In-fighting injures feminism

by Guest Blogger // 10 July 2009, 00:46

Ellie Levenson, author of The Noughtie Girl's Guide To Feminism, wants an end to the in-fighting...

One of the defining characteristics of the feminist movement, as well as other liberal movements throughout history, has been the in-fighting and internal spats which have at times becomes so important to the participants that they overshadow everything else, taking over as the primary cause on which people focus their efforts.

What I had not realised though is that these spats don’t necessarily happen organically, but are pushed upon you by others who, wanting a good story, would rather a good fight than a co-ordinated campaign. I’ve specifically noticed this over the past week while promoting my book, where some branches of the media are only interested in it if it can be written about in terms of an argument between feminists, or as one person put it, a bitch fight. Clearly this language isn’t helpful, and neither are such spats.

In some ways I have gone along with this for publicity. I wrote a column in which I claimed that previous generations of feminists have let us down. Have they? Well, in some sense they have. After all, feminism has moved on and criticising us, which many older feminists do, for our clothes, our sex lives, our alcohol consumption, is not helpful. But they also achieved much for which we should be grateful.

Other publicity opportunities I have been less keen to take up - an national newspaper article, for example, that wished to pitch my mum and I against each other each talking about feminism from the perspective of our own generation. We have things to say on this, of course - we agree with each other on about 80 per cent of feminist issues, and strongly disagree on the rest. But we didn’t trust the editors not to make us out to be having a major argument. After all, it’s not just my mum and I who largely agree with each other but most feminists have more that binds us together than tears us apart.

Of course my book, which looks at issues affecting women’s lives in today’s western society, has lots which other feminists may take issue with. To start with, the cover looks like "chick lit". This is a deliberate decision to try to bring in readers who wouldn’t normally pick up a book on feminism. If my book is only read by people who already consider themselves to be feminist then it will be a failure.

And the lines I take inside the book will no doubt rile many feminists. I do not think that you have to believe in abortion to be a feminist, though I am pro-choice and would like everyone to be. I don’t have a problem with short skirts, high heels or pink. I do think that when a man buys you dinner it is disingenuous to think you haven’t given him the impression that something sexual may happen.

And I am guilty of not being sisterly towards all women in it. I have an issue with Fay Weldon who I call a ‘misogynist in feminist clothing’ for example. And it’s not in the book but I have written before against the journalist Liz Jones, who I think does women a huge disservice with her writing.

I know that many readers of The F Word will take issue with many of the things I say in my book. And they should - discussion is how we develop and form our own ideas. Similarly I don’t agree with everything on The F Word, though I have found it very helpful in informing my own thinking and have quoted it in many places in the book. I suspect that over the coming years I will find myself speaking on a platform with many of The F Word’s contributors. And I expect that in some of these cases the organisers will have invited us so that we can have our own spat.

I very much hope that we manage to avoid this, whether we disagree or not on the issues, as feminism will only succeed when we stop the internal fighting and agree that as long as you make your own choices in life, whatever those choices are, if they are made freely then they are feminist choices.

Comments From You

Jessica // Posted 10 July 2009 at 10:33

"I do think that when a man buys you dinner it is disingenuous to think you haven’t given him the impression that something sexual may happen."

Will pay dinner for sex, eh? That's twisted. Sorry, but I would never want to have dinner with a man expecting me to spread because he paid for my food. I'd rather go out with men who pay dinner because, well, they want to do something nice, not purchase me.

Jesus.

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 July 2009 at 10:48

Ellie, I have to admit upfront I've not read your book yet. But I read the piece your wrote in the Independent and here.

I think infighting can be really destructive, and fully support the idea that we shouldn't engage in it. But still.

It seems to me that what has alienated young women from feminism is having it repackaged and reframed in explicitly misogynist terms by the mainstream media. I think that we (meaning us younger feminists born in in the 70s and 80s) are actually quite cut off from knowing much at all about the history of feminist activism. What are most young women forming their views about feminisms on the basis of? Actual information about our mothers' feminism (if they happened to be feminists), or media stereotypes?

It's not like I don't think that there shouldn't be any critiques of feminisms and feminist activism at any point in time, but still, I think we need to be careful not to play into and repeat misogynist stereotyping meant explicitly to ridicule feminists and older women in general.

