‘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
Another day, another article arguing that criticism of sexualization and objectification is proof that men are afraid of women’s expressed sexuality and that women are jealous.
What an innovative, groundbreaking notion.
A recent article at Huffington Post defends a twerking video model, Amber Rose, posted on YouTube for her husband Wiz Khalifa’s birthday and Beyoncé’s pole-dancing at the VMAs, on the basis of “agency.”
The author writes, of Beyoncé’s “sometimes provocative dancing”:
‘”What is she teaching her daughter?” some asked, pearls tightly clutched. I would answer, “Agency. Independence. Talent.” But others, it would seem, say watching her mother dance and sing in front of millions — while making millions — is teaching Blue not to respect and value her body. Even when married and a mother — the supposed safeguards against being called a whore — Beyoncé’s “goodness” and motherhood are called into question.”’
According to liberal feminist gospel, twerking conveys “agency,” as does pole-dancing on stage in front of your two year old. “Agency,” being that elusive concept that only those with a four-year arts degree seem to understand. The rest of us, informed by empirical evidence, are slightly concerned about statistics showing that younger and younger girls are increasingly dealing with eating disorders and anxiety, and are being pressured and coerced into performing sex acts and pornified versions of sexuality.
Forget the kill-joy rubbish statistics, this is about AGENCY. And PEARLS. What do pearls have to do with agency? Let me break it down for you:
The liberal feminist representation of “agency” proposes that anytime a woman performs using what we see as “sexuality,” she displays independence, power and agency. If you don’t agree, it’s because you are: (1) a fear-ridden, sex-deprived male, (2) a pearl clutching, sex-deprived conservative, or (3) a jealous woman (possibly sex-deprived).
Negative sex-stereotypes abound. The author claims to want to end negative sex-stereotypes and virgin-whore dichotomies (which feminists have been arguing against for decades), but does the opposite.
The idea is that this dichotomy is smashed because Amber Rose and Beyoncé are wives and mothers but also twerk.
The author asks the reader:
“Are you angry because she’s doing what should never be done [twerking and also being a mother], or are you angry because she’s doing what we should all be allowed to do but feel we cannot?”
I would hazard a guess that many women are somewhat tired of the “post baby body,” “yummy mummy,” “MILF” and “cougar” obsessed world. Even in motherhood, women cannot catch a break from the unrelenting obsession with “sexy” — objectifying mothers is now having drastic impacts on women’s health.
The author then asks:
“…are you angry because [Amber Rose] is standing with one foot firmly in the mother-wife camp, and the other in the camp that is half-naked and booty-shaking?”
Is this a trick question? I thought we were denouncing the virgin-whore dichotomy, but by the end of the article, these stereotypes seem to be more intact than ever.
These kinds of stereotypes — “virgins,” “prudes,” “MILFs,” “pearl clutchers,” “hos” — have no place in an equal society. Such slurs are designed to control and silence women and they are no more or less acceptable whether they are hurled by misogynists on YouTube or from self-described feminists.
Indeed, Beyoncé has made history as an amazing entertainer while simultaneously bringing feminism into the limelight — it is a momentous achievement. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look critically at what she represents and the messages she conveys.
How many tertiary-educated feminists does it take to see that celebrity culture produces (and is a product of) harmful cultural norms including sexism and racism? Norms that deserve to be interrogated rather than uncritically promoted by feminists?
Many liberal feminists seem to get stuck in the mindset that there are only two ways to talk about sexuality: (1) the conservative, “repressed” way: never have sex, or (2) the liberal/”liberated” way: everything “sex” is good, no matter what.
… There’s that dichotomy again…
In reality, there are a million ways to own one’s sexuality that doesn’t require pole-dancing in front of millions of people. Pole-dancing, at the end of the day, really has nothing to do with female sexuality, and everything to do with strip club culture — i.e. male culture, i.e. performing sexualization for the male gaze. It does not, in any way, threaten the status quo.
The recent pole-dancing trend in music videos, exercise classes and stagettes not only celebrates the sexist status quo, but it glamorises sexual exploitation. Research conducted by an ex-stripper showed over half of the dancers had experienced digital rape on the job as well as other forms of verbal and physical assault. More recent research shows that dancers are expected to maintain conventional beauty ideals, often resorting to dangerous surgeries and extreme weight loss measures in order to do so. I guess these women didn’t get the memo about fun feminist agency.
