, whether we are singers, actors, writers, activists, or any other identity we have chosen and loved. As feminists we are stronger together than apart—women of all races, of all gender expressions, of all sexual orientations, of all socioeconomic classes, of all religions, of all ethnicities, and yes, of all ages, too.
“[I want] better education regarding sex for both boys and girls [and] information about pornography, and the way it influences harmful sexual practices.”
These are the words of Lucy, aged 15, one of 600 young Australian women and girls who took part in a just-released survey commissioned by Plan Australia and Our Watch. The survey, conducted by Ipsos, gathered responses from the girls and young women aged 15-19 in all states and territories.
In the survey report, entitled Don’t send me that pic, participants reported that online sexual abuse and harassment were endemic. More than 80% said it was unacceptable for boyfriends to request naked images.
Sexual bullying and harassment are part of daily life for many girls. Young people are speaking out more and more about how these practices have links with pornography – and so they should, because they have most to lose.
Pornography is moulding and conditioning the sexual behaviours and attitudes of boys, and girls are being left without the resources to deal with these porn-saturated boys.
My own engagement with young women over the last few years in schools around Australia, confirms that we are conducting a pornographic experiment on young people – an assault on their healthy sexual development.
If there are still any questions about whether porn has an impact on young people’s sexual attitudes and behaviours, perhaps it’s time to listen to young people themselves. Girls and young women describe boys pressuring them to provide acts inspired by the porn they consume routinely. Girls tell of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy.
Some see sex only in terms of performance, where what counts most is the boy enjoying it. I asked a 15-year-old about her first sexual experience. She replied: “I think my body looked OK. He seemed to enjoy it”. Many girls seem cut off from their own sense of pleasure or intimacy. That he enjoyed it is the main thing. Girls and young women are under a lot of pressure to give boys and men what they want, to adopt pornified roles and behaviours, with their bodies being merely sex aids. Growing up in a pornified landscape, girls learn that they are service stations for male gratification and pleasure.
Asked “How do you know a guy likes you?,” a Year 8 replied: “He still wants to talk to you after you suck him off.” A male high school student said to a girl: “If you suck my dick I’ll give you a kiss.” Girls are expected to provide sex acts for tokens of affection. A 15-year-old told me she didn’t enjoy sex at all, but that getting it out of the way quickly was the only way her boyfriend would settle down and watch a movie with her.
I’m increasingly seeing Year 7 girls who seek help on what to do about requests for naked images. Being asked “send me a picture of your tits” is an almost daily occurrence for many. “How do I say ‘no’ without hurting his feelings”? girls ask.
As the Plan Australia/Our Watch report found, girls are tired of being pressured for images they don’t want to send, but they seem resigned to how normal the practice has become. Boys use the images as a form of currency, to swap and share and to use to humiliate girls publicly.
Year 7 girls ask me questions about bondage and S&M. Many of them had seen 50 Shades of Grey (which was released on Valentine’s Day). They ask, if he wants to hit me, tie me up and stalk me, does that mean he loves me? Girls are putting up with demeaning and disrespectful behaviours, and thereby internalizing pornography’s messages about their submissive role.
I meet girls who describe being groped in the school yard, girls routinely sexually harassed at school or on the school bus on the way home. They tell me boys act like they are entitled to girls’ bodies. Defenders of porn often say that it provides sex education. And it does: it teaches even very young boys that women and girls are always up for it. “No” in fact means yes, or persuade me.
Girls describe being ranked at school on their bodies, and are sometimes compared to the bodies of porn stars. They know they can’t compete, but that doesn’t stop them thinking they have to. Requests for labiaplasty have tripled in a little over a decade among young women aged 15-24. Girls who don’t undergo porn-inspired “Brazilian” waxing are often considered ugly or ungroomed (by boys as well as by other girls).
Some girls suffer physical injury from porn-inspired sexual acts, including anal sex. The director of a domestic violence centre on the Gold Coast wrote to me a couple of years ago about the increase in porn-related injuries to girls aged 14 and up, from acts including torture:
“In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator is consumption of porn by the offender. With offenders not able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, believing women are ‘up for it’ 24/7, ascribing to the myth that ‘no means yes and yes means anal’, oblivious to injuries caused and never ever considering consent. We have seen a huge increase in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture, drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent.”
The Australian Psychological Society estimates that adolescent boys are responsible for around 20% of rapes of adult women and between 30% and 50% of all reported sexual assaults of children. Just last week , Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs argued that online pornography is turning children into copycat sexual predators – acting out on other children what they are seeing in porn.
A 2012 review of research on “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents” found that adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires.” The authors found that “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed.”
I have asked girls what messages they might like me to pass on to boys. So far, these messages include: “Stop telling us we are wet,” “Stop commenting on our bodies,” “Stop demanding pictures,” “Rape jokes are never funny” and “Sex before the age of consent is illegal.”
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible. Sexual conquest and domination are untempered by the bounds of respect, intimacy and authentic human connection. Young people are not learning about intimacy, friendship and love, but about cruelty and humiliation. As a recent study found:
“online mainstream pornography overwhelmingly centered on acts of violence and degradation toward women, the sexual behaviors exemplified in pornography skew away from intimacy and tenderness and typify patriarchal constructions of masculinity and femininity.”
It is intimacy and tenderness that so many girls and young women say they are looking for. A young woman told me that on dating sites she lists under “fetish” wanting to stare longingly into someone’s eyes and to take sex slow. She said if she didn’t put these desires in the “fetish” category, they wouldn’t warrant a second glance.
But how will young women find these sensual, slow-burn experiences in men indoctrinated by pornography? Psychologist Philip Zimbardo says of young men: “They don’t know the language of face to face contact … Constant arousal, change, novelty excitement makes them out of sync with slow developing relationships – relationships which build slowly.”