Cath Elliott // Posted 10 July 2009 at 11:25

"I do think that when a man buys you dinner it is disingenuous to think you haven’t given him the impression that something sexual may happen."

You have got to be kidding me? And you're wondering why so many feminists have already taken issue with statements made in your book? Come on, this is just complete and utter nonsense!

As is:

"as long as you make your own choices in life, whatever those choices are, if they are made freely then they are feminist choices."

No, they're really not. Just because a feminist does something does not make the thing she does a feminist choice. Making a decision to defend rape jokes for instance Ellie, that's not feminist, no matter how you try and dress it up.

To be honest this just reads to me like "I've written a book that I know is going to spark lots of controversy within the movement, and partly that's because I bowed in to commercial pressures 'cos I wanted it to sell well so I could make a name for myself. But hey, be nice to me sisters, I didn't really mean to sell you all out."

Perhaps you should have thought more about the reception this was going to get before you wrote it if you're not prepared to take the flack now. There's a bit of trying to shut the stable door about this article, but I think it's probably too late, the horse has already well and truly bolted.

Lydia // Posted 10 July 2009 at 12:01

I have so much to say about this post that I don't even know where to start. So I'm just going to pick up a couple of things that really riled me.

"I don’t have a problem with short skirts, high heels or pink."
Um, neither do most of us. Feminism being about choice (whatever that means) for women.

"I do think that when a man buys you dinner it is disingenuous to think you haven’t given him the impression that something sexual may happen."
Surely the fact that you're *on a date* implies that something sexual *might* happen. Do you really believe that women shouldn't let men buy them dinner because what men are doing really is paying for sex? I've heard many misogynists make that comment.

I have yet to read the book, I intend to though, but some of the quotes I have read sound pretty terrifying. Like the one Subtext picked out about rape not being as bad as simply physically attacked.

When you belittle women's experiences in this way, even making women feel bad for allowing a man to buy them dinner once in a while (personally, I like to go Dutch), I don't think you should be surprised that many feminists are angry about this.

Kristin // Posted 10 July 2009 at 12:17

Elly, are you still asking female politicians what colour knickers they wear? That was sooooo funny.

Something else funny - a man bought me dinner the other night and he didn't seem to be under the impression that anything sexual was going to happen because he'd paid. We just had a good laugh. Maybe there's something wrong with me.

Molly // Posted 10 July 2009 at 12:46

Obviously this author sees the F-Word as a way to promote her book, even though she says that if it's "only" read by people who already consider themselves feminist it will have failed.

Top tips for Elly Levenson: Bra-burning was a stupid myth invented by the media - it never 'appened! Feminists were not gleefully burning bras like the Nazis did with books. And it's only the media who perpetuate the myth that feminists must be "unfeminine" and man hating. She's bought into a load of old guff. It's sad really.

I agree with her about Fay Weldon and LIz Jones. Unfortunately Elly herself isn't doing much to help feminism, especially if she seriously believes that if a man buys you dinner it's "disingenuous" not to think he can expect "something sexual" in return. That's a pretty bad indictment of men as well, wouldn't you say?!
And the book has a 'chicklit' cover to entice non-feminists?! Oh yeah, very clever.
Give me strength!

Jessica // Posted 10 July 2009 at 12:48

As for what the post is about: in-fighting.

Like any other feminists I have days when I don't want to hear about one more flaming war. I think we all get tired of it at some point.

But unlike you, I think those debates, as taxing as they are, are bloody vital. Feminism wouldn't give a shit about intersectionality and womanism if it wasn't for the endless debates the feminist community and its different members has had about race/disability/age + gender.

Feminism cannot progress without really painful discussions to be had with those who really disagree with you. In-fighting, as tiring as it is, had a role to play in how we feminists construct the movement(s) we want to be part of.

Now: I don't think the reaction you're getting regarding your article(s) and book is in-fighting. It's anger at having someone claiming to represent "our" feminism only to say "hey, if a man pays for a meal, you're a bit of a slutty thing not to pay him back by sucking his {...}".

That, I have huge issues with; but like I said it's not *in*-fighting: I just don't recognise your line of thought to be feminist to begin with.

(And if it's about attracting women who wouldn't be interested in feminism in the first place.... Why posting here?).

Ariel Silvera // Posted 10 July 2009 at 12:52

While I can see your point about avoiding shit-stirring from external sources that just want cheap copy, I'm not sure if the call to end in-fighting is realistic. Much of the in-fighting that happens in feminism is fundamental to the rights of a lot of people.

