Tag Archives: Women

What a woman wants, what a woman needs…

28 Feb

Yesterday I visited a place on the NSW south coast that once served as a sanctuary, a place to which I fled after an almost terminal encounter with cancer left my whole being drastically weakened, terrified to live and equally terrified to die. Daily life had become impossible, I no longer knew how to fulfil its expectations. I needed solitude, away from city life, I needed to escape the claims and demands of human interaction, even with those I loved and who loved me, and I needed this so desperately I think I might have physically attacked anyone who tried to hold me in place. Fortunately, nobody did, I was reluctantly let go when I promised to allow visits, as long as nobody stayed too long, and how long was ‘too long’ was to be determined by me.

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It was also fortunate that we owned a caravan behind the sand dunes on a largely deserted beach. You can’t live in a caravan, they said. You can’t live there all by yourself, you’ve been so sick, look at you, you have no hair and all your bones are showing. Fuck off, of course I can, I told them, unkindly. Any attempt at what I perceived as thwarting me made me frantically distressed, as if I was being pinned down by a body stronger and more powerful than mine that I had to fight off, or suffocate.

The caravan was in one of those old-fashioned parks where families spent their holidays year after year for as long as anyone could remember. When I arrived, exhausted from the four-hour drive and the emotion of goodbyes, the place was largely empty, being out of holiday season and in the middle of autumn. It was cold. The south coast climate is at best fickle, I have known us wrapped in sweaters and blankets on Christmas Day. The caravan, unoccupied for months during my illness and initial recovery, was musty and damp, a habitat for spiders and insects. The day was overcast, adding to the gloom, and while our spot beside the creek in a grove of melaleucas was idyllic, it allowed for little light under such a low grey sky. I had a panic attack. I couldn’t stay in the spider-infested gloom. I couldn’t go back to our light-filled Bondi Beach home where I suffered anxiety attacks every time I went out the front door into the neighbourhood I had, prior to my illness, loved to inhabit, with its cafes where I met my friends, ate weekend breakfasts with my husband and whoever else happened by, where we swam or walked the winter beach hand in hand talking as we always did with such energy and delight, even at the times we disagreed with practically everything the other said.

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After the cancer, I couldn’t talk about anything anymore. The ongoing blows inflicted by the illness, so unexpected, so unpredictable, they seemed unending in their variety and persistence. After cancer is a time largely underestimated in its power to disrupt. Generally, people think you ought to be relieved, happy you got away with it this time, determined to embark on a recovery regime that will get you back in the swim of things just like you were before. In reality, at least for me, it’s when the horror of the experience actually hits home, something that is impossible when you’re going through the treatments and your world has become medicalised to the extent that it overwhelms all other realities. Post cancer, every little twinge in your body is noted with alarm: is it coming back? For months I woke in the night drenched in sweat, from nightmares the details of which I could never remember, and a debilitating weariness dogged my days. There was nothing that did not leave me exhausted, and tearful. I couldn’t manage all this, and human beings as well.

I walked along this same beach yesterday, under a similar low, soft grey sky, the familiar smell of kelp, the haunting cries of seagulls, the gritty south coast sand between my toes. At the end of my beach there’s a broken wooden jetty where I used to lie on my stomach, peering intently at the stingrays gliding through the clear water beneath me. The rhythm of those days and weeks and months of solitude came back to me. In the mornings waking up sweat-soaked and panicked, climbing out of my single bunk bed to make tea on the gas stove, cold, even if the day was warm, because what I remember from those months is how I could never warm myself, even under piles of blankets, even in the hottest sun, it was as if I had a frigid core that nothing could reach, it was as if I had entirely lost my previously automatic ability to regulate even my body temperature. The trembling of my body, most especially my thighs, and the cold sweat drying on my skin. The fear of moving. The terror of putting one foot in front of the other. The utter loss of everything ordinary.

My husband and my adolescent children would visit and though I loved to see them, the relief I felt at their departure, at the resumption of my solitude, made me ashamed. I remembered yesterday the feeling of my starved gulping, my greedy devouring of nourishment not from my loved ones whom I invariably felt I had to reassure, but from the solitude of the natural world in which I was immersed. That was my healing. My guilt at abandoning them was great. But my need to be alone in this wild landscape overwhelmed it. I wanted nothing except what I needed to stay alive, some books, some music. The hurt I caused them did not become fully apparent till some years later when my eldest son, beside himself with unexpressed distress from that whole period of our lives, shouted at me, You didn’t need any of us! You just left us! You didn’t let us help you, you are such a fucking loner, Mum, you don’t fucking need anybody!