It is wrong to leave sexual formation in the hands of the global sex industry. We need to do more to help young people stand up against warped notions of sexuality conveyed in pornography.
Fortunately, the ill-effects of the pornographic experiment on relationships and sexuality are being named out loud. A groundbreaking Australia-first symposium on the issue was held at UNSW last month, to a standing room crowd, and a current Senate inquiry is gathering evidence of the distorting harmful impacts of porn on our young people.
Most importantly, it’s young people themselves demanding change. Josie, 18, is quoted in the Plan Australia/Our Watch report:
“We need some sort of crack down on the violent pornography that is currently accessible to boys and men. This violent pornography should be illegal to make or view in Australia as we clearly have a problem with violence and boys are watching a lot of pornography which can be very violent … This is influencing men’s attitude towards women and what they think is acceptable. Violent pornography is infiltrating Australian relationships.”
“The realisation that on issues related to poverty and sexual exploitation, there is no solidarity from Australian feminists…
“…I had wrongly assumed that those leading the charge against sexism would examine how ethnocentrism and economic disparity have created and maintained conditions, policies and norms under which exploitation of women is inevitable.”
“Yet an expanding sex trade only results in more women trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence. Rather than opening up new opportunities, women in the sex trade are far less likely to live to see 40 years of age due to the violence, illness and disease to which the johns expose them…”
“Vulnerable women’s voices are blocked out of feminist media in order to preference a few wealthy women in the Australian industry”
“I’ve come to realise that if anyone couldn’t care less about the countless Asian girls being exploited at home and abroad, it is Australian feminists.”
Amber Rose’s Slutwalk is the natural pinnacle of Slutwalk
“The kids of Slutwalk readily embraced anti-feminist stereotypes of second wavers and chose to distance themselves from the movement, selling out for media coverage and male support. And where did it get us? Well, you see young, privileged women today advocating for prostitution and pornography as liberated choices for women using the same language the Slutwalkers did: “My body my choice!” “I do what I want, fuck yeah!” You see efforts to encourage men to vote against Stephen Harper by offering blow jobs or exchanging nude photos for votes. “Sluts Against Harper” [NSFW — feel free to report this Instagram account for pornography] is direct evidence of Slutwalk’s impact on young people’s understanding of politics today. All women can offer, in terms of advocating for change, are their objectified bodies. While leftist men have long encouraged women’s subordinate status, only considering men’s liberation and equality something worth fighting for, it’s new for self-described “feminists” to glom on to this blatant sexism.
The neoliberal, self-centered, enormously deluded notion that if women simply “choose” objectification or commodification, it becomes empowering, now underpins mainstream feminism. We seem to have fully embraced the idea that “reclaiming” misogyny and making it our own is the best we can do. While it’s clear to those of us in the movement that this is anything but feminism, those engaged don’t see it that way, nor does the media. “
On Wednesday at Readings bookstore in Carlton, Melbourne, I’ll be emceeing the launch and Q&A for Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism (Connor Court publishing) a collected of 20 authors edited by writer and law tutor Miranda Kiraly and writer and RMIT research fellow Meagan Tyler. Last week I published an extract from the book’s introduction. Today, as promised, is another extract, titled ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’: moving beyond ‘a woman’s choice’ by Canadian feminist and blogger Meghan Murphy whose work I’ve been privileged to publish here at MTR quite a few times.
‘A woman’s choice’ is, without a doubt, a central tenet of feminist discourse. Creating options and choices – real choices – for women, not simply the illusion of choice within the very narrow confines of capitalist patriarchy, is a fundamental and appropriate goal for the feminist movement. But what we’ve seen evolve from that notion over the past 20 years is something of a different beast.
The ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’ ethos of ’90s riot grrrl feminism, which some attribute as the beginnings of the third wave, is appealing, especially to younger women. It can feel very empowering to imagine you are throwing off society’s chains, embracing and rejecting, all at once, restrictive, misogynist labels such as ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, as Bikini Kill lead singer, Kathleen Hanna famously did, taking off her top at her shows, to reveal the word ‘slut’ written across her stomach. Before Hanna, Madonna became a feminist icon of sorts during the ’80s in a similar way, embracing ‘sexy’ clothing and imagery. She was seen as representative of a woman taking control of her sexuality and using her femininity to gain power. But while this kind of reclaiming of traditionally sexist or male-defined imagery and language might feel temporarily liberating, the question of whether, for example, we can ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’ or make sexualisation or objectification our own, simply by choosing to, is less straightforward.
In 2011, a Canadian police officer suggested to students at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’. These comments instigated the first ‘SlutWalk’ march, which took place in Toronto on 3 April 2011. The marches spread around the world to places such as Las Vegas, Melbourne, Bhopal, and Sao Paulo. ‘SlutWalk’ was heralded as the third wave incarnation of Take Back the Night. A blogger for Ms. Magazine wrote about the march that took place in Los Angeles in 2012: ‘It’s that third wave-y feel – that individualistic empowerment – that has made “SlutWalk” popular among young women,’ adding that the marches were ‘less emotionally intense than anti-rape rallies such as Take Back the Night, “SlutWalk” is more for spectacle.’ This is a pretty accurate assessment, but ‘popularity’ and a lighter message do not necessarily translate into ‘better’, when it comes to radical movements.
Rather than focusing on attacking male violence against women and rape culture, the marches seemed performative, and prioritised media attention. From the outset there was a focus on personal, individual notions of empowerment and the ‘right’ to wear sexy clothing – that ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’ mantra dominated. Performing to the male gaze was positioned as a positive thing, so long as women were choosing objectification.
