Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Feminism is tricky

Here are the issues I’ve been thinking about.

I wrote a piece about the move in Europe towards banning the selling of sex, and the message that women are not for sale (a feminist victory), and that this movement is being opposed by sex workers who are lobbying for their rights to work within policies that protect their health and safety (feminist sex workers). (My sister is a health worker who works with sex workers.)

I’ve read about the Lingerie Football League, where women play American Football wearing very little and for free. Some feminists say this is demeaning to women and should be stopped. Some say better that women play sport themselves than just cheer for male sportsmen (even though cheerleaders are paid), and that if women choose to do this, they have the right.

I read the profile piece on Melinda Tankard Reist. What she stands for, and other feminists who oppose what she stands for. I agree with Melinda Tankard Reist on some issues, and disagree on others. I’m glad for the work she does about sexuality, children and pornography and the issues she raises for public discussion. I’ll add the links at the bottom of the post, but this conversation, for me, raises more question than it answers.

Abortion is never pleasant. It is violence that women choose when they are in a situation where they are pregnant but can’t see themselves raising a child, or raising another child. I agree that we need to talk more about the social context. Why is raising children only the concern of women? Why is our society structured in such a way that for a women to have a baby changes her whole life, who she is and what she can do? Why are men and the greater societal structure never discussed in the abortion debate? I’m not anti-abortion. I’m saying we need to look at context and move away form the yes/no arguments. Of course nobody should force a pregnant woman to have a child. If men and the greater society want a say in women’s reproduction, then men and the greater society need to create a world where women can have children without penalty. (And the mother penalty is a whole other post.)

Nora Ephron says you can’t call yourself a feminist if you don’t believe in the right to abortion. Wow. In my book you are a feminist if you believe in equal rights for women. If you call yourself a feminist, then you are, even though your feminism might be different from mine..Ephron is making a big call there. I’m not prepared to back her. At the f collective conference there was a motion (it wasn’t a meeting with an agenda or constitution) declaring Tankard Reist to not be a feminist. It felt dangerous and wrong for me. No evidence. No right of reply. I don’t think anyone has the authority to decide who is feminist and who isn’t.

Leslie Cannold says she can’t support Tankard Reist’ work because of her former work with former Tasmanian senator, Brian Harradine. On that basis, we wouldn’t talk to anyone we don’t have everything in common with. And how thoroughly do we know everybody we encounter anyway? I’d be pretty lonely if I only hung out with feminist atheist greenies/white mid-forties mothers, or only with people who had never done anything I disagreed with. I’d be pretty lonely if I had to disclose everything I’d ever done with every new acquaintance. I’m prepared to focus on commonalities. I don't see anyone dismiss what Eva Cox says on the basis that she lobbied for the privitisation of child care, which she admits was a mistake(personal conversation). How about playing the ball and not the player?

And here are the questions that really make me think.

Does one type of feminism have the right to over-rule what other women can or can’t do, for the common good? In the case of sex work or Lingerie Football League? Or is that too much like the patriarchy, telling women what they can and can't do?

And the point made by Eva Cox.

‘As high-profile second-waver Eva Cox puts it, it’s about the difference between “a view of feminism in which choices and opportunities are not determined by gender” – a group in which Cox includes herself – and “one that wants to protect women, whether it be from men, from sexuality or something else”, the world view she suspects Tankard Reist subscribes to.’

So, what kind of feminist am I? A bit of both?

I’ve been reading Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Difference. Dr Fine is an Australian cognitive neuroscientist. Here’s what she says.

About how stereotype threat affects performance on tests.

‘This can be done in disquiteningly naturalistic ways. Stereotype threat effects have been seen in women who: record their sex at the beginning of a quantitative test...; are in the minority as they take the test; have just watched women acting in air-headed ways in commercials, or have instructors or peers who hold - consciously or otherwise - sexist attitudes. (31-32)
‘Ads that trade in ditzy stereotypes of women also...reduce women’ interest in taking on a leadership role. Male and female university students were equally interested in leading a group - except for women exposed to the gender-stereotyped commercials, who were more likely to choose a nonleadership role instead.’ (43)

We already know that men seeing depictions of women treated callously, impersonally, as sex objects, means that they next treat women with less respect than they otherwise would. Even businesswomen are seen as less competent by men or boys who have just watched women in pornography, listened to misogynistic lyrics or played misogynistic video games (from the Growing Up Fat and Furious Conference). But if seeing women being ditzy impacts on women who don’t want to be ditzy, then we have a problem. So, perhaps we do need to overrule what some women want for the sake of all women. But, on the other hand, there will always be people who are giving their group a bad name, whether they be women, men, by nationality or religion. You can’t legislate against behaviour you might consider to be stupid or silly or demeaning. Can you? Or is it better to accept that all groups contain an infinite variety of individuals and we should stop categorising people, if that is possible?

So much more to talk about.

Okay, I have to go tend to my children now. But if you see me at the pool, this is what I want to talk about. All comments welcome.



sister outlaws said...

Lots to think about. I do think women are influenced by culture and media into making dubious choices under the guise of being "liberated". I view this as very sinister actually. But surely there must be respect for opposing views within the heading of "feminism" and inclusion of different opinions? With the big picture in mind?

Motherhugger said...

Jane Caro said the same thing in a post on Hoopla this week (talking about naked women being airbrushed on mag covers)'we simply absorb sexism and misogyny into the marrow of our bones and then use it against ourselves. That’s how prejudice works.' She also said to following the benefit. Who wins and who loses.
So many people seem to have missed the feminism 101 lesson that I thought was taught in schools now (critical thinking and all that). People in merchandising and marketing. Women who objectify themselves and call it liberation, and don't want to be told otherwise (fair enough too - I was young once). But we don't seem to be progressing very much, do we.
I like what Caitlin Moran says to her daughters while watching music videos. The people in power wear clothes.

sister outlaws said...

I love that Jane Caro quote! And the Caitlin Moran quote too! That really sums it up. And my experience with my teenage daughter's education is that there was no feminism 101 and in fact quite a backlash to it. My daughter who studied media however, has been made very aware of how women are portrayed, manipulated and disempowered. through the media representation.