Saturday, 18 June 2011

Anger, SlutWalk and the "Feminist Brand"

I haven’t written anything lately. And I think I know why: I have been feeling gut wrenchingly angry.

It took me a while to realize this, but here it is: anger is not good for writing. At least not for me. I have heard many women claim that they are “angry” and that this made them feminists. That’s all well and good, but when you have to write and express yourself? I find anger just tightens my stomach into a pretty neat knot and doesn’t allow anything to flow, including writing. It’s effectively paralysing.

And yet, can we imagine politics without anger? 

The source of my anger was the tsunami of SlutWalk talk within feminism, and the consequent push to the margins of people who raised issues with it.

I felt dismissed, I felt as if young popular feminists were calling me a fuddy-daddy for daring to believe that after the media frenzy, the feminist cause will not have achieved much.

I felt that all my work, most of which hasn’t seen the light of day yet, was deemed irrelevant because, as one writer put it:

“The SlutWalk is the expression of a new marketing-savvy style of feminism, rather than a civil rights movement. The issue of rape may be grave, but the approach is Facebook friendly.”

The implied message being “if you’re not marketing-savvy and facebook friendly, please kindly go and remove yourself from this movement”.
And if you happen to believe that a political movement shouldn’t have anything to do with “marketing” or “facebook”, both developments brought to you by imperialist American late capitalism, the source of modern evil and the root of human suffering?

Neolibleralism has infiltrated every last niche and cranny of our lives, to the extent that if we want to have a political movement, we have to brand it, advertise it and sell it. Excuse me, but WTF?

Is it even possible to imagine anything, any idea, any collection of values that do not constitute a brand? Are we that far “gone”?
This really shows the effects of corporate ideology,

FACT: Feminists in the 70s achieved far more without any “marketing-savvy style” or “facebook friendly approach”. While us modern day, third wave feminists discuss whether it is empowering to wear high heels and what feminist pr0n would look like, the actual living standards for women are being cut back with a vengeance. Women’s shelters, rape crisis centres, child care facilities, you name it, we are losing it. Public sector jobs and social sciences, the last jobs women could do with a clear conscience and the very ideas that could promote equality, all of it is being taken away.

But yeah, let’s go back to how empowerment is empowerment and Feminist pr0n is a reality in every bedroom. That’s where it’s at.

This onslaught of “media focus” brings to feminism exactly the same thing that it has brought mainstream society: shallowness, the concern for the immediate, the absence of a historical context, shocking words that bring money for the writers but aren’t good for Feminism, (ie: “Why I find pole dancing empowering”), a hyper individualism that renders all political movements irrelevant.
Create controversy, laugh all the way to the bank. It poisons the well, but who cares. You can always buy bottled water.
And this is what’s being relentlessly pushed to us all, whether we embrace it like eager teenagers who have never known anything else, or whether we are part of a dissident movement. In the age of 140-characters “wisdom” there is no room for ideas, or theory, or anything that cannot be reduced to a sound bite. Thinking is passé and old fashioned.

This “journalist”, for lack of a better word, compares Germaine Greer with the 17 year old organizer of London SlutWalk. Greer wrote a book that helped countless women and has never been out of print. The 17 year old has a “don’t mess with me” attitude and wears a floral dress. Presumably, she is also “marketing  savvy and facebook friendly”.

THAT’s where I feel dismissed. Because my lifelong dream is to become a writer and speaker.

And what SlutWalk showed me is the extent to which people do not want to engage with ideas, because what’s cool is far more important. Goodness knows “sluts” have been cool for a few decades now. For references, see Madonna.

It has showed me how if I want to be heard, I’ll have to be controversial. Or take my clothes off. Or promote the taking off of the clothes.

There doesn’t seem to be any more room in mainstream society for questioning the status quo. Even those in political movements bow to mainstream ideas in the name of improving the Feminist brand.

Feminism is not a brand. We are not in it for the fame and fortune. We do not gain public support by increasing our visibility at all costs. This is not viral advertising. We don’t even need public support: a small but deeply committed group of women can achieve far more than a disperse group who get together once a year to march and wave banners.
A radical political movement doesn’t create change by bringing the majority on board. Rather, we get on with the work, and watch how the majority, eventually, joins in. That’s the way it has always worked. But by sacrificing our goals in the name of visibility, we are getting neither a group large enough to force change through Parliament nor a deeply committed small group of women.

Enough with the Feminist Brand already. It may work wonders for individuals, who suddenly gain visibility through creating “controversy”, and go on to give interviews and write books. But it is never going to make the movement stronger.