It didn’t take long before the marches began promoting the sex industry as an empowering personal choice for women, many of them actively advocating for the legalisation of prostitution. In New York City, the march featured lingerie-wearing pole dancers, and ‘SlutWalk’ Las Vegas created a slogan that described ‘sex work’ as something women enjoyed: ‘Slut isn’t a look, it’s an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, it’s never an invitation to violence.’ What was erased by ‘SlutWalk’s focus on ‘choice’ and personal empowerment was the context within which women make ‘choices’, particularly with regard to their ‘choice’ to work in the sex industry or to ‘self-objectify’, whether in a strip club, on Instagram, or on the street.
In 2011, ‘SlutWalk’ organisers in Washington DC planned a fundraiser at a strip club. From a feminist perspective, the idea of holding a fundraiser for a supposedly feminist event in a place that exists to further entrench the image of women as sexy objects that exist for male pleasure seemed odd, to say the least. When challenged, the organisers responded: ‘This is a non-judgmental movement that embraces all choices a woman wishes to make.’ But what does that mean, exactly? Are we so ‘supportive’ of ‘women’s choices’ that we are incapable of understanding and being critical of the context of sexism and classism that might lead women to ‘choose’ to work in a strip club? And that, rather than criticising ‘women’s choices’ when we challenge the sex industry, we are actually challenging male power and men’s choices to objectify and exploit women for their own pleasure/ gain and an economy that fails to offer women opportunities to make a decent living that does not involve stripping, prostitution, or pornography.
In the face of severe lack of choice, ‘SlutWalk’ opted, not to push back, but to simply reframe the conversation. ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ was the message; as though if we can convince women (and society at large) that the sex industry can empower them, or if a few individual women claim they enjoy their work as strippers or escorts, then everything will be fine.
In the face of ongoing and virulent misogyny, sexual harassment, rape culture, porn culture, and violence against women, liberal feminism and the third wave seem to have taken the easy route, focusing on ‘choice’ and personal identity rather than confronting the root of the problem…
Of late, it has become standard to talk about ‘choice’ in terms of individual choice rather than collective choice (and collective freedom), as though ‘my choice’ could not possibly affect anyone in the world except me. And, as though ‘her choice’ can somehow negate any justifiable criticism or questioning of said choice or the context within which said choice was made. Used in this context, it is a way a shutting down the conversation. And where would feminism be (and where will it go) without conversation and critique? We can be critical of choices without actually shaming women. We need to think critically about our choices if we are to understand and challenge the larger systems of power that impact our choices.
In the face of ongoing and virulent misogyny, sexual harassment, rape culture, porn culture, and violence against women, liberal feminism and the third wave seem to have taken the easy route, focusing on ‘choice’ and personal identity rather than confronting the root of the problem…
Many critics do see this ‘anything goes’/‘I do what I want’ mantra as being one the more significant weaknesses of the third wave, and of ‘postfeminist’ discourse; and while this attitude is not universally applicable to the entire wave, it certainly seems to have built considerable momentum. Does anything and everything count as ‘feminist’ just because we choose it?
While making choices for ourselves can most certainly be empowering, and while I would never advocate against a woman’s right to choose to wear stilettos, take her husband’s name in marriage, or even to sell sex, that she can or does make this choice does not equate to ‘feminism’. To make a choice for oneself – no matter how good or strong or fulfilled it might make us feel – does not necessarily advance the rights or status of women globally and it does not push back against the system of patriarchy. While feeling good is great, it does not constitute political change. In other words, feminism is a movement, not a self-help book.
… individual choices, divorced from that context, do not equate to feminist acts. Beyond that, the fetishisation of individual choice actually erases that context and the fact that patriarchy is a system of power. If we pretend that a woman’s choice to, say, get breast augmentation surgery is a feminist choice because it is a woman who is making that choice, we ignore the context behind that choice – objectification, body-hatred, capitalism, porn culture – all things that contribute to the oppression of women as a whole.
Conveniently for capitalism and patriarchy, if any choice a woman makes is viewed as liberating or ‘feminist’, she can even ‘choose’ to support both systems and no one has the right to challenge her. In ‘choice feminism’, if a woman ‘chooses’ to produce pornography which, in turn, contributes to the oppression and objectification, not only of the women acting in pornography, but of women as a class and contributes to the billion-dollar pornography industry, her choice remains untouchable because she is a woman making a choice that empowers her. Maybe she even identifies as a feminist! Even better. Now pornography is feminist – just like that.
Famous burlesque performer, Dita Von Teese, is quoted as saying, in defence of critics who call her act disempowering for women: ‘How can it be disempowering when I’m up there for seven minutes and I’ve just made $20 000? I feel pretty powerful.’ This statement embodies the problem with today’s ‘choice feminism’, making ‘power’ about the individual at the expense of others. Beyond that, if money is the primary basis upon which we decide what empowers women and what does not, we are in danger of colluding with a system that is responsible for the exploitation and oppression of millions of people worldwide. If women are compensated in exchange for their objectified bodies or in exchange for sex acts, that doesn’t actually challenge the sexist ideas behind that objectification and exploitation. We’re left in the same position we started, despite the fact that Von Teese can buy a few more pairs of Louboutins.
‘Choice’, and the feminist context within which it was born, has been co-opted by dominant systems and the ideology of liberal feminism, and they have made it their own. We are now being told what choice and freedom looks like by those who have no particular interest in feminism or in ending gendered oppression. Those systems are the ones who tell us that being radical, or revolutionary or feminist even, is bad. That we will be picked on and attacked if we ask for too much or the wrong kind of freedom and empowerment. They offer us their version of choice, and tell us that empowerment is easily available to us – it’s just got to be pleasant. And sexy. And, hey guess what! We don’t even need the feminist movement anymore! We can ‘choose’ to objectify ourselves now because we are free. Slap an ‘empowering’ label on it and voilà! It’s freedom and everyone else needs to shut up because ‘it’s a choice’.