For example, there are great divisions inside feminism about trans issues, as well as sex work. Many feminists would exclude trans women, and/or trans men, from feminist struggle or women-only services such as domestic violence shelters.

On the other hand, many feminists will support measures that harm sex workers rather than hear their needs and help in harm reduction initiatives.

Feminism also has its share of race problems, as the Amanda Marcotte debacle showed last year, and when most faces of Feminism everywhere are still those of the white middle class, with black feminist writers sidelined as 'special interest'. Which needs to change.

Disability is a big issue as well. Many Feminists still don't regard disability as a feminist issue, as an issue that is as gendered as all these other problems are. Once more, the work of feminists with disabilities gets put on the 'special interests' column.

These aren't simple petty issues. They are issues that affect people's lives, sometimes which put women's lives at risk.

I think these are issues worth struggling for, even if they split up feminist groups. We cannot have a feminism that ignores these experiences and upholds the transphobia, racism, ableism and classism inherent in our society.

Holly Combe // Posted 10 July 2009 at 12:56

Not to turn this into a purely dinner-themed debate but, personally, I prefer to take the initiative and pay for dinner myself. Then I let my date pay next time (instigating a taking it-in-turns approach) because, to be honest, I'm too skint to pay on every occasion. If I could afford to, I would though.

Whether or not sex happens is an entirely separate issue. I don't think anyone has the right to assume anything.

JenniferRuth // Posted 10 July 2009 at 12:57

I do think that when a man buys you dinner it is disingenuous to think you haven’t given him the impression that something sexual may happen.

Wow.

Yeah, you lost me right there.

Having someone buy dinner for you is not consent for sex. Unless you think all sex is something to be bought. Do you think kissing means the man should expect you to put out? What about drinking? Or just going on a date?

Emily // Posted 10 July 2009 at 13:07

Holly, you are being dis-in-gen-uous!

Holly Combe // Posted 10 July 2009 at 13:25

...I have no issue with a man who wants to pay for dinner to "do something nice" if he happens to be the one to volunteer first but I expect the same courtesy from him if I say it's my round. In a date situation, I think this is crucial. (It's a sliding scale. For example, I'm happy to let a person pay if I'm working for her or him because the given context means I have had to accept that person's more active role, as the "boss", anyway.)

Denise // Posted 10 July 2009 at 14:40

I can see that it won't be great if this turns into a dinner debate, but still. If Elly Levenson believes it's disingenuous not to think something sexual might happen if you let a man buy you dinner, she must have a deep distrust, if not hatred, of men in general. And I thought that was what her book was supposed NOT to be about.

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 July 2009 at 15:31

@Jessica @Ariel That's a good point, I hadn't been thinking about that earlier - but I wonder if it's right to call that in-fighting?

It'd obviously be great if it was possible to address issues of oppression within feminism (such as racism and ablism, etc), without it being a fight. Isn't it part of the problem that attempts to bring up (for example) racism within feminism draw a defensive, fighty sort of reaction?

But, yes, obviously it wouldn't be productive to have a situation where there's no disagreement within/between feminisms and feminists.

sianmarie // Posted 10 July 2009 at 15:55

but...i have felt pressured into having sex because a man bought me dinner/drinks. and once when a woman bought me dinner. that pressure
is there. when i was young, and the first few times it happened, i
went along with it,even though i didn't really want to. i seemed to
have a lot of sex that i didn't want to have when i was younger
because i felt like i owed it to the other person, as "after all,
they did buy me dinner." as i got older and stronger, i didn't allow
myself to feel pressured into having sex EVER again. when you're
young, it is easy to feel pressured into having sex for many reasons,
including having a meal bought for you.

i don;t agree that it is is disengeuous not to expect that to happen -
the fact is no man or woman should expect sex on the basis of a meal,
but the fact can't be denied that it does happen. and that is what
needs sorting out. we need to empower young women that sex is
something they should do for enjoyment's sake, not to "lose face" or
feel that they owe it.
>

Jessica // Posted 10 July 2009 at 16:14

@jess, I guess I wanted to point out that good things come out of anger. In the past four years I can't think of any really strong, painful debate that the blogosphere had that did not, eventually, either produced something worthwhile, or flagged the need for feminism(s) to constantly evolve and reposition our stance when it comes to practice what we preach.

