Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Can't We All Just Fucking Get Along?

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  • Emma Hart,

    Can someone explain why the idea of 'false consciousness' is such a big joke these days? I don't get it.

    Well I think at least round here, it's been badly enough argued to be associated with two things

    - false dichotomy - it's shoes OR political activism, you can't have both

    - psychic powers - the ability to determine a person's motivation for doing something either without asking them, or while ignoring the answer they give you.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I am the parent of a girl. I champion her rights to autonomy of person-hood, which involves challenging patriarchal beliefs with feminist ideology. That makes me a feminist.

    Good point. And I'm sure I'll be an advocate for my daughter, probably in ways that she herself couldn't be. Yet I'm never going to know what it feels like to be autistic, nor what it feels like to have my rights advocated for, for that matter. I don't have access to that experience, and I think it's the experience that entitles you to make full use of a word like feminist.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    I am the parent of a girl. I am a feminist in that I champion her rights to autonomy of person-hood, which involves challenging patriarchal beliefs . This requires my applying feminist ideology.

    You can champion her rights to autonomy through an egalitarian or liberal philospohy, with the added benefit of being able to challenge privilege outside of the patriarchal infrastructure.

    You can't be a feminist.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Because, not unlike other ideologies, it is meaningless without lived experience.

    See, what happens when you buy into this wholesale is the extremely frustrating conversations I had with feminists at university - the place where I stopped calling myself a feminist, and which might be relevant to Jolisa's question if I thought I could answer that without getting really angry. The most remarkable of these conversations took place in the letters section of Canta and if I knew I'd have to prove my creds I might have kept it.

    But basically, this consisted of being told that I only believed what I did because I'd obviously had a terribly sheltered upbringing, and if I'd just had 'experience X', then I'd understand. As I obviously hadn't, there was no way I could, so I should shut up.

    Thing is, I had. But I was hardly going to bring that up in public with a stranger just to win an argument.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Stevens,

    Giovanni - I guess for me the content of the mag showed a lack of understanding. Very little engagement with what I'd consider to be important issues for feminism today. I wrote a piece on how body fascism which used to be seen as targetting women has become so strong for gay men - but I'm not sure how many people saw the parallels

    The old "Can a man be a feminist" argument - I tend to come down on the "No, but a supporter of " side, maybe because of the way I was introduced to feminism by fierce dykes back in the late 70s ;-)

    For example, you could be anti-apartheid, but without living it as SA's blacks were forced to, it's not really the same thing politically.
    "The personal is political" is one of the key messages of feminism I think. I don't live with the oppression and structural inequalities that women do, so I can't really understand them - but it's not an argument I'd put much effort into today.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 230 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Because, not unlike other ideologies, it is meaningless without lived experience. I don't think I could be rich and be a socialist.

    Unless this stipulation is "By definition" then I disagree. It doesn't seem contradictory that you could believe in socialism (and thus be a socialist), and yet not actually be poor. But if you insist that someone can't be an -ist without belonging to the oppressed group referenced, sure. Then the statement is true by definition that no men can be feminists. I'm not sure that that kind of definitional debate isn't just contributing to the 1000 camps issue, though. It just doubles the number of camps, by making one for every man who also sides with one of the camps. Indeed, it divides each camp against itself.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Well I think at least round here, it's been badly enough argued to be associated with two things

    - false dichotomy - it's shoes OR political activism, you can't have both

    Wait, what? Who at PAS ever said you had to be barefoot or boringly shod to be an activist? That would indeed be a very bad argument.

    - psychic powers - the ability to determine a person's motivation for doing something either without asking them, or while ignoring the answer they give you.

    Surely it's never about a single motivation - that, again, would be a really bad argument. Rather, it's about acknowledging that behaviour is motivated (or instigated, or inhibited, or prevented) by many factors, some of which we are conscious of, and others of which we are not. Some of which are simply in the air (OMG shoes, I love them), and others of which are deliberately placed there (OMG shoes, I just saw an ad for Zappos, and now I crave a new pair of sparkly purple shoes, even though I don't need one).

    Which doesn't ipso facto make it a doddle to identify those motivations in others, or ourselves, although when the behaviour seems to run counter to enlightened self-interest, you may be on the track of a certain degree of false consciousness (what is the matter with Kansas, for example?). Doesn't stop people trying to make sense of patterns, though.

    NB just my working definition; not authorised by Head Office or Party Central or anyone, really. Here's your official definition over here, which ascribes a great deal of intentionality to the system -- false consciousness is not that which we happen to have, it is that which is perpetrated upon us, for reasons. Capitalist reasons, mainly.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    See, what happens when you buy into this wholesale is the extremely frustrating conversations I had with feminists at university

    I sympathise with you, but surely not all appeals to experience have to be used as bludgeons, but also for what they can contribute. I consider myself lacking in the knowledge of what it is like to be a woman, even if being a woman is a tremendously complicated business, hardly a narrow set of swtich-like characteristics (no penis, yes uterus, and so forth), and I get that it makes me less qualified to speak about certain things but also that it makes women more qualified to speak about them. And seeing as feminism, in however broad a way you want to look at it, is also about the right of women to speak for themselves, I'm quite happy to accept that their utterances on the subject have inherently greater value than mine.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Yet I'm never going to know what it feels like to be autistic, nor what it feels like to have my rights advocated for, for that matter.