And just because I can, I leave you with Germaine Greer’s opinion of a “Feminist Brand”. When a report found that “feminism had a poor "brand image" among young women today”, Germaine rejected it and said:

“Somebody should explain that we're not selling anything”
 As for my anger... It's always good to remember that the transition into more "radical" feminism can take time. That I'm not entirely alone in disliking this SlutWalk wave. And that, in the long run, only meaningful things remain because they are the only things that matter.


Mary Sunshine said...

A very eloquent and thorough-going post Mary. Thank you.

Amanda Reyes said...

Initially, I had several reservations about SlutWalk, especially whole part about reclaiming the word "slut." However, I've read several pieces that have really changed my opinion of it.

Alice Walker

Sophie Jones

Hugo Schwyzer

Harsha Walia

Jessica Valenti

Anonymous said...

Hugo Schwyzer is a disgusting womanizer who happens to use his power to manipulate his students and sleep with some of them. Of course he supports this "sex positive" slut status quo. It give him his power and authority over women and an endless supply of pussy.

Mary Tracy said...

@ Mary: Thank you!

Here's the thing: I don't want to discuss "SlutWalk". What I want to discuss is this:

* Feminism taken over by a young, "marketing-savvy and FB friendly" approach. This is not because I'm "old" (I'm in my fricking 20s!) but because I don't appreciate it when anyone bends over backwards to be accepted by the mainstream media. Marketing sucks, FB sucks, they are tools of the capitalist empire.

* Writers (or activists) making a career out of feminism that doesn't help the feminist cause. They create controversy and gain the most precious asset in the modern world: fame. Meanwhile, it's up to "us", the ones who keep the movement going, to assure everyone that no, we are do not want to be called "sluts".

* The complete and utter dismisal of feminists from the 70s like Greer. It's ageist, yes, but more so, it's stupid. And it serves the interests of the status quo, because "veteran" feminists will be much more clued in to how things work.

* How feminism is presented as a "brand", its success measured by how many people wear the "label". This is not a brand but a political movement. Turning feminism into a brand will mean that it will be made meaningless.

Over and out.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Thank you for this.

kaizokuwachikaranari said...

Mary Tracy, you sure are more clever than the average bear. Precisely for the reason that if we were to allow the feminist movement (or any other progressive movement) to be taken over by the totalising forces running rampant in today's society (yes, it really exists, then it will lose anything genuine it still has. If it becomes just a brand, a trend, or a fashion (a la Gaga) then that will represent not its victory, but its worst failure. If we can be conned through purely superficial changes that something has changed, or that we don't need to fight... Then we are doomed.

Cheers - great clarity.

Anon said...

Hi MT, I feel so dismissed so much of the time, a fuddy-duddy as you say, and I actually *am* old, or would be considered so by many of your peers.

And I used to be able to use anger as a catalyst for writing, but I don't want to write like that anymore.

So I feel stuck and paralyzed too. I'm glad I rediscovered your blog.


Mary Tracy said...

Thanks smashesthep, kaizokuwachikaranari and Anon. And thanks to all those people who read but don't leave comments.

I am exploring different techniques for discussing political issues and fighting for social justice without using anger. I found that in the end, angers consumes me and does nothing to improve the world.
But the alternative is not easy to find, seeing as most people want to move away from "objective truth" and into "there are many truths, this is mine".

Anon said...

I think I'm starting to see a way to do that -- it's fine to feel empathy, which to me is at least in part understanding other people's truths and why they feel that way -- but it's still possible to understand someone else AND to see that their "truth" doesn't lead to female liberation. I think so much of "new age" stuff, including a lot of anti-anger writing, implies at least that if you feel compassion for someone then you have to be "nice" to them and can't expect them to change or whatever. Whereas, I think you can understand completely where someone is coming from -- most of us weren't born radical, after all -- and encourage them to move toward freedom with kindness and understanding and without excuses. It's complicated, for sure -- much easier to just dismiss people who disagree or who engage in various anti-whatever behaviors/actions. Acknowledging that we're all walking on the same path and letting other people know what destination we're heading for, telling them why we think it is better -- that's much harder.

Mary Tracy said...

I've been writing a lot today on that topic. I think I'm beginning to see it too. It is possible to respect someone, accept that you both disagree, while at the same time know that your version of the truth will lead to women's liberation in a way that their version of the truth won't.
We may not be able to change them, but does that mean that we shouldn't wish they did?

These ideas are quite difficult to handle, no wonder I've never heard anything on the matter. It's always much easier to get angry and attack proverbial "opponents" for being wrongity wrong.