Well, no. It isn’t as simple as that. Feminism is about resisting patriarchy, not about being able to just join in. We don’t ‘win’ because we can act in oppressive ways just as men do. When we argue either that sexism will happen with or without us, so we may as well participate and make the best of it, or that if women can profit financially, this will somehow erase sexism. Presenting a radical challenge to patriarchy is not just going along with it, it is not being told by Girls Gone Wild producers what freedom looks like or that because one woman is getting rich from strip shows we are all, consequently, emancipated.
Choice without politics or theory behind it doesn’t hold power. ‘Choice’ at the expense of others – particularly the marginalised – is not radical nor does it promote equality. ‘Choosing’ to objectify ourselves, for example, is not what our second wave sisters meant when they fought for the ‘right to choose’. And empowerment, through choice, was never intended to be about individual women, but rather about empowerment on a large scale, and freedom from oppression for all marginalised people…
‘Many women are reasserting that feminism is a necessary social movement for the equality and liberation of all women, not just platitudes about choices for some’
Editor, writer and law tutor Miranda Kiraly and writer and RMIT research fellow Meagan Tyler, have a new and timely book out. It’s called Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism (Connor Court publishing) which brings together 20 authors discussing the limits to the ‘pop feminist’ approach to freedom for women and its failure to change the status quo. The contributors, state the book’s back cover blurb, “confront the dangers of reducing feminism to a debate about personal choice, and offer the possibility of change through collective action”.
I was delighted to be asked by Miranda and Meagan (who wrote the excellent chapter ‘Pornography as Sexual Authority: How Sex Therapy Promotes the Pornification of Sexuality’ for Big Porn Inc– edited by me and Dr. Abigail Bray and published by Spinifex Press ) to emcee the May 20 launch and Q and A event at Readings Carlton (Vic). In the lead up, here’s an extract from the book’s introduction. I’ll also publish an extract from Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy’s chapter ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!: moving beyond “a woman’s choice”’, in the next few days.
Miranda Kiraly and Meagan Tyler
Something is happening. For all the talk of a ‘postfeminist’ era over the last decade, there are now ever-increasing signs of a feminist resurgence. The visibility of feminist activism has led everyone from female singers and celebrities, to male political leaders, to start talking about the f-word, and even to start claiming the label ‘feminist’ for themselves. Something is definitely happening but what, exactly, is it?
With the rising tide of interest in all things feminist, there has been a rush to promote a popular brand of ‘feminism-lite’ or ‘fun feminism’ that does not offend or overtly threaten existing power structures. The mainstreaming of the feminist brand has left ‘feminism’ as little more than a sticker that anyone and everyone can now apply, largely because it has lost all sense of intellectual rigour or political challenge. This version of populist feminism embodies notions of empowerment, choice, and the individual above all else. It has been shaped, primarily, by liberal feminism, and the contributors in this volume also refer to it as third wave feminism, popular feminism, or choice feminism.
Individualism lies at the heart of liberal feminism, championing the benefits of ‘choice’ and the possibility that freedom is within reach, or occasionally, that it already exists should women choose to claim it. It also pushes – sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly – the fallacy that substantive equality has already been achieved and that the pursuit of opportunity lies solely in women’s hands. Liberal feminism has helped recast women’s liberation as an individual and private struggle, rather than one which acknowledges the systemic shortcomings of existing systems of power and privilege that continue to hold women back, as a class. Women’s liberation has been reduced to a series of personal statements about whether women like or dislike particular aspects of themselves or their lives.
This problem is not new. In 1990, contributors to The Sexual Liberalsand the Attack on Feminism bemoaned essentially the same thing: that ‘feminism’ had moved from a critique of – and collective resistance to – patriarchal oppression, towards an individualised, liberal model of ‘choice’. Indeed, Catharine MacKinnon, in a piece titled ‘Liberalism and the Death of Feminism’, for that collection, posited that liberalism is the very antithesis of a movement for women’s liberation. As she put it:
Where feminism was collective, liberalism is individualist … Where feminism is socially based and critical, liberalism is naturalistic, attributing the product of women’s oppression to women’s natural sexuality, making it ‘ours’. Where feminism criticises the ways in which women have been socially determined in an attempt to change that determination, liberalism is voluntaristic, meaning it acts like we have choices that we do not have. Where feminism is based on material reality, liberalism is based on some ideal realm in the head. And where feminism is relentlessly political, about power and powerlessness, the best that can be mustered by this nouveau movement is a watered down form of moralism: this is good, this is bad, no analysis of power of powerlessness at all.
These comparisons seem just as relevant and compelling as when they were first published, some 25 years ago. Many of our contributors pick up these issues again and consider them in the current context; a context in which the kinds of liberal feminism that MacKinnon was critical of have taken centre stage and seem to have become, in the coverage of much of the mainstream media, the be all and end all of feminist thought.
As Natalie Jovanovski notes in her chapter, it should not be surprising that liberal feminism has risen to prominence. It is generally seen to be less threatening to the status quo and reassures mainstream audiences that feminists are not a scary ‘other’. But far from occupying some middle ground of inoffensiveness, the emphasis on ‘choice’ in much liberal feminist writing is actually rather extreme. It strips women’s lives of context and makes it sound as though our ‘choices’ are made in a political and cultural vacuum. Each of our contributors, therefore, seeks to talk about the importance of power, context and culture, rather than individual choice and agency alone. Understanding and acknowledging the environment of women’s inequality goes to the heart of what is meant by the ‘freedom fallacy’ of this collection’s title. That is, there can be no freedom, no liberation, when the available choices are only constructed on the basis of gross inequity. More ‘choice’, or even a greater ability to choose, does not necessarily mean greater freedom.
