Sheehan’s mental meandering

I see Paul Sheehan is blah-blah-blahing about one his favourite topics: feminism. And not in the same way that it’s one of my favourite topics, because I actually know what I’m talking about.

Scarlet soles are a red rag to feminists’ ideology:

You want the Louboutin power strut? Don’t expect any change out of $800. Millions of women pay, or would like to pay, to join this cargo cult. They see that flash of red as a flash of power.

Really? And tell me, Sheehan, you know this how? I don’t know any woman who thinks shoes give her power. Exta height, defined calf muscles, a feeling of sexiness that comes from within because you’re “dressed up”. But power? Puh-lease.

Christian Louboutin is as big a commodity-maker as Manolo Blahnik was before his wave crested with the tacky embrace of Sex and the City. The red flash is as big as the Jimmy Choo fad, which peaked a decade ago, and sexually more potent. Louboutin is even suing Yves Saint Laurent for trademark infringement after the YSL fashion house introduced red-soled stilettos in its last collection. Red soles are hot.

Wow, old white guy sure knows a lot about women’s shoes. He must have wet his pants a little when he saw that Louboutin story on the weekend, knowing that he’d be able to manipulate it into an anti-feminism rant. (For once, it’s worth checking out the comments. I particularly like the one from Citizen P about how Sheehan has lifted his ideas from the New Yorker.)

The pervasive power display of women wearing stilettos, despite the style’s innate and obvious potential to damage the wearer, is not an evolution that feminists of the 1970s might have expected.

And here’s the first problem: believing that a modern social movement that comprises many different feminisms is still exactly the same as it was four decades ago. The second problem is everything he says next. It’s pretty sad that the Sydney Morning Herald has a 60-year-old conservative white man write about something which he was never a part of and clearly does not understand.

But the world is an infinitely more complex place than the one laid out by Jurassic Feminism. Anyone who still wants to see the world through the prism of gender fixation, where women are structural victims and men are structural oppressors, is locked into a fusty bigotry that the stiletto generations are walking away from.

All the great recent advances made for women have been made by people – men and women working together.

See? All men are good people.

Most of the legislation that seeks to advance the progress of women has been passed by legislatures dominated by men.

See? It’s men and not women who are making things better for women. Oh, and by the way, men have all the power and don’t you forget it.

And no amount of government social engineering is going to stop women behaving badly to women, which happens all the time. Women bully women. Women block women in the workforce.

See? Women are all bitches.

Firstly, “women behaving badly to women” does not happen all the time. Secondly, in my experience, being sexually harassed at work by old white men, and being paid less than my male co-workers who are doing the same job, and being ignored for two weeks by my male boss because I tried to argue for the basic CPI pay rise, and having male publishers talk to my boobs, and having male co-workers stand behind me when I’m at my desk and try to look down my top, and having a male co-worker push me against a bar at the Christmas party and say “hey baby, where have you been all my life” (yes, seriously, he actually used such a pathetic line. And this was a guy in his mid-twenties and when I mentioned it at work he pushed me against the wall and said “it’s flattering that you’d like to think I’d do that, but you’re just not attractive”), and having all the promotions and pay rises go to the group of guys who drink with the boss, and having a male boss threaten me with my job because I wouldn’t pass on office gossip, all far outweigh – in number and in seriousness – anything a female co-worker has done. Sure, I’ve worked with some horrible women, but there’s only been a few of them and they’re horrible because they’re horrible, not because they’re women.

But Sheehan is playing the predictable card. By pointing to bad behaviour done by a very small group of women, he is excusing the bad behaviour done by a larger group of men.

He then goes on about how teenage girls are brutal creatures and ridicules tall women.

That’s the foundation lie fed to women, largely by women, via the Great Insecurity Machine, the commercial fashion industry.

I call bullshit. Big piles of intellectually dishonest steaming bullshit. The fashion industry is dominated by men. The most influential designers are men. The designs that require a grown woman to have the body of a pre-pubescent boy are created by men. The stilettos that Sheehan thinks render feminism irrelevant and prove that women are silly are designed by men: Christian and Manolo. Sheehan is judging women by their bodies (“giraffes”) and their clothing, and he’s playing the Sam de Brito game of assuming that all women are the same.