Women have the right to be critical of this increasingly pornographic culture. Parents have the right to rage against the pressure on girls to sexualize themselves for the male gaze. Women who are critical of these messages are not necessarily “anti-sex” or prudes – the reality is more complex than what that binary offers.
There are people who like sex but who are also critical of sexual exploitation. Indeed, as it turns out, some people can envisage a sexuality that doesn’t require market-driven, male-centric, or porn-fueled performance.
Take Lydia Cacho, a Mexican journalist who went undercover to examine how the sex trade was recruiting younger and younger children to fuel the demand for more extreme porn. Cacho felt it necessary to state, “I love sex and eroticism,” during a recent talk she gave in Sydney – probably out of fear that liberal feminists would dredge up the “pearl clutching” line dare she breathe a critical word on porn or “sex.” Cacho showed how the broader culture was leading to younger children being taken advantage of and exploited, whether it be by pimps in Mexico or the kids who accidentally stumble across child-rape porn, due to porn sites linking kid-friendly search terms to their images.
Cacho is an example of a person who enjoys sex, yet is critical of a culture that uses a one-dimensional view of “sex” to sell anything and everything (increasingly to younger and younger boys and girls). The dichotomy that positions sex as something we are either “for” or “against” is unnecessary.
Despite oft-repeated concerns about sexual repression and pearl clutching, sex is no longer hidden or repressed by Puritanism. In fact this has rarely been the case since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s. In today’s world, “sex” has become a ubiquitous cultural narrative. It is the narrative that tells us women’s breasts should be used for porny ads, but not for breastfeeding. It’s online, on TV, in the newspaper, and in your face 24/7 — used to sell everything from porn, to mini pole-dancing kits for kids, to peaches (yes, that’s actually a thing).
While many liberal feminists are critical of exploitative capitalism, they remain uncritical of the capitalist exploitation of sex and sexuality. How can you be anti-capitalism but pro-commodification of sex? According to liberal feminist gospel, workers all around the world lack agency, except for objectified and sexualised girls and women. Even young girls in the sex trade, I have been told, are just “underage workers” with agency. For a movement that claims to be against rape-culture and the patriarchal status quo, this hypocrisy is astounding.
Liberal feminism promotes a market-driven, one-dimensional view of male-centric sex. Rather than promoting diversity or dissidence in women’s sexuality, it decorates the patriarchal status quo with the label “agency.”
Though it might be tempting, assigning “agency” to anything and everything only serves to eschew a more critical analysis of the structural realities of oppression. Tacking the idea of “equality” onto a system that is founded upon structural inequality does nothing but solidify and disguise the inequality. The idea that women must “feel empowered” in disempowering situations is nothing but victim-blaming with a new name.
Patriarchy demands increasing access to women’s bodies, at increasingly younger ages. The sexual revolution prepared men for a world where women say yes to sex, but it did not prepare them for women’s right to say no. Reframing this male entitlement and demand as agency is just a PR campaign for patriarchy.
It’s not as simple as agentic vs. non-agentic. Expecting women to “feel agency” in situations of structural oppression does nothing but pacify true resistance. Liberal feminists are doing women the ultimate disservice by conjuring up stereotypes of pearl-clutchers vs. pole-dancers. Pressuring women to toe the line lest they be labeled jealous pearl-clutchers is the work of misogynists, not feminists.
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.
I did not slut shame JLo and Iggy Azalea: Brody Dalle
Everyone was telling me I should watch JLo and Iggy Azalea’s ‘Booty’ music clip. I’d just come back from disappearing myself at a beautiful coastal haven. It wasn’t really the first thing I wanted to do. But, because I’m expected to have something to say on such things (and am about to give a related paper on porn culture at a women’s conference this weekend), I made myself. Really, can it get much worse? Faux lesbian masturbatory material for men who don’t need to bother turning the sound on. And why would anyone want to turn the sound on anyway? It’s a crap song. I mean really crap. It has not one redeeming quality – ‘What you got a big booty’, ‘Baby your booty is a movie star’, ‘Mesmerized by the size of it’, ’It’s his birthday, give him what he ask for’. And so it goes, a moronic cacophony of manufactured, unimaginative, uncreative, commercialised pornified stupidity.
