Have you read about the rebranding fiasco? Elle UK partnered with three prominent advertising companies, Mother, Brave, and W&K, to “rebrand” feminism. The intended target of this advertising move seems to be women who don’t claim the word feminist. ” The posters, which are very attractive–graphically appealing, expletive-laced, bright– all use a version of the “aha! but you really ARE a feminist!” logic. Which isn’t a terrible move, as it seems that the main objection women have to the word feminist is the stereotype. Here’s the logic, as I see it:
If one can prove that I am a feminist, even though [insert personal characteristic that does not agree with stereotypical feminist image], then clearly the stereotype about feminism isn’t accurate. So it does apply to me. So I should claim the word. And in my claiming of the word, in all my non-stereotypical-ness, I will negate future stereotypes about feminism. The ranks will swell, political influence will be gained, women will get equal pay, objectification and oppression and all bad things will come to an end. Forever and ever, amen.
And it’s not a bad plan. This is what we call in class–when we’re being more than a little dismissive of the rhetorical moves that get you there–the Deconstruction Tango. The thing that doesn’t fit but is included in the whole destabilizes the whole. In this case, an individual’s assumptions about a stereotype can be brought down by revealing that the stereotype isn’t universal, and a stereotype gets its power through its presumption of universality.
Regardless, the internet, predictably, exploded. Primary objectors to this project seem to be women who already embrace the term feminist. I think Guardian writer Laurie Penny’s is most eloquent about the issue. She says:
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always believed part of the point of feminist politics — part of the point of any sort of radical politics — is some principles are more important than being universally adored, particularly by the sort of men who would prefer women to smile quietly and grow our hair out.” (quoted in The Alligator)
Penny takes issue with the idea of rebranding because feminism should’t need to appeal to people, just as women don’t need to appeal to men. Worth is not inherent in or attained by approval. Brilliantly said, and I agree.
It is troubling for avowed feminists (of whom I am one) to object to this attempt to meet non-claiming-feminists on their own ground. I think that in doing so, feminists replicate a position of privilege that feminism purportedly opposes. It’s naive of a tenured, ivory-tower professor to ignore the challenges that a first-generation college student might face. It’s naive, or worse, for someone born into wealth to think that low income individuals are there because of a personal choice not to work. And it’s presumptuous for any avowed feminist–with reading, training, community behind her– to say that the way another person reaches feminism is wrong.
I don’t know. I don’t think the Elle campaign is horrible. If women read the posters, think about their rights, ask about raises, allow their own self-reflective gaze to supplant the male gaze, is that a bad thing? Does it really matter if you found feminism in the pages of Simone de Beauvoir and the next generation finds it in Elle? Personally, I don’t think I care. It’s just a first step.
Most women use birth control. Widespread access to birth control can decrease abortions up to 71%. If you hate abortion, you should be supporting access to birth control. The reason extreme conservatives conflate the birth control conversation with the abortion conversation is that they don’t want to prevent pregnancy termination, they want prevent non-procreative sex. And not just for teenagers, but for anyone who wants to plan the timing of her family. And that’s a difficult argument to sell.
A second CDC report released on Thursday shows that 99.1 percent of sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 who were surveyed between 2006 and 2010 have used some form of contraception, up from 98.2 percent in 2002. Ninety-three percent of sexually experienced women have used condoms at some point in their lives, and roughly four out of every five women have used birth control pills.
Read the whole HuffPo article from which the above quote was drawn here.
Up until this point, my writing had been rooted in fertile but decidedly uneven emotional ground, and now I began to tap intellectual sources instead. No, that implicit split between ardor and intellect is the very opposite of what I mean: ideas now erupted into and became indistinguishable from my emotional and even my corporeal life. I could feel them in my flesh, quickening my breath, itching my fingers, spilling out through the nib of the black Parker fountain pen my husband gave me as an anniversary present appropriate to a writing wife.
Nancy Mairs On Becoming a ( Woman ) Writer: Voice Lessons, 25-26
After six weeks in denial (I’ll never read again, nor do I want to!) and a few more weeks of tentatively working my way back to an approximation of sanity, I am so ready for the semester to start. Feel free to remind me of this in mid-September when the grind catches me in its bloody and inexorable maw, but at the moment I’m feeling the love.
