There’s been a debate raging in the media for over three weeks now as to whether or not morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist’s claim to be a feminist is legitimate. Some of the arguments are addressed here and here.
This has come at a convenient time for the Sydney Opera House events management team, who have now co-opted the debate and the threats of defamation made against me by Tankard Reist as advertising material for their upcoming event starring Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf. This event is titled “The F-Word,” and up until the legal threat the organisers were worried that nobody was interested in feminism anymore. The resulting internecine wars have gone a long way towards cheering them up.
Any woman who believes she has the right to tell any other woman she may not call herself a feminist is engaging in an act of bullying. A woman may self-identify in whatever way she chooses. Others may disagree with her choice but disagreement isn’t the same thing as attempting to deny her the right to define herself as she sees fit.
There were at least twenty-seven different factions of feminism last time I counted, many with oppositional points of view. Hegemonic attempts to impose just one definition of the ideology as the norm on all women who would thus identify themselves, is antithetical to feminist principles.
In a situation where the group calls itself “feminist” and is but one of many groups identifying as such, on what grounds does this group assume the entitlement and privilege that allows them to declare all others ineligible?
The ongoing fights about who is entitled to identify herself as a “feminist” are a sad indicator of an ideology that is rapidly disappearing up its own fundament. For example, presented with a choice between engaging in public debate about the other issues the Reist defamation threats have raised, such as free speech, our defamation laws, the rights of bloggers and social media users, all of which are or would once have been considered feminist issues, the public feminists decided to ignore all that.
Then we have the pro Tankard Reist argument that she is an “authentic” feminist as presented here. Whenever someone uses the word “authentic” in an argument such as this I wonder why. To cast other feminists as “inauthentic” perhaps? The article is written by women who describe themselves as “radical” feminists. Are they also authentic? Have I fallen down a rabbit hole?
The battle for and against is two sides of the same struggle for sole possession and domination of the feminist narrative. A struggle that is founded on exclusion, expulsion, entitlement, privilege, and an appalling lack of imagination.
If I wanted to define feminism for myself, I would turn to bell hooks
Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys.
At the risk of incurring the usual old anti feminist slurs, I’d suggest that any woman or group of women who seek to take possession of the term “feminist” are engaging in their own form of patriarchal domination, and one that we could all do well without.
I don’t know if Greer and Wolfe will be discussing any of this. But I am bemused as I watch a defamation threat made against me by a self-described feminist, turned into an advertisement for an Opera House event at which two of the planet’s most famous feminists will discuss the relevance of feminism. Irony, anyone?
Then there’s the furore about whether or not criticism leveled at Julia Gillard is sexist and misogynist. This is difficult. I’m of the opinion that there is a strong misogynist undercurrent, but I can’t prove it. It’s easy enough to find examples of male PM’s whose appearance is subject to mockery, and exaggerating physical appearance of politicians is the cartoonists’ stock in trade.
Gillard comes with baggage of the worst kind. Would the emotions surrounding that baggage have remained so powerfully alive had a man ousted Kevin Rudd? Is it worse when a woman does it? And if so, why? Is this a manifestation of unresolved mother issues from the time when many of us were under some woman’s thumb, and powerless? Does it hurt more when a woman does it because they aren’t supposed to?
Fascinating questions for an analyst of the collective psyche.
I do take issue with the argument that because she’s a woman Gillard has less authority. She has authority, and in my opinion that authority is both increasing and stabilising as she grows into her role.
Rather, there are those among us who resent a woman’s authority. We might like to reframe that as the woman’s regrettable lack of that quality, however I don’t believe that’s the case in this instance. Anyone who watched as Gillard calmly instructed her bodyguards to ensure Abbott’s safety on Australia Day can’t claim the woman has no authority. It’s innate.
The inability to accept and deal with a female authority figure is often expressed in dismissive contempt.
In many ways turning the Gillard story into a gender argument is not helpful, even though misogyny is undoubtedly present and ought to be outed if possible. Nevertheless, a woman can’t win when gender becomes the focus of the debate, and Bob Brown didn’t do Gillard any favours by attempting to defend her. I doubt it’s a stoush the PM herself is eager to engage with.
And so to the second feminist Australian Legend to be honoured by Australia Post, Eva Cox.
After referring to me as a nit-picking blogger in her article for New Matilda on whether Tankard Reist is a feminist or not, Cox later apologised for the insult.
However, as she then went ahead and published the same article again here I’ve come to the conclusion that her apology meant less than nothing.
It’s interesting being silenced from both ends of the feminist spectrum. Tankard Reist uses the law in an effort to control me. Cox chooses the arguably more subtle method of refusing to name me and dismissing my arguments at the same time. A man would be pilloried for using the same negating tactics against a woman writer.
Cox apparently has no objections to the law being employed to silence female dissent, which surprises me somewhat, but there you go. Tankard Reist has positively seized upon the law as an instrument of personal control, and has now resorted to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as well.
Then there’s this description of me and my kind made by Cathy Sherry, in her article defending Tankard Reist. I am, she writes, an “unaccountable blogger sneering and abusing from the safety of [my] bedroom.” According to Ms Sherry, I’m not even worthy of an office simply because I blog. In a later comment elsewhere Ms Sherry refers to me as “faceless” as well, while Anne Summers refers to me simply as “a blogger”. Summers also apologised later.
How to explain this feminist contempt for female bloggers? One would think that blogging and feminism were made for each other. The blog offers an ordinary woman a voice where once there was a deep silence that has been broken only by a select few.
At the end of three weeks of remarkable encounters with a variety of self-described feminists I have to conclude that because I’m unknown, a blogger, and entirely without influence I don’t count as a feminist or as a woman, and am to be shut up one way or another by a feminist who has more of a public presence than me.
I’m not unduly upset by all this, but I am very puzzled, as well as a little aggravated. I fear it says a great deal about where feminism is today, and it isn’t pretty. I fear it suggests that feminism has sold itself out to some of the values it once despised and resisted. I fear it’s going to be all down hill from here, if we aren’t very careful.