I like what Brody Dalle had to say about it.
“Slut shaming? Body shaming? Girl hating? Please don’t assign incorrect motives to my tweets. It is you who is implying they are ‘sluts’, not me…
“How are the lyrics ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering to women? How? How is spreading your bottom apart and singing ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering at all?”
Rodger was very clear about the reasoning behind his violence. In a video posted online before the shooting, he says:
For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires. All because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, but never to me. I’m 22-years-old and still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college, for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous.
College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime because I don’t know what you don’t see in me.
This is male entitlement. You’re looking at it.
Rodger was so enraged that he had not been given that which he deserves, as a man — sexual access to women — that he killed.
In a world wherein men learn they not only deserve, but have the right to women’s bodies, Rodger’s behaviour isn’t really all that surprising. From the time they are young, boys are offered women’s bodies. They are provided with pornography, told that this is what women are for: your eyes, your pleasure, your dick. Read more.
Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution: a compelling take down of pro-prostitution myths
I recently read Rachel Moran’s autobiography Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution (Spinifex Press, 2013). It is the most compelling take down of pro- prostitution myths I have ever read.
As Amnesty International goes against all it supposedly stands for in backing legalisation of the sex industry worldwide (so valiantly resisted by a number of Australian feminists at Amnesty branch meetings over the weekend – more to come on that), Rachel’s book stands as a powerful ‘No!’ to the global trade in the bodies of women and girls.
Rachel worked as a prostitute for 7 years in Ireland, finally managing to get out of the industry at 22. The book describes her experiences as well as breaks down myths and lies perpetuated by pop culture, the media, the sex industry, and even other feminists, about prostitution and is an incredibly powerful and brutally honest read.
When you are fifteen years old and destitute, too unskilled to work and too young to claim unemployment benefit, your body is all you have left to sell.
Rachel Moran grew up in severe poverty and a painfully troubled family. Taken into state care at fourteen, she became homeless and was in prostitution by the age of fifteen. For the next seven years Rachel lived life as a prostituted woman, isolated, drug-addicted, alienated.Rachel Moran’s experience was one of violence, loneliness, and relentless exploitation and abuse. Her story reveals the emotional cost of selling your body night after night in order to survive – loss of innocence, loss of self-worth and a loss of connection from mainstream society that makes it all the more difficult to escape the prostitution world.
At the age of 22 she managed, with remarkable strength, to liberate herself from that life. She went to university, gained a degree and forged a new life, but she always promised that one day she would complete this book. This is Rachel Moran’s story, written in her own words and in her own name.
A brave woman steps out from Ireland’s dark side and gives a clear-eyed account of the violence that is prostitution.
Susan McKay, former Chief Executive of the National Women’s Council of Ireland
Rachel Moran has wrought out of the depravity of the ‘prostitution experience’ an inspirational and brilliant memoir. Courageous and tender; ultimately her story is a searing indictment of men who buy sex.
Kathleen Barry, author of ‘Female Sexual Slavery’, ‘The Prostitution of Sexuality’ and ‘Unmaking War, Remaking Men’
An unprecedented testimony – brave, powerful and convincing.
Theo Dorgan, Irish broadcaster and poet
Prostitution survivor Rebecca Mott calls for total abolition
Prostitution survivor Rebecca Mott, who endured frequent rape, violence and torture while in the industry, has given an incredibly powerful speech on BBC radio on the truth about the sex industry.
Has the Courier Mail become a pimp?
In this May 4 article, Kathleen Donaghey gives the Sunshine Coast sex industry a nice free plug, promoting a special ‘Pie, coke and a poke’ deal. It’s so discreet, Donaghey writes, that a punter can duck out at lunchtime and still be home for the ‘wife and kids’ in the evening. A QUT researcher says it’s just a “fun, recreational pursuit.” There’s not a critic in sight. As my colleague Caitlin Roper tweeted: “Average age of entry into sex trade is 13. Prostituted women have PTSD levels equivalent to war veterans. Write about THAT @couriermail.” I wonder if the Courier Mail got any kickbacks from this piece given it has provided the brothel with thousands of dollars in free advertising?