(...and I'm saying that as someone who often experiences extreme feminist blogs fatigue.)

I'm not saying we should all go ahead and call Ellie names of course - but then again, a call for an "in-fighting ceasefire" before any in-fighting even took place isn't the best pre-emptive move ever. It strikes me as an exercise in damage-control, before anyone has the time to critique her book, which is a red-flag to me.

And to add another layer of #fail by mentioning that paid dinner bill = sex I.O.U isn't cool.

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 July 2009 at 16:17

@sianmarie I think you're absolutely right.

Jessica // Posted 10 July 2009 at 16:18

... and yes, to echo jess, @sianmarie has it nailed.

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 July 2009 at 16:23

@Jessica Yes, you're right. Maybe there's no other way to address these issues than the painful way :/

George // Posted 10 July 2009 at 16:32

@Jess - I'm really not sure whether "feministing infighting" actually happens!

I do know that people can form collectives that essentially create an 'in group' of cool/radical/subversive/whatever individuals, and that these groups seem prone to fighting, bickering, popularity contests etc. But this hasn't got anything to do with "The Feminist Movement" (whatever that might be) - it's got to do with the fact that people act like idiots when they're put into groups! i.e. Think Das E periment in a radical squat ...

Other than that, the so-called catfighting is actually a lengthy, nuanced, technical, difficult, painful, essential debate that women have been having for quite some time now. But women don't do that, do they? They gossip and bitch and complain. They definitely don't have political theories or philosophical arguments. Nope, they disown their own mothers and chat behind each other's backs. Yep.

I actually think that buying into this media myth of the se y bitchy feminists vs the authentic hairy feminists is bloody well accepting that women are stupid, spiteful and shallow, and unable to come up with anything worthwhile. Bollocks to that. I do not have enough time to go reiterating the same old oppressive rubbish, and I'm sure we mostly agree on that.

As for the dinner comment - ffs, of course some men assume you're going to sleep with them postprandially. Sometimes this is because you're on a date. Sometimes it's because it's your partner. Sometimes it's because they're a seist who assumes a right to your body. Sometimes it's you that's doing the assuming, and the girl that you thought was up for it turns you down and you're all upset. Point is, it means nothing without contet! This is entirely seperate to the fact women are not seual commodities and should not be treated as such by men ... but hey it happens ... but that doesn't mean that we have to like it/accept it/be 'pragmatic' and pretend it doesn't hurt (in a nutshell).

As for pink high heels or whatever ... yeh. Very controversial.

msruth // Posted 10 July 2009 at 16:42

Dear Ellie,

I think you may be confusing 'in-fighting' with debate. Yes, the way the media chooses to depict disagreements within feminism can be damaging, but that has way more to do with problems with the media's attitude to feminism than with feminism itself.

Personally I think that the day

"when we stop the internal fighting and agree that as long as you make your own choices in life, whatever those choices are, if they are made freely then they are feminist choices"

will be the day that feminism stagnates and dies.

Funnily, I was quite interested in reading your book until I read this article...

Catherine Redfern // Posted 10 July 2009 at 16:44

Just briefly on the issue of why this post is here and people saying it's promoting her book, well, Ellie's book is the first mainstream (i.e. not academic, aimed at general layperson) book about feminism in general that has come out of the UK for ages. Probably the last big one was Natasha Walter's The New Feminism in 1999.

The book will appear in your local bookshop and will get a lot of attention and cause a lot of discussion. So, I think it's ok to highlight this on this site, and for Ellie to do a guest post. I think for that reason that she was invited to do so and she chose what to write about in the guest post.

I think a full review is in the works, which will appear on The F Word in due course.

Karen // Posted 10 July 2009 at 18:26

One good thing here: we appear to have all united to condemn what we see as inappropriate in Elly's book! If there is a problem with an all-in-feminist-v-feminist bitchfight looking likely, I can't see it by evidence of the comments I've seen here! I've never prostituted myself by using sex to pay for dinner, household goods, privileges either and if the man is a gentleman, he won't expect you to. If they do, you know it's time to direct them to the door with a message to get lost.

polly styrene // Posted 10 July 2009 at 21:15

"The book will appear in your local bookshop and will get a lot of attention and cause a lot of discussion. "

Strangely enough, a friend of mine pointed out a review of the book in the Metro, and said it sounded awful and I should blog about it. I took a look and decided I couldn't be bothered. It was the same old kind of 'empowerment feminism' that's been peddled since the 70's by Cosmopolitan et al.

