Sunday, 4 April 2010
The Big Bad Feminist. It’s a cliché we all know and loathe – ugly, hairy, either too fat (and therefore minging) or too thin (and therefore bitterly bustless), lesbian because she’s been rejected by men (because we all know that’s how sexuality works!) and yet somehow hoping for some nice chap to “turn” her, possessed of a Victorianly hysterical victim complex, possibly vegan, and probably wearing organic hessian dungarees. But above all, angry. Not in a torrid, “feisty one, you are!” fuck-or-fight kind of way, but... well, dear me, pass the smelling salts, in a terribly unseemly, unfeminine way.
And of course, it’s all that ire and bitterness that makes her not only angry, but pathologically enraged almost to the point of statemented disability. To your left, ladies and gentlemen, the lesser-spotted Feminazi! See her (because it is always a “her”, naturally) stalk through free-range lentil markets! Witness her trade communist propaganda leaflets for mung beans! Recoil in horror as she kicks random innocent men in the balls! ...Yawn, verily. Haven’t been there, will never get the T-shirt, because it’s a load of groundless bollocks. Where exactly this stereotype comes from is more of a mystery (oh yeah, apart from the fevered imaginations of tabloids and louts’ mags) and I have yet to meet an avowed anti-feminist who’s ever met a real live feminist, let alone one like that.
... Are you waiting for a “but” yet? Because the problem is, there is one. Passion is integral to any kind of conviction or activism, usually on the angry side; strong belief in anything engenders a will to fight for it. And what a telling phrase that is in its aggression, for ’twas ever thus; when societal evolution goes awry, revolution is always against its status quo, whether that be slave-trading or whaling or serfdom or rule by monarchy.
Or sexism. I was struck reading Kira Cochrane’s interview with the author of Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism with how struck she was by Walter’s apparent calm; the article even opens, “I'm trying to establish just how often the feminist writer Natasha Walter gets angry”. Of course, Cochrane is no numbNuts, quickly championing the validity of feminist rage, and I am not about to rehash her article – but it got my pretty little head thinking. So much feminist debate and defence centres on dismantling the fictional bully-girl/self-appointed victim who roams the organic markets of our adversaries’ imaginations, and in some ways, rightly so. Certainly none of the feminists I've met conform to this stereotype – if anything, quite the opposite.
Whether it’s contentedness born of having worked out what they believe and want in life, the independence and originality that tend to accompany openness to unpopular ideas, the fact that a well-developed sense humour is so essential to sanely navigating an insane world, or what, I don’t know – but all the female feminists I've known or met are confident, positive, witty, and generally just fun. What’s more, a great many (if not most, in my personal experience) are also – shock and rocky horror – in fulfilling, stable relationships. Mostly with – nurse! the sal volatile and a fan, at once! – heterosexual feminist men. It also bears mentioning that, on the whole, they’re a pretty damn good-looking bunch too (not “just” to their fellow feminists, I might add; a fair few models grace our ranks, donchaknow. I think that says a lot about how society treats even the “lucky” women who conform to its beauty myth). Overall, feminists are generally pretty productive, happy people – quite strikingly so.
And this is all fine and dandy except that, directed to non-, or (more to the point) anti-, feminists, it falls on frantically-plugged ears further deafened by the sand in which their owners’ heads are buried. Deciding whether to engage with these people at all is of course a Hobson’s choice between preaching only to the converted and trying to reason with what is often the intellectual equivalent of a brick wall, but if any debate is to be undertaken, I think we need to change its terms.
There is a tendency (understandable given the PMT-ridden, irrational-not-intellectual popular “bloody women” construct) to shy away from our emotions in feminism, to show how detachedly logical it all is. I think this is a mistake because it can be not only transparently disingenuous, but also a spectacular own-goal. Maintaining the kind of Socratic serenity needed to argue protractedly for feminism is a noble but (for a good 99% of us, anyway) impossible goal, and I would challenge most human beings of any socio-political persuasion to defend something they’re passionate about that dispassionately without an unholy amount of Valium.
Ironically enough, I think we stand a better chance of maintaining calm by acknowledging turmoil; in a debate so popularly (gender-)constructed as women’s emotional overreactions vs. what “everybody knows” the world is “really” like, as passion vs. reason, we’re missing a trick by buying into that binary. It’s a truism that the personal is political; I believe passion and reason are just as intertwined. “Angry” is an adjective not an insult, and even our worse dismissal, “bitterness”, cannot be triggered in a vacuum; we shouldn’t be trying to explain how feminism isn’t angry and bitter, but why it has reason to be. There are few more logical laws than that of cause and effect.
So really, so what if they call us us angry feminists; what's it to us when we can cogently articulate why our anger makes perfect sense? But wait, what’s that rustling in the bushes? To your right, ladies and gentlemen, the greater-spotted “make me a sandwich” brigade! Watch in amazement as they fail to argue their way out of a Subway bag.