Archive for January, 2009

This oldie-but-goodie is a classic argument against radical feminism, which is often vilified for refusing to “listen” to oppressed women when they claim they are not oppressed. Just look at any comment thread on this blog where I’ve stated that tiny handbags, or marriage, or prostitution, or the nuclear family are tools of the patriarchy. Holy armadillo quadruplets, do otherwise sensible women ever love high heels!

But the thing is, radical feminists do listen. It’s just that what we hear is not the dulcet tones of liberated personhood, but the doth-protest-too-much keening of Stockholm Syndromettes sticking up for their captors. Unlike Campbell, radical feminists have answered the clue phone. We know that within a patriarchal paradigm, women, as an oppressed class, do not, from the git-go, possess fully human status. Our “choices,” therefore, are not real. We are manipulated by the system to embrace false constructs as truth.

This is a (rather extended) quotation from one of my all-time favourite feminist blogs, I Blame The Patriarchy. Many an evening have I spent on the couch, balancing dinner on one knee and the IBTP archives on the other, slopping curry on myself while I kick my feminist lens up a focal notch and absorb Twisty’s no-bullshit critiques of misogynist reality. She embodies many of the traits that I find lacking in the rest of the femoblogocube; she’s funny, erudite, and every time I read her, I feel like my eyes have been opened a tiny bit further, and I’m about one centimetre closer to understanding the way the world really works.

But there are two sentiments she frequently expresses that I find offensively simplistic. So simplistic and silencing, in fact, that whenever she writes something about them, I want to compose her a letter on fifty feet of cardboard, deforestation be damned, tape the cardboard to myself, go round her house, knock on the door, and stand there pointing at myself until she’s read it. I find that these two views are endemic to the radical feminist community, which makes me uncomfortable. I like radfems. Most of the time, I feel in sync with radfem politics. It’s snuggly and comfortable and, I find, reflects reality in a hammer-to-my-forehead-moment kind of way.

The first objection I have is about religion. She loves Richard Dawkins, and his dogma; I think he’s an unmitigated dickhead who wilfully ignores his own field and perpetuates harmful, bigoted, and repellently ignorant understandings of religion AND atheism. I’m not going to go into that, though, because it angries up my humours and I want to relax tonight instead of secretly plotting to put him in the Total Perspective Vortex.

The second is reflected in the preceding quotation. Lots of feminists bang on about ‘choice’, reflecting totally different understandings of the concept. The anathema of Twisty’s view was summarised a while back by Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com, whose face I want to lick (she’s not talking about Twisty in this extract, just to be clear):

So I went and read some of her work online, and she’s always careful to point out that by claiming that we’re making a choice to stay at home we are only copping out, that somehow the choice to stay at home is invalid. Wow! As a mother I’ve never heard that before! My choices are wrong! She should write a book about how she knows which choice is the best one. Oh wait! SHE HAS!

My reaction then, I guess, is that here is my middle finger and here is me waving it at Linda Hirshman. This IS my choice. It is mine. I want to be at home with my child, not because my husband said I had to want it, or because my mom said that I had to want it, or because I am blinded by society’s bias toward women and their role in the family. I had the option of going to work outside the home or staying at home with my kid and I made a choice. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more fundamentally feminist than exercising that choice.

There is some seriously monochromatic contrast between these two positions. They speak past each other in new and perplexing ways, when I think the most correct and pragmatically stable position, both personally and theoretically, is a sweet and enchanting bouillabaise of both.

I agree with Twisty’s basic premise. I jive with it, if you will. People gender-assigned ‘women’ do not have free choice, simply because society coerces us into various situations and practices that are designated ours, as a class. I don’t think ‘women’ would, were we not sorted into this category, naturally seek to perform the million and one oppressive practices associated with the feminine construct. I take a reasonably Butlerian view of sex, gender, and sexuality, and I identify strongly with her notion of performativity:

Butler says: ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; … identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.’ (Gender Trouble, p. 25). In other words, gender is a performance; it’s what you do at particular times, rather than a universal who you are.

This is a little squiddly description of performativity, obviously, and if you have the time or interest, I urge you to borrow a copy of Gender Trouble from the library, or from your closest femiwonk egghead.

I also agree with Dooce, and I am, generally speaking, far more optimistic than Twisty about the capacity of most women to tell when they’re being oppressed. Dooce directly acknowledges the patriarchal structure of society. She’s not stupid, and yet she chose to stay at home with her child rather than go out to work. I believe her when she tells me that this is her choice, and I believe her when she says it makes her happy. There are moments when I think I would be happy staying at home with my progeny. Admittedly, those moments aren’t very long, but I am hyperaware of social pressures to conform to shitty gender expectations, and it’s still something I find appealing. I would probably find it even more appealing if there were less vomit involved.

Unlike both Dooce and Twisty, I do comprehensively entertain the idea that, although my preferences and behaviour have undoubtedly been moulded by coercive cultural standards, I own those preferences, and I think it’s okay for other women to own theirs, build a pink frilly tent around them, if they want. Here’s my point: society is inherently coercive. All human customs and practices are coerced, and there are probably few parts of my identity, or anyone else’s, that aren’t a result of societal pressure. Rebelling against those pressures is also a reaction to and therefore a result of them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with identifying and criticising those pressures, obviously, or I wouldn’t be a feminist. Unravelling the complex pattern of mutual contracts that constitute human interaction is crucial to the synthesis of a new, less oppressive system. IT’S ALL A RICH TAPESTRY, OK.

