Sunday, 28 March 2010

Against Our Will

"[Rape] is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear" - Susan Brownmiller

This quote was one of the problems that came up the other night in a discussion with my partner about the BBC4 program, Women.

(I say it came up, when in actuality I started ranting on about it and Mr Onions listened and nodded at the appropriate points. He found the program pretty boring)

My argument was that the quote was poorly expressed but had a certain validity to it.

In essence, I believe Brownmiller was saying two things:

Firstly, that by not standing up and speaking out against rape (and, by extension in today's world, rape jokes) men who do not rape are as good as rape apologists and enablers.

Secondly, that the fear of rape makes all women fearful of all men, to the advantage of men who would seek power by such means, and to the detriment of men who wouldn't. Obviously, women lose on both counts.

Now, the original quote is a great soundbyte, but is pretty inflammatory towards men, and it could be said, is exclusionary and difficult for people to relate to, without a strong knowledge of rape discourses. But I do believe it's an important point to consider, with reflection upon what it actually means.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

UK Feminista

It's great that there's a new campaigning organisation in the UK, however, two (personal) things:

  1. Basing the launch in London is great if you live down there, but, ya know, it isn't actually the centre of the universe.
  2. Having it plugged on a feminist website 4 days before the launch makes it highly difficult to arrange getting there if you DON'T live in London.

That's all.

Monday, 22 March 2010

BBC 4 Women: Activists

NOTE: For my other writing about the BBC4 Women series see:
Libbers 1
Libbers 2

I admit, the reason I'm so disenchanted by this series is because I'm not represented.

In my quiet little corner of the internet I found blogs such as Fertile Feminism, Blue Milk, and Mothers for Women's Lib, to name a few. Oh yes, I read the big feminist websites too, but those few women who were both feminists and mothers were the ones who were really saying things that meant something to me. Alongside those blogs, I would say that my developing feminist identity has been shaped by: my university work, my interest in gender, rather than Feminism, and my role as a parent.

I give you this information because I believe it heavily contributes to my analysis. Whether it is because of these factors or not, I've found it difficult to find anything I can relate to in the 2nd and 3rd episodes of this series.

The "Libbers" episode was actually great, it spoke to me and I could relate to the women involved (I know that sounds different to my original views but upon reflection I realised it was a great contextualisation, if a little dry and limited for novice viewers). I found the "Mothers" episode weak because there ARE women out there who are not constantly reinforcing the gender binary, but the documentary didn't represent them.

Now, the Activists episode? How about a few words from the notes I made during my viewing tonight:

limited causes, narrow definition, alienation.

I'm not intending to personally attack anyone, I simply felt that the representation made by this episode painted a very specific picture of Feminism today, that isn't entirely accurate or inspiring. I felt that the women who were interviewed were poorly prepared for the questions they were given (example - the question to the woman with the nail varnish? I imagine she's kicking herself now for not having prepared a solid reply).

Aside from Reclaim the Night, the causes that were being demonstrated against also seemed poorly prepared - I agree with Germaine Greer from the Libbers Episode: march (or, in this case, demonstrate) if there are lots of you, but if there aren't, don't! It seems pointless to me to try to fight the status quo when there are only a few people protesting - it makes the protest seem powerless and irrelevant. Why not wait until the opportune moment, with a large amount of radicalised people? Then the protest may be taken seriously and a powerful statement might prompt the average passer-by to question their own thoughts.

Anyway, something that did seem powerful was the interview with the woman talking about a rape case. This involved an 18 year old girl who was gang raped, but was cautioned by the police for 'lying' about it because a few seconds of mobile phone footage showed some kind of acquiescence on her part.

That is something that most women can identify with - the fear, the weakness in face of strength and, when it comes down to it, the complete lack of choice to say 'no' that the girl in question must have felt. That is something people can get behind and get angry about, surely that is the kind of injustice that will bring people to the movement?

However, the power of that section was buried underneath the mundane preparations for putting on a conference, please, tell me, what relevance is there in making salads?

I'm also really frustrated about the interviews with the parents of these young activists, I found this to be completely undermining of the young women's politics and passions. By not commenting on it personally, Engle seems to be mocking the activists. Filming the women worrying about salad, asking their parents 'how did she get like this'? and then refraining from challenging the parents narrow views, it feels like the women are represented as little girls playing at Feminism, when this is obviously not the case - they have worked hard to do what they do, but all this is completely undermined by a number of parents in the film, and Engle's lack of comment.

For example, one lot of parents paint their daughter as an 'angry teenager' because their discussions end with 'banging doors'. This young woman is in her twenties and is passionate about helping other women, but because 'her life' is charmed, her parents think she shouldn't be worried about those causes? To me this feels individualistic and narrow.

Obviously, there are cultural/generational differences between these women and their parents, the growth of online communities makes it easy for young people to feel connected to other people in the world, and encourages individuals to care about the needs of whole groups, rather than simply caring about themselves. This is blatantly a difference between women in their 20s and their parents. But it scares me. I get so scared seeing these parents so detached from their children's feelings and politics. I never want to be like that with my daughter. It's not like that with my parents, for which I am eternally grateful.