Which left me speechless. And reaching out for him and he came into my arms, grown up, so much bigger than me, and sobbed.

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I don’t know how it is for others, but I’ve always had a dreadful struggle between what I need for myself, and what others need from me, and what I want to give them because I love them. Sometimes I think I will die if I don’t have time absolutely alone. Sometimes I cannot bear to engage in one more conversation about, essentially, nothing, the kind of conversations that make up so much of our daily discourse, the words that serve to weave the binding threads between people, and that is their purpose. Sometimes I think if I am not able to sit in silence in the natural world for as long as I need to, I will start breaking things. It’s as if the healing never really finishes, needs to be topped up from time to time with a return to the inner self who increasingly becomes more solid, more real, than any outer persona and whose needs are so far from anything found in the everyday world with its constructed conventions, and its claims that largely require almost incessant, low-intensity interactions for their fulfilment.

For a woman to do what I did, leaving home, husband and family who cared for me through the desperate and dangerous phase of my illness, insisting on solitude rather than accepting their love was seen largely as selfish, and it was, there’s no denying that. It had a price, for all of us, but yesterday I understood that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong or frightening about paying a price for something deeply desired, these are deals we strike every day, choices made, choices rejected, and almost every one of them has some effect on someone to a greater or lesser degree. I still don’t know, after all this time in this life, how much I am allowed to take for myself, how much selfishness I am allowed, how many choices I may make that cause another hurt or discomfort, how responsible I must be for protecting another from disruption in the pursuit of my own desires and needs. With every situation this must be weighed up anew, and I have made some horrible errors. It seems that the important thing is that I continue to bother to attempt these fraught calculations, even though my sums may be dreadfully wrong. I hope that is the case, though I don’t expect I shall ever know.

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

All about women

9 Apr

“All About Women” was the title given to a day of feminist conversation and debate between women about women, at the Sydney Opera House on April 7.

Aside: I understand Bob Ellis inveigled his way onto some panel or other, on the topic of whether or not men can be feminists. He took the opportunity to reveal that he has not had sex with his wife since 1966. (CORRECTION. APPARENTLY ELLIS SAID HE HAS NOT SLEPT WITH HIS WIFE SINCE 1966) In either case, whether he believes this makes him a feminist or not I don’t care to contemplate.

I’m all for women gathering to discuss ideas and exchange views, however I did get more than a little infuriated by the title of this event.

For as long as I’ve been a feminist (or an anti-feminist as some would have it) I’ve complained, and the women I associate with have complained, about what I will term “the patriarchy” and its offensive tendency to refer to us as “women” much as one refers to “cows” or “chickens” or “fish.” That is, as if we are an homogenous group with no individual characteristics, who all think the same, desire the same, and act the same because we have breasts and vaginas.

Take, for example, Freud’s infamous question “What do women want?” asked as if we are not individual women but Woman, the planet’s largest hive mind, and there really is one thing, if only Dr Freud could have found it, that would solve Man’s problems with us.

My feminist friends and I have expended much energy over the years in an effort to educate the patriarchy in the unacceptability of dehumanising half the human race by referring to us as one being.

So understandably, I was enraged when I learned that a feminist wordfest had been given the title “All About Women.”

There must be an inherent and entirely unexamined sense of privilege and entitlement  at work, to allow any woman to consider that anything she has to say can be extrapolated to all women.

What the title does is refer us yet again to an elite feminism that claims these days to be feminism. And it seems to me this kind of feminism has taken an unfortunate turn in its abandonment of first principles. We are not a hive mind. We are not “women” or “Woman.” We are complex and individualised human beings with an infinite number of concerns,ambitions, desires, sorrows and griefs. If leading feminists have become so damn lazy they’ve forgotten that, then we need new leaders.

“All about some women” is admittedly not quite as catchy as is the universal, but it is a good deal more honest.

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Elite feminism. Who is it good for?

1 Apr

This piece by Anne Summers on women in government sent me to Twitter with the question “Can Anne Summers explain to me the advantage of having a conservative female PM over a conservative male PM?”

There isn’t an answer to that question unless you are a fanatic, which Summers seems to increasingly become on the matter of Julia Gillard, and then the only answer is, vagina.

