Thoughts on feminisms in conflict

05/05/2009 at 7:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Feministe posted an article yesterday that got me thinking…

Feminist Vs. Feminist

Quick setup: Naomi Wolf is feminist and author of such works as the ubiquitous Beauty Myth. Wolf wrote up a review on a biography about Helen Gurley-Brown, the founder of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of Sex and the Single Girl. It’s questionable whether or not Brown is considered any kind feminist at all, in large part owing to her involvement with the magazine & related topics.

Sex & the Single Girl is another book I’ve yet to read – and in truth, I’m more inclined to read that before Beauty Myth, just out of  whim – but I’ve certainly had enough exposure to Cosmopolitan. Enough exposure to know that, it’s definitely far from perfect and often outright contradictory. Holly of the Pervocracy does a good job picking the magazine apart on a fairly regular basis.

As Feministe points out, Wolf used her review as an opportunity to bring up  differences between two different schools of thought on feminism. Wolf contrasts Brown’s book to Betty Freidan’s Feminine Mystique and then uses the two as Archetypes. She uses these two books as examples to illustrate contemporary conflict between old guard feminism vs. the new generation. Wolf uses Freidan’s Feminine Mystique to represent the more mature, socially responsible second wave generation and Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl to represent today’s third wave feminism, marked by younger women, sex positivity and pop culture.

“Sex and the Single Girl,” Brown’s brash, breezy and sometimes scandalous young-woman’s guide to thriving in the Mad Men and Playboy era, made headlines the year before Friedan’s severe, profound manifesto burst onto the scene. Since then, the media and the women’s movement itself have put these two icons in opposition, pitting Friedan’s intellectual, ideological, group-oriented feminism against Brown’s pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, girl-power style.

Which is ironic, considering that this isn’t just the media pitting the two aginst one another now: It’s a feminist herself.  Jill of Feministe asks, “Don’t we get this kind of dumbed-down narrative enough whenever mainstream media covers feminism? Do we really need a feminist regurgitating it?”

And she asks for good reasons. Life is a lot more complicated than fitting people into neat little boxes. Things don’t always fit right into compartments. There’s spillover, crinkles and gaps. In practice, you can do more than one thing at a time, even when two or more things seem contradictory to one another in theory.

(In my head, I imagine my days back when I was a little girl playing with dinosaur toys in the grass, pitting a fake plastic t-rex against a plastic long-necked herbivore. They’re very different with one another… …but they’re both still dinosaurs. Fake, plastic ones, representing animals that were both wiped out by probably the same thing.)

Reading Wolf’s review, I feel like I’m once again caught in the middle, or pushed to the outskirts… because I don’t feel like I fit into an “Either/or” category.
In truth, I don’t even know what kind of feminist I am yet. What, I have to pick now?

Well, I know I’m some kind of feminist… there’s definitely something going on there… but to what degree? There are so many different schools of thought on what it means to be feminist, what needs change most urgently, and what the best way is to go about it. Second wave? third wave? even fourth? womanist? sex-positive? Something else entirely?

I don’t know what I am yet. I don’t feel like I fit into any category nice & neat.

I certainly look to feminists who identify as sex-positive. I guess partly I’m hoping some of their skills & wisdom will rub off on me… and partly I’m hoping they’ll be the least likely to judge me poorly & call me a fool for pursuing sex as I see fit.
But I always feel kind of ironic labeling myself a sex positive feminist, when, in reality, I’m actually having, very little sex at all. Like, maybe I shouldn’t even be talking about this kind of thing because how would I know what I’m doing? But on the other hand, who else knows about expressing sexuality while living with vulvodynia better than those who have actually lived it?

And then, even if I do pick one category to the exclusion of another, that means I am likely going to wind up automatically repelling some other feminists who do identify with the school of thought that I don’t agree with.  Which may or may not be a good thing for me on a personal level. But even then, I’m bound to make mistakes & say the wrong thing & forget to acknowledge my privilege. I still have a ways to go yet.

Identity crises isn’t the only thing that bothers me about Wolf’s review though.

In the “Battle” of the feminisms, Wolf declares that there is one clear Winner. And that winner is Third-Wave Feminism, as evidenced by US culture & the sheer number of girls & women who identify with this particular movement.

And guess what? In the long battle between the two styles of feminism, Brown, for now, has won.

Somehow, despite Wolf’s claims to the contrary, I don’t think that any kind of feminism has really “Won” yet.

It’s not a popularity contest.

“Winning” means that we can now safely & truly enter a post-feminst age. “Winning” means that the goals of feminism have been achived. If a widely embraced definition of feminism is the notion that “Women are people,” that means that in order to win, for starters, women’s rights around the globe are have been recognized & are enforced –  or ideally, don’t need to be enforced. If being sex-positive is the most important feature to this generation, then why are we still arguing about & bringing up very real flaws in the sex work industry? Why is sexual purity still so strongly cherished to the point of shaming those who are not? And the list of questions goes on…

Are we there yet?
No… I don’t think we’re there yet…

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