‘What I’ve learned from Twitter is that it doesn’t matter what I do. It didn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’ve said, what I’ve written. My body of work doesn’t matter and my actual thoughts don’t matter. Not to those who have decided to hate me’
I’ve got a problem with Meghan Murphy and her Feminist Current blog. Every time I go there I want to re-print pretty much everything she writes. Here’s her latest. And yes, if you’re wondering, this piece resonated. A lot. Especially a week into the twitter response to my piece in Fairfax papers on the need for Australia to follow France’s lead in adopting the Nordic approach to prostitution last week (no, I’m not ‘whorephobic’ and no, I don’t want all sex workers to die).
I love the internet. I really do. And I can’t stand the luddites who romanticize the days where people talked. Face to face. Or called each other. The phone? Really? Please. Fuck the phone. The internet is magic.
I have found dozens — I’d even be so bold as to say hundreds — of brothers and sisters across the globe who I would have otherwise never found, if not for the ability to connect online.
So I have no interest in blaming technology or social media for people’s behaviour or arguing that Twitter is unequivocally “bad” (or “good,” for that matter). Things are never quite that simple. But what I will say is this: Most days I hate Twitter. And many days I think Twitter is a horrible place for feminism.
While I would never argue that feminists stay off of Twitter and do tend to believe it’s a necessary evil, of sorts, if you are in media/writing/journalism, I don’t think it’s a place for productive discourse or movement-building. I think it’s a place where intellectual laziness is encouraged, oversimplification is mandatory, posturing is de rigueur, and bullying is rewarded. I think it’s a place hateful people are drawn towards to gleefully spread their hate, mostly without repercussion. And more than half the time I feel as though I’m trapped in a shitty, American, movie-version of high school that looks more like a popularity contest than a movement to end oppression and violence against women. Read full article here.
‘Feminism is not supposed to be a synonym for sexism’
By Aphrodite Kocieda
I’m writing this post, not necessarily to change your mind about whatever positions you hold about feminism, but to act in solidarity with other feminists — especially feminists of colour — who find it problematic that so many feminist sites are hailing Beyoncé as a feminist queen. Several articles and blog posts have been published with the intention of silencing the “haters” who do not like Beyoncé. I suppose that being an actual feminist and understanding how feminism has become a commercialized product means that you’re a “hater?”
I wish feminism could take some clues here. We don’t always bring our A-game, since we spend a whole lot of time trying to figure who’s in and who’s out as if that is going to get us anywhere. Time’s out for the WOC feminist meangirls shit. Sometimes folks just be hating. Real talk. Cuz if you ain’t critiquing Katy Perry and Pink and alla dem for being pro-capitalist and in league with the establishment, then back up off Bey.
Over the years, Beyoncé has been soundly criticized for not being feminist enough…So, what exactly is she doing that isn’t feminist? …She’s pro-woman without being anti-man, and she wants the world to know that you can be feminist on a personal level without sacrificing emotions, friendships or fun. Is it a message that will appeal to everyone? No. But then, no one expects any other feminist message to be unilaterally accepted, do they?
Does anyone else see a huge problem here? Contrary to popular belief, I would argue that this debate isn’t actually about Beyoncé at all, but a larger question: What the hell does feminism even mean anymore? Read entire post here.
If Tracy Connelly were alive today and living in France, it’s possible she might have found a way out of prostitution. She would have at least known that the society she lived in cared enough to want to help her out. But Tracy lived in Australia and was murdered on July 21, by a man suspected of buying her for prostitution on a street in Melbourne.
Australia, like France, has ratified Article 6 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which requires member states to take ”all appropriate legislative and other measures” to deal with the ”exploitation of the prostitution of women”.
But there is little assistance available here to help women like Tracy free themselves from that life. A small number of struggling support services get by on negligible government funding, even though there are an estimated 26,000 people involved in prostitution here.
This would have to be the best analysis of the rise of the ‘selfie’phenomena I have read. Meghan Murphy, love your work.
Clearly the world is engaged in an elaborate plot to make me LOSE MY MIND. You win, world! You are the dumbest and the worst at everything. I concede.