Amid this dominance of liberal feminist orthodoxy, resistance is forming among a wide range of women. There is even talk of an emerging ‘fourth wave’ of feminism breaking in the United Kingdom and the United States; a movement that seeks to engage collective action and to address structural inequality, subjugation, and exploitation of women and girls, often at a grassroots level. Media outlets are struggling to conceptualise this emerging wave of feminism, and continue to attempt to simplistically slot it into a left–right, or generational, divide. Like many feminist movements before it, this new wave does not comfortably fit the mould of traditional politics, because it recognises that women’s interests have been neglected across the political spectrum. As a result, there is a wide variety of criticism that we have been able to draw on for this collection. What unites our contributors in this book is not a single perspective – there is a range of different feminist positions included – but rather, a unified belief that liberation cannot be found at a purely individual level, nor can it be forged from adapting to, or simply accepting, existing conditions of oppression.
Hopefully, if you have picked up this book, you already recognise the systemic conditions of women’s inequality… women still face unbearably high levels of sexual violence and millions of women around the world do not even have the limited protection that marital rape law affords. Activists are still fighting all around the world for the rights of girls and women not to be mutilated and exploited. Pornography and the trafficking of women and girls are booming global businesses trading primarily in sexual exploitation. Our contributors write about these injustices as existing on a continuum … each shap[ing] women’s social, cultural, political and material subordination.
…[A]ctivities which were once held up as the archetypes of women’s subordinate status are now held up as liberating personal ‘choices’. Sexual harassment becomes reframed as harmless banter that women can enjoy too. … Labiaplasty becomes a useful cosmetic enhancement. Pornography becomes sexual liberation. Sexual objectification becomes a barometer of self-worth.
…This collection aims to challenge the limits of key liberal feminist concepts and to critique the idea that it is possible to find freedom simply by exercising ‘choice’ in a world in which women, as a class, are still not considered to be of fully equal human worth to men.
While Time magazine may be questioning whether or not feminism is still needed in 2015, prominent figures from previous waves of the women’s liberation movement are certain it is desperately needed now, perhaps even more than in previous decades. As Germaine Greer recently declared: ‘Liberation hasn’t happened …Things have got a lot worse for women since I wrote The Female Eunuch.’ It is in recognition of the deep-seated problems that we still face, that several of our contributors emphasise the need for collective action to again be at the heart of feminist activism. This is crucially important and has been sidelined in popular discussions about whether or not certain women are ‘bad feminists’, or make acceptably feminist ‘choices’. This simply operates to blame individual women for their circumstances instead of casting light on the issues of structural and material inequality that affect women as a class.
…We wanted to include new voices to sit alongside contributions from those with longstanding experience and more established platforms. The inclusion of a number of women, relatively new to the movement, represents, in part, the fact that there is indeed something happening, and that there is a need for us to challenge the prevailing liberal feminist standard. It also illustrates the point made by Finn Mackay, in her chapter on the supposed generational division between second wave and third wave feminists, that chronology and age have little to contribute to enhancing our understandings of feminist theory and action. Instead, it is a question of ideology that distinguishes the different branches of feminist thought and action.
…This book is best understood as a radical challenge to the dominance of liberal feminist discourse in the public sphere. For some of our contributors this is imperative because, as they understand it, the liberal feminist model does not represent small steps in the right direction, but rather actively inhibits real change. For others, liberal feminism can still be seen to have made some contribution to the women’s liberation movement. As Andrea Dworkin once quipped: ‘I do think liberal feminists bear responsibility for a lot of what’s gone wrong,’ but she also added, ‘I have a really strong belief that any movement needs both radicals and liberals. You always need women who can walk into the room in the right way, talk in the right tone of voice, who have access to power. But you also need a bottom line.’ We hope that this book demonstrates the limits of the liberal feminist approach and the importance of reinforcing that bottom line.
Miranda Kiraly is an editor, writer and law tutor from Melbourne, Australia. She has authored publications on law and politics, including ‘Bittersweet Charity’ in Really Dangerous Ideas (Connor Court, 2013) and ‘Where Does the Private Domain Start and the Public End’ in Turning Left and Right: Values in Modern Politics (Connor Court, 2013). Miranda previously worked in federal politics as a speechwriter and researcher. From 2009–2013, she was a leading discussant for the Liberal Book Club.
Meagan Tyler is a vice-chancellor’s research fellow at RMIT University, Australia. Her research focuses on the social construction of gender and sexuality. Her work has been published in Rural Studies, Women’s Studies International Forum and Women and Therapy as well as several edited collections, including Everyday Pornography (Routledge, 2010) and Prostitution, Harm and Gender Inequality (Ashgate, 2012). Meagan is also the author of Selling Sex Short: The Pornographic and Sexological Construction of Women’s Sexuality in the West (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011).
Pathologizing disagreement is an intellectually dishonest way to cope with challenging arguments.
The MTR blog is fast becoming something of a shrine to the work of prolific and award winning blogger Meghan Murphy. Here’s her latest, from Canada’s Globe and Mail.
Meghan Murphy is a Vancouver writer and journalist and founder of the website Feminist Current.
Talk about “safe spaces” has been spreading amid a high-profile series of incidents at universities in North America and Europe, leading many to argue that today’s students need to develop thicker skins. These debate-free zones are presented as a way of protecting individuals from potentially traumatic experiences, but the reality is much more pernicious – and the issue extends far beyond campus politics.