So, overall? I felt the program lacked depth, compared to the "Libbers", these women are just starting on their feminist lives, the same as me, so, obviously, their politics is unrefined and emotional. The interviews and footage, in my mind, only serves to reinforce the weaknesses of the young movement today. I am not an activist. It is difficult to be so when you have a young child and don't live in London. Perhaps if I were in a different situation I may feel some affinity to these women, but their causes are not particularly my causes, and their way of expressing their causes is different to mine.

This is not just a personal thing, there are even two women in the documentary who say they probably wouldn't join that particular group because their personal feelings about issues are different. It is telling to hear a women say 'they wouldn't like that of me' in reference to certain views. Should Sisterhood be that selective?

Unfortunately, I couldn't identify with the women included in the documentary. Whether this is because of how I have approached feminism, because of my academic interests or simply because I'm not from London, who knows? I felt Engle let people dig themselves into holes, and didn't get them a ladder, and I would have liked to see daughters and parents engaging each other in debate, rather than interviewed separately, which mostly served to infantalise the activists (particularly the ones who were interviewed in their bedrooms, rather than the lounge, like their parents!).

I'll leave the final word to Charlotte Cooper and Jess McCabe (of the F word) who are obviously not speaking about me, but their analysis can apply to anyone who would be turned off from feminism by these programs:

" for every woman who has turned away from feminism because they feel they are not welcome, these films will simply act as another erasure of their lives, their existence and their autonomy."

Friday, 19 March 2010

Breastfeeding and Onions

Please welcome the OFFICIAL "Breastfeeding and Onions Post":

Your Breastfeeding Tips

To interrupt the flow of feminism for one moment, I'd like to address something I've been thinking about for a while, but only just got around to finishing.

Lots of people are coming across my blog through searching for 'breastfeeding and onions'. BEFORE NOW, this blog never had any posts that contain both of those words, yet search engines keep bringing up this site for that search term.

I started feeling really bad that I was misleading Google et al by having 'Onions' in my blog name, and 'breastfeeding' in my blog content, but never bringing the two together. The pure strength of this guilt led me to research onions and breastfeeding, bypassing my own blog (9 entries down), and finding a good few sources to bring together in one amazing post.

The post is over at my other blog, which makes more sense really, seeing as that one is actually about breastfeeding.

Go take a look. Alleviate my guilt.

Monday, 15 March 2010

BBC4 Women: Mothers

NOTE: My other reviews of 'Libbers' and 'Activists' can be found here:
first thoughts
2nd watching

Yes, I watched it, and I have lots to say.

Mostly I resented the demographic represented, but again, how else would it be pitched on this channel? I do believe that only one family lived north of London, and the parents in that family were both academics. I suppose it's appealing to the lowest common denominator, to just interview (stereo)typical nuclear families. However, there are SO many feminist families who are anything but typical!

Personally, it would have felt a much more rounded documentary if the lives of feminist families were included, e.g. non-working feminists mums, queer parents, mothers who stay at home but fill their lives with things other than children.

(Not to say that the stay-at-home parents featured in the program DON'T do other things, but the documentary didn't seem to show them doing anything other than 'typical' parenting - baking, play-groups, washing, yawn).

What about the parents staying at home and providing home-education? What about mothers who give up their time for voluntary groups (coughcough breastfeedingpeersupport)? What about working class mums who don't have a bloody choice in the matter?

Isn't it wonderful to pontificate about 'choice' when the people without a choice have no voice?

Furthermore on the subject of what a parent does, how about the question put to the Oxford graduate:

'what is the point of your education, do you need a degree from Oxford in order to stay home and look after your children?'

Well, those who know me can imagine my reaction.

(something along the lines of 'fiery wrath'?)

The fact that education for its own sake is not even considered astounds me. Once an educational level has been achieved it is always there to fall back on, use, or add to. I absolutely agree with the mother: she can pass her knowledge on to her children. I feel so passionate about my academic achievements and goals, but I also feel passionate about bringing up my daughter in the way I have chosen.

Why should motherhood negate education and the urge to be educated? Is education only compatible with working and earning? That sounds quite capitalist to me.

However, on to the thing I enjoyed: watching the squirming when Engle asked what activities they each do around the home. It was good to reinforce the idea that washing, organising and cleaning are not a realm of natural knowledge - it is learnt through trial and error, paying attention, reading, PLANNING and thinking, before doing. It's too easy to get drawn into always doing something because your other half 'doesn't do it well enough'. How the hell did that partner learn to do it in the first place?

Anyway, that aside, it's perfectly understandable that Vanessa Engle may have wanted to highlight the inherent sexism in the standard nuclear family. Today, that kind of sexism often goes unchallenged and is held up as a shining example of what family life should be about. However, my question is, can't we have some positive examples? Can't we see what other people are doing and be inspired, rather than depressed?