This morning’s episode of CBC Radio’s The Current featured a debate about ‘the selfie’. Listening was a little agonizing at times, but it provided an excellent portrayal of our culture’s mass confusion about what it means to do something ‘for ourselves’ vs. performing for the (male) gaze.
Self-centered as we are, we like to believe that everything we do is ‘for ourselves’, even it’s it’s clearly for others. It’s comforting, yes. But it’s also bullshit. It’s simply not possible that, if we put images of ourselves, or really, if we put anything at all online, that it’s ‘for ourselves’. If it were just ‘for ourselves’ we wouldn’t put it on the Internet.
Now, doing things for others is not terrible. We live in a world with other people, naturally we are going to care what they think of us, which makes it all the more ridiculous that people are so very committed to this imbecilic idea that everything they do ever is all about them.
Writer, Sarah Nicole Prickett, is given the task of defending the selfie in the debate, along with two others: Andrew Keen and Hal Niedzviecki. I imagine she felt the need to exaggerate her points because debates are often intended to be combative and inflammatory, the fear being that, without going a little over the top, the debate becomes boring. But yeesh. I’m not sure how one could put forth the idea that the selfie is just something women and girls do ‘for themselves’ or that it somehow subverts the objectification we are subjected to throughout their lives with a straight face.
Keen makes the most practical and accurate points in the debate, calling the selfie trend “an extreme form of narcissism” that will contribute to a thoroughly embarrassing legacy. Historians will surely regard our culture as one made up of a bunch of spoiled, disgusting ninnies who have an inexplicable obsession with reconstructing our faces and bodies to look like cartoonish parodies of ourselves and who are so thoroughly engrossed with our own lives that we document every single thing we think/do/put in our mouths (Henceforth to be known as #saladtweets, be sure to follow every one of these posts with ‘LOL’ so everyone knows your engrossing tale of WAITING IN A LINEUP or witnessing your baby acting like a baby is entertaining).
Keen is right that we’re living in a narcissistic time, but Prickett points to the ways in which this ‘narcissism’, if you want to call it that, impacts women and girls in a particular way, pointing out that more ‘girls’ participate in this activity than ‘guys’. Disappointingly, she is unwilling to follow through on her own analysis.
Prickett responds to Keen’s critque by saying “a man has not lived inside the experience of a teenage girl” and therefore, how could he possibly critique this clearly gendered phenomenon? Her response to Keen’s argument that the selfie is pure narcissism is particularly revealing: “You have not spent your life as a girl who is looked at, who is judged by how she is looked at, [and] who might have some interest in showing the world how she thinks she looks because that is preferable to how they think she looks.”
Yes! You might be thinking. But no. No because now is when we pull out all our hair.
While, yes, women and girls are constantly looked at and no, men don’t understand what that’s like and what kind of impact that has on our lives and how it shapes our view of ourselves, Prickett completely misses an opportunity to point to some of the implications of moving through life as an object of the male gaze. Instead of looking at the selfie through this lens she veers off into the well-trod ground of ‘it is what it is’, leading into the self-fulfilling ‘male gaze as opportunity for empowerment’ line.
It’s both disappointing, but also a little telling that a man (Keen) seems to understand the meaning of the selfie in a cultural context as well as in a gendered context much better than Prickett does, pointing out that it isn’t actually ‘empowering’ to perform for the male gaze, simply because this is what our society teaches us to do.
Here’s what I think (you were wondering, weren’t you?): Women are brainwashed! It’s a trick, you guys! If we think we’re being empowered, then we can forget about challenging sexist norms and trends. If we convince ourselves that we’re REALLY just objectifying ourselves and that REALLY these stilettos are for MYPLEASURE (oooooh, rolling my ankle makes me feel sexy and free!) then we don’t really need any feminist movement now, do we? Also, believing we aren’t victims of an unfair and oppressive system it helps us to feel non-shitty.
Photographer, Elena, comments that the selfie is simply about self-expression or self-love, going on to argue that we can’t judge a person or assume they are simply ‘vain’ because we have no idea what the selfie-taker’s motive is. Well OK. So it’s perhaps true that not every person who takes a selfie is being ‘vain’. I mean, at this point the selfie is a pretty common and unremarkable part of our culture. I’ve done it, we’ve all done it. THAT SAID, just because we DO THINGS doesn’t make those things universally ‘OK’ or neutral.