    Autism is a condition, not a position. You don't become autistic by subscribing to the doctrine of autism.

    I can imagine what it is like, too. It's not even very hard. It's like being interested in something that no-one else is interested in. It's like being unable to communicate (which happens abroad). It's like being a stickler for rules to an extreme degree, rules that you have invented for yourself. It's like having a different mind to other people.

    I can also imagine what being a woman is like. I've read hundreds of books about women, spoken to tens of thousands of them, heard their opinions, seen their actions, etc. It's not exactly the same, of course. But neither are women exactly alike to each other. Many have not experienced much sexual oppression. They can, however, try to appreciate what it would be like, to advocate against it, to join organizations that fight it, etc. I think they are feminists if they do so, and so are men.

    This might be less likely to happen in those cases, but that is a completely separate question. It draws a funny parallel to the point that women might be less likely to be heads of business, or engineers. Sure, but that doesn't mean they can't be.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I can imagine what it is like, too. It's not even very hard

    Experiencing and imagining are quite different things.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    I really don't see why not. If feminism is an ideology, and as loose and open a one as people seem to be saying generally here, then why can't a man be a feminist?

    William Moulton Marston comes to mind.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5442 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Experiencing and imagining are quite different things.

    Yes!
    And... no!
    (This is bloody complicated territory... since a/ everyone's experience is inherently private yet b/ we can and do talk meaningfully of sharing experiences (in a wide range of ways) and c/ empathy is a key human trait (or it used to be, harumph!)
    <silly>But I cannot say more without unleashing an endlessly recursive loop of signifiers which could destroy language itself!</awkward dig at derrida>)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Experiencing and imagining are quite different things.

    I'm not sure if that's cast in stone, TBH. If you imagine something exactly how it actually is, then you have an experience of it. You experience your imaginings, after all.

    The chances of it being similar are related to how much effort is put in. My imagination of entering the Pantheon in Rome was actually very much like how I'd imagined it, because I had studied the building intensively from afar, seen pictures, watched movies, read accounts, knew the history. The only bit that really hit me was I had not expected to have a gypsy try to sell me copied CDs on the porch, but otherwise, it was pretty damned close.

    And the kind of imaginings I'm talking about are drawing from potentially identical experiences, with only the intractable difference of group membership between them. Being violently oppressed as a man is not identical to being violently oppressed as a woman, but it is quite possible to assume that the important similarities are shared.

    Naturally, a lot of imaginings are totally wrong. That's why I say it comes down to the effort spent finding out the truth.

    Sure, one can't really expect preeminence as a male feminist. But that doesn't mean you can't wear the label, unless, as I said, the label by definition contains the stipulation "Is a woman, and....<the rest of the definition>".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    And seeing as feminism, in however broad a way you want to look at it, is also about the right of women to speak for themselves, I'm quite happy to accept that their utterances on the subject have inherently greater value than mine.

    Doesn't that get us back to essentialism again, though? So, as an example, my mother's first job was as a bank teller, and she was paid seven pounds a week. The chap next to her at the counter was paid nine pounds a week, by virtue of having a twig and berries. Now, I have never experienced doing the same work for a lower rate of pay, but that doesn't mean I'm not a feminist. Because I advocate for men and women to receive the same amount of pay for the same work. And you've never experienced any number of 'being-a-woman'-related sexist things, but if you're advocating gender equality (equalities?), that makes you a feminist to me.

    To bring us back to the immortal lyrics of Helen Reddy: 'I'm still an embryo/ With a long long way to go/ Until I make my brother understand'.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    If you imagine something exactly how it actually is, then you have an experience of it. You experience your imaginings, after all.

    I think in a lot of experiences that's going to fall apart. I can imagine being raped. If I was shown a reenactment of someone being raped, or shown actual footage of it happening, I would be repulsed and horrified. I might even dream about it, which would feel real at the time and leave me with some after effects.

    However I suspect that none of these things are anywhere near the same experience as it actually happening.

    (the whole can men be feminists or not discussion bores me silly btw. It's a label, so the definition makes it what it is, surely).

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Now, I have never experienced doing the same work for a lower rate of pay, but that doesn't mean I'm not a feminist

    You know what it's like to be a woman in a world where these discriminations still exist, though, right? And besides your feminism will be inflected by your different experience of these things, and you live in a better world because earlier feminists won some battles - with help from some men. They fought so you didn't have to have that particular experience.

    I'm no essentialist. I'd also say that the chap with a twig and berries working next to your mum experienced gender discrimination, and that it was valuable - it could have made him a supporter of your mum's rights. But I'm still reluctant to make that final step and to identify. I still see it as problematic.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • richard,

    See, what happens when you buy into this wholesale is the extremely frustrating conversations I had with feminists at university - the place where I stopped calling myself a feminist, and which might be relevant to Jolisa's question if I thought I could answer that without getting really angry. The most remarkable of these conversations took place in the letters section of Canta and if I knew I'd have to prove my creds I might have kept it.

