This, too, is a feminist act

29 May

(Content notes for rape and rape culture, gendered violence, all sorts of fun examples of patriarchy at its worst. Yeah, sorry. Hopefully I’ll have a lighter, fluffier post soon, but first allow me to talk about why the light-and-fluffy posts matter…)

“What happened to your blog?” my mother asks me. “I used to enjoy reading it.”
“Really?” I say. “I thought it would be too feminist for your tastes.”
“I didn’t think it was feminist,” she replies. “Well, I suppose there was that one post about that woman in Texas….

For the record, “that woman in Texas” would be gubernatorial candidate and filibustering hero Wendy Davis. She definitely qualifies for the title “Feminist Icon”, and the post I wrote about her centred around the need for safe, legal, accessible abortion. This is, to state the blindingly obvious, something of a major feminist issue. We’re talking about a situation where women’s lives hang in the balance.

But you know what? Something doesn’t have to be a literal manner of life or death before it becomes a feminist issue. It just has to involve a situation wherein some people have more unearned privilege than others. When we’re talking about issues that can cause death and debilitation – things like unsafe abortions, or domestic violence, or FGM – that privilege disparity is not only vital to address, it also tends to be a lot simpler to spot. It’s easy to find someone who agrees that these things are terrible and should be stopped. It’s somewhat harder to find this agreement when talking about the context in which these things occur.

Because these horrors do not exist in a vacuum. Nor is there a dichotomy between the “real” feminist issues like these, and “distractions” like examining gender sterotyping in videogames, or picking apart the problematic messages in a well-known book series, or pointing out how rape jokes permeate our culture, because these things are not distractions at all. They’re important parts of the picture.* The jokes which are the tip of the rape culture iceberg, normalising an act of horrendous brutality and twisting our perceptions of it until it’s seen as just a bit of fun, a crime so easily dismissed with boys-will-be-boys and she-wanted-it-really arguments. Easy even to erase the victim entirely, her pain irrelevant in comparison with the perpetrator’s gratification: take the ex-coworker of mine whose response to news of a potential rape was not “was she okay?” but “was she hot?” The games that reinforce the idea of women as trophies to be won. The character design choices that present “female” as a complete personality, as though that’s all there is to a woman. As though we’re all interchangeable – an attitude I’ve sadly encountered in real life, where the flaws of Stereotypical Woman are assumed to be flaws shared by all womankind. All women are bossy, so their requests should be treated as onerous.** Women never say what they mean, so when she tells you to stop, she really wants you to carry on.*** Women are irrational and need a nice logical man (or several) to make their decisions for them. Like a room full of men voting on a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Like a woman’s male partner demanding that he be allowed to control her finances, her clothing, how and with whom she spends her time… and be allowed to dole out punishment if she disobeys.

I’m not saying that any one sexist comment, or story, or game, directly causes rape or violence against women or anything like that. But they are both symptoms and reinforcers of the culture in which these things occur. Even if they seem harmless in isolation: the reality is that nothing exists in isolation, and we need to look at the bigger picture. No single drop of water causes the devastating flood, but they all play a part.

So when I talk about pink covers with headless girls on them, I’m talking about one example of a much wider system that pressurises people of all genders to stay within their rigidly-defined Gender Boxes. When I talk about hunting for protagonists outside the “straight white male” demographic, I’m talking about one example of a culture in which the experiences of straight white men are seen as more worthy of attention and accolades. When I talk about the team behind Doctor Who casting yet another white man as their title character, I’m talking about one example of a world that affords fewer opportunities to women and people of colour. All of these add up to the necessary-and-sufficient condition for “feminist issue” which I mentioned above: an imbalance of unearned privilege.**** And when I point out this imbalance, or go up to publishing industry professionals and question the segregation of “girl books”, or make sure my brother has access to stories of people less privileged than him, those are feminist acts.

So let me be entirely clear on what I’m doing here. I’m talking about matters of disparity. I’m talking about action taken to redress these matters. These things might not always be of the same magnitude as the obvious “big feminist issues”, but that doesn’t change the fact that they exist on the same spectrum. So yes, this blog is feminist. And I’m proud of that fact.


* And the content creators I just linked to all have my deepest respect. If I can grow up to be half as awesome as these women, I’ll be very satisfied.

** Happened to me several times. The example that most sticks out in my memory was probably a work situation in which a male co-worker asked me to make him some tea, then accused me of being “bossy” when I pointed out that I was in the middle of an important task and he was capable of making it himself.

*** Also happened to me, although it could have been much worse. He listened to “stop” the second time (and expressed surprise when I realised I actually meant it). I’m aware there are men out there who don’t. I was lucky.

**** You may note that I don’t say anything about this imbalance necessarily aligning with gender, and that several of my examples include race as a factor, while the posts I’ve linked to also touch on weight, disability status and sexuality, to name a few. Once again, examining the wider picture is important here: the disadvantages affecting women do not exist in isolation from those affecting other groups, a fact which becomes particularly obvious when you consider that these other groups also contain women. Therefore, now and always, My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit.


One Response to “This, too, is a feminist act”

  1. Sean Newham May 31, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    Keep being awesome.

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