21 July 2008

Not my Feminism

I'd been intending to write a longer response to Cassandra's awesome post about the nastiness she's seen coming from some feminists towards beautiful women, but I think what I was going to write can be applied just as well to the discussion currently going on over at Renegade Evolution's. For Ren's original thoughts, see this , this , this and this) It all begins with the usual slut-shaming, victim-blaming and general anti-woman bullshit going on over at Twisty's "I Blame the Patriarchy" (I ain't linkin').

Now, just like Twisty, I am not the keeper of all feminism who gets to decide who is a feminist and who isn't. It isn't a club, for fuck's sake--you can't just kick people out of the movement when they disagree with you. Feminism is a way of engaging with the world and a lens through which to process it, it's the belief that women deserve equal consideration and rights as human beings. That's it. There's no membership card or secret handshake, no "10-step guide to removing the patriarchy" to follow, no rules. Well, except maybe one: if you engage in behaviour that shames, denigrates or otherwise attacks any woman (or group of women) for her appearance, job or lifestyle, you are not acting like a feminist. In fact, you're acting like an asshole. You might still be a feminist (remember, there's no card to revoke). After all, some feminists are assholes, just like some people are assholes. Nobody is going to kick you out of the movement (some, like Ren, may leave in protest, because it's a label that you get to choose to apply to yourself or not).

But here's the thing: you're not helping.

In fact, all you're doing is perpetuating a double-standard that has been around for centuries and is part and parcel of that patriarchy thing you hate so much. The virgin/whore, good girl/bad girl split isn't exactly a new one. I've read a lot of medieval literature, and I can say with absolute certainty that the idea of the libidinous woman who tempts men to evil and sin has been around since at least (and I'd warrant a good few centuries before as well) the 9th century CE*. The wording may have changed slightly--the sluts are no longer causing good, Christian men to fall from grace (nope, that idea would be too patriarchal); instead, they're tempting evil, depraved men to hurt women--but the blame is still dumped squarely on the shoulders of the women in question. Actually, the latter example is worse, in some ways, because it absolves men of true responsibility (since they've been so completely warped by the patriarchy, they cannot do anything but harm women--it's in their nature, and therefore kinda beyond their control) for their actions, and because it is presented as a feminist argument. At least our medieval misogynists are up front about their hatred of these women, and tend to also blame the menfolk for succumbing to temptation. I'm not Twisty (or any of her cheerily supportive commenters), but if my feminist rhetoric was actually harder on women than the arguments put forth by male misogynists 1100 years ago, I'd either take a step back and reconsider just what the hell I was saying, or give up on the "radical" label altogether.

A lot of the feminist version of slut-blaming (my new catch-all for the above nastiness) seems to be intended as a complaint that some women are encouraging the men, are giving them an excuse to attack women. But if, as IBTP seems to argue, men really are this malevolent enemy who can only hurt women, then they don't actually need encouragement or excuses. If they're so far beyond saving, then even if all the sluts/sparkleponies/funfeminists/yay-pornies in the world vanished overnight, they would still rape and hurt all the nice women left behind because that's what they do. The two halves of the argument don't mesh.

So if the slut- and men- (sorry, "patriarchy") blaming argument doesn't actually hold water, why stick to it?

Because it's so easy to put the blame on everybody else.

Because if you're not responsible for the bad shit that happens to women in patriarchal society (that lies with teh evol menz and the sluts), then you must be a saviour, or a hero. Your mere existence, as a patriarchy-blamer, rather than a patriarchy-upholder, is a blow to the system. You don't actually have to do anything to address injustice. You can just sit back and bask in your glory as a blamer and occasionally "tsk" at the disgusting rabble that continue to uphold the system that you can see right through. You're just that special.

And really, you have a right to feel special and heroic. You can go right on with your radical blaming. It's your goddamned right as a person and as a woman to feel and act as you see fit. But I have the same right to call you out on your own misogyny (just because you only hate some women, rather than all women does not make it okay) and to distance myself from the arguments put forth by assholes like you. Because, to me, blaming everyone but myself for a system that is everyone's problem isn't liberating, empowering or helpful. My feminism isn't about making myself feel bigger by making things worse for other women. Nobody deserves that kind of dehumanising crap getting thrown at them.

Your feminism is not my feminism.

*Obligatory medievalist's disclaimer: this isn't an accurate representation of everything that was being said about women in the Middle Ages. There was a very wide range of ideas and writing on women's rights and role in society from the bullshit I've mentioned to amazing pro-woman writings. I've just chosen a particularly nasty and widespread argument for this post to demonstrate the longevity of slut-blaming.


belledame222 said...

-standing ovation-

Renegade Evolution said...

this needs to go in the required reading for being a feminist file.

Sarah J said...

woooohoo :)

lankydancer said...

Thanks ladies! Really, the standing o should be going to Ren for getting me fired up to write this in the first place--that woman is a powerhouse.

arctic-ninja said...

Excellent post! It never ceases to amaze me to see how well written and articulate the responses are to those bashers (who appear to have the writing skills of grade shoolers).
Does anyone really say 'pornified' or 'porny' in real life without cracking up?

"..the idea of the libidinous woman who tempts men to evil and sin has been around since at least (and I'd warrant a good few centuries before as well) the 9th century CE*."

Anyone remember Adam's 'first wife', Lilith..? Who was supposedly lustful and libidinous and did a right job on dear Adam..?
She sure didn't get a good deal out of that relationship ;)

Stupid question here: can you clarify for me what 'CE' stands for..? I'm too indoctrinated in the BC/AD dilemma :P

lankydancer said...

Thanks for the comment, arctic-ninja.

And CE stands for Common Era, in opposition to BCE (Before Common Era). They're a semi-successful attempt to remove the religious focus from our system of counting years that I've gotten used to seeing in academia, but never came across before about 2003.