Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Not cowering; contemplating

I have neither the desire nor the will to pursue a roll-call (as reported here): as the snappy cat elegantly categorised me, I'm Pink Froth. But with heart in hand - what a gross image that is - I supplicate myself to offer a response to the comment that greeted me this morning.

Provocation can be a useful tactic: I use it too. But where does that descend into being patronising, making a confrontation for the sake of 'debate' (funny how it often descends into a slanging match or barbed wit). Still, I have chewed on it and hereby lay my 'this is my size' feminism on the table.

I think that many people (and probably I should have said people, not women) believe that to be a feminist is to be a particular type of person: for some, this is why they refute feminism. It can be perceived as a 'one-size-fits-all' ideology. I do accept that it is possible that some may believe - in either a positive or negative sense - that feminism is about women being like men, or even intending to supplant men. However, I would say from my perspective and reading that I don't believe that is what feminism is about. I accept that some have found great hope in such a notion, but I think that is flawed and problematic.

One of the central ideas of early feminism was that personal experience had a validity in commenting on the social order. Of course, one could argue that anyone can present a counter example to any research. However, academic research should ask awkward questions about where ideas come from, the validity of them and the subtle - sometimes not so subtle - messages that are expressed within research. Critical analysis is fundamental to good research because it gets readers to think about the prejudices and assumptions of the writers and their interpretation of data. Do I think that violence amongst girls and women is increasing? From an anecdotal level you can argue so; from a statistical level also you could argue so (though one might ask when these statistics started collating the figures and whether prior to this there were built in assumptions about who commits violence). But the implication of the article was that this was almost uniquely traceable to a notion of feminism; one that also specifically implied feminism was 'born' in the late 1960s. And for me this raises questions about the research and its findings.

  • Do we tolerate women being violent less than men?
  • Has this always been the case?
  • What criteria are used to define violent crime?
  • Have these always been the same?
  • What punishment is given out to women who are violent? (We could get into a whole debate about responses to domestic violence, but that would require me to dedicate this blog to that topic and I do not feel I am best placed to do justice to that).

Statistics can show just about anything: drink-driving becomes a criminal offence, cracked down on by the authorities and lo, it came to pass there was an increase in the arrests/convictions... An extreme example but I hope the point is made.

To return to my comments, I had problems with some of the language in the MSN piece because there are always (hidden) opinions in the selection of words. To barrage or bombard suggests an attack, one which few could survive or to which they could fail to succumb. The choice of "barrage" therefore raises the idea that girls could hardly fail to fall under the spell of such 'sheroes' (urgh, what a clunky term: and in its own way a perfect example of how to undermine attempts to reform sexist language). Additionally, I think "a wider range of models" is a positive thing: but I doubt that in the context of the article it was intended to be read as positive. Especially coming hard on the heels of the notion that girls are "barraged" with these options.

As far as I can, I accept personal reports and experience that things were not as they are now 50 years ago. Though we are frequently subjected to 'halcyon days' nostalgia, prevalence is an issue that cannot be ignored. But there are too many simplistic readings that equate to "then=good, now=bad" that seek to blame certain social changes for current nastiness.

For me feminism is both individual and communal: it can be nothing if it does not take account of ourselves, but it can achieve nothing if we do not seek to explore and apply ideas to the world. To see "women's concerns" as unconnected to or separate from the heart of social issues is to see women and their experiences as somehow unrelated to the social, economic and cultural ideologies that shape men and women. I really don't think that is a helpful approach and highlights the problems of binary definitions (one nearly always has the power or upper-hand in the pairing).

And as for "what kind of feminist are you?": is there a quiz to answer that? (PLEASE, please, do not send them to me). How can I answer this? Perhaps, as is my thing, a personal example will help me illustrate the question. I once worked on an exhibition called A Company of Strangers. Its intention was to highlight that feminism needed to acknowledge the heterogeneity of women alongside our connections. We were feminists both together and separately: our social, economic and cultural needs were not the same for each of us, even though there were many things as women that needed to be socially, economically and culturally tackled in society. What type of feminist am I? One who is constantly trying to understand the world and how to change it.

1 comment:

David Duff said...

Now that's more like it! A well-composed, cogent and literate essay that made me think, and I shall have to study it hard to make any kind of response, not least because I agreed with much of it. Compare and contrast with your earlier, woeful, slapdash jumble of badly expressed semi-ideas.

See, I'm good for you; really I am. Don't you feel better for having written sensibly?