Wednesday, 25 April 2007

"I may look like an anarchist but just take a gander at my share portfolio"

One of the Emerging Scholars yesterday concluded her insight into Raymond Carver's prose with, "Speaking as a feminazi". But of course! Speaking as a feminazi.

She came to chat afterwards, and I couldn't resist hinting that perhaps "feminazi" needed a little further scrutiny. Y'know, that the implied connection with Nazism might not be quite the thing to legitimise one's patriarchy-smashing ways, that the word wasn't exactly coined by Andrea Dworkin's fan club, that, I mean, really, are you opposed to power structures or what?

"Yeah," she said. "But I can't just call myself a feminist or people will think I'm a Cosmo-feminist".

[A "Cosmo-feminist", for those of you who don't regularly dabble in the terminology, is a lass who believes she's at her most empowered in her Playboy regalia.]

Starting to worry that all the folks who've heard I'm a feminist now think of me prancing round on sunday afternoons in a bunny suit, I asked, feebly, "Couldn't you call yourself a radical feminist?"

"But I'm not a radical feminist. I believe in pornography."

I. Believe. In. Pornography. Uttered with all the passionate conviction of nineteen years and some very natty chin piercings.

Here, of course, utterly flummoxed, I retreat. I don't know what language she's speaking, this person who doesn't hold with bunny suits, is fine with "feminazi", has a thing or two to say about Raymond Carver, and believes in pornography.

Ack.

Anyone who can explain to me what "I believe in pornography" means (something like "I believe in Santa Claus"? "I believe pornography will end the war in Iraq"? "I believe what pornography tells me about the world; it is more reliable than the Encyclopaedia Britannica"?) gets a chocolate frog.

Me, I have to go to my essay marking party.

26 comments:

lucy tartan said...

This post of yours came up in my feed reader immediately behind this one at I Blame the Patriarchy:

http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2007/04/24/why-merry-rapists-are-flocking-to-britain/

Your scholar has Stockholm Syndrome. We talked about this sort of thing already, I remember. I think we've all got the same confusions to some degree, and this is incredibly pessimistic, but a putatively raised consciousness is only superficially free of the thinking that allows a woman to say she believes in porn, and dissension from what's actually the baseline default assumption of our culture is probably futile and self-destructive anyway. Believing in porn is probably safer than not believing in it.

Karen said...

(I'm going to have to watch myself so I won't descend into a full-scale rant here)

"I believe in pornography" means "I am a feminist but I am still anxious about what others think of me". Hence her jocular but also rather nervous use of the term "feminazi"- she's trying to play down or soften what she's about to say, in anticipation of the way other members of the class may criticise her by identifying her with a particular stereotype, rather than addressing the actual points she has raised.

The hatchet job on Andrea Dworkin is a perfect example of the way debates, especially about feminist issues, get shut down. I actually did a course called "Feminist Philosophy" or some such thing as a first-year undergraduate and the lecturer repeated that old story about how Dworkin had supposedly said that all sex is rape. We were encouraged to mock Dworkin for thinking such a thing and to snigger at the fact that she was, nevertheless, married. What Dworkin actually did was to point out the way men's domninance over women has been eroticised to such an extent within our culture that it distorts the relationships men and women do have with each other. This would have been a very useful thing for young women to discuss, but it's difficult for a 19 year-old (and even a middle-aged lecturer, it seems) to muster the confidence to brave being characterised (and dismissed) as a Dworkin/feminazi. There's this idea that one has to make compromises just to enter the debate and be taken seriously- in the public arena or even simply the classroom- and all because of this bullish name-calling.
This very good program on the issue was screened on SBS some time last year, I think. It was rather sobering to watch and a good reminder that a lot of pain and misery goes into the production of much pornography.

Miss Eagle said...

Hunnychile, Miss Eagle is speechless but not surprised. What upsets me though is that you and she though only what - a decade??? apart - couldn't comprehend or find common ground. I have a few decades start on both of you. Any wonder I feel like I am on another planet, population ONE - although from time to time I do hear some rustling in the bshes.

alexis said...