It might be worth noting that all the women ministers remained loyal to Gillard in the attempted coup on her leadership, Summers writes. Although a few female members of caucus supported Kevin Rudd (and were willing to be filmed with him while he spoke after the meeting where Gillard was re-elected unopposed), there were no women in the key group of plotters. Nor did any women resign as a result.

An act of double treason, then, that the females who supported Rudd were willing to be filmed with him as well? They should have hidden their allegiances, perhaps, not flaunted them, standing by his side?

Is this an example of gender solidarity, Ms Summers muses. Except of course for the women, (are they real women?) who legged it to Rudd’s camp. And how to explain that failure?

This is an aspect of feminism, increasingly dominant, that I find, well, I don’t think repulsive is too strong a word. It affects me viscerally, as is required of true repulsion. The concept that female genitals correlate with good governance is dangerous in so many ways I don’t even know where to begin. Surely such a gendered concept is one women have been fighting against for centuries now? Surely it is the very cornerstone of patriarchy? 

Just what these women in government are achieving for women not in government is not immediately clear. Indeed, for many single mothers the change to Newstart, for example, is nothing short of disastrous (so much for gender solidarity). I’m informed on Twitter when I voice objections to this obscenity, it was John Howard’s legislation.

This confuses me. We are supporting our first female Labor Prime Minister, even when she perpetuates John Howard’s policies?

The Gillard government’s record on asylum seekers? Makes me want Howard back. Same-sex marriage? ‘Twas Howard who changed the Marriage Act to prevent this, & despite her party supporting a reversal of Howard’s meddling to allow same-sex nuptials, Prime Minister Gillard will have no truck with it.

But that’s all right, because, vagina.

Of course women must participate in government, and at the highest levels. But why I am supposed to support women whose policies I despise, just because women, is beyond me. This “Rah rah ra! Women are in power!” stuff shits me to tears.

It is a particularly middle class, privileged feminism that spares little thought for women who do not inhabit its exclusive clubs. It is offensively self-congratulatory. It is dishonest. It is distorted. And outside of its immediate rarified circles, I can’t see what good it does anybody.

We did once hope that when women got to the top they would take care of their sisters. Which, come to think of it, is just as naive and dangerous as Ms Summer’s position.

Flower of Life. Georgia O'Keeffe

Flower of Life. Georgia O’Keeffe

Sexualisation in the city

24 Sep

 

This extended stay in the city has brought me into much closer proximity with many more human beings than is normally the case, living as I do in a tiny village in a rainforest girt by sea and the mighty Clarence river.

Even living at Bondi Beach doesn’t do as much as one might imagine to relieve the constant pressure of humanity and its leavings, given the domination of buildings and people overwhelming the landscape, but even so I’d rather be here than inland.

Sometimes at home, sitting in my feckin Swedish chair in my peaceful work room from which at night I can hear the sea, I wondered if the entire sexualisation of women and girls moral panic might be passing me by, simply because I didn’t see enough. I was protected from intrusive advertising in public spaces, and most of all, from the observation of women and girls in great numbers going about their daily lives dressed as they saw fit.

Perhaps it’s because Bondi, but there’s a lot of very tiny very tight shorts  about. What I think when I see them is oh my gods, that must hurt you are cutting off the blood supply your lady bits will atrophy what about thrush there’s no air in there doesn’t it chafe when you move…and then I remember in my twenties and thirties lying flat on my back on my bed so I could zip up jeans that sat just as snugly. I remember wearing very short skirts and midriff tops even in a London winter. I remember a period of shoe fetish when I teetered about on stilettos holding babies, a practice that ought to be forbidden for the babies’ sakes. It was fun. It was costuming. But it wasn’t “sexualising.” “Sexualising” was what was done to me as a child through sexual abuse.  There is a world of difference.

There’s a good piece on what sexualisation is and isn’t here by Ray at the Novel Activist blog.

Young women in revealing clothing are not “sexualising” themselves.  They may indeed wish to look sexy. Whether they succeed or not is entirely in the eye of the beholder but the desire to look sexually attractive is perfectly normal for a young woman. How she performs her sexual power is largely dictated by the dominant social customs of the day, and I don’t think those customs have changed dramatically in the last few decades. They remain as restricted and unimaginative as ever.

To the moral campaigners a display of flesh signifies their concept of  a prostitute, and to them, there’s little worse than a prostitute. They fail to see that displaying flesh is not automatically offering that flesh for sale or use, and in their failure, they mimic the consciousness of rapists and sexual abusers. Healthy people don’t assume that a young girl wearing short shorts is offering herself for sex. Healthy people know there’s a good deal more involved in navigating a sexual encounter than mere apparel, and they know that mutual and agreement are the key words, no matter what a woman is wearing.