Mr Onions regularly challenges me, asking me if I am ever going to read something positive about feminism. Well, I put that challenge to this doc: make me feel positive next week, I want to see something good about feminist activism, some passion, some success, some positive ideas. Lets leave this sadness behind, please?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

BBC4 Women: upon a second watching...

NOTE: Please read my other posts about BBC4 Women:
First Thoughts on 'Libbers'
Review of 'Mothers'
Review of 'Activists'

OK, after watching BBC4 Women - Libbers again, I have a few more opinions.

Firstly, I actually enjoyed the program, I felt an affinity for many of the Libbers and seeing their passion and pain was a good contextualisation of the Women's Movement. Whilst I agree with The F Word that the view given is very white and middle class, I think the program was limited in this way by its target audience.

Which brings me back to my original thoughts, my criticism was mostly that the program was not accessible or inclusive, but obviously we're talking about a program made for BBC4, whose viewer-ship is probably similar to that of BBC Radio 4 - middle class, middle-aged and white. If we were talking about popularising feminism it would have to be placed on a channel that was for more popular viewing! BBC 1 would obviously have a different impact, and a program made for BBC 3 (which seems to be the 'youth' and 'comedy' channel) would probably be approached in a completely different manner.

So, moving on to the program that was actually made; here's my main criticisms:

Upon questioning Marilyn French about being a housewife, the interviewer (I assume Vanessa Engle) asks:
"Did you enjoy all that drudgery?"

[insert my rage face here]

I feel Engle demonstrated in just 6 words one of the problems about the whole "feminists vs housewives" debate. Those words suggest that life as a housewife is all 'drudgery' and assumes that French agrees with that analysis. Luckily French wasn't easily led, I was most impressed by her reply:

"I didn't mind it, what I minded was being limited to it"

Which is the core of the argument really, isn't it? It's not a case of it not being fulfilling or it always being boring, it's a case of being capable of other things, if you so wish to engage in them.

French further prevents a misinterpretation of her work when discussing the reaction to her book, "The Women's Room" which unleashed a "tidal wave of female anguish."
Upon being asked "did you feel proud of that?" French replied:

"no I felt anguished"

powerful stuff, not pride in her achievements, only sadness that so many women could feel the same way.

I like that the questions from the interviewer are challenged by quite a few of the women, highlighting their strong will (or perhaps a naivety of younger women interested in the movement?)

For example, I felt that quite a lot of pushing (on the part of the interviewer) was involved in the matter of sex, orgasms and lesbianism. A number of the women didn't want to speak about it and I think it may have been disrespectful to try to make (what seemed like) a big deal about this section of the program.

Another thing that struck a strong chord with me was the section about the sit-in against the male editor of Ladies Home Journal. Some of the arguments in the film footage from the time were just as relevant today as they were then, e.g. images of women being used to encourage other women to live vicariously instead of living their own lives to the fullest. I found this a really telling and sad section, those same arguments can still be made 40 years on, but there's such a quiet minority of people making them.

Which brings me to my conclusion: the program was good, but so sad. I was interested to hear the words of UK feminists, as most of the material I've had available before has been limited to the American Movement. The way the hope and power of the movements is expressed seems so wonderful, but this is contrasted harshly with the tinge of disappointment and sadness that seems to permeate through the interviews. French in particular seemed so sad: "we thought we were changing the world...but it ended."

Yet, besides the sadness, the program was good for the audience it was trying to reach, but, in my eyes, the audience feminism NEEDS is younger women, and those who have little-to-no connection with feminism. Surely this is the main way that the movement can be re-invigorated on a grand scale?

I'm sure there's much more I could add to this review, and I do have another post lined up about Susan Brownmiller and rape, but I'll save that for another time.

And to end, here's my favourite quote (no, it's not the cat one):

"I don't know what I am"
"Do you call yourself a lesbian?"
"No, I call myself a poet"
Robin Morgan

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

BBC4 Women

NEW 23-3-2010
I notice this one has been read a lot, but my follow-up post hasn't, so for a more in-depth analysis see:

my follow up post: here
2nd episode review: Mothers
3rd episode review: Activists

Original Post:
I watched the first episode of the new BBC 4 series 'Women' last night, a 3-part documentary about feminism and its impact on women. When I've watched it again I'll write a little more, but first, here's just a few comments:

Was this really the best way to start a series about feminism? Fine, the ideas and people of the second wave are important for contextualising the image and concerns of feminism today, but personally, my household found it to be pretty much Vanessa Engle fawning over "feminists of old", asking them questions that either made them slightly uncomfortable, or put them on the verge of tears.

I don't have a problem with second wave feminists, and I found the program interesting, for ME. But I'm also very concerned with inclusivity, demystification and opening feminism up to women who aren't so interested in it. What's the use of a program about feminism that doesn't inspire new women to get involved? Perhaps Engle will cover this in the following episodes about mothers and activists. I think, though, that the first part of a series needs a hook, and the only people who will have been hooked by this first part will be those who would have watched it any way, who do not need convincing about feminism.

There's also a review over at The F-Word, for anyone interested.