Up Front by Emma Hart

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

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  • Ian MacKay,

    I asked my elderly Mum if she was a feminist. She said yes. I asked her what she thought feminism was.
    She said in summary "Giving all people a fair opportunity to follow their dreams regardless of gender."
    "Good" I said. "I declare myself a Feminist."
    She said, "No. I don't think mere males are allowed to be a Feminist."
    "Oh damn. Can I be a Feminist with a small f-eminist."
    "No dear. But I think you could be a Supporter if you like."

    Bleheim • Since Nov 2006 • 498 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    ...or be seen as a humourless penis-hater

    Yeah you're probably gonna need a sense of humour if you like penises. They're crazy.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And then the other day I caught myself doing pretty much just that. I was reading this, a review of Sex and the City 2 which has been seriously doing the rounds lately, and I was incensed. How could people who called themselves feminists be lauding a piece of writing where 'prostitute' is used as an insult for a woman who had sex with 'too many*' men? Where a joke is made about female genital mutilation? That's not feminist!

    I don't know if Lindy West's review was "feminist" or not, but it ended up being so deeply fucking stupid and irony-deficient I had to check the masthead to make sure I hadn't been Rick-rolled to one of the The Guardian's more *cough* problematic essayists. (And personally, I wasn't loving the drive-by fag-baiting of "a home video of gay men playing with giant Barbie dolls" much either.)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    ...or be seen as a humourless penis-hater

    Man, who doesn't hate humourless penises?

    So I thought that rustling sound was all the PAS blokes running to get their bargepoles. But wait! They're up for discussion! Truly, we live in a new century.

    Ian, in the late 80s/early 90s you could have been a "pro-feminist," from memory, but I'd have to check with Party Central to be absolutely sure. I mean, Head Office.

    We also might have briefly called you a SNAG.

    With regard to the word feminism itself, I'm loath to throw the definitional baby out with the semantic bathwater. For me, remembering to pluralise feminism (and feminists) helps to counteract any polarising or homogenising effect.

    Also, the "zmz" sound you get when you say "feminisms" is totally vuvuzela-esque.
    </soccerjack>

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

  • Jolisa,

    I don't know if Lindy West's review was "feminist" or not, but it ended up being so deeply fucking stupid and irony-deficient

    Mixed feelings on that one. I laughed, when I first read it. I love it when women are funny and rude at the same time (a rare delight - see also Helen Razer on vajazzling Louis Nowra). Hyperbolic satirical polemic is (or should be) fun, and almost by definition, completely offensive. We occasionally welcome that style of rhetoric around these parts, even...

    But West's argument didn't jibe with my experience of the film, and on re-reading the review it fell apart in so many, many, problematic ways (rape jokes, sex-worker-flippancy). I wouldn't call it stupid; I'd call it a performance piece that would have totally worked in the lunchroom, but has a more complicated life on the never-fading, endlessly retweetable page.

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

  • st ephen,

    No, no Jolissa - never pluralise "feminist". It will only lead to such constructions as "Feminists think that...".

    dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 254 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    But in the meantime, I'll be sitting on the sidelines

    Get to see the best of both worlds. Gives one the chance to be an individual.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    No, no Jolissa - never pluralise "feminist". It will only lead to such constructions as "Feminists think that...".

    Oh those wayward extra s's! How come they always migrate into my name, grr..

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

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Can't we all just get along? Can't we just accept a diversity of opinion?

    My theory is: possibly as feminists? But everyone is also umpteen other things - left/right, young/old, pro-life/pro-choice etc etc. I guess to me the assumption that feminists shouldn't disagree about a hundred things seem strange.

    I presume if feminism came to mean "you must get along, despite differing with the other feminists on umpteen things", a whole heap of people would back out?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Funny how "feminisms" implies diversity and broad church, but "feminists" implies the Borg.

    /stopsfeatherbrainmusingandgetsbacktofcknmarking

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Jolisa:

    Up to a point, but I'm afraid rape gags are something I get very dull and humourless about -- and if I'm not to wear Chris Trotter telling me to get a sense of humour, I'm sure as shit not going to take it from Lindy West. (Especially when she's hyperbolically blasting SATC2 for being an offensively tin-eared exercise in white American privilege that treats other cultures and the experiences of non-white women as set dressing.)