What the moral campaigners want is that women take responsibility for controlling male sexual desire by not provoking it with our flesh. They’d be more useful if instead they put their considerable energies to work in campaigns that focus on educating boys to become men who take responsibility for their own sexual desires, and how they enact and gratify them.

If it is true that young women feel obliged to sexually service young men to a degree previously unheard of, then surely we need to be better educating our boys in sexual manners, rather than wringing our hands about our girls’ short shorts.

Sex is everywhere and why that should surprise anyone I don’t know. It is a powerful, dominating human force. Of course it is everywhere. Of course the majority of humanity is interested in sex. Of course sex sells. Of course women and men want to be sexually attractive. I mean, get over it.

In my utopia we’d be educating girls and boys about sex at school and at home as soon as they showed an interest. We’d be preparing them for the overwhelming nature of sexual feelings and emotions. We’d be accepting the role sex plays in our own lives and passing that acceptance on to our young, and we’d be doing it without guilt and shame.

Covering the female body is not going to achieve a thing. The campaigners are very noisily barking up the wrong tree, and from what I can see around me, nobody much is listening to them.

 

More Abbott on women: equality is “folly” ‘cos biology.

11 Aug

It would be folly to expect that women would ever approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, their abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.  Tony Abbott

As recently as 2010, Tony Abbott was given the opportunity to elaborate on the above statement and to withdraw it, if it no longer represents his views on women. He did neither, so I can only conclude he continues to hold these biologistic views about women’s potential.

I wonder if Abbott extends his beliefs on biological determinism and inequality to any group other than women?  It seems unlikely that someone holding to that ideology would only apply its doctrines to sexual difference.

What are these “large number of areas” in which women can never have equal representation, cos vagina? The only one I can think of is being a sexist dick.

Abbott reveals in this statement his belief that difference is a barrier to equality. Women can never be equal to him because we are biologically different from him. Only those who are biologically the same as him are his equals. Ergo, all others are in some way lesser beings.

Does he apply this theory to skin colour as well as genitals?

The prospect of a leader of this country who holds views that are the basis for the theory of eugenics, ought to give us all pause for thought.

Not only are women lesser beings and therefore un-entitled to desire equality, it is , according to Abbot, folly to believe that we can ever be otherwise. Foolishness. Silliness. Nonsense. Madness, even, to think that women, hampered by our biology, potential destroyed by our vaginas, can aspire to even approach equal representation in large, but unspecified numbers of areas. Areas like medicine? The law? Politics? Academia? The finance sector?

In which areas of life does having a vagina determine your ability or otherwise to think?

I don’t think Abbott is unequal to me because he’s got a penis. He’s unequal to me because he thinks owning a penis makes him superior, and that makes him a fool.

In one sentence Abbott reveals what he thinks of women

8 Aug

The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience. Tony Abbott. 

Reduced by whom? Who has reduced abortion to a question of the mother’s convenience? Well, according to Tony Abbott it must be women who have reduced abortion to a question of the mother’s convenience, presumably because:

  • Abortion is a “grave” matter and women are incapable of perceiving it as such because they are women, stupid.
  • Women are dumb, or at least a whole lot dumber than Tony Abbott.
  • Women need men like Tony Abbott to guide them on the matter of abortion because they are too wilfully unintelligent to grasp its complexities all by themselves.
  • Women will, willy nilly if you let them, rid themselves of unwanted foetuses because they don’t know any better and what’s more, they don’t feckin care, do they?
  • Women actually have no moral compass.
  • Women are innately frivolous and untrustworthy.
  • Women don’t know half as much about abortion as do men like Tony Abbott.
  • Women must be made to understand how serious it is to abort a foetus because they clearly just don’t.
  • Women are twats.
  • Women will murder their children unless men like Tony Abbott stop them
  • Men like Tony Abbott have a moral obligation to protect women from themselves.
  • Men like Tony Abbott have a moral obligation to protect a foetus from its mother who will kill it, just because she thinks it will inconvenience her.
  • Women are pathologically selfish when it comes to a foetus.
  • Women have no grasp of the awesomeness of life.
  • Women are not men.
  • Women are not Tony Abbott

 

Marissa Mayer and the F word

24 Jul

And here we go again. Another “how dare she say she’s not a feminist” rant against a high achieving woman, this time newly appointed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. You’ll find it at the mamamia website, written by self-described feminist Jamila Rizvi.