Wow, Stockholm Syndrome, that's quite a call. I guess I'd make a slightly less medicalised recourse to hegemony theory, the notion that folks in power use some kinda narrative to persuade the folks who aren't in power to consent to their disempowerment. (When I say "some kinda narrative", I'm thinking something along the lines of "Whoa, baby, you look really POWERFUL in that bunny suit, so how's about you fix me a tequila".)

I don't want to be too hard on this scholar, because at least she's doing quite a lot of thinking. It was just strange to find that someone who'd thought through the multifarious nuances of "feminist" could make such a vague statement as "I believe in pornography". Does that mean she "believes" in everything from James Joyce to snuff movies?

Thanks for your Dworkin-meets-the-University-of-Sydney-philosophy-department anecdote, Karen. I'm not particularly surprised to hear it. One of my first year philosophy lechers was incredibly ungenerous in the way he'd outline his antagonists' arguments: would make them sound utterly ridiculous, so that he could then lop 'em down and rise victorious from their entrails.

I entirely understand the "I am a feminist but I am still anxious about what others think of me" thang. Not entirely immune to that anxiety myself, but I've been lucky enough to inhabit a community that's generally sympathetic to my politics.

alexis said...

Miss Eagle, I reckon we could have found some common ground if we'd kept on chatting long enough. I'm wary of exploiting the teacher/student dynamic too much, although not quite sure where "too much" kicks in.

Hope those bushes keep rustling.

TimT said...

'Speaking as a feminazi' is a wonderful term. It has so many uses!

You could write in letters to newspaper editors:

SIR:

Speaking as a feminazi, I thought your review of the book ____ by X___ was a load of old codswallop!


You could use it as a handy brush-off for telemarketers:

THEM: Good afternoon, do you mind if I talk to you about our product for a few minutes?

YOU: Speaking as a feminazi, p*ss off!


It can be used to give your opinions extra weight at a flower arranging meeting!

Obviously, pansies shouldn't go with hyacinths ever unless there's a couple of nasturtiums thrown into the mix. But that's just me speaking as a feminazi.

It's a convenient greeting for members of the family!

Speaking as a feminazi, hello Mum!

You still haven't returned my book, little brother. Just speaking as a feminazi, you understand.

Hi Dad, and speaking as a feminazi, how's the garden going?


I'd use it myself, but I'm not a feminazi (despite the femasculating effect of my blog!)

And whenever I try and substitute it with the phrase 'Speaking as an inheritor of the traditional patriarchal power structures', people just laugh at me.

(EG:

ME: Speaking as an inheritor of the traditional patriarchal power structures, can I have another slice of cake?

THEM: No!

ME: Damn!


Curses, foiled again!

alexis said...

Wonderful, Tim. And just to add to your comments, in the same spirit of rational debate and philosophical enquiry, I should point out that "Speaking as a feminazi" is an anagram for "Kin seizes a Panama fig". Take that, patriarchy.

Karen said...

That story was a substitute! I was actually going to give you another anecdote about one of the contenders for the grand prize of "biggest dill I've ever encountered in an academic context", but it's best not to put the really gruesome stories in print, even if it did occur in another country. Maybe if you remind me on Friday I can make your hair stand on end with the tale.

I hear you about the philosophy lechers. The course which finally convinced me that it was all just taking up valuable time which should be devoted to reading poetry was run along the lines of Week 1- This is what so-and-so thinks. Week 2- This is why so-and-so is wrong. Repeat ad nauseum.

You're funny, Tim.

TimT said...

In SUDS in the few years when I was a member, the going concern was calling people 'fascist lesbians' behind their back.

Karen said...

That sounds just like my high school, Tim.

alexis said...

"Speaking as a fascist lesbian, can I have another slice of cake?"

Who could say no?

TimT said...

A feminazi, probably.

Karen said...