We’re not talking here about the kinds of private spaces that allow individuals to organize, heal or meet among themselves on their own terms. Female victims of rape and abuse, for example, need access to “safe spaces” that are free from men and abusers. People of colour should have every right to meet privately among themselves. These are basic tenets that marginalized groups ascribe to when struggling against systems of power. But these are limited, designated spaces – it’s another thing altogether to appropriate wider public places or events, college campuses and public social-media forums, such as Twitter.
As a feminist, I understand that ideas and words are not harmless. But the recent pushback hasn’t targeted people pushing racist or misogynist doctrine. Instead, people are arguing that the very act of questioning positions they consider to be “right” constitutes hate speech. Academics and journalists, even ones who are advancing long-standing feminist and anti-imperialist arguments, are finding themselves blacklisted because their ideas challenge a liberal status quo.
There are a number of recent examples from the prostitution debate alone:
English journalist Julie Bindel was removed from a London panel discussing a documentary about a prostitution survivor because of protests by groups that want to legalize the sex industry. (Ms. Bindel advocates for the Nordic model of law, recently adopted in Canada but opposed by many mainstream feminists.)
After Pulitzer-winning journalist Chris Hedges wrote an article condemning the sex industry as “the quintessential expression of global capitalism,” the organizer of a Vancouver conference about “resource capitalism” was threatened with a boycott if the journalist’s keynote speech – scheduled for delivery Friday night – was allowed to proceed.
Feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s show at Goldsmiths, University of London, was cancelled last month due to complaints about her position on prostitution. Ironically, it was free speech, not prostitution, that was to have been the focus of her show.
The Cambridge Union was asked to withdraw its speaking invitation to feminist icon Germaine Greer, who was accused of “hate speech” because she said she wasn’t sure she believed transphobia was a thing.
It’s not just campuses, though, where people are using the “safe space” concept to silence those they disagree with. The Block Bot is an online incarnation of “safe space” – it’s a website whose service aims to protect Twitter users from “trolls, abusers and bigots.” Put aside the point that any Twitter user can already block anyone they wish at any given time – the way the application has been put into effect shows that its professed purpose does not match its actual impact.
Rather than weeding out users who aim to harass or threaten, the application seeks to compile a list of political dissidents, labelling users who step out of line with a variety of slurs. I myself was added to “Level 2” for expressing polite disappointment that a sexual-assault centre had taken a position in favour of decriminalizing the purchase of sex.
Thousands of others, including noteworthies such as New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis, physicist Brian Cox, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez, are listed on the Block Bot – guilty not of trolling, harassing or abusing but of having opinions “blockers” disagree with. The entire site, as a result, has recently faced libel warnings.
What’s troubling about efforts to silence those whose beliefs we find distasteful is not just the implications of censorship and libel, but the dishonesty of it all.
Claims that particular conversations or debates will cause us to “feel unsafe” are, in these contexts, little more than an excuse to shut down dissenting points of view. It puts those dissenters in the awkward position of having to dispute their accuser’s mental stability or claims of emotional trauma instead of allowing them to respond to the real issue: political disagreement. You can argue with someone who says “I want to ban this particular speaker from a panel because I disagree with her position,” but it’s more difficult to challenge someone who says “This person makes me feel unsafe.”
Pathologizing disagreement is an intellectually dishonest way to cope with challenging arguments. It certainly doesn’t support critical thinking.
It also creates a culture wherein people are afraid to express dissenting opinions or question the party line. This is ironic, because many of those under threat of being silenced are people who are speaking out against abuse, harassment and violence. While some may hold “controversial” opinions about how best to do it, they are just that – controversial. Throughout history, our heroes and radicals have held controversial opinions. How often do tepid opinions and fearfulness change the world for the better?
It’s time proponents of this kind of “safe space” start being forthright in their accusations. It’s okay to disagree, but not to frame differences of opinion as abuse. Those working to silence the disagreeable might imagine the day they question peers themselves, then ask whether they are prepared to choose between silence or blacklisting.
Are you a good feminist? Bad feminist? Is it really about you?
Today the downturn of women’s rights is smacking us upside the face. Femicide is reaching such epidemic proportions that nations like Brazil are introducing special legislation against it. Australia’s rate of sexual violence has jumped 20% in a year, statistics that are reflected in a host of other countries. The global scourge of trafficking continues to reach record highs.
A whole raft of issues are affecting women now more than ever before. Yet, as the events to mark International Women’s Day in Australia showed, most of these issues are eschewed entirely by a feminist dialogue that refuses to look beyond personal choice.
On International Women’s Day the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) hosted an all woman line up to discuss feminism. Yet, in line with downplaying the crisis surrounding women’s rights, the special episode took to dividing audience members based on whether they identified as ‘bad feminists’ or not. This is a category that neither theoretically nor pragmatically exists, more in line with high school buzzwords than progressive politics.
Feminism, broadly speaking, offers a political lens within which gendered issues can be better understood, analysed and contextualised. In the past, feminism has proven to be successful in confronting a number of these issues.
Yet today, for a large part, feminism is entirely liberalized. It is less about global political issues with their gendered contexts, and more about personal choices in the pursuit of individual happiness.
Feminism has been gutted by an individualistic drive to validate lifestyles. ‘Can I wear heels and aprons and be feminist?’ ‘Is this lippy feminist?’ ‘I’m a bad feminist, aren’t I?’ Such questions opened the feminist Q&A session, a fitting reflection of the broader liberal feminist dialogue. At times, there appeared little distinction between feminism and the Cosmo fashion police.
Feminism was not designed as a personal quick fix cure all. It is not going to choose careers, fix relationships or overhaul wardrobes. It’s not going to endorse any choices, make us feel good about our new splurge or tuck us in at night. In fact for the most part, feminism will challenge, trouble and confront.