But the pervasive tone of condescension that Twisty, and many radfems, have towards women who make patriarchally acceptable choices, really burns my cookies (gasp! My feminine, stain-resistant apron is showing!). Twisty tends to acknowledge that women “do what they have to to get by”, characterising femininity as a survival technique. But I think it’s okay to enjoy those survival techniques, whilst acknowledging that they’re at least partially the result of societal coercion. Everything’s the result of societal coercion; it’s not a big deal to do things in accordance with it. Resisting those forces through personal behaviour works for some people, and it works for me a lot of the time. It’s cool. But if wearing marriage and eating makeup genuinely, thoroughly makes you happy, fucking go for it, for the love of god. Embrace it. Cover your hat in high heels and nuzzle all the pink shit. I’m certainly not going to judge you, and I don’t think you owe it to feminism or anyone else to do anything you don’t honestly enjoy.

Guilt is bad for you. brb, I gotta go and adjust my lacy underwear.


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Hooters employee wins benefits after being denied work for showing physical signs of suffering domestic violence.

This is unbelievable. I mean, I’ve seen some twisted irony in my time. I’m a connoisseur of twisted irony. I ride twisted irony to work and leave it outside with a nosebag. But a woman being fired from her sexist, objectifying job because she showed physical signs of gender-based violence is just too much.

From the Hooters employee handbook:

Customers can go many places for wings and beer, but it is our Hooters girls who make our concept unique. Hooters offers its customers the look of the “All American Cheerleader, Surfer, Girl Next Door.” The essence of the Hooters concept is entertainment through female sex appeal, of which the LOOK is a key part.


SMILE!!! A big smile is an important part of the Hooters Girl LOOK and your stage appearance!!!

This is some pretty sinister shit. Obviously the objective of many parts of the entertainment industry, where it involves women at all, is to edit down the already inherently restrictive category of ‘woman’ to include only two-dimensional white femmebots between the ages of 18 and 30, whose tiny outfits and glittery smiles indicate their perpetual state of arousal and capitulation. But the Hooters handbook doesn’t even try to hide it; all the cards are on the table, right there. You skinny white bitches had better SMILE while you’re getting ogled. (And if you don’t, you’ll get a knuckle sandwich.)

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I think I might make this weekly featurette a regular part of the lazy, vulgar blog I’ve birthed. I like feminism; feminism is my favoured cause, but it’s not the only utopia worth imagining. Which brings us to another characteristic of my cranial rumblings: ridiculous, ideological views that I hold only in theory, that are completely inapplicable to the real world and would have disastrous consequences if implemented right this second. I could write a whole post defending the concept of having many of one’s political views relevant only in worlds that don’t yet exist, but it wouldn’t have a satisfactory conclusion. I just have a suspicion that  one day, possessing a fully-formed vision of my personal anarchistic feminist wonderland will come in handy. One can only hope it will be because I’ve become the kind of organised, ruthless person who finally learns to keep track of what day of the week it is, and uses this developmental windfall to conquer the universe.

Anyway, one of these flights of leftist fantasy is my opposition to generational inheritance. I should probably disclose that I might at some point receive a small inheritance, and I will have no hesitation in spending it on wenches and ale, or whatever other pleasing fripperies might take my fancy. All right, probably non-perishable foods. Or my university debt. Let’s stop talking about this now. I am objecting to the concept of inheriting material wealth, not showing up at people’s funerals with a band of vicious, will-burning bureaucrats. Although that would probably make a pretty good movie, especially if the deceased came back to life and used his mouldering capitalist corpse to karate-chop the filthy commies into submission. Take that, Stalinist pigfuckers! Whp-chaaaa!

Where was I?

Right. What I’m saying is that the practice of passing on wealth from one generation to the next is an immoral institution that privileges random people who had the luck of being the progeny of wealthy forebears.

Lots of people seem to get very offended by this. Mostly, as far as I can tell, because it involves potentially disregarding the wishes of the dead. They think of Great Aunt Millicent, and then a huge, totalitarian government department that wants to nick her antique writing desk and grind it down into Filofaxes for ugly public servants. There’s also the point that an individual building up their personal wealth and passing it down to their kids is a massively oversentimentalised ideal, both for the people working day and night to give their children a future and for the offspring who appreciate that effort and use it to get a leg-up in their financial lives. It’s a central capitalist metanarrative, and it’s not surprising that questioning it seems to be completely taboo and moderately insulting.

