This post is dedicated to the wanker who got in front of the mic at The Feminist Supremacy? on Saturday night and, instead of asking an intelligent question of the intelligent women on stage, demanded that one retract her opinion simply because he disagreed with it. I’ll deal with his comment later.
But first, feminists! At the Town Hall! With vagina-flashing! That last bit was me. And also my friend. And quite a few other women. Note to Sydney Town Hall people: you should fix the locks on the toilet doors. You know, so they actually do the one thing they’re supposed to do.
This isn’t a review post of The Feminist Supremacy. It’s a ‘further discussion’ post. Like book club, but without the book. (I’ve never been in a book club, so I’m just talking out of my arse here.)
One of the questions Julia Baird put to Kathy Lette, Catherine Deveny, Emily Maguire and Tara Moss was whether we needed a new word to replace “feminism”. I don’t think we do. The word is filled with the history of a global push for social, economic and political rights for women, so why the hell would we change it? Tara Moss said she prefers the word “humanist” and I get that, because it’s about treating all humans with respect. [Update: I got this bit wrong. Moss said "feminism is humanism". See her comment below.] But abandoning the word “feminist” would say to those who demonise people for wanting women and men to have the same rights and opportunities, “you win, we give up”. And what do you think will happen to the next word we use?
So when someone says, “I’m not a feminist but [says something feminist]“, point out that if they believe women should be able to earn their own income, drive a car, get an education, own property, not be someone’s property, then they are a feminist and should be proud of that. Because what kind of arsehole is against women being treated like humans?
Another question Baird put to the cliterati – I felt that Lette favoured pun over substance, but that one I enjoyed – was about Western feminists being criticised for being concerned with Western feminist issues. To me, that this question is taken seriously is proof of how successful conservatives like Paul Sheehan and Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine have been at attacking feminism. (Never mind the fact that Albrechtsen and Devine have feminism to thank for people actually giving a shit about their lady thoughts. They know that, of course, but it doesn’t suit them to acknowledge it.)
Firstly, demanding that Western feminists speak for feminists in other countries is like demanding that Julia Gillard speak for Joyce Banda. Malawi’s President has her own voice and it’s insulting to suggest that she needs a Western PM to speak for her. Just because the work of feminists in other countries isn’t common knowledge in Australia doesn’t mean it’s not happening. On top of that, the mainstream media only has room for a few feminist voices at a time and journalists tend to always use the same people for quotes, so the public view of Australian feminism is not at all representative of feminist work in Australia. Besides, the whole thing reeks of “women in other countries have it much worse so you should thank your lucky stars and shut the hell up with your whining”.
And now to the man in the audience who wanted Kathy Lette to retract her comment that men tend to say they are feminists in order to get a more intelligent root. It takes a particular type of arrogance to demand that someone withdraw their opinion simply because you happen to disagree with it. Now, despite some of the male psych/arts undergrads I met in the 90s, I don’t happen to agree with Lette on this point. But that doesn’t mean one of us is right and one of us is wrong. We’re talking about opinions here. And since she cracked jokes the whole way through, it’s possible that this was simply another throwaway funny. I wondered if this is what happened with Feminist Dad a few weeks ago, and I don’t believe it is. One is a man telling a woman that she must remove her opinion because he doesn’t agree with it; the other was a few men saying they disagreed with a woman and explaining their reasons why. The issue was discussed and we arrived at a point of general agreement. (Phew. I think I’m safe with that logic.)
Mr Opinion Retractor then went on to complain that political correctness was ruining free speech. In my experience – and was pointed out by Deveny – people who complain about political correctness are just pissed off that when they use someone’s gender/race/sexuality/disability/religion as an insult, someone tells them what a dickhead they’re being. My heart bleeds for all those poor, oppressed people who have to hesitate before using the word “poofter” to put someone down.
In January, I wrote that if you’d told me over Christmas lunch that 2012 would start with several weeks of public discussion about feminism, I’d have politely asked if you were on crack. It’s now May and the public discussion is still going. As Nadine Von Cohen would say, FUCK YEAH.