The Feminist Supremacy? The Feminist Supremacy!

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.

25 responses to “The Feminist Supremacy? The Feminist Supremacy!

  1. So let me get this straight: MOR told Lette she shouldn’t have said something because (presumably) it demeaned people like him AND he thinks political correctness is spoiling free speech? How are the multiple tendrils of his cognitive dissonance not strangling his very ability to speak?

    • Never underestimate the ability of a hypocrite to hold two contradictory opinions at once – like the IPA “nanny state! Nanny state! Stop controlling our lives, Big Government!” people who ALSO believe in preventing consenting adults from being legally married.
      It’s everywhere. Chalk it up to self-absorbed deviousness and a complete lack of logic.

  2. Hello Ms Nipple News,
    I’m so glad you enjoyed the panel. You make some great points here. I just want to clarify that I said, ‘Feminism is Humanism’. I don’t prefer the word Humanism and I do openly identify as a ‘Feminist’. Personally, I feel the two ideologies go together, in as much as both are about human respect, human rights and equality. I wrote a bit on this (and the questions of whether men can be feminists) here: http://blog.taramoss.com/index.php?itemid=777
    Hope that clarifies. I rather like the word ‘feminist’. I agree that it is steeped in history and like you say, it is important to use it.
    Best wishes,
    Tara

  3. Thanks, Ms Nipple News. I agree the panel was a lot of fun. We could have gone all evening…

  4. Oh, I am so bummed that I managed to miss both this panel and the one on marriage because of New Zealand (i.e. me being in it for family reasons). I’m so glad that women who are so much younger than me like you and Tara and Emily and Julia are defending the use of the word feminism. Its meaning keeps morphing (as it should – society isn’t standing still), but there is still a solid core of belief and action happening around it.

  5. In regards to women who are afraid to acknowledge their feminism, it’s usually because of some misunderstood idea such as one I used to hear that feminists are only for equality sometimes, and superiority the rest. But it might not even be this idea so much as sheer ignorance.

    As far as the “other countries have it worse, so quit whining” excuse, I once read an article addressing that very concern, which also pointed out that both ideas have validity, and it’s not like you have to choose; a person can care about more than one thing, after all.

    The comparison was made between magazines saying Ashley Judd had a puffy face, and female mutilation in Whereverland. One is men tearing down women by their appearance, the other gruesome physical violence.

    Yes, the other is worse. But that doesn’t excuse the lesser issue, and saying it does is just another play to disregard feminism. By socialising women to care the most about their looks, and because looks are subjective, you’re setting up to tear them down. And that’s not cool.

  6. Snappy the alligator

    Sadly, not only do some guys say they’re feminist to get laid there’s also been some research done where women have been sexually assaulted by men who present as feminist/sympathetic towards feminist issues, such as on pg29 of this report: http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/resreport18/rr18.pdf

    So I’m with Kathy Lette to an extent. Of course, in no way am I saying that all men who call themselves feminist are using it as a ruse to sexually access women – I have many wonderful feminist male friends and I’m sure the men who do this are in the minority, but it does unfortunately happen.

    • Azrael the Cat

      The guy that demanded Lette retract her comment was a moron. Having said that, I would have thought it appropriate if a guy had stood up and said that it really shouldn’t be that bizarre a notion that a male may (even working on the presumption that he’s self-centred enough to only care about those people immediately connected to him) want his daughters, sisters, mother, cousins and friends to have the opportunties that they deserve.

      I suspect the number of guys who say that they’re feminists in order to pick up are about equal to the number of women who think that they need to act like a doormat in order to be attractive. I recall guys at uni who would say reflexively that they support feminism, but would nonetheless hold some fairly offensive views (I remember one guy I had a fling with, who upon learning that I also dated girls suddenly switched from being an embodiment of the ‘feminism-supporting gay guy’ cliche to giving a stream of sexist diatribe – one of the comments at the lesser end of the scale being ‘how can you stand sleeping with women! They’re all airheads and they don’t have any real f—— genitalia!’ – not to mention his ‘lovely’ habit of harassing any woman who wasn’t rake-thin about their weight. It’s a useful example, because the guy wasn’t sexually attracted to women, but he was nonetheless someone who would claim the label of being a feminist despite being completely misogynistic.