The term “feminist” has become extremely fraught, not least because of the rantings of  those feminists who demand every other woman on the planet describe herself thus. Many women are understandably disinclined to use the term about themselves. Many of us will not on principle, describe ourselves as others say we should, because we are engaged in a process of liberation from all those who arrogantly claim the right to tell us who we are, and who we should be.

Instead of addressing the complexities that have developed around the term, feminists such as Ms Rizvi wrongly attack women who do not wish to include that word in their lexicon of self-description. The problem is not that some women do not wish to describe themselves as feminists. The problem is that feminists like Ms Rizvi insist on publicly shaming such women.

Rizvi writes: Somewhere along the way being a feminist has become associated with hating on men, rather than being equal with them. So, I can see why women like Marissa Mayer, who work in male dominated professions, simply cannot afford to attract the label of ‘feminist’. After all, success doesn’t come to the woman who throws her hand up in the air and says ‘look at me, look at me, I’m a man-hater’.

No, Ms Rizvi, you are wrong. “Somewhere along the way” feminism has become associated with women bullying women, bullying us into describing ourselves as feminists, for example, by using abusive tirades that were they employed against us by a male, would be regarded as emotional violence.

“Somewhere along the way” feminists such as yourself decided to take over patriarchy’s work for them, and assume the right to define women.

“Somewhere along the way”  the cant of ideological purity  has blinded some feminists to the reality that when ideology of any kind gets the upper hand, the war is lost, and the revolution has become the  orthodoxy.

“Somewhere along the way” as well as being acceptable to the patriarchy, we now must be also be acceptable to a hegemonic feminism that demands we identify ourselves with its  laws, otherwise we are traitors to the women who have gone before us?

If I don’t  choose to identify myself as a “feminist”,” for example, that does not indicate that I am either ignorant of or ungrateful to the women who’ve gone before me, and by their hard work enabled some of us to achieve what was once unthinkable. I do not have to call myself a “feminist” in order to honour and appreciate those women. I do not have to use the label “feminist” for myself in order to actively care about equality. I do not have to play by your rules, Ms Rizvi, and I do not have to use your language.

There are feminists who would tear Rizvi to shreds for her love of red lipstick, her fondness for five-inch heels and her love of men. They would never grant her the right to the title. This is another reason many women refuse the label: it is, unfortunately, divisive, its meaning is unclear, and nobody quite knows what it’s describing.

I am delighted that a pregnant young woman has achieved what Marissa Mayer has achieved. I don’t give a stuff if she calls herself a feminist or not. The problem lies not with Ms Mayer. It lies with those people, women and men, who demand that human beings fit into pre-determined categories and in so doing, trash the human spirit and deprive it of its freedom.

I don’t believe for one moment that’s what the early feminists intended for us.

I do think of myself as  feminist. One of the reasons I claim that title is my belief that it is a woman’s right to call herself whatever feels appropriate for her, regardless of what others may think or demand. I will not define myself according to another’s lights. I will only define myself by my own. Feminists do not condemn a woman for defining herself by her own lights. That is the task of tyrants.

What is this “IT” that women should want all of?

8 Jul

The other day I tweeted that if I heard one more discussion about women having it all, there would be blood spatter. I take that back because I want to say a thing or two.

There are two quite separate issues here that are being misleadingly conflated. One is the real need for adequate affordable child care for all women, and a non-discriminatory workplace in which we are treated with respect and equality, properly paid and not penalised for creating the next generation who will keep the country going. I wholeheartedly support those aspirations.

But while some of us weren’t looking it seems that a particular strand of feminism has declared that Woman’s highest and most noble aspiration is To Have IT all. This has recently drowned out the real struggle for equality for all women, and focused the debate on a privileged few.

As far as I can ascertain, the IT holy grail involves building and maintaining a highly successful career while shaping your body to fit into designer suits and stilettos that create a complex ambience of sexy yet capable. When you’ve got a sure foothold in your profession you then take time to partner up, get pregnant, gestate, and give birth. Then you get back to work looking as untouched by these experiences as possible.

You then have it all. Career, partner, family, money. You will need the support of other women to enable your lifestyle. Child care workers, nannies, cleaners, the majority of whom are female, are paid far less than you, but that’s all right, you are creating jobs in your efforts to succeed at everything except the boring, unglamorous stuff other women will do for you.