Of course it will get attention. It's remarkably easy to get attention from the mainstream media by just repeating misogynist tropes and dressing them up as 'feminism'. But you don't need to buy this book. The Daily Mail's online after all......

Amity // Posted 10 July 2009 at 21:26

I'm working on my review of Ellie's book for The F Word but it will be a day or two yet -- I've been on holiday for three weeks and need to go over my notes.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 July 2009 at 22:41

Personally, I do think that debating (or 'arguing' etc) is different depending on who the other person is. I don't see another feminist from the same perspective as a layperson or troll or the misogynist du jour. I do feel that if the person one is having a discussion with is talking in good faith and seriously wants to have a discussion and believes in women's rights, there's more hope for a resolution because there is a lot in common.

It doesn't mean that conversations with others can't be meaningful, or that other feminists (or ourselves) can't hold opinions that are ill-thought out, steeped in the patriarchy or plain misogynistic, or that they are good allies, so each situation is different and needs to be examined on its own merits. At the bottom of a lot of these issues, I feel, is normally privilege or prejudice, which is to be expected, really. None of us are completely free from conditioning and it blindsides all of us sooner or later.

I respect the right of others to feel tired of arguments, much as though I feel they can be necessary to hone what we think, and move forward. They can certainly be draining, particularly for the most marginalised among us. That's why as allies we need to pull our weight, so that it's not always the POC and the transwomen etc having to explain to yet another privileged white middle class cis feminist why their theory does not trump their reality.

Sometimes, we are all trying to do the right thing. It just so happens that sometimes, we're also letting the patriarchy etc get the better of us. But without this being pointed out, without seeing how we affect people, we can't learn.

@ Catharine Redfern: I see your reasons for the guest post and it makes sense. Whilst many of us might despair at some of the ideas in the next mainstream feminist book, and wish that more feminist books, maybe with different opinions were published and publicised, this does need to be covered, and why not through the author themselves?

A site like the F word is meant to be diverse, and sometimes that means feminists publishing things we disagree with. Not to mean we can't disagree in comments (don't get me started!).

@ George: I think the womanist/feminist WOC issue and the transwomen / some radical feminists situation ( don't even mention sex work!) is more than a few bickering individuals. We have to admit that feminist theory isn't always free of discrimination to be able to move on. And we have to admit that feminism, like everything else, can be prone to people not checking their privilege, which causes friction between minorities and more privileged groups. These are issues that are 'institutionalised' in that they affect many people on both sides, and the only way to make them better is to confront just how deeply we hold our prejudices and how even the best meaning people aren't free from it all.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 10 July 2009 at 23:31

Hi all,

I'm away for a few days but will address all your points when I'm back next week.

Ellie

zak jane keir // Posted 11 July 2009 at 01:42

Going back to the Dinner Debate, no one is entitled to sex because they paid for someone else's food. However, if you accept a *date* invitation from someone you have no romantic/sexual interest in, it's polite to clarify the issue beforehand.

polly styrene // Posted 11 July 2009 at 08:54

*and criticising us, which many older feminists do, for our clothes, our sex lives, our alcohol consumption, is not helpful.*

Can you please name these *older feminists* who you claim are doing this? It's very easy to say *older feminists/radical feminists/younger feminists/delete as appropriate are x/y/z* but unless you can quote me actual examples I tend to be sceptical. I think you might find that it's actually the Daily Mail who's doing all these things, not older feminists.

"as long as you make your own choices in life, whatever those choices are, if they are made freely then they are feminist choices. "

Really, was Rosemary West a feminist then when she made the *free choice* to commit multiple murders and rapes?

The Onion had a satirical piece on this idea once *Women now empowered by everything a woman does*

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/women_now_empowered_by_everything

Jennifer Drew // Posted 11 July 2009 at 10:10

There is nothing new in this latest general book on pseudo feminism. The author Ellie Levenson is promoting individualism not feminism. There is no critique of precisely how our male-dominated and male-centered society operates - instead Ms. Levenson claims feminism is all about individual choice and irrespective of whether or not this impacts negatively or promotes patriarchal myths it is defined as 'feminism.'