      I don’t call myself feminist, simply because I don’t want to enter the whole fight over whether a man can be a feminist or not – I’m happy to just say I agree with feminist ideals without getting worried about the label. Nevertheless, from my own experience there are a number of perfectly reasonable grounds for a guy to care deeply about feminism, even without considering broader political ideology:
      – they have female family that they care about (which fits most of us – mind you, it also includes most misogynistic f***s, and I can’t say that I understand how someone can hold those kind of views when they have mothers, daughters, sisters, partners etc);
      – they have female friends (again – that’s most of us below the age of 45 – when I was at uni, friendship groups were mixed gender. The only time I’ve ever been out socially with just males was on my bucks night (and that was a wine tasting tour – yes, we’re sad pathetic geeks), and I don’t think that’s particularly odd for folks of my generation. We never did ‘guys nights’, because that would mean excluding friends for no reason – not ‘friends of our partners’, but our own friends. Yes, my friendship group may have had a larger than usual number of gay and bisexual folk (a lot of us met through student theatre) – but I’ve seen similar patterns in many other groups of people our generation (for information, I’m 33 this year).
      – they can have experience with body image issues, and find it awful that our culture seems to actively proliferate those issues upon women. Just to be clear: I am in no way trying to equate my own experiences with those faced by women – my own struggles with annorexia, bullemia (these days I’ve ‘recovered’ to just yo-yo dieting – I go from being 30 kg overweight to around 10kg underweight and back again most years), self-harm and body waxing are just my own psychological weaknesses, whereas women face a barrage of confidence-shattering advertising, cultural expectations and sexism nearly from birth. But when your back and chest are entirely covered in droplets of blood where your hair folicles used to be (a fairly common result of waxing for those with part-Italian heritage, whether female or male), knowing that you’ll be doing the same thing every month regardless (fortunately my sister and father are pharmacists, so I was able to source panadeine forte to take the edge off), it does make you want to hit the idiots who think that it’s reasonable to expect women to wax their bodies. And when you’ve self-harmed because you can’t get out of your head the sight of you pinching your own fat rolls in the mirror, you do get angry when you see the fashion industry denigrate all but the thinnest women (while pretending to be a creative/artistic industry instead of an amoral corporate leach). It’s not a matter of one’s own problems being equivalent to the effects of sexism, whether in scale or in cause – just that it’s easier to empathise with something when you’ve had a small experience of it yourself. And I know I’m not the only guy in that category either.

      All of which makes it rather annoying when a sleazebag calls himself a feminist, and then transforms into a misogynist the instant that there’s no women in earshot. We probably encounter more of those wankers, because they drop their act once women aren’t around.

      Given that I’m happily married (to a wonderful woman who doesn’t mind being the primary earner, while I get to spend more time with the kids and get started in academia), I’m not exactly looking for people to be attracted to, but I can’t understand how so many young women have rejected the label of feminism. I would never have considered going out with a girl who didn’t call herself a feminist – I just can’t imagine wanting to spend time with someone who either thought it was fine to be treated like a doormat, or who is so naive/privileged as to be unaware of structural sexism, or who thinks it’s appropriate to s**t on the women who made her current life possible. Conservativism dragging the name through the mud isn’t enough to explain it – it isn’t just conservatives who seem to disown it. I’m wondering whether we somehow mismanaged the integration of feminism into school curricula (the means of its integration, nothing wrong with the idea in principle) – students have a powerful tendency to rebel against anything that they see as coming from an authority figure, and perhaps they view feminism (wrongly) as just one more set of rules handed down from their school teachers, that they then instinctively rebel against?

      • Azrael the Cat, welcome to the News with Nipples. This is a very interesting comment. (By the way, you can swear here. Of course, if you’re bleeping because you don’t like to swear, that’s perfectly fine.)