    In my book, that's not about feminism (good, bad or indifferent) but sheer common decency and human empathy. You might think I'm the last person around here who should be running that line, but there are some place I just don't go to get a rise out of people, and I expect to be slapped hard if I did around here.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Funny how "feminisms" implies diversity and broad church, but "feminists" implies the Borg.

    Snap!

    Plus, the debate over terms and goals and such goes back waaay more than a generation. I'm thinking of another Emma who had a fraught relationship with the idea of feminism, while living a life that in many respects was a radical and inspiring embodiment of it. From a recent LRB review of the 2 vol. documentary history of Emma Goldman's frankly amazing life,

    While acknowledging the great advance formal equality represented, Goldman chastised middle-class feminists, claiming that their "grandmothers had more blood in their veins, far more humour and wit, and certainly a greater amount of naturalness, kindheartedness and simplicity than the majority of our emancipated professional women who fill our colleges, halls of learning and various offices."

    (She may well have been right about the wild grandmothers and all, but -- bloodless, humourless and unnatural? Cool, cruel, and complex, like it's a bad thing? Damn!)

    Still, hard to be down on the woman who unwittingly kind of invented Dance Dance Revolution in a roundabout sort of way, even if what she actually said was: "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."

    *Steve Fraser, "Propaganda of the Deed", LRB 26 Feb 2009

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

  • giovanni tiso,

    Yup, Power's book is in large part a polemic against consumer feminism and therefore the anything-goes, can't we all get along notion of feminism. I submitted it to you because I thought you might nonetheless enjoy the challenge, and there's a section about the emancipatory potential of pornography (also relevant to Deborah's latest post, cross-posted at the Hand Mirror) that I find usefully provocative. Frankly there is pretty much not a single sentence in that book that I disagree with, but that's by the by.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    If we're talking about the stiletto bit, I've got to say I didn't actually read that as a 'joke', as such.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    I'm afraid rape gags are something I get very dull and humourless about

    Oh, me too.

    and I expect to be slapped hard if I did around here.

    I expect so!

    That line in the review was wildly offensive. But so was the entire frame of the review, right down to its horrifically auto-misogynist concluding line. If I were to get all theoretical about it (which I just can't do well, since it's two hours after my bedtime), I would say she was attempting to, I dunno, hyperbolically desublimate the mutual sexual and economic violence of the marriage contract, and the whole Orientalist-capitalist-complex, as sunnily depicted in the film.

    Which I think is where the horrified reader giggles and gasps, if any, come from. Not a woman making a rape joke - but a woman making such a violent rape joke about this exceptionally silly movie! What the hell?? It's incongruous, and weird, and funny-peculiar, which for some readers at some moments, can slide into involuntary funny-haha.

    But that's a debate for another day, at least for me. (Note: Rape jokes, in general, not OK. Theorising about rape jokes, when feeling mentally and spiritually strong, occasionally good exercise. Which is to say, am feeling iffy about even pursuing this subject, and not really planning to take it any further.)

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

  • Josh Addison,

    I have to say I laughed my ass off at the review. I just enjoyed it as a work of comedy, without considering the feminist (shit - in the context of this discussion, do I put "feminist" in scare quotes or not?) implications, although going by her Twitter feed, Ms. West eventually did:

    My To-Do List: "aged vagina joke; slut shaming; lesbian bashing; gratuitous use of cunt as insult; transbashing; gay mocking; FGM joke."
    10:48 AM May 27th via web

    Sorry to be so misogynistic in my objections to misogyny, y'all!
    10:49 AM May 27th via web

    Hey, you guys are right. The word "prostitute" was a misstep. What I meant was "one-dimensional sex monster." Apologies to the sex workers.
    10:33 PM May 28th via web

    Also, I'm strongly of the opinion that "making a joke that involves X" is not the same as "making fun of X" or "implying that X is inherently funny", although the line that separates them can be very easy to cross (see the collected works of Seth McFarlane). I'm not opposed to "rape jokes" that fit into the first category (nor do I believe that such jokes are impossible).

