Since last Summer, I’ve been on a mission to discover the truth about feminism and on my journey I’ve discovered some pretty random things; A-list, or should I say hair-list, celebrity armpits, a she-chauvinist Spice Girl, lots of books and a Borat clip. These are the window dressings of the mainstream media when it tries to keep us in the shallows and distract us from any depth of thinking that might make us take stock and look elsewhere. But sometimes, you just have to. Take stock I mean.
My daughter is beginning to form her own views about the world and no doubt she’ll soon have a lot of questions about what it means to be a woman. It would be easy to proffer a few Simone de Beauvoir books and let her get on and read them, but this is 2011 (and they depressed the hell out of me when I was a teenager) – our children are digital natives and are able to click their way around the world in a matter of seconds – it’s not going to be the answer for her, or her friends.
I had some burning questions that I wanted to answer so I could feel equipped with facts and knowledge rather than just my own notions: What is feminism in 2011? Is it just the legacy of ‘bra burning women’s libbers’ or is it something that changes with the times? Why do we tiptoe around feminism? Is it evolutionary and alive? And so on.
We have access to every global event both big and small through online news and consumer generated buzz in social media, but you have to dig around to find out about any useful takes on feminism.
Post-millennial feminism is being tied to celebrity culture and gets bad press. When Julia Roberts sashayed along the red carpet, with her arm pits au naturel, she caused a global tabloid frenzy. It was as if an oversight in personal grooming was a radical departure into female activism and it served to dumb down womens’ issues.
Last year, Geri Halliwell let rip about bra-burning lesbianism and tore down the whole Girl Power thing in a soundbite. What a wasted opportunity.
There is some good stuff out there though, here’s a great short from Naomi Wolf who wrote The Beauty Myth and No Logo. I find her a lot more inspirational than Simone de Beauvoir, and that’s what really counts in our time – we all have a need to feel connected rather than subjugated by the weight of intellectual argument and study that some use to define the existence of women.
Feminism is possibly something that connects women more than we believe but our education stumps us at the first post. Cleopatra, Boadicea, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Gladys Aylward and Amelia Earhart are just some of the names that come up in our general education about outstanding women. They’re split by centuries, and isolated into fictions, which is eblematic of their unachievable status for us every day types. I want my daughter to be able to pin her hopes on something contemporary and tangible, like real role models.
Women are often described as the side notes of histroy and overlooked in history books that there are in fact very few real role models to learn from, yet women have done amazing things for centuries and if a sense of equality would surface these great stories, that in itself would be a great thing. Heading to Bangladesh with Save the Children last year made me realise how immensely powerful these real stories of women are when they become connected with other worlds – and while we Western women moan about our own day to day stuff, we so often fail to remember how liberal our society really is. What I have learned as well is that it’s only in the last 100 years or so that the change has become more apparent, and it’s important that the key milestones such as women getting the vote are etched into our minds and not taken for granted.
Still, it’s all quite a serious business when it comes to human rights and feminism and I felt it was a lonely process read several books on the subject in quick succession.
As an antidote, I asked my twitter following if they wrote about it at all and Transatlantic Blonde was recently running a feminist friday blog round up. Liveotherwise pointed me in the direction of her diatribe about Erica Jong’s belief that motherhood means the loss of free, read her There are no bars here post to get the full story and I also found Ellie Levinson had written a book The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism. So no shortage of input from real people on twitter.
Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been reading over the last year:
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism was recommended to me by a friend and I began reading it only to think it a bit fluffy. How wrong I was. I felt helpless, revolted and powerless as I read about sex trafficking and the new social networks that have evolved around prostitution where men rate hookers. This was hardly the Chinese Laundry scene in Thoroughly Modern Millie (the faux feminist Hollywood musical film). It makes for alarming reading, it’s the stuff of nightmares – but now I understand and I don’t know what to do.
The Women’s Room
The Women’s Room is a great read and I enjoyed it. It was notorious for one small sentence which is over- and mis-used, that ‘all men are rapists’. If you have read it, you will know what I mean, if you haven’t, buy it now. It must have been quite something to have read this when it was published. While we have the tales of I Don’t Know How She Does It and Confessions of a Slummy Mummy – this book outlined a life which is alien to me but one I know still exists in Western culture, even though the book is several decades old. My sister read this and some years ago, gave it to a colleague she worked. After reading the book, this woman (who was in her 60s) went home and punched her husband. She was angry that she had bought in to everything he told her without question, she felt her life had been curtailed. I doubt he pressed charges, how she felt afterwards, I don’t know.
Fat is a Feminist Issue – by Susie Orbach, referred to as Fifi by some is actually about how women become complulsive eaters, read Bodies instead, it’s more relevant. I did tweet Susie Orbach for a quote, but she doesn’t seem to reply to tweets. She was the brains behind the recent Dove Real Women campaign and continues to campaign for fair representation of women in the media.
Fear of Flying – Eric Jong, I felt it was more Jackie Collins imbued with psycho-sexual intellectualism.
The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer, still gathering dust, I saw I’m A Celebrity and couldn’t pick up one of her books without sniggering (sorry), I promise to try again.
More (eclectic) reading:
AnyBody is a group of women and men from psychotherapy, media, fashion, law, art, research and academia, which was founded as a not-for-profit limited company in 2003. It’s committed to encouraging a change in cultural attitudes towards bodies, food and eating so that women and children of the next generation can learn to be happy in and look after their bodies.
One of my favourite ever reads about life as it comes and as it is; Silvertown – the story of the life of author Melanie McGrath’s grandmother, Jenny Page. It’s a powerful story and we need more of them.
Stanford – Topics in Feminism – a whistlestop tour of the movement and the philosophical side of Feminism with a good slew of books added to it
Charlotte Perkins was at the vanguard of feminist writing in the US. An interesting and prolific writer, she published 186 short stories and it’s hard to believe that she would not be a blogger if she were alive today, Charlotte Perkins Gilman published “Moving the Mountain”, a discourse on utopian equality.
Ironically, if you search feminism videos on google, this clip from Borat comes up at number 8, a sure sign that not enough is being said or discussed in social media. Need I say more?
Borat – Feminism
Tags: Borat – Feminism