At my school the official term was "lesbian feminazi" (at least that's what the girl in my 3-unit English class called me), so presumably the fascist lesbians and the feminazis would certainly be able to exchange cake.

alexis said...

I don't know how this happened - a rare chink of grace in the looming wall of homophobia - but amongst my gang at school "lesbian" didn't function as an insult. Nor did I, the resident feminist sterotype, replete with freerange armpit hair and a bad habit of plagiarising Germaine Greer, encounter anything more untoward than occasional bemusement. Them's were the days.

alexis said...

That would be "stereotype".

Karen said...

You must have had a very mature group of friends. High school would have to be the most intensely homophobic environment I've ever encountered, particularly in the earlier years. A lot of girls had this very curious reaction to being at a selective girls' school. They became very anxious about femininity and the "correct" way of being a woman- "I'm at this place, but that doesn't mean I can't be attractive to boys". I was very similar to you as an adolescent, from the sound of things, so it was particularly disheartening to me that the principal topics of conversation at lunch time were hair depiliation and fashion.

(Could write oodles about this, but will restrain myself).

alexis said...

I guess they were pretty mature. It helped that there were a couple of very self-confident and charismatic lefties around the traps. One of my best friends tried to organise a walk-out to protest against atomic testing on Mururoa Atoll in 1995 (noone joined her, but she conscientiously took the day off school). We briefly had an underground student newspaper (foiled when the principal got wind of it). And we tried getting up a year 10 apple boycott because of Tasmania's anti-gay laws (which, at the time, entailed up to 25 years imprisonment for consensual male sex).

Karen said...

Sigh! That's how I wish it had been, but all this other nonsense got in the way.

alexis said...

Sorry to hear it, lady. I think I was just very lucky, and blessed with big sisters who were in the habit of standing up for what they believed in and being none the worse for it.

Karen said...

Well, I did have Kerry (also a resident feminist) there and she certainly helped me through it. And my other sister was just two years below. Needless to say, I would sooner send a child of mine to Mars than send him or her to a single sex or a selective school.

alexis said...

I went to a private gels' school, the same one for thirteen years. I have serious reservations about the fact that I had access to everything from Olympic swimming pools to classical Greek teachers to a world champion debating coach, while other kids were making do with a fibro shack, an asphalt playground and a couple of underpaid teachers. I also have serious reservations about the limited education I got in social justice issues. And about our failure to reflect on, let alone critique, the social system of which we were so obviously the beneficiaries.

("Speaking as a scion of the bourgeoisie, can I have another slice of cake?")

I don't have any reservations about the girlsiness of it all, though. Except for the odd harangue from on high about how Ladies Don't Run on the Colonnade, it mostly felt like we were people, not girls.

Of course, I could well have had a pretty idiosyncratic experience of all this. No doubt there were other kids who were victimised.

Karen said...

Maybe we both had idiosyncratic experiences- just in opposite directions. But I found the school itself oppressive too, with great big dollops of that "young ladies" nonsense. I felt such a sense of liberation leaving it. I didn't even go to the ten-year reunion- I went up to the Hunter Valley with my sister and the only two girls from school I'm still in touch with. Wine and cheese were much more palatable than answering questions about why I'm not married and why I have no intention of ever being married.

JahTeh said...

You all make me feel terribly inadequate about school. All I ever did was run the sp bookmaking tab and get a reputation for having the most excuses for not playing sport.

alexis said...

Both very honourable and important roles.

Sport and I didn't always see eye to eye either.

emmy said...

A bit tardy a response, but having just seen you all flesh-like in my home ...
The porn industry is so ruddy huge I reckon it would be real tricky trying not to believe in it. Your person is prolly stating (as many of us feel the need to do these days)that she is no prude no sirree. These 'non-prudish, I quite like sex thank you very much' types are sometimes known as "sex-positive feminists" who 'believe' it is possible to contribute to the sex-work/porn industry without harming themselves or others.

Is it Haigs?

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