But it was meant to do just that. Feminism emerged from the consciousness of women of the liberation era, the very women that fought for women’s right to work, our right to vote, our right to not be legally raped in marriage, our right to escape violence in the home and seek refuge. Yet this consciousness is now denied as old and deemed too prudish, wrong or just blatantly ignored.
Taking its place is the shiny new liberal feminism that is far sexier, more ‘feminine’ and ultimately reinforcing of the status quo. Taking up the ‘bad feminist’ label is just one of a myriad of ways liberal feminism misses the point.
Our intensely westernized instinct to ask ‘what’s in it for me’ means feminism has been depoliticised to the point that feminism is purely about ‘personal choice’ and any ‘choice’ being justified regardless of how much harm it might cause to other women around the world.
Cosmetics that rely on sexist and racist stereotypes to sell their product? Feminism. Making pornography where women are slapped, choked and spat on? It’s been called feminism. Promoting the sex industry that is responsible for the exploitation of millions of girls around the world? That’s economic opportunism, or rather, feminism.
Activist Julie Bindel is labelled ‘dangerously irresponsible’ by feminist colleagues for criticizing pornography. As if the multibillion-dollar global porn industry will collapse under one woman’s words. The liberal version of feminism goes to lengths to deny the evidence that shows harm done to girls, women and men under these industries – to the point that feminism now defends the sources of sexism and vilifies women who speak against it.
In its bid to shake the ‘old’ ‘prudish’ and ‘man hating’ stereotypes of past, feminism has had the ultimate makeover. Like a good celebrity, feminism now brings heat rather than light to women’s issues.
Ironically, as feminism has reached its most liberal and least potent form, there is a swelling movement of young people that argue feminism ‘has gone too far’. For young women who are more likely to deal with sexual coercions that eclipse anything we have seen before this is undeniable evidence that any notion of gender equality could not be farther from a reality today.
When the question of young women sexting naked images came up in Q&A, the entire context of socialisation and sexual pressures were ignored. We were reminded it was a ‘choice’ and rebellion. This was no surprise given liberal feminism asserts that pop stars, feminist porn and ‘free choice’ for all of the above will save us.
If we acknowledge there is a war on women, then sexual objectification is it’s propaganda and both sides are selling it. While claiming to promote ‘choice’, liberal feminism has actually reinforced the sexual pressure that sees girl’s choices more constrained than ever before.
This contradictory soup of individualistic choice feminism may make bearable entertainment for women who’ve cut their teeth on feminist literature, but what message is this sending to young women on how seriously we take women’s rights?
The focus needs to shift away from what kind of dresses women like to wear, or what kind of label women like to identify with. The issue is not simply a matter of individual choices or identities.
So, are you a good feminist or a bad feminist? Is it really about you?
Juan Salmeron and I talk discuss objectification of women in the music industry – and other places
Being interviewed by the death metal music magazine Metal Blast was a first.
I’m not exactly known for my taste in black metal The closest I got to ‘heavy’ was Suzi Quatro singing Devil Gate Drive in the 70s. Though I do confess to being persuaded by two mates to turn up at a cacophonous metal gig at a music festival in Queensland a couple of years back – fortunately I still have one functioning ear. And ‘black metal tyrants’ 1349’s ‘Massive Cauldron of Chaos’ album title describes how my life feels on too many days. But anyway, German-based Metal Blast editor Juan Salmeron, sought me out. He is, interestingly, both an attorney-at-law and a metal head, according to his bio:
Considered by his mother as the brightest and prettiest boy, J’s interest in metal started in his early teens, listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica (coupled with an embarrassing period in which Marilyn Manson “totally represents me, man”) eventually moving into the realm of power, industrial and death metal. When he’s not working at Metal Blast he can be found practicing Krav Maga, working as an attorney and coming up with excuses as to why he has to miss work after going to a concert. He also dabbles as a concert photographer, you can see his sub-par work on his instagram.
Juan just emailed me to say: “The response has been great; I’ve received e-mails, and even some girls contacted me and told me about their own cases of sexual abuse. It’s something that needs to be addressed”. So that’s good to know.
‘At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women’
By Laura McNally
Emma Watson’s speech at the UN has made headlines worldwide. It wasn’t a bad speech. Like all women, Watson is doing the best she can with the information she has available to her.
Several feminists have already addressed some of the problematic aspects of her speech. Like many, I am critical of the strategies employed by transnational organizations like the UN. I am also critical of liberal feminism.
But as a woman who is most concerned with women’s liberation, I acknowledge that Emma Watson has created more awareness in ten minutes than I could in my lifetime.
So you know what is more problematic, male-centric, and piecemeal than Emma Watson’s speech?
Liberal feminist analysis. Let me give just a few examples:
2) Liberal feminism frames sexual violence in porn as an empowered choice for women.
3) Liberal feminism responds “Not All Porn” (#NAP) in the same way sexists respond “not all men” when we talk about male violence and misogyny. Feminists ought to be aware that criticism is aimed at cultures, classes, and industries — not individual people.
5) Liberal feminism applies criticism to every industry except the sex trade despite the fact that the sex industry hinges upon classism, sexism, racism and a global trade which commodifies violence against girls and women.
6) Liberal feminism prioritises first-world women’s accounts of feeling empowered, shunning women who don’t have the language, resources, Twitter/Tumblr accounts to articulate the extent of their oppression.
7) While liberal feminism claims to be “intersectional” it concomitantly evades structural analysis and conceals multiple oppressions with a rhetoric of agency. This is an issue that Kimberlé Crenshaw has spoken on recently. As if feeling agentic is going to keep the most vulnerable women alive.
8) Liberal feminism claims to want to end sexist stereotypes, but freely labels women “thin-lipped,” prudish, and anti-sex if they dare say any of the things that I have just written here.
