Last week, Julie Bindel lamented that radical feminism had been “co-opted by over-privileged, self-serving faux feminists”. She accused these “fun feminists” (among whom she named Caitlin Moran and Natasha Walter) of having little idea about the theory of feminism and of pandering to men with talk of lipstick and burlesque. By the end I felt thoroughly chastised, not to mention angry. But what on earth was she on about?
Her rant on the New Statesman’s The Staggers blog was confusing to say the least. First of all, what is fun feminism? Grouping together examples of female behaviour she disapproves of and suggesting we “consign them to the rubbish bin” just doesn’t cut it. There is no explanation of how these fit into her model and my overarching feeling was: What does she want?
She wants to get back to the real issues – equal pay, domestic violence, rape – instead of wittering on about how it’s so totally empowering to get a brazilian wax (I agree it’s not, but I also don’t think it’s disempowering). Fine. I support that. But what’s her problem with including men in that debate? As a friend pointed out when I emailed her a link to the argument with the subject line “read this and get angry,” seventies separatist feminism isn’t going to get us anywhere except to extremes.
One of the benefits we as a younger generation enjoy is the fact that we’ve grown up in a world where the men we know are our equals. That’s how we’ve always viewed them. They have a right to disagree with our ideas and opinions, just as we do with theirs. That’s what equality is, isn’t it? I’m not saying male supremacy has ceased to exist just that the narrative has changed. That this is thanks to the second wave, I don’t doubt for an instant, but it has changed. Not least in the sense that these days our male peers are largely on board with feminism. Not mollifying, not placatory. On board.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of silliness out there. Caitlin Moran’s appearance on Newsnight was undeniably lightweight to the point that Jeremy Paxman looked embarrassed to be seen with her (and it takes more than a conversation about vajazzles to get Paxo in a flap). Just last week an article in Company displayed a level of hypocritical pandering not seen since Winifred Banks. I wouldn’t go as far as Julie and say that if men like it, it’s not working but to actually read the words “feminist woman have the most success in relationships” was pretty galling.
But what I think annoyed me most of all was her assertion that feminism was tough for straight women because we are “expected to love our oppressors”. This really needs to be addressed. It is not helpful to start admonishing women for wanting to have relationships with men. If our emotional and sexual needs weren’t already complex enough, now she wants to layer on the feminist guilt?
Which leads me to what I hate about modern-day feminism. It’s just… so bitchy. I never cease to be amazed by the amount of women who think they can promote a feminist agenda by undermining other women. If we leave work to have children we’re scorned but if we choose to return we’ve missed out on the vital rights of motherhood. If we don’t think having sex with five different people in a week is a sensible lifestyle choice, we’re sexually repressed but if we get turned on by porn it’s because we’ve been conditioned by male supremacist culture. We can’t cover up lest we appear subjugated and stripping off is pandering. It seems whatever you choose, however you interpret your empowerment, you can guarantee there’s a woman waiting to give you an acerbic poke and tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Of course it’s normal that we should disagree on these things and healthy that we should debate them but isn’t it time the mud-slinging stopped? If we really want to see a legitimate third wave (even fourth wave?) we need to stop having a go at other women and start supporting each other.