I particularly love Mairs’s description of the feeling of a great idea. My heart pounds and my fingertips tingle. Suddenly something that was vague and singular is there, shimmering almost physically in the empty space in front of me, connected by filaments and fragments and implications to some other unpredicted vague and singular something. And while one of the things I’ve learned in the last year is that I can’t depend on the high of a great idea to get me through–there’s quite a bit of slogging through, even for those of us who love what we do–I certainly enjoy the trip.
This was a syllabus requirement in one of the best graduate courses I’ve taken thus far—we were grappling with incredibly complex ideas (the nature of humans, the various ways people have defined human [male, free, white, straight, desiring, etc]) and reading primary sources to fuel our conversations. So we read Plato and Lucretius and Marx and Lee Edleman and Judith Butler and many more. It was terrifying. And it was amazing. Instead of reading about the brilliant minds—instead of ceding the authority to the scholars to tell us what they meant—WE were the scholars. Wow.
Isn’t this beautiful?
But shining grainfields sprout, and twigs grow green
on trees; the trees grow, too, and bear their fruits;
hence our kind and the animal kind are fed,
hence we see happy cities bloom with children
and leafy woods all filled with young bird-song;
hence flocks wearied with fat lay themselves down
out in fertile fields, and bright white liquor
leaks from their swollen teats; hence newborn lambs
gambol on wobbly legs through tender grass,
their baby hearts tipsy with winy milk.
Things seem to perish, then, but they do not:
nature builds one from another, and lets no thing
be born unless another helps by dying. (251-264)
But now on sea and land and in high heaven
before our eyes we see things moving, here,
there, everywhere, but if there were no void,
they’d not so much be lacking speed and movement
as never, in reason, have come to be at all
in a world of matter tight-packed and motionless. (340-345)
In Angels in America, the angel screams for the humans to just STOP MOVING! It’s the fault of all of the moving that has created the rumbling in heaven, the earthquake in San Francisco, the absence of God.
Lucretius says motion is possible because of voids mixed in with the matter. I can’t move forward if a solid wall is in front of me. But to take that a slightly different way, perhaps it is the void that causes the movement. Desire, the attempt to incorporate something else into yourself (I’m not talking, strictly, about sex, which is, of course, always only an approximation anyway. I think any time you put an object on that sentence—any time it becomes “I desire [ ]” instead of “I desire”, we’ve begun speaking in metaphors.) But that desire, desire with a capital D, causes movement. My thinking here is influenced by Lacan’s mirror—we’re always seeking the regaining of that lost, fleeting self-recognition, that knowledge of whole-ness. And so the attempts to incorporate the other into our void [Desire], compelling motion.
And that’s what I think, on this broilingly hot Sunday in July.
Although my chosen poison is anything lit by gaslight*, every now and then I fall into a memoir and come out blinking on the other side, feeling as if I’ve traveled the length and breadth of another’s experience. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, though, was not that book. Her experience– growing up in a Mennonite family–was the closest equivalent to my childhood in a fundamental Baptist family that I’ve come across.
“Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Ship Ahoy” over breakfast? check. (The “Ship Ahoy” video is from the college that I graduated from. Awesome.) Embarrassingly long khaki and denim skirts? check. Absolute terror of the opposite gender (without really knowing anything at all about sex)? check. Prohibitions on co-ed exercise, dance, swimsuits and jeans? check.
Janzen, though, has infinitely more grace about her past than I’ve been able to muster. After a stunningly devastating chain of events, she retreats for a few months to her family home; her observations are a blend of the complete confidence of an insider with the outsider perspective of advanced education and extended absence. She’s somehow overcome–or doesn’t resent–the past (one never gets the impression that she was all that scarred by it, rather, that it was just a somewhat unusual origin story) and is able to be objective about the strengths and foibles of her family and the community.
And it’s funny! Crazy funny. Laugh out-loud at 6am funny. Highly, highly recommended.
*Books about either the era or the syndrome. I’m a sucker for either.