Sustaining and promoting the patriarchal paradigm, the “be born, get everything until you die because you are entitled” ethic so beloved by hegemonic masculinity, is apparently the only way a woman can achieve real power in the Western world. While there may be the occasional inroad into better conditions for women who are caught up in the various levels on which this paradigm operates,  the paradigm itself is not subject to real interrogation and real change. This is still a world that in the West at least, is founded on the principle of entitlement to everything, just because.  That is not feminism as I understand it:

I would like to blame the patriarchy for  the IT women should suddenly want all of. It looks to me like an attempt at counter insurgency operational propaganda, using collaborating women they’ve turned as agents. If ever you wanted to set up a disruptive enemy for a catastrophic fall, this is the way to go about it. Use the media to build unrealistic expectations in the female population and persuade the target audience to introject them. Bombard with images of glamorous women who have brilliant jobs, dishy supportive husbands often with their own high-powered professional lives, and adorable children and pets. Make the audience crave this, for because who wouldn’t want a life like that? If you aren’t having it, there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t want it, there’s something even more wrong with you.

 

The propaganda won’t work on everybody because not all women are susceptible, but it will probably work on enough of us to redirect anger away from the system where it belongs, and onto the self where it doesn’t. Mission accomplished. Feminism co-opted in the service of capitalism. System safe. Oh yeah.

What surprises me about high achieving women who are given as examples of having IT all, is that despite all their obvious intelligence and talent, they seem universally disinclined to question the IT. This is disappointing. Imagine if they  got in there and started up a ruckus.IT? What is this IT of which you speak? Happiness? Contentment? A lifestyle, as opposed to a life? DEFINE THE IT!

Of course, that would be biting the hand that feeds them, and women who want it all know before they know anything else that if you can’t fight them you join them and once you’ve joined them, that’s IT.

In a bizarre sense, these women do achieve a kind of equality but I have to ask the question, who wants to be equal to that? I mean can’t we aspire to something better than “I want it all?”

There was a time when thinking you could have everything was a sign of immaturity. Adults accepted that choices had to be made. Only the greedy narcissist, frozen in the mindset of a two-year-old, thought they were entitled to everything and everyone else had to help them get it.

What seems important to me is that we keep the complaints of privileged women quite separate from the real issues facing the majority of us. They are not the same thing, they do not have anything like the same urgency, and besides, the “I want it all” creed is not going to work for the planet. I don’t believe feminism was ever about having it all. It was, and remains about equality, not matching excessive male privilege. Privilege, I might add, that the majority of males don’t enjoy either.

Feminism isn’t about “wanting it all.” Nobody has that right. The ideology is about creating a world in which everyone has a better chance at decent survival, not just a greedy few of either sex whose sense of entitlement is in danger of raging out of control, to everybody’s cost.

I’m gonna stand by my woman now

18 Jun

Women bagging women is nothing new, but last week there was something of a spike in the pastime that left me wondering why we need patriarchy to do it for us.

I’m not referring to disagreement or critique, I’m talking about spite, judgement, contempt, and downright bitchiness that does nothing to progress civilisation, of the kind that feeds an exclusionary dynamic and precious little else.

First I came across this piece of anti bisexual woman contempt in the HuffPost Gay Voices blog, from radical feminist lesbian writer Julie Bindel. Ms Bindel is railing against allegedly hedonistic bisexual women “tourists” who “sleep with women on the weekends and go back to hubby on Monday mornings.” They have no sexual politics, she claims, and are exploiting full-time lesbians who have a political as well as sexual commitment to same-sex relationships.

I guess dedicated lesbians are capable of refusing to sex to touristing bisexual air heads lacking a sexual politics. I mean, nobody’s forcing them to put out for a woman who also engages with a penis are they?

Ms Bindel concludes: “If bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics they would stop sleeping with men.” One could equally argue that perhaps if lesbians had an ounce of sexual politics they’d stop sleeping with bisexual women?

Then I read Elizabeth Farrelly’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “The New Feminism: if it’s girly it’s good.” “Here’s the truth. I’m not a misogynist” Farrelly begins, perhaps not the best first line I’ve ever read. She then gets stuck into women who refuse to leave what she calls “the sewing circle” to take on the wider world of real  things. “Most of what passes for feminism these days… just legitimises girliness” she writes. I can see where Farrelly is coming from on this: I’ve moaned more than once about how feminism seems to be about body hair and lipstick these days. At the same time, I see nothing at all wrong with a bit of girliness: it is possible to have a reputable sexual politics and talk to other women about clothes and lipstick and occasionally have a good giggle over cocktails as well. This insistence on categorising is so, well, patriarchal. Real women break out of boxes, in my opinion.