    I must admit, this is starting to sound a little a stereotype bolstered by anecdotal evidence ("Most X are lazy. I knew an X once, and he was very lazy") -- I mean, I can think of any number of annoying interactions I have had with sophomoric adherents to all sorts of points of view, but I am not sure I would want to use any of these as justifications for not now sharing those points of view.

    F'r instance, thinking back to my own Canta reading days, I had several discussions with earnest young Christians - and while I do not now espouse the Christian faith, I hope it is because I find it principal tenets to be at odds with the actual nature of the universe, not because some clown once insisted that I decide whether the writers of the gospels were either mad, lying or communicating the inspired word of God.

    And FWIW, I met a huge number of extremely nice and exceptionally smart feminists when I was at university. :-)

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    More generally how valid is identifying yourself as a practicioner of a philosophy? As opposed to seeing how your actions affect others?

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    More generally how valid is identifying yourself as a practicioner of a philosophy? As opposed to seeing how your actions affect others?

    Are those two things mutually exclusive? I mean, I'm fairly label-averse all round (except for all those stereotypical things I can't quite find that I've been saying about "feminists" and what they're like), but I find it difficult to believe that, say, strongly identifying as a feminist necessarily prevents someone from assessing their own actions.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    However I suspect that none of these things are anywhere near the same experience as it actually happening.

    I guess that comes down to how vivid an imagination you have.

    I'm not trying to suggest imagination is a perfect substitute for experience. That's crazy. You can't learn to swim by imagining it. But it's also not worthless . It's a key part of human understanding. Indeed, in learning to swim, I engaged my imagination a lot. I imagined what I had to do beforehand, then did it. Of course it wasn't quite the same, but a lot of it was the same.

    . It's a label, so the definition makes it what it is, surely.

    It would seem like a silly thing to fight over, but I guess the point of these battles over words is that they are battles over thought, over how people can express their ideas. If you say I'm not a feminist, then you're trying to place my ideas in a certain position, relative to other ideas.

    I don't get too bugged over it, really. I think what I think about the subject and if some group of people refuses me a particular title for those thoughts, even if those thoughts are identical to the thoughts of some women on the subject who are granted the title, then whatever. They can't take away the thoughts, and they can't take away the position as expressed. They've merely placed themselves in a position. They probably need a word for men that hold those opinions then. Good on them. That's how they want to talk, fine. I'd take any label, so long as it seemed that people still understood the thoughts themselves. It's when they don't, when the purpose is to obscure my thoughts, to change my expressions, that I'd fight back. Usually by generating more expressions and thoughts.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Possibly more than slightly tangential, but today this post from one of my favourite blogs has been going round and round in my head, sparking a lot of 'yeah, maybe, I dunno, maybe'.

    (The blog is called "Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces", but Trinity doesn't identify as a feminist - though she would certainly come within some definitions. The 'safe' is 'safe from a particular thread of feminist thought which sees kink as inherently misogynist'. They're not knocking on her door, no, yet she's still felt it necessary to make a safe space.)

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Josh Addison,

    I took the Stage 2 Philosophical Issues in Feminism paper at Auckland Uni (no idea if it's still offered), where we looked at things like the definitions of discrimination, sexism and feminism. As the only guy in my tutorial (and one of about three doing the paper), at one point I asked "so... is it possible for me to be a feminist?" The consensus was a resounding "um?"

    Nevertheless, it feels weird to see people telling other people they they can or can't be feminists directly underneath a post that contains:

    Can't we just accept a diversity of opinion? Is the label really so important that it's worth alienating people over? I'd be much more likely to self-describe as feminist if nobody felt they had the right to tell me that I wasn't.

    Onehunga, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I'm not trying to suggest imagination is a perfect substitute for experience.

    It seems to me that you've walked into "men imagining how women feel isn't a perfect substitute for their experience", which possibly leads to "men can't be feminists", if your definition of feminism revolves around some decent level of understanding of the status and experiences of women beyond "sympathy and empathy and working to change it" that men can have.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Interesting link, Emma. I can word to her point about the danger of "Theory first", but I don't think the matter is settled really. The way I see it, theory and experience are intermingled. The Theory Dependence of Observations is an analogous problem I grappled with a lot in my 20s. Prior to that, I'd thought experience was the root of all true knowledge, but since, I've never been so sure. In the end, the only resolution I can come to is that there's a to-and-fro between theory and observation at all times, even within our heads. Neither one comes first and neither one has the last word.

    So how you feel about your kink is important to whether it's "oppressive to women". But so is the theory behind that. They interact. The theory can change how you feel (and I expect that is the aim of hard line theorists). But also the experience of the gratification of the kink could totally shake your faith in the theory, make you think it's harmless fun, just the kind of thing women should be allowed when they want it, and feeling stink about it is actually another form of oppression, rooted in the battle of the sexes, but strangely coming from the other side.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Nevertheless, it feels weird to see people telling other people they they can or can't be feminists directly underneath a post that contains:

    Should we just accept that then? It sounded to me more like a starting point for discussion than the end of the argument.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

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