9) Liberal feminism has been so concerned about “including men” and being “pro-sex” that they have repeatedly published “feminist” works on behalf of male sex predators and attempted killers.
Liberal feminism is not only male-centric in rhetoric, but it positions male entitlement as feminist.
I say: At least Emma isn’t advocating for sex predators. At least Emma isn’t advocating for pedophiles. At least Emma isn’t advocating for men who produce violent pornography. At least Emma isn’t advocating for human traffickers. At least Emma is advocating for women.
Yes, Emma is another white woman adding her voice to a movement that continues to prioritize the perspectives of white people. But does that mean professional white feminists are going to renounce their careers? I wouldn’t expect so. But I would expect that they might consider whether their political analysis serves to amplify or obscure the reality of women already marginalized by the current white-male-centric world order.
Perhaps Emma’s critics can also question whether liberal feminism is really working to challenge male hegemony continuing to serve up diatribes about “finding agency” in oppressive circumstances. They might question whether this liberal, postmodern, anti-structural, acontextual approach to feminism even means anything for women outside of first-world capital cities… Marketing something as “intersectional” doesn’t make it so.
It would seem that we can either fight to end patriarchy and the institutions that prop up its existence, or we can work to make patriarchy more acceptable and equitable by selling it as “choice.” One of these options sounds like feminism and the other sounds like corporate strategy.
As it turns out nobody is liberated by these industries and participation is rarely a “free choice.” In fact research shows quite the opposite with very few South East Asian women ever personally seeking out the industry. To defend an industry that hinges upon impoverished girls and women’s lack of choice, and instead frame it as being primarily about “women’s choices” shows that liberal feminism is reserved for women with class privilege.
Yes, some women can choose. Some women have the social mobility required to move in and out of different fields of work and that is great. Of course no woman should be stigmatised for her choices, whatever they may be. But feminist analysis is not just about women who have options. Feminism that only reflects women with choice serves to further silence women who have few or none.
As bell hooks has said:
[Feminism] has never emerged from the women who are most victimized by sexist oppression; women who are daily beaten down, mentally, physically, and spiritually — women who are powerless to change their condition in life. They are a silent majority.
Girls are increasingly surrounded by sex trade influences, with much of the visual culture saturated with pornography. Male entitlement is a dangerous, global epidemic. Thai reports show 40 per cent of the sex industry is made up of underage girls. Male sexual entitlement is colonizing the third world faster than transnational corporations ever could. This local-global industrializing of sexual exploitation is constraining the rights and choices of girls globally. Working to legitimize this exploitation only solidifies the lack of choice for these girls and women.
How can liberal feminists bolster these industries and simultaneously claim to fight for choice? Whose choice? Male sex tourists perhaps? From my experience living throughout South East Asia, a deep sense of collectivist culture, filial piety where children are strongly obligated to support their aging parents, combined with poverty, all make the idea of individual choice and empowerment laughable. Poor women living in South East Asia don’t simply log on to seek.com and peruse potential career “choices.” Life is not as simply as victims vs. agents.
An all too common story across Asia is parents who cannot afford to feed their children. They may find themselves forced to send their daughters or sons to the city with the promise of “school and work” — this is increasingly impacting strained rural populations. Are these girls going to be helped by “feeling agency” while they are exploited? Perhaps they could benefit from state sanctioned and local development programs, rather than sex predator tourists?
Australian writers have told me that girls in Asia have to “choose” between the garment industry and the sex industry, otherwise beg. Why is this first-world “choice” narrative homogenizing feminist discourse? It is an entirely reductionist, ethnocentric and distorted idea of women’s reality overseas. What ever happened to intersectionality?
Liberal feminist rhetoric is dominated by first-world accounts of “I think this is empowering so it is.” This apolitical approach evades the statistics and realities of millions of girls and women whose stories we will likely never read about in a feminist bestseller. Feminism has come to mean whatever wealthy consumers want it to mean — “feeling good,” rather than actual change or justice. We seem to forget that the world is not full of women who are privileged enough to try out oppressive systems like pole-dancing for “fun.” We’ve ended up in a situation where Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus call their actions feminist — while that’s ludicrous, I can see exactly how they came to that conclusion.
I understand that liberal feminism does seek to change sexist norms and attitudes, but it does so by supporting the industries that ensure sexist behaviour is normative, institutionalized, and profitable. Not only does this garner political legitimacy for sexist industries, but it bolsters male consumers who can argue their sex tourism and excessive porn use is acceptable or even “feminist.” Empirical evidence shows that first-world male consumers of pornography have higher sexist and rape-accepting attitudes — attitudes that they can more easily enact in locations with fewer law enforcement resources.
I am struck by recent liberal feminist texts criticizing “neoliberal feminism” (which isn’t actually a thing) while the crux of liberal feminism could not be more closely aligned with neoliberal exploitation of women.
So is #heforshe going to actually achieve anything with men? At an individual level, I hope so — we certainly need it. What I do know is that, for my friends living in poverty, having men hear about this will likely do more for them than talking about feminist agency or feminist porn.
I understand entirely why Watson’s speech was somewhat piecemeal, problematic and feminist-lite… But that is because she is working with liberal feminist theory, and it’s the best she (or anyone) could do with that body of work.
Watson is simply advocating for girls and women the only way she knows. So all I have to say to her is: “Thank you. You did what you could, we have a lot of work to do and we welcome you.”
Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD candidate. Her current work draws upon critical theory to examine the limitations of corporate social responsibility and liberal feminism. She blogs at lauramcnally.com. Reprinted with permission Laura McNally/ Feminist Current
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
“Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping…educate the public on the link between pornography and violence…” – Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence
“As you read, be prepared to feel both grief and rage.” Robert Jensen
“These accounts are among the most unsettling you will ever read.” Steve Biddulph
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.