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

  • cad,

    I tend to think that we need fewer sub-categories of feminist. My trusty Oxford dictionary states that feminism is "advocacy of women's rights and sexual equality". In their way, that is what all the different groups of feminists are after and I think it is more constructive to be united despite, or because of, our differences. Hence, I strongly identify as a feminist, but refuse to label myself as "sex positive" or "third wave".

    Strangely I often have people who don't identify as feminists insist that "No! you're not a feminist!", but after a few hours I can convince them that not only am I a feminist, but that they are too. I have found that when it comes down to it there are very few people, male or female, who don't advocate women's rights and sexual equality.

    Eden • Since Feb 2010 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    I'm not going to wade into the feminist labelling debate, but I will say that of all the varied and variable anti-SATC2 tirades unleashed of late, Mark Kermode's was the most entertaining. Granted, it's not as jaw-dropping as documentary on Werner Herzog (what is? ), or as ahem, "reasoned" as his reviews for Sight & Sound, or the Guardian , but it is a great example of taking an idea and running with it to its natural conclusion:

    My trouble with the Lindy West piece was its smugness, actually, beyond the other issues others might have with it. Oddly, it didn't feel absolutely honest as a tirade.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 449 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Do we ask that liberals all agree on a few key points? Conservatives? Marxists (hahahaha)? At risk of suggesting that meaning is meaningless, don't we let a few countries call themselves People's Democratic Republics (or Holy Roman Empires, for that matter) without sending in the semantic police? We might make a few snide comments in their direction, but.

    I don't know where to draw the line, what with half of actual feminists taking pains to tell everyone that they're not a feminist but they believe in equality, and half of non-feminists telling people they are feminist because they believe women's traditional roles should be embraced. It's as much a branding problem than a philosophical or political one.

    Perhaps the essence of it is this - if you want to be seen as a powerful woman, adopt the language that gave women that power. If you want to be seen as non-threatening (and therefore appealing and attractive), reject it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    And personally, I wasn't loving the drive-by fag-baiting of "a home video of gay men playing with giant Barbie dolls" much either.

    I thought there were some notes she didn't need to strike, but in the context of SATC, that line strikes me as pure gold.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22849 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Yeah you're probably gonna need a sense of humour if you like penises. They're crazy.

    Sense of humour and liking of penises firmly established. They're adorable.

    But so was the entire frame of the review, right down to its horrifically auto-misogynist concluding line.

    Yeah. That line is, for people who haven't looked,

    If this is what modern womanhood means, then just fucking veil me and sew up all my holes.

    See, to agree with Matthew, I not only found that repulsive, I found it try-hard. Most of the column is well-written, but that just clanged. It was like she was trying, really hard, to be offensive. And also, as Craig said, the complete lack of any ironic awareness. Calling a woman who has too much sex a "prostitute", then cutely crossing it out? Hardly bloody original. It's not like she invented slut-shaming. An awful lot of the 'jokes' go down the privilege chain, which is odd considering the movie is about rich privileged white women.

    You know who's good on this? Megan. And again. I made a comment on that first blog about my problems with the idea of 'consumer feminism'.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    If you want to be seen as non-threatening (and therefore appealing and attractive), reject it.

    Wow. So, B, did you think I was lying when I talked about why I don't call myself feminist, and I actually do it to appear non-threatening? Because I think, if that's my aim, I've done a pretty piss-poor job.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Do we ask that liberals all agree on a few key points? Conservatives? Marxists (hahahaha)?

    A friend of mine has just commented on the link at Facebook:

    I've been called a bad feminist by people who think their feminism is The Feminism, and frankly I'm beyond caring... Also you get labels police in all kinds of other areas of thought/politics, and they can all bite my arse.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Crap. Sorry Emma, I was thinking about a completely different group of people to you. The kind of smart, well-spoken women I went to university with who liked their equal rights and all but didn't want to be counted among the reputedly hairy-legged. Fail on my part that I didn't make that clearer. There are multiple reasons to reject the label, and I was talking about one in particular.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    of all the varied and variable anti-SATC2 tirades unleashed of late, Mark Kermode's was the most entertaining.

    Thanks for the link, Matthew. I love it--the sort of things you want to be able to say on radio, within the hearing of thousands. Gee, if I only had a similar opportunity to rip into Transformers2__or __The A Team!

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2562 posts Report Reply

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