A debate at two blogs, among them Irene‘s wonderful blogeous ode to inebration, has centered on outrage against prescriptive modern feminists. What they, especially Sybarite (post one, post two), think of strident feminists is well described by the slur “Feminazi” that neither of them uses, but that people who take the exact same line, do use. And yes, it is no accident that their positions, especially Sybarite’s, can be summed up as using a slur coined by Rush Limbaugh. I started to write a comment at Sybarite’s blog but it became too convoluted so I thought I’d take it to my home turf.
Rereading their posts, I think they fail to see a major problem: what some feminists are saying is that you only THINK you are choosing for yourself, that your choice is, in fact, made for you, once you learn language, behavior and manners. The cultural imprint is so strong that it is an illusion to be able to chose for one’s self. And yes, it is a very dangerous balance, between liberating women and rhetorically restricting their behavior. A good case in point is judith butler’s work on feminist matters, which vacillates between severely pessimistic accounts and accounts of freedom. You can’t disprove Butler’s argument easily, especially not by saying: how can I not know myself and my own decisions? which makes it all a tightrope act. Where do you cross into tyranny, into paternalism? I especially feel extremely uncomfortable writing this because my kind have been silencing female voices for centuries, and am I not now engaging in a similar undertaking? That creeps me out, to be honest.
So I’ll keep things brief. One thing, neither of the two mentioned, is the sexualization of little girls, the Bratz dolls are a case in point (also, related, remember the recent scandal over the Sasha and Malia dolls?). The things some feminists are complaining about hurt our children first, there are issues such as bodily self-image, sexualization, plus, most recently, the American culture which has experienced a rollback in sexual morals (will post the study once I dig it out); to cut to pop culture: look at how girls describe their love and admiration for Stephenie Meyer’s inane Twilight books? To brush all this aside by a coquettish moue, saying: But I like it that way! is appalling, to me. The direction our societies are taking is clear, unmistakeable, and ugly.
To reiterate: your own decisions may not be your own decisions, especially since they reinforce cultural stereotypes, which are shown to be culturally specific, most certainly not biological, so if feminists point that out, i.e. the fact that you dress in what amounts to a garb of capitulation to the prevailing cultural misogyny, they may not be “replac[ing] a patriarchy with a matriarchy” (a misogynistic term if I ever saw one) but, on the contrary, point out the mire we’re all still in. still the same stereotypes, only this time we like ’em. the wide acceptance by the so-called “new feminism” of essentialist, hurtful images and ideas is frightening.
All this is rather vapid, empty blather, since I am reluctant to dish out. It is not my place to speak up here, it just isn’t. My position is best described by Katha Pollitt, an old-fashioned feminist, and an invigorating writer. IN her 2006 collection Virginity or Death! she writes the following:
Women have learned to describe everything they do, no matter how apparently conformist, submissive, self-destructive or humiliating, as a personal choice that cannot be criticized because personal choice is what feminism is all about.”
The bitterness of her words and the trap that she sees there, are both important and noteworthy.
Feminism is a complex issue, not easily resolved. There are very smart feminists as well as utter idiots (Camilla Paglia, anyone?). Arguments such as Sybarite’s, which miss several important points, succeed, because they attack a position by attacking the dimwits among the supporters of such a position. That’s too easy. Take it up with the smart ones.