        It sounds like you have a difficult relationship with your body. I hope you have supportive and expert people around you who can help you mend that relationship. It’s not something I’ve experienced, but I’ve seen how much it has hurt friends and I understand that it’s a lifelong fight. I wish you victory in battle! With fancy hats!

        Your point about how feminism is introduced to students is an interesting one. My own experience doesn’t agree with it, but that’s just one example and shouldn’t be extended out. I don’t recall my teachers talking about feminism at all (I’m a few years older than you), but my high school wasn’t somewhere you’d get an enlightened education. It seemed to be an achievement if you finished year 12. Without getting pregnant. But that’s just my experience growing up in a beach town that valued male sporting prowess over everything else. I’m sure other readers will be able to talk more about feminism in schools.

        I think the word “feminist” is unpopular for several reasons. Conservatives have done a lot to demonise the label because feminism’s success doesn’t benefit them. Like I commented earlier, in my teens and early twenties I thought feminists were angry man-hates and we didn’t need them anymore because things were pretty much equal now. I didn’t just develop that idea out of nowhere. Many people under 40 would have spent their first 20-30 years thinking things were equal, because in school/uni they are, and in part-time jobs you don’t really care because you’re only there to get money to pay rent and have fun. It wasn’t until I got into an office in my mid-20s that I realised sexism was a pervasive thing that was going to harm my career, not just an occasional thing done by neanderthals.

        Oh, and speaking of sleazy creeps, I had to squeeze between two tables in a cafe last week, and as I slid past, a man at one of the tables put his arm out so my bum moved across it. When I sat down, he leaned over and said “hi”. I am proud to be a mouthy woman, but it’s such a shock when someone believes they can touch you without your permission that all I could do was give him a death glare. He then got up and left. I wish I’d made a scene, so that everyone there would know what he’d done.

      • Thanks for that Azrael, that was really interesting and a bit confronting to read.

  7. The first thing my friend said as we left Town Hall on Saturday Night was, “How was that guy challenging Kathy Lette to retract her comment?”. I’m glad to see we weren’t the only ones who thought ‘what the?’.

    Damn, I was in the same room as Miss NWN and I didn’t even know!

    I was pretty impressed with the panel, on the whole, but Kathy Lette has been trading on the same rehearsed jokes for a while now — she even pulled them out again on QandA, wearing the same suit and all (not that’s there’s anything wrong with that).

    BTW, what’s your twitter name?

  8. Off topic KP, but here’s some noteworthy Olympics coverage from news.com.au
    It’s the first Olympics piece I’ve seen from them since the uniforms were unveiled:
    http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/staying-a-virgin-harder-than-training-for-olympics-says-us-track-star-lolo-jones/story-e6frfmqi-1226364507626

    • It is indeed a worthy contribution to Olympics coverage. And they’ve filed it in entertainment/celebrity. Interesting that a story about an American athlete is considered the third most important story:

      The top three stories on News.com.au at 2pm, May 23

  9. Perhaps they filed it under entertainment/celebrity because they aren’t allowed to host sports stories on their website due to a managment directive that gives foxsports.com.au the exclusive right ahead of news.com.au to publish all sport content online? Perhaps they couldn’t bear to give foxsports all the pervy clicks their smutty item will surely generate and thus pretended said Olympian is a celebrity – and certainly not an athlete. Or perhaps they’re just plain dumb.

  10. oooh, you Sydney folk get all the good stuff. We get stuck with MTR and her bunch of fogeyttes. Grrrrrls, you are so lucky!
    Cliterati is actually the name of a very nice shop for ladies in London. And the packages come so nicely wrapped, like book depository with batteries – or so I hear. The stories are very well written too.

  11. Hey Kim, Good piece about the Feminist Conspiracy. I was there and I would have liked to have heard a lot more about what young feminists are doing today and not so much about what has been achieved in the past.
    On another matter, please contact me as I would like to invite you to speak at a writers’ festival in Sydney in late September.

    • I agree – more from Emily Maguire about what young feminists and sex workers are doing.

      Irina Dunn, welcome to the News with Nipples. I will definitely get in contact.

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