Can we create some kind of mantra? Like, “Just because you like something doesn’t make it ‘good’!” “Just because you ‘feel good’ doesn’t make something ‘right’!” “Just because you have a feeling doesn’t make your feeling an unexaminable truth!” Didn’t our parents drill this into our heads when we were kids? “If everyone else jumped off a bridge… blah blah blah.” Just because people do things doesn’t mean you have to do them or that those things are ‘OK’.
Prickett understands that women and girls are treated as commodities and learn to navigate their lives as commodified objects BUT STILL she is unwilling to use her powers of critical analysis to move past the ‘this-is-happening-so-it’s-happening’ analysis.
She even goes so far as to compare critique of the gendered popularity of selfies to some kind of hysterical “Victorian bullshit where we don’t want girls to get pleasure from themselves alone because it upsets the whole order” (like masturbation!). UUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGH. Do people even KNOW WHAT WORDS MEAN ANYMORE???
Clearly if we are taking photos of our faces and bodies and sharing them on the Internet, we are not doing this ‘for ourselves’. Just as boob jobs and wearing makeup and making porn isn’t ‘for ourselves’. While other panelists seem to understand this concept, Prickett continues along her merry way, trying to convince us that the selfie is about TAKING BACK OUR POWER AS WOMEN, or something. See, by learning to love and perform for the male gaze, we are empowered! It’s classic burlesque-brain logic. I’m doing this, therefore it’s for ME.
Just because you grow up in a culture that turns you into an object against your will, it does not mean that, somehow, if you ‘choose’ to further objectify yourself it is somehow subverting the enforced objectification.
Prickett says she “doesn’t want to revert to [the] first year university, ‘it’s the male gaze’ [thing]” but feels she has no other choice. And OH how I wish she’d paid attention during male gaze class (Quick plug: Learning about the male gaze is great incentive for taking Women’s Studies in college and university!).
When we internalize the male gaze, we see ourselves through that lens. So we turn the camera on ourselves, or we objectify other women, or we objectify ourselves — because that’s how we have learned to see women and to see ourselves. Simply because a man is not literally looking at us at the very moment we ‘choose’ to objectify ourselves or simply because our audience may be comprised of some women, does not erase the male gaze from our psyche.
Keen says, near the end of the debate: “If we can’t judge our culture, what can we judge.” And I wish feminists would take that into consideration before repeating the horrid and useless (yet, ever-popular) “don’t judge me!!!” mantra that pops up when anyone tries to critique any social phenomenon or behaviour.
As Keen notes, in response to Prickett’s attempt to compare critique of the selfie to ‘Victorian’ hysteria around masturbation, public masturbation is different than private masturbation. Posting photos of ourselves on the internet makes those photos public, therefore not ‘for ourselves’ (i.e. private).
The selfie is narcissistic, yes. And of course I’m not saying that people who take selfies are terrible people. It’s just kind of how things are these days. It’s a thing we all do. THAT SAID. Many girls do the selfie because they see themselves as objects of the male gaze and their selfies reflect his. PARTICULARLY (yes, I’m going to say it), when we’re posting photos of ourselves posing in porny ways, in underwear and/or bikinis, focusing on sexualized body parts, etc. It isn’t ‘taking anything back’, it’s just part of the game.
The show was pretty packed, discussion-wise, and the producers did a great job of trying to include a wide variety of perspectives on FEMEN’s tactics. That said, there is A LOT more that could be said around some of the issues that came up and comments that made on the show. I personally spent much of my time on the show silently fuming over the, frankly, crazy things Shevchenko was saying.
I’ve written about Femen before, noting that the group seems generally clueless about feminism, past and present, based on statements such as: “We’re the new face of feminism…Classical feminism is dead.” Shevchenko seems to think that FEMEN invented both feminism in the Ukraine as well as the incredibly original, never-been-done-before tactic of women using their naked bodies in order to get people to look at them. They call it ‘sextremism’, I call it the same old shit. What I’ve noted elsewhere is that nude protest, when it comes to women, is a great tactic if your priority is to get media attention, but can be problematic because, often, that is the only way the media will pay attention to women — i.e. if we are performing for the male gaze. Read entire article here.
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