Sheehan’s piece is all over the shop. He’s gone from Louboutin suing Yves Saint Laurent to how women hurt women at work to teenagers to fashion week to “academic feminism” to the Greens to how Betty Friedan shouldn’t be taken seriously because she was a journalist, not an academic, and she wasn’t oppressed so she wouldn’t know what she was talking about. I’d be careful there Sheehan – you are a journalist and not an academic and you are writing about something you very clearly know fuck-all about.

Above all, Friedan was a navel gazer. Her feminism was about middle-class, middle-brow white women.

These flaws were not hers alone. They can still be found embedded in feminist ideology. We are living in the middle of a massive global struggle over the rights and freedoms of women, a life-and-death matter for a billion women and girls, and secular middle-class Western feminism is proving irrelevant.

Ah, that old chestnut. Because women in other parts of the world aren’t as privileged as white Western women, then we should just shut the fuck up and consider ourselves lucky.

29 responses to “Sheehan’s mental meandering

  1. yes, I read this one (against my better judgment – it’s not like I ever learn anything from Sheehan’s pieces) and couldn’t work out what the fuck he was on about. Arrrrggggghhhh. And yes, I second your point about crap male bosses vs crap female bosses; the latter’s nastiness is far outweighed, in my opinion.

    • When I saw Sheehan’s piece at breakfast, I turned to ManFriend and said “well, I know what I’m going to be blogging about today”. Like I said in my post, it’s so disappointing that the SMH has someone writing about something they know nothing about.

  2. *groan*
    Most of the comments were SURPRISINGLY good! So unusual not to read a flood of hate and self-absorption in the comments section.

    Why don’t any of these AWFUL ‘Women are oppressed in other parts of the world so Western Feminism is irrelevant’ types (And here I’m looking at Albrechtsen as well….) mention the fact that oppression of women in developing countries is often connected with oppression of labouring classes as WELL.
    And hell, if they are so concerned about it, why aren’t they publicly promoting charities that fund and promote sex and reproduction education, literacy, nursing and mothercraft, and any other thing that might make women more empowered and more able to pass skills on to their children.
    Or…could it be….that actually their only concern for the plight of women in developing countries is actually only a stick to beat western women with? Noooo….surely not!

    • Never!

      It reminds me of those people who leave “who cares?” comments on celebrities stories on news sites. Well, clearly you cared enough to click on the story, read it, and leave a comment.

  3. I knew I shouldn’t have read the article this morning…but I did. Now my head hurts. I am experiencing news overload.

    And in a moment of over share, my train of thought has been rudely derailed by a full bladder that won’t empty itself.

  4. It’s funny how no one would ever suggest that the ALP or Coalition should run the country as Menzies and Whitlam did, or that we should be teaching from curriculums designed in 1970, or planning public transport systems according to 1960s demographic data.

    Yet the ant-feminist mainstream seems to be operating from the delusion that feminists today are thinking and behaving exactly as they did 40 years ago. Not only that, the same anti-feminist mainstream then loves to portray feminists as objects of pity and scorn who haven’t ‘moved on’ from the feminism of 40 years ago – the very same paradigm that the anti-feminist mainstream seems to be stuck in.

    And when exactly was the ‘stilletto generation’ born? Was it before, during or after the boomers, X and Y? And, wasn’t Ginger Rogers wearing stilletoes when she was doing everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and during the Depression?

    • I’m surprised Sheehan didn’t throw in a line about hairy armpits. It seems the MSM is doing everything it can to discredit feminism and it’s getting desperate.

      • Rhiannon Saxon

        Also in a moment of overshare I am putting my hand up…so you can see my hairy armpits. I had them waxed once and my husband did not even notice. SO I thought, given that he is the only one that sees them, I never had to live with underarm stubble, ever, ever again.

        I guess my armpits must mean I hate men.

        Oooh that reminds me, my legs need epilating.

        But on an actual serious note I HATE the way ‘sensible shoes’ and ‘armpit hair’ are this sort of lazy dismissive shorthand. (Does that mean all nurses are man-hating separatists? Maybe they should show their ‘power’ and ‘equality’ by wearing stilettos to work.)