However Farrelly goes further. She dislikes, she says, “boring” women authors like Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson, preferring instead “writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage…”

Ouch. That’s misogynist.

“It is clear,” Farrelly claims, “that to criticise women, or worse, poke fun is considered misogynist.”

Well, sometimes it is misogynist and sometimes it isn’t. Every time someone criticises Julia Gillard somebody else claims it’s misogyny,and while there’s certainly plenty of examples of that, there’s also legitimate criticism that has nothing to do with gender.

Then there’s Lara Bingle. About whom I know practically nothing more than the vitriol I’ve seen directed at her because of her TV reality show, “Being Lara Bingle.” I was initially confused by this title, wondering if it referenced the movie, “Being John Malkovich,” in which a miserable puppeteer stumbles across a portal into the star’s mind and charges people $200 a pop to spend fifteen minutes seeing the world as he does. Great and absorbing complications ensue, of the kind I simply could not imagine in a TV reality show about a young woman who seems to have done little other than perform in a failed tourism promotion and have a public fight with a famous cricketer who then dumped her.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Ms Bingle’s foray into reality TV has provoked quite vile criticism from many quarters, overwhelmingly from women. This caused me to ponder on the way women treat women, especially when the woman in question is young, and has the kind of beauty that is currently favoured in the mainstream. I mean, don’t watch it girls, if it hits your spite buttons. Ms Bingle is merely trying to make a life for herself, and accepted an opportunity practically every girl would if it came along.

“She decided to do it, now she’ll have to pay the price” was one piece of  self-satisfied Schadenfreude from an older woman who sounded as if she’d been waiting her whole life for Ms Bingle to fall flat on her face.

Ease up, girls. We have men to put shit on us.

Finally, this isn’t overtly about women bagging women but behind the scenes you’ll find much anti woman sentiment masked as concern and feminist politics. Many of you will have heard of Valerie Solanas and her Society for Cutting Up Men, otherwise known as SCUM. Solanas authored the SCUM Manifesto, a rabidly intense and sustained attack on men that states, among other things:  In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples, and  SCUM will kill all men who are not in the Men’s Auxiliary of SCUM.

Ms Solanas went on to attempt the assassination of artist Andy Warhol after a dispute with him about a film script.

And so to the current Australian connection with SCUM. In July 2011 the SCUM Radical Feminist Conference was held in Perth. It was advertised as being of interest to  females who want to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex. Workshops, guest presenters and social activities, plus a space to celebrate and re-member the life and work of Valerie Solanas and other radical feminists.

At the top of the updated SCUM Conference program there’s an announcement of the launch of Melinda Tankard Reist’s book, Big Porn Inc.

I was utterly shocked to discover Ms Reist’s apparent affiliation with the SCUM Radical Feminist Conference. I had no idea Ms Reist was so radical in her feminism, indeed there are some leading feminists who have publicly argued that Reist is not a feminist at all. (Another example of women bagging women, I suggest and a serious one. BTW I am the blogger mentioned in this article whom Reist is still threatening to sue. See Defamation category on this blog).

Reading through the program I discovered that Ms Reist’s publisher, Spinifex Press director Susan Hawthorne, gave a paper at the conference on feminist manifestos and SCUM.

I have yet to understand how exploitation of women and girls can be prevented through violence against males. All males, that is, indiscriminately, because they are male, and as advocated by SCUM. I fail to see the logic.

I could just be thick but to my mind, having my name and my book heading the program for a Society for Cutting Up Men conference would imply I was sympathetic to their cause.

And what would Jesus say?

So in conclusion, I’ve had  belly full this last week of women bagging women. Is that all we can do with our liberation, such as it is?

PS This Kravitz song will aggravate many people and is begging for a feminist deconstruction.

What is objectification, anyway?

7 Jun

The following are philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s criteria for objectification, that is, the act of treating a person as an object:

instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes;

denial of autonomy: the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination;

inertness: the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity;

fungibility: the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects;

violability: the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;

ownership: the treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold);

denial of subjectivity: the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

To which Professor Rae Langton, MIT, adds the following:

reduction to body: the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;

reduction to appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;

silencing: the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

The criteria all refer to the treatment of a person. From this I understand that objectification is enacted in encounters between people, when one party behaves towards the other as if she or he is a means to an end, and not a human being who is entitled to have her or his needs and feelings taken into account.