Some people wrote an interesting article about one of the issues related to this discussion, which I cannot fucking find (LEARN YOU THE BOOKMARK SYSTEM, ELEANOR), wherein they questioned the extent to which any person’s wealth can truly be said to be “individual”. It’s an intriguing point, and as a scorner of rugged individualism, the idea that chance and circumstance are responsible for a large part of personal gain is charming to me despite its flaws (which I might go into at a later date). If you’re willing to entertain this idea, it has a lot of implications, which is where most of my anti-inheritance rationale springs from. If individual wealth isn’t necessarily or entirely a consequence of any kind of inherent advantage, or even lots of hard work, then it follows that not only should the community benefit more from people’s private wealth before they cark it, but that society’s claim on it once they’re dead is a lot stronger than whatever squalling kids they managed to pop out during their short period of cellular liveliness.

There are entirely utilitarian reasons for the immorality of inheritance, too. Yay income inequality! The hierarchical and dynastic social order that inheritance helps to engender is … kind of evil. The idea that any small number of people should have a birthright to a large amount of extant wealth is ridiculous and harmful. I like living in a country that has a relatively small gap between rich and poor, and that practises at least some small level of income redistribution. Viva la death taxes! If I had my way, it would be more drastic.

Grargh, economics! I don’t know how I got here, talking about economics on my “Online Web Log”. I’m going to go and be an hysterical feminist in real life to make up for this unwomanly dalliance in logical thought.

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Dear Ms Carnivore,

It has recently come to my attention that women are more interesting, in a libidinous sense, than I had previously given them credit for. In between exercising my newfound perving interests and nursing truly hopeless crushes, I took time to inform my parental units that girlfriends, hypothetically speaking, are as much a possibility for their daughter as boyfriends. My mother, in tones of woe, replied that she thought so. My father, with resignation, informed me that he thought that’s what they could expect when they sent me off to a women’s college. (Subsequently we had an awkward family moment, and that was it for the Coming Out Crisis, happily.)

However, while exchanging a Christmas telephone call with my best friend, he felt the need to ask me (‘don’t cross, I am your best friend, and I have to ask’), where exactly I stood on the matter of ladies. Once I had set him straight, he informed me that that was perfectly ok, and he thinks it’s a phase all university-going women go through at some point.

Now, my brother’s friends had warned him of something similar when I first went away to Women’s College (and by ‘warn’ I mean sniggered in both anticipation and derision). And now I wonder: why is it that so many people think education, in women, leads inevitably to lesbianism or variants thereupon? As a right-thinking bisexual yourself, you will no doubt answer, first, that this is because female homoerotics are a very smart option. However, none of the people I have just mentioned are given to thinking well of homoerotics, in general, and all of them delivered this ultimatum in varying degress of dismissiveness, derision and disapproval.

I am inclined to blame some form of heteropatriarchal prejudice. Being young and untutored in the ways of hetero-patriarchy blaming, I find myself at a loss as to how to proceed. I submit my dilemma to your superior analytical wisdom.



Dear ineptshieldmaid,

Firstly, congratulations on Coming Out, and may you have joyous Sapphic relations. As you say, I am also a queer, and I unhesitatingly recommend the inclination to all.

Secondly, congratulations on obtaining the full set of Collect-’em-All Garden Variety Queerphobe Action Figures. With a Worrying Mother, Mildly Disappointed Father, Dismissive Friend, and Horny Acquaintances, you could sell the entire troupe on eBay for a substantial amount of money, as long as you don’t take them out of the box.  As you’ve noticed, they each come with a unique and indispensable opinion on your personal sexual orientation, and a common belief that their thoughts on the matter are of an importance level approximately equal to matters of crucial national security.

It is true that, as a woman who happens to have lived at a tertiary education institution, your bisexual orientation was almost inevitably going to be chalked up to spending years in close quarters with hot young thangs. Why this stereotype persists, I’m not sure; possibly it is assumed that young female college students are susceptible to some kind of Boob Overdose, like a deer caught in headlights, whereby once a critical number of breasts have been viewed, the young woman in question is henceforth fixated. More likely, the Lesbian Until Graduation stereotype, or LUG, exists as a means of removing legitimacy from bisexual and lesbian orientations and relationships. As you can see, it functions differently according to the proclivity of the invoker; some dismiss it as Just a Phase, some question whether bisexuality can be classified as a “real” sexual orientation if one “picked it up” during college or university, and some, like your brother’s friends, frame it in terms of its titillation value.

The common denominator among all these reactions is that your sexual preference is being assigned a value by people who think they know you better than you do. Rather than taking your coming out at face value, and being supportive and non-judgemental, your bisexuality is being critiqued against the normative benchmark of heterosexuality. It must, therefore, be assigned a cause and a duration, which you have already been kindly gifted; the next step is for someone to suggest a cure, which can generally be found in the common utterance, “You just haven’t found the right man yet”, or, if you’re really lucky, “Here’s the brochure for a church program I thought you might be interested in.”

Thus, your perfectly normal sexuality has suddenly become a mysterious tropical disease. You will probably find a favoured way of coping with these bizarre attitudes to healthy human behaviour; some popular courses of action are Not Talking About It, Slow And Gentle Re-Education, and Outright Provocation. I personally recommend the latter; after a few weeks of randomly uttering, “Cor! Look at the tits on her!” around your parents, they will probably learn to leave the topic well alone unless they are also willing to engage in some healthy, family-bonding objectification.

Lots of Love,

Eleanor Carnivore

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