*frantically waving the feminist flag, jumping up and down, blowing a whistle, tearing my hair out…*
Laura Woodhouse // 10 August 2009
Looks like last week was national ignore a feminist week. As if The Times’ article bemoaning the supposed lack of young feminists wasn’t enough, we now get this article from The Independent on Sunday, in which Susie Mesure claims that “the sisterhood” of feminists and women in the West have been silent on Lubna Hussein and women’s rights in Sudan. Apparently we are:
..too busy worrying about whether lads’ mags such as Nuts and Loaded are degrading to women (yes) or if pictures of impossibly skinny models dent a woman’s self-confidence (need I answer?). Or if women are misrepresented in adland as bloated, constipated, greying airheads overwhelmed by laundry.
Now that women have largely won the big political fights in this country, Harman’s concerns notwithstanding, we sisters, it seems, are too busy picking personal fights over assaults on our personal image or perceived discrimination in the workplace to worry about the big political fights still to be won in countries such as Sudan. That, at any rate, is the view of feminists such as Jean Edelstein, an author and journalist, who believes that the second wave of feminism has gone soft, with concerns about work-life balance and gender-related pay gaps taking precedence over hard issues such as subjugation of women and sexual violence.
I don’t think I need to tell any readers here that feminists are still quite clearly concerned with sexual violence against women – just witness the explosion of reclaim the night marches aimed at highlighting and challenging this very problem – nor that while issues such as lads’ mags and body image may seem petty, those of us who spent our teenage years self harming and who continue to have our lives and achievements affected by our poor body image and low self esteem see things very differently. As for referring to the pay gap as “soft” and workplace discrimination as only “perceived”, well, that’s just insulting to all the women – all of us – who suffer low pay and harassment in the workplace simply due to our gender (and, yes, that does include – for many of us – having been born as the sex which gives birth to the next generation of workers).
There’s also this little gem, which confuses many feminists’ desire to listen to and respect women’s own interpretation of practices which an outsider could term misogynistic – witness the discussion over hijab – with a failure to condemn laws which violently enforce public dress codes:
Add to that the pervading doctrine of cultural relativism – that an individual’s beliefs should be understood in terms of their own culture – and it becomes very difficult to find anyone publicly banging the feminist drum for the likes of Hussein.
What really gets me about this article, though, is how the author wilfully ignores the evidence that western feminists are not silent on Lubna Hussein and women in Sudan. She actually quotes a comment F Word reader Kristen left on my post about Hussein:
“This is feminism at the coalface, isn’t it?” wrote one last week. “Certainly puts the ‘debate’ about shaving legs and it being OK to like pink and still be a feminist into stark perspective!”
Which is a fair point, but for Mesure to use this comment – without any reference to The F Word or its context – as evidence that feminists are “silent” on women’s rights in Sudan is dishonest and unfair: she must have read my post in order to find Kristen’s comment! Other feminist bloggers have also covered the story; yet Mesure chooses to ignore them as well.
As Kate Smurthwaite says, Mesure could have used her article to positively encourage women to protest, or write to their MPs, or do whatever it is she thinks we should be doing. Instead, she chooses to ignore the facts in front of her and reinforce the stereotype of the petty, in-fighting, self obsessed modern feminist.
Where’s the sisterliness in that?
(On the plus side, The Independent also ran this editorial by Janet-Street Porter which is bang-on in its criticism of the bullshit levelled at Harriet Harman last week.)