There’s an almost constant stream of allegations of objectification through sexualisation currently being made in Western society. These are leveled by concerned citizens against much popular culture, and based largely on images of women that culture produces. These allegations presume an objectifying gaze, that is, they insist the viewer will inevitably reduce women portrayed in certain ways to objects to be used for sexual gratification, rather than seeing them as equal human beings. Clothing, facial expressions and postures are used as signifiers of objectification, as well as language.

The signifiers chosen by concerned citizens are based on a Judeo-Christian perception of the adult female body as unruly, dangerous and indecent, and requiring concealment except in specific circumstances such as marriage and other committed monogamous relationships. Clothing that reveals too much of the body’s “private” zones is regarded as transgressing moral codes, as are postures and language that imply female sexual desire, and/or stimulate male “lust.”

Here I should note that the objectification debate is heteronormative. Apparently gays and lesbians don’t objectify each other or if they do, concerned citizens don’t include this in their ambit.

To interpret the clothing, postures and movements as indecent one must first have a particular set of moral values. Otherwise the image will be attractive, unattractive or entirely uninteresting, and it will carry no moral weight.

An image may invite the objectifying gaze. The viewer may accept. However, it’s a big leap to assume that all viewers who find an image “sexy” will inevitably progress from that opinion to objectifying a woman the next time he or she is face to face with one, and will inevitably set about finding ways to use the woman as a means to an end. This assumption imbues the image with nothing less than supernatural powers, as well as denying the viewer’s autonomy and self-determination. It also denies the viewer agency. It denies the viewer’s subjectivity and it also silences the viewer by imposing another’s values on the viewer’s gaze. According to Nussbaum, these are all acts of objectification. In other words, when concerned citizens make these assumptions, they treat the viewer as less human than themselves.

An image can invite us to objectify, but it can’t cause an objectifying consciousness to develop where it previously did not exist.

The inability to perceive others as human like oneself is a symptom of several psychological disturbances, as well as immaturity. These factors are not brought about through viewing an image, and they will not be resolved by removing an image from public view.

The argument that women choose to display their bodies in these ways holds little credence with concerned citizens. The most frequent response is that women don’t understand they’re inviting objectification through presenting their bodies to the admiring and at times desirous male gaze.  Another argument is that society (patriarchy) has so “normalised” the objectification of women that only those policing it will notice when it’s happening.

It’s something of a leap to assert that a woman is, without any awareness or agency, issuing an invitation to men to turn her into an object when she steps in front of a camera in small clothes, or plays football in lingerie. I can think of many reasons why women choose to undertake these activities dressed in these ways, and none of them are to do with the kind of compulsive masochism implied in their critics’ interpretations of their actions.

Indeed, such an attitude towards a woman could be read in Nussbaum’s criteria as treating her as if she is lacking in autonomy and self-determination, and treating her as a person lacking in agency. It also denies her subjectivity, and attempts to silence her by imposing an interpretation other than her own on her actions. In other words, the concerned citizens are engaged in objectifying her.

It seems to me that the entire objectification movement is an attempt to impose a particular set of moral values on society. Notions of propriety, largely middle class, are disturbed for example, by the spectacle of women playing football in lingerie. This discomfort is pathologised as objectification, and extrapolated as threatening to all women and girls, who as a consequence of the LFL will be regarded as nothing more than sex objects for male gratification. While there certainly are males who act as if this is their opinion of women, the majority do not. The majority of people understand there is a difference between personal encounters, and imagery.

The charge of objectification is a serious one. It should not be trivialized to serve a moral agenda.

It seems obvious to me that the key to accepting the human right of others not to be treated as a means to an end, lies in education and not censorship. Attempting to build a society on the assumption that all its members are possessed of an objectifying consciousness and everything possible must be done to prevent them indulging that consciousness seems to me insane, and asking for trouble. Respect and value for others as equals is an acquired skill, and we depend on caregivers to instruct our young in acquisition and practice. It’s a work in progress for the human race. Concerned citizens would do better to apply themselves to encouraging and assisting this work, rather than attempting to impose a moral code that adds nothing at all to the civilizing project. An attempt that in its practice commits the very offences it claims to vehemently oppose.

         

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