The fact this book is promoted as 'chick lit' says it all. If so-called feminist authors capitulate to publishers' demands for flimsy, lightweight books then of course feminism will be seen as totally irrelevant to young women. Feminism has never been about individualism but is all about the politics of patriarchy and how these ideas appear as 'natural' and reinforce women's oppression and subordination to men as a group.

Too radical? Well feminism is all about challenging patriarchal myths and no, men do not have the right to expect female sexual servicing simply because the man has bought dinner. But the notion of women's sexual autonomy and rights is something so radical it has to be constantly challenged. Male ownership of women's bodies and sexualities is one of the primary methods of ensuring women as a group remain subordinated to men as a group.

wriggles // Posted 11 July 2009 at 11:27

I wish to echo those who've said that if something needs to be raised, and there is a reaction to counter that, a struggle will ensue.

Not only does this not weaken feminism, it's unavoidable. If you sit on disagreements, you get explosions- it is also oppressive.

This means that not only is the title of this post is misconstrued.

What really weakens feminism is the way we disagree with each other and as someone already said; sorry I'm about to time out, refusal to admit that some things fall outside the remit of feminism. That is what a feminist does, doesn't = feminism. I know that is painful, but I can't see how it can be any other way.

delphyne // Posted 11 July 2009 at 14:01

Is there any possibility that women in their thirties could stop referring themselves and other women as girls? I mean really, do men in political movements ever write books like "A boys guide to Marxism"? No they don't, and there's a reason for that - men aren't expected to belittle themselves or make themselves frivolous before their political arguments can be even listened to.

Jennifer Drew is right that what you are promoting is individualism, Ellie, not feminism. In fact you appear to have completely bypassed feminist analysis in order to create a book that will be acceptable to publishers and to men (and to women who like pink book-covers apparently).

Feminism isn't about choice - that is libertarianism or Thatcherism. Most women in this world have choices that are severely limited by male supremacy, so pretending that every choice a woman makes is a feminist choice is specious and yes disingenuous. Feminism is about freeing women from male oppression and if you're pretending otherwise you aren't helping women.

Also Fay Weldon has written some really good women-centred books. At least she was a feminist for a while before she sold out. Same with Liz Jones in the 90s - Marie Claire was an excellent magazine when she edited it, focusing on women's issues and publishing some very impressive in-depth journalism. They've made a contribution, can you claim the same when you are attacking them?

delphyne // Posted 11 July 2009 at 14:12

Also political movements always have fighting - both infighting and political struggles and wider struggles over ideology and direction. It's sexist to think that women in feminism should be above all that or should feel guilty for being part of it. It's a double standard that men in politics don't face. They are allowed their disagreements, even huge disagreements that sometimes turn into wars. At least feminism has never declared war on anyone, nor has a war been fought in feminism's name.

It sounds like you are telling women to be nice and be quiet. Politics and ideas are generally forged in struggle, therefore feminism is going to be no different from any other liberation movement.

Laura // Posted 11 July 2009 at 16:40

There seems to be a confusion in this post between the media wanting to sell feminism as a 'bunch of women fighting' and the valid critiques within the feminist movement that create the change and evolution that all movements need.

As for the dinner quote, because so many folks are harping on it - by making that statement you are agreeing to the power dynamic set by both patriarchy (the various ways men get access to woman's sex) and kyriarchy (those with more funds get more access to everything, as well as power structures in place on issues of race, ability, etc...). If that is an important stance to defend in your difference from other feminists (rather than discuss racism, classism, able-ism, transphobia) than your work is hardly original or a transforming force for the feminist movement.

Louise Livesey // Posted 11 July 2009 at 19:28

The biggest problem here is the assumption that feminism is inherently a L(L)iberal endeavour - i.e. just about tweaking the system round the edges. As such it all becomes about choice and women's freedom to make them. Now that's a start, perhaps, and laudable but it isn't an end point. It's fundamentally flawed for a start because is women make decisions without reference to a feminist ethic they end up repeating oppressions over other women.

So a woman freely choosing to imprison another woman as a houseslave isn't a feminist. A woman freely choosing to pimp another woman isn't a feminist. We can't make free choice the marker of whether it fits a feminist identity. An action isn't automatically feminist because it's done by a woman.

Better is to think about feminism as an ethic of action. Better still let's drop the insistence that the only "valid" feminism is a liberal one. It has it's place, perhaps, