Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Shit From An Old Notebook #1:
An Armchair Guide to Feminism.

Kathleen Hanna: obviously a celebrated feminist icon for no other reason than being the marital property of a Beastie Boy. Skim-readers and kneejerk-reaction types should note this caption contains sarcasm. (Image via Leoscheer).

An unwritten rule among writers is to not commit anything to print before the age of 25 because it will only embarrass you later in life. While trawling through an old hard drive at my mom's house, I found an article I wrote for [Sample] Monster zine at the age of 21.

Feminism was one of my (probably insufferable) cause célèbres during my late teens, accompanied by a curious desire to see Girl Power pop crossover with Riot Grrrl politics. So when I was given an open brief (the only proviso being to keep it light-hearted and accessible), a layperson's guide to feminism was the natural choice and I tackled it by taking myself and the subject too seriously and not seriously enough. (This is probably still how I write today).

Is it cringeworthy? Naive? Patronising? Sexist? You be the judge. Personally I'm quite proud my 21 year old self stayed in smoking weed and penning articles like this rather than going out to shitty nightclubs with you and pulling a different girl every night. If anything, as an increasing number of my friends become parents, I'm more embarrassed by my former pen-name 'Cot Death Chris' (a skatepark nickname derived from the fact I spent the first year of my life at death's door).


Many people might consider it ironic or inappropriate that the following ill-informed, armchair discussion of feminism is hosted by a man. Indeed, I am not Cot Death Christine, but Cot Death Christopher – a male! I have a pair of balls to scratch and a damned Y chromosome to pretend I know all about. I am a descendant of that fig leaf-wearing biblical goon, Adam, and possess a genetic makeup which permits me to whistle at passing women from atop a scaffolding, grow a handlebar moustache, fight in pub car parks and talk fast cars and football with my male counterparts. I have no real right to ramble on about women’s issues and the struggle against patriarchy, but I intend to do so anyway – not because I am an arrogant male trying to stake my claim on female territory, but because I have no LESS right than the multitude of men who preach twisted, bullshit token-feminism to the world on a daily basis.

Feminism did not begin, as the men in suits would have you believe, in the early 1980s with the release of that film about Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton working 9-5 in a New York office. In fact, the women’s movement has been around for centuries, campaigning for social, political and economic equality between the sexes. Early proponents of feminist theory included Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley, who – despite being upstaged by a daughter famed for writing a novel about an animated corpse and getting smacked-up on opiates with Lord Byron – achieved modest notoriety for A Vindication of the Rights of Women, one of the first radical feminist texts.

Things began to hot up in the early 20th Century, when Emmeline Pankhurst and her band of Suffragettes kicked the ass right out of the patriarchal establishment with their militant campaign for women’s rights to vote. Between 1906 and 1913, Pankhurst and her gang chained themselves to railings, heckled political meetings, refused to pay taxes, went on hunger-strikes and, in 1913, bombed the home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. By 1918, women in the UK had been granted limited franchise. 1920 saw women in the USA achieve the right to vote, and by 1928, the UK vote was extended to all women over 21.

The postwar years saw a far greater social and economic equality between men and women as a result of the industrial roles women adopted on the Home Front. In previous wars, a woman’s role had been a Florence Nightingale affair: providing third-world medical care and spreading venereal disease among soldiers fortunate enough not to have lost their penis to bombshell or bayonet. After proving during WWII that a hairy chest and a gravelly voice were not essential to the manufacture of arms or the driving of buses, things started to look up for the fairer sex.

Fast forward to modern times, and there now exists a 'myth' that women have achieved equality with men. With the exception of pissing on campfires, it would seem that women are free to do all of the things that men have always done. Job opportunities and civil rights are less of an issue now that girls wearing trousers in school and the televising of women’s football are topics on the current agenda. Post-feminists claim that gender equality has been achieved so there is less of a need for feminism today. I would argue, however, that there is more need than ever for feminism today. We need feminism to keep calling us men out on our shit, to nit-pick at all those little gray areas of inequality and, most importantly, to ensure that male chauvinism does not quietly regain a foothold while our society basks dreamily in the belief we have an egalitarian culture.

Take a look at our society now. The gender indoctrination still exists from birth with all the pink and blue clothing. Look at the children’s toy market, and it is plain to see that in a culture where men and women are supposedly equal, girls are still being directed toward A La Carte Kitchens and dolls that poo themselves, while the boys are encouraged to do whatever they damn well please – guns call the shots, remember! Though the armchair feminist does not deal in the mucky and misleading business of statistics, in adulthood it is plain to see that many women still earn less than men, despite performing the same roles. Meanwhile, our politicians, leaders and influential investors are still largely white, upper-class, heterosexual males – running a system that ultimately benefits and maintains the dominance of white, upper-class, heterosexual males.

If women are truly free from male dominance, why do they have to celebrate this ‘freedom’ by adopting a man-made social stereotype? You know kind of thing – the Career Woman; sassy, assertive and successful, juggling her business success with her well-managed domestic scene and monogamous sex life. More recently, the Independent Woman has emerged: cool, professional and strong-minded; not necessarily dependent on a man, and not necessarily interested in maternal life, yet in many ways trivialised (by men, women's magazines and Sex and the City) as a phase or flirtation before they ultimately settle down. Even the ‘Ladette’, who rejects traditional concepts of femininity and gives the blokes a run for their money is following the Girl Power trend – an ideology believed to have been created by the Spice Girls, but largely pushed by male management and disseminated through the media by male tabloid hacks and advertising execs.

These modern stereotypes are viewed by critics such as Cook (1992) as being positive, in that they allow women a successful "…reconciliation between the apparently rival claims of femininity and feminism." In other words, women are presented with an attractive and realistic solution to the dilemma of asserting themselves in a patriarchal society whilst maintaining their sexuality and gender identity.

Fiske (1990), however, sees this as a process of incorporation, by which the dominant groups in society take elements of the subordinate group’s resistance and use them to maintain a status quo. In this case, it may be that advertisers have taken the less radical aspects of feminist politics and incorporated them into an idea that appears to benefit women, but ultimately serves the interests of the capitalist male (by using the stereotype to sell products) and maintains a subordinate status of women (by reducing revolutionary solidarity by perpetuating beauty/ success rivalries within sisterhood).

One doesn’t even have to look far to see how this incorporation exists in our society. For instance, the diluted, vaguely feminist ethos of Girl Power was seen as acceptable to both men and women throughout the late 1990s, giving the public an inoculation dose of feminism to stop them moaning about the outdated housewife image lurking around from the 1950s. Meanwhile, the hardline academia of eminent contemporary feminists such as Kate Milett, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer, who presented some groundbreaking and potentially revolutionary ideas, was often the subject of mockery. Real feminism, as opposed to the current trend of token-feminism, is rarely taken seriously, its theories often playing second-fiddle to the hairy-armpitted, man-hating, oestrogen-fuelled fishwife stereotype.

That is not to say that the armchair feminist cannot also criticise radical feminism. From the laid back, slightly drunk and slightly snoozy perspective of the armchair pundit, it is possible to embrace some ideals whilst simultaneously rejecting others. One quite dramatic example of ‘feminism gone mad’ (as that terrible rag, The Daily Mail, might put it) is the movement to completely overhaul the English language, under the assumption that it inherently disadvantages women due to being developed by men. One such proposal is to re-spell the word ‘Women’ as ‘Wimmin’, thereby removing a dependence on the suffix ‘men’ – an idea sound in reasoning, but ludicrously impossible in practice.

More bizarrely, as reported in The Spectator, a feminist group at Stockholm University are campaigning to ban urinals from campus due to the belief that, as Jasper Gerard reported, "…a man standing up to urinate is deemed to be triumphing in his masculinity, and by extension, degrading women." Apparently, standing up while pissing is considered "a nasty macho gesture," suggestive of male violence.

Of course, one can see the logic behind this argument, but once again it takes a man in an armchair to point out that when most men use a urinal, triumphing masculinity over femininity is the last thing on their mind. Conversely, they are concentrating on their aim, humming to themselves and trying to block out the uncomfortable fact that they are standing hand on penis, flanked closely on either side by two other men, also with their dicks out. Furthermore, male toilet habits are not a gender-exclusive club. If any women would like to join in with our ‘nasty macho gesture,’ they are more than welcome to stand next to me at the urinal and dribble down their leg.

On that note, with the tone sufficiently lowered, it is time for me to sign off. Before I go, though, in the spirit of feminism, I think that I should bow at least once to proposed custom and avoid ‘triumphing in my masculinity’ any further and piss sitting down – and what better place to do that than right here, in my armchair! Ladies, you’d better count your blessings you have been emancipated from the traditional housewife’s role – if it weren’t for modern feminism, you’d be cleaning up my mess! 

SOUNDTRACK: Fugazi vs Destiny's Child – 'Independent Room'

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