Don’t blame Emma Watson’s speech for liberal feminist failures.

(Cross-posted from Laura McNally)

Emma Watson’s speech isn’t the problem. The problem is liberal feminism.

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 organisations 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:

  • The liberal feminist movement argues sexist objectification and violent pornography can be feminist, but that Emma Watson’s speech was barely sufficient.
  • Liberal feminism frames sexual violence in porn as an empowered choice for women.
  • Liberal feminism responds “not all porn” 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.
  • While we are in the midst of a child porn and pedophilia epidemic, liberal feminism argues we should sell sexy lingerie to 7-year-old girls because children need “sexual choices.
  • Liberal feminism applies criticism to every industry except the sex trade despite the fact that the sex industry hinges upon classism, sexism, racism and the global trade of violence against girls and women.
  • Liberal feminism prioritises first-world women’s accounts of feeling empowered, shunning women who don’t have the language, resources, twitter or Tumblr accounts to articulate the extent of their oppression.
  • 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 Kimberle Crenshaw has spoken on recently (1). As if feeling agentic is going to keep the most vulnerable women alive.
  • 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.
  • 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 is institutionalizing and abetting global male entitlement as feminist.

Yet now, I hear, the liberal feminist movement is upset because Emma called upon men in her speech. Pot calling the kettle?

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 ponder if liberal feminism is really working to change male hegemony while we continue to be served up diatribes about “finding agency” in oppressive circumstances, by both the feminist academy and its media counterparts. Perhaps they can question whether this liberal, postmodern, anti-structural, a-contextual approach to feminism even means anything for women outside of first-world capital cities… Marketing something as “intersectional” doesn’t just make it so.

It would seem that we can either fight to end patriarchy and the institutions that prop up its existence, or alternately 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. Choice is great… when you are a wealthy consumer.

If the sex trade were a choice that supposedly liberates women, wouldn’t we all be liberated by now? What with pornography making up over a third of the whole Internet, and with the global sex industry estimated at being worth over $7000 billion (nearly ten years ago by the EU). So why is male sexual violencesexual coercionsexual assaultglobal trafficking in children, self harm, objectification and eating disorders as well as suicide rates all on the rise for girls and women in a whole variety of countries?

As it turns out nobody is liberated by these industries and they are rarely a 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 only for women with the social mobility to choose, commonly first-world women. Framing oppressive systems as “choice” is a classist marketing strategy, not an intersectional feminist analysis.

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 with choices. 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 victimised 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 by pornography, often of young and underage girls. Male entitlement is both global and dangerous. 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 trans-national corporations ever could. This local-global industrializing of sexual exploitation is constraining the rights and choices of girls globally. Working to legitimise this exploitation only solidifies the lack of choice for these girls and women.

How then, can liberal feminists bolster these industries and simultaneously claim to fight for choice? Whose choice? Male sex tourists perhaps? And don’t even get me started on just how ethnocentric, individualistic and consumerist the entire notion of “choice” is. 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 just not that simple, despite the supposed binary it is certainly not as simple 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? Or, perhaps they could benefit from state sanctioned and local development programs, rather than sex predator tourists?

Through conversation, Australian writers have told me that girls in Asia have to “choose” between the garment industry and the sex industry, or otherwise beg. This is an entirely reductionist, ethnocentric and distorted idea of women’s reality overseas. Why is this first-world ‘choice’ narrative homogenizing feminist discourse? 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 hear 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 wealthy enough to try out oppressive systems for fun like pole-dance for “sport.” 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, institutional and profitable. Not only does this garner political legitimacy for sexist industry, but it bolsters the 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 have been told this is all just “good for business,” which sounds more like the perspective of a capitalist, not a feminist. 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.”

 

(1) Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘A Conversation with Founding Scholars of Intersectionality: Kimberlé Crenshaw, Nira Yuval-Davis and Michelle Fine’ in M Berger and K Guidroz (eds), The Intersectional Approach: Transforming the Academy Through Race, Class, and Gender (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

Not all men by Kiss Me and Be Quiet

(Cross-posted from Kiss Me and Be Quiet)

Well it’s been quite the week for victim-blaming hasn’t it? Another week of people loudly proclaiming that sex offenders and abusers are not actually at fault for what they do, oh no. It’s the person who’s been attacked, abused or violated of course.

Victim-blaming is a big thing when women are attacked. It always has been. Court cases (if it even gets that far) filled with questions about whether the victim was drinking, wearing make-up, wearing a short skirt, is a virgin etc. This isn’t news. The fact that women who are completely covered up, or that men get attacked too doesn’t seem to change this narrative. Logic doesn’t apply here, it’s all about ensuring women understand the do’s and don’t’s of “acceptable” behaviour.

This week, the victim-blaming got louder for a moment, when half of twitter couldn’t stop screaming about Jennifer Lawrence. That she shouldn’t take photographs of herself that she isn’t prepared for the whole world to see. That it was a publicity stunt. That it would help her on the casting couch. That she is sexy, so she should ‘own it’. That it was worth it. Because apparently when you are famous, you are no longer allowed to have boundaries, be private or give consent. Because apparently when you are ‘hot’ then your distress is secondary to other people’s voyeurism.

And then there were the responses to the people who wrote about this. When people pointed out this was abuse, or that you wouldn’t blame someone for online banking and yet we do for storing photos online, when people said ‘stop’, or painted the picture in the wider context of misogyny or the patriarchy and of men trying to silence women.

‘Not. All. Men’ came the immediate reply.

‘Not. All. Men’ yelped the men who considered themselves to be decent citizens.

‘Fuck you. Not all men’ shouted some adding extra abuse in a heartbeat.

 

Not all men, we are repeatedly told, while being sold nail varnish that can stop us being raped.

Not all men, we are told, while being sold hairy leggings to stop us being raped.

Not all men, we are told while being given rape alarms for when we need to walk somewhere alone in the dark.

Not all men, we are told, while being advised not to wear short skirts. Or get drunk. Or kiss anyone without wanting to sleep with them.

Not all men, we are told, while being told that our mere presence in a bar, on the street, on a train, in a car park, could trigger any one of the bad men to lose control. And it will be our fault.

Not all men, we are told, while being told that the mere vision of us on our own private cameras could cause one of the bad men to go to extreme lengths to get those photos and can’t help but share them. And it will be our fault.

And it may be a surprise to realise that in spite of this, we actually know that it’s not all men. We are aware that we can walk down the street without every male we walk past abusing us. That we can take a chance and try and meet a man on a date and see if we like each other. That we can go to work and have male colleagues with whom we might have a good conversation. but I don’t know a woman who hasn’t at some point been verbally or physically abused by a man. I don’t go out with my friends without us texting each other at the end of the night to let each other know we’re home safe. The majority of my friends will wince if told to ‘cheer up love’ by a random man in case he turns nasty. And here’s the thing – we don’t know if you are the nice guy, or the man who can’t control himself. We don’t know if you’re the guy to stay near in case something happens, or you’re the guy who will make something happen.

So if your first reaction to learning how widespread verbal and physical abuse of women is, is ‘not all men!’, instead of ‘holy crap I had no idea!’ then you either need to challenge your response, or rethink your status as a nice guy, because screaming, or even calmly stating ‘not all men’ isn’t helping to change the reality that women get attacked, and then get blamed for it.

 

Kiss Me and Be Quiet: “Be plain in dress, and sober in your diet; In short my deary, kiss me and be quiet.” A satirical summary of Lord Lyttelton’s Advice to women, written by Lady May Wortley Montagu in the 1700s. Not enough has changed since then. I am a feminist, parent to two small children, and I have lived with chronic back pain for nearly two years, and counting. These are 3 topics that occupy a lot of my thinking. I’ll share some of those thoughts with you here.

Domestic Violence victims still need to be perfect to be deemed real victims by @HerBeatittude

Cross-Posted with permission from HerbsandHags: Meanderings of a Hag

So the discovery that Nigella Lawson may not a perfect victim and therefore not a victim at all, has at last been made.  Allison Pearson in the Telegraph today (although one wonders why it wasn’t in the Mail, what with it being very Daily Mailish an’ all) declares gravely that:

“if the Grillo sisters turn out to be telling the truth… then Charles Saatchi may turn out to be the victim of an injustice”.

What injustice can this be?  Allison doesn’t say.  She only implies it. I presume she means the injustice of being thought to be an abusive man, because his wife is not the perfect victim and therefore he couldn’t have been an abuser, could he?  Here’s the link to the article: Victim Blaming piece by Allison Pearson

That I think, is the confused thinking behind this vicious piece of victim-blaming.  You would think, wouldn’t you, that an educated woman with a column in a broadsheet, would have better critical thinking skills than this, but when it comes to male violence against women, many people’s critical thinking skills go missing completely.  Suddenly they’re straight back into the Madonna/ Whore dichotomy where if a woman doesn’t fit the Madonna stereotype then she must be the Whore and as such, can be justly blamed for whichever bit of male violence has come her way.

Pearson repeats the allegations from the Grillo trial, that Saatchi considered his wife “an habitual criminal”, which is a bit of a PR gaffe from Saatchi – imagine, another one from this advertising genius – given that a substantial group in the population when they hear that term, instantly picture Norman Stanley Fletcher from Porridge and think Nigella must be rather genial and fun.  At the same time, the image of Saatchi’s Mr McKay to Nigella’s Fletch has a terribly unfortunate cultural resonance for Strangler Saatchi, because we all enjoyed watching Fletch get the better of McKay week after week. No wonder twitter echoes to the cry of “we’d all be on narcotics if we were married to Saatchi!”

But Pearson may not have watched Porridge. “What if this villain of the piece was actually trying to save his destructive wife from herself?” she asks plaintively.  By strangling her?  Is that how you save someone from themself?

“What if Saatchi lamely excusing the fight outside Scott’s as “a playful tiff” was not trying to protect his own reputation, but Nigella’s? Physical violence is never excusable, but what if a frustrated Charles was shaking his wife and saying: “Wake up, woman! Look what you’re doing to yourself and our family”?  she goes on.

This is such classic victim-blaming that I hardly need to critique it, but oh well, I’ve started now, so: the “Physical violence is never excusable, but” excuse, followed by the excuse, means that actually, you believe that physical violence is sometimes excusable.  If you actually believed that physical violence is never excusable, you wouldn’t propose that shaking someone and strangling them, was an excusable desperate attempt to get someone to “wake up”.

“What if that tweak on her nose was not aggressive and patronising, as we all supposed, but a dig at her cocaine habit?” Well, I know men are supposed to be bad at multi-tasking, but I’ve never bought that stereotype, so I’d just like to point out that it’s possible to have been both.

“What if Nigella’s tears, as she fled the restaurant, were not of fear, but guilt?”  What if they were?  Does that excuse Strangler Saatchi’s violence?  People with critical thinking skills who are not prepared to defend domestic violence for any excuse, would say no.  People who think that they are not in favour of Domestic Violence but when confronted with a real taste of it are, leave the question hanging in the air with the implication that yes, indeed, it does excuse his violence.  No real victim of DV is supposed to have any guilt, about anything at all – like the Immaculate Conception, she’s got to be spotless.  In other words, she’s got to be either a child or someone who has never done anything wrong in her life ever.

Which leaves adult women in the position of never being allowed to be real victims of DV, because none of us is guiltless. None of us would ever be the perfect victim.  All of us have done things in our lives which could be held to be either illegal, immoral or fattening and so if a man decides to attack us, the very fact that we have done those things will absolve our attacker from guilt.  Which is really, really good news for men who go in for domestic violence. In order for a man to be held guilty of domestic violence, his female victim has to be guiltless of anything else.  If she isn’t, then it’s OK for him to strangle her.  That’s the message Allison Pearson in the Telegraph is sending us today.

What do I blame myself for?, by @carregonnen (content note)

Cross-posted from: Carregonnen
Originally published: 18.08.13

Cross-posted with permission from Carregonnen

content note for child sexual abuse

My father abused me and, as far as I know two of my friends, one when we were 8 and another when we were 10. He may have abused other friends but the reason I know about these two friends is that I was there when the abuse was happening. It took me many years to stop blaming myself for this. Especially D when we were eight because it was me that suggested we go into bed with my father. I have no idea why I did this and I suspect the reasons are complex and tangled. The other friend G told me what my father had done to her the first time and then I saw them together many times after that. Her father was posted to Gibraltar very soon after she told another friend’s parents what my father had done to her. Nothing else was done other than that – nothing. I have no idea whether anything was said to my father – whether he was even reprimanded for what he had done. All I know is life went on and the violence increased in our house. The sexual, physical and emotional abuse of my mother and me and the physical and emotional abuse of my two little brothers.
Read more What do I blame myself for?, by @carregonnen (content note)

The Lynx Effect: Rape culture in action, by @glosswitch

Cross-posted with permission from Glosswitch

Lynx. The perfect Secret Santa gift for the male colleague you don’t know and/or don’t particularly like. The heterosexual male equivalent of one of those Baylis & Harding “looks vaguely like Molton Brown but totally isn’t” bath sets. The year before last, I received the latter, my partner got the former. What this says about us as colleagues is something I’d rather not consider.

Having had some Lynx in our household within the recent past, I can say at least this with certainty: the Lynx Effect doesn’t work. One whiff of Africa, Cool Metal, Excite or Fever does not provoke unstoppable horniness. It provokes, first, amusement because it smells so fucking awful, second, vague memories of some really creepy lads in Year 10, and, finally, a migraine. Only the first of these is even remotely fun.

Back in the 1980s there was, sort of, a female equivalent to the Lynx Effect, when Impulse used the “men just can’t help acting on it” tagline.
Read more The Lynx Effect: Rape culture in action, by @glosswitch

The Signs of Controlling Behaviour – Red Flags and How to Spot Them, by @JumpMag

Cross-posted from: Salt & Caramel

If we were able to teach young people to recognise the signs of controlling behaviour, the ‘red flags’, would we be able to protect them from abusive relationships?

If we were to teach children in schools how to spot a controlling person, would be help save them from misery and self-doubt?

If we talk openly with friends about the ‘red flags’ would they recognise their own relationships and find the strength to walk away?

I hope so.

For this reason, I am writing two blog posts today. One for adults, here on this blog, and one for pre-teens on Jump! Mag for Girls. When writing for pre-teens, I am very concious of the fact that not all parents will have had The Talk with their young girls, and some of our readers are just seven or eight years old. For this reason, sex is a taboo topic on Jump! Mag, but I believe that the foundation for healthy relationship building is laid before children hit puberty.
Read more The Signs of Controlling Behaviour – Red Flags and How to Spot Them, by @JumpMag