        • I also have hairy armpits at the moment. I get them waxed and don’t tend to notice them for ages until suddenly I realise I could plait them.

          And nurses in heels = sexy, hot nurses = more empowering than decent pay.

          By the way, I’m wearing sensible shoes. I love sensible shoes:

          sensible shoes

          • Rhiannon Saxon

            Even the men who work in nursing should wear stilettos. And perhaps complete the look with some 18th century wigs and coats. Oh dear I haven’t had enough sleep.

            (I wear second hand docs. Usually. Totally not-sensible from a podiatry point of view, but they last for 10 years and only cost me $20. )

  5. wasn’t Ginger Rogers wearing stilletoes when she was doing everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and during the Depression?

    I FUCKING LOVE THAT. (And wouldn’t she have been doing a little bit more…doesn’t the woman’s dance role usually involve slightly fancier footwork?)

  6. This is an awesome blog!
    Bravo!
    Keep up the great work!

    Choose Happiness & Success!
    Jennifer

  7. I was feeding my baby and the SMH was on the table in front of me but too far to reach. My phone was within reach. I saw the Sheehan headline and thought, “I’m going to hate that, which means NWN will hate it, may as well just reach for the phone, read the blog rather than the article and save myself effort and annoyance.

  8. ahh, paul sheehan. one of my professors at uni had the same name and i got very confused during a google search for one of his articles until i worked out that there were two of them. thankfully, my paul sheehan was better.

    i like the idea of “Jurassic Feminism” actually: the Feminist Pterodactyl, for example. or perhaps he’s attempting to argue that feminism is what caused the dinosaurs to become extinct? it’s very unclear. my paul sheehan would not have been impressed.

  9. Rhiannon Saxon

    One thing that strikes me as slightly amusing about the ‘it’s so modern and cool and sexy!’ thing about the red soles/heels – High-heeled shoes with red heels were one of THE accessories for the well-dressed man or woman in the mid-to-late 18th century. *So up-to-date!*

  10. I’m not surprised that the comments have mostly been pretty good – he’s targeted the precise form of sexism that his middle class readership is likely to have encountered. The kind of sexism that you, and the women replying to him, describe is so endemic to office work, and even retail, in Australia, that every woman who have ot experienced it themselves would certainly have witnessed it at some time or another. And the brazenness with which it occurs makes it grind as well – it isn’t something that many women are likely to laugh off in the same way that some of the sillier young ones tend to laugh off sexual objectification and the beauty myth (read: are temporarily benefiting from in a trivial sense, and don’t realise how much it is eating away at their ability to have basic autonomy).

    I’m guessing he’s gotten complacent from years of bashing feminist academics, and was lulled into thinking that his conservative female readership is going to react the same way to the sexism they actually experience as they do to his manufactured distortions of feminist theory. Put it into a recognisable social context, and suddenly he starts to sound like their sleazy old boss who listened to the male interns more than the women with 15 years experience.

    • Azrael, welcome to the News with Nipples. I think you’re right – that young women aren’t so interested in feminism as a label for themselves because everything looks pretty even from where they’re standing. That’s how I was. I thought things were even and then I looked around and went “hey, wait a minute….”

  11. Ah, dear News With Nipples, I just love how you combine a fine analysis of anti-feminist texts with a elegant and funny style of writing. Getting information and really enjoying it is the best. Thank you very much.

  12. I admit I like Paul Sheehan. I’ve liked his reports on water, politics and his coverage of the Tegan Wagner (rape) case, which made me think this piece on Shoes would provide an interesting take on the men creating these shoes or how he loves women in comfy shoes. I’m so disappointed that I am overjoyed to find a blog about how bad and inappropriate this article is..and I like the rest of what I read. (found you thru the blog awards shortlist)

  13. I’ve been reading the news with nipples back catalogue and I keep finding wonderful critiques of articles that have made me livid over the past couple of months! What a treasure trove! This Sheehan piece in particular got me fuming, it was such a rudderless, ranting collection of cheap shots and hackneyed misogynistic drivel.

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