Friday, July 27, 2007

Better late than never.

Why I am not a third-wave feminist - Part I. Personalising the Political

Although it is not true of all third wave feminists, I increasingly find that these feminisms revolve around the idea that feminism should only be concerned with cosmetic changes, rather than deeper social transformation. No doubt that this might be unfair on some feminists, who do not see their own contribution as purely cosmetic, but I do think it's an issue that needs to be raised. Much is made of the gains that can be achieved within society - for example, the halting of the lads-mag phenomenon, achievement of equal pay. As I will explain a little later, it's not that I don't think these issues are important (on the contrary, I believe they're incredibly important and hats off to all women out there fighting the fight) but that they limit the sphere of acceptable action for other feminists.

My point is this: most of our campaigning is done on things that are personal to women - lads mags, short skirts, empowerment, porn. I do not mean that we all stand on our own moral soapboxes and ignore the issues of others, but that we have taken these arguments out of the political sphere. We wish to change these aspects of society without modifying society itself. Undoubtedly, society would be better if these issues were addressed and everyone respected each other, but it seems completely naive to think that we can achieve our goals without changing basic social norms and institutions. To put it bluntly, how can one expect society to change (which is effectively what we're arguing for) if the underlying themes of acceptance are couched in the exact same fabric as the sexist principles?

I don't blame third wave feminist for this - in fact, it's perfectly understandable that feminism has made this move. It is, after all, a way of hitting back at critics. In order to appear "legitimate" and to avoid slurs of hairy-legged-man-hating-dyke-prudes, we have often had to separate ourselves off from "other" feminists. We are pro-sex, not prudish. We teach young women that "we can join in the joke if we want to" (with obvious emphasis on the choice) because otherwise, how would we appeal to them? Daily-Mail style, shrill outrage at feminism takes the exact same form - what if this was your daughter? Feminists are emasculating your sons, women are stealing jobs, there is a brick through your window because the mother of the child that threw it went to work and didn't stay at home. There is periodic worry over the amount women drink and the way they wear short skirts. This is so much easier than looking at the long run and saying that feminism challenges our misogynistic social practices and this can be a little worrying. No - instead, they have to personalise the political.

And so do we, in our turn. We talk about issues in terms of "how it affects me" or our communities. We eschew grand political movements in favour of grass roots action. We try to make our cosmetic changes because there is no room for us to talk about anything larger. We are too afraid of seeming unpopular and giving the media more to sieze upon. We see politicising the personal as too intrusive and intimate, ignoring the fact that it already *is* political (more of this in a later post). So we take what *should* be political and move it back into the personal sphere, out of context and, if I am honest, away from the best chance we have of making a real difference.

It's not about saying these battles are unimportant, because they *are* important. However, I would say that these are *battles* and not the war. There is little, if any, immovable and unshakeable progress that can be achieved on this battlefield alone because all victories are achieved within the patriarchal framework.

1 comment:

Mwezzi said...

A possible reason for the personalisation is that the larger things - the politics, the social constructs - seem so large, grand and outside of one's ability to tackle. Where to start? Who should I join to change? Would I really make a difference, or will I just be bashing up against a brick wall? That's the problem I sometimes have with feminism - I often feel that the 'community' that should be so central to it has been shaken, I feel alone and isolated from others. It's so personal that I can't find others when I go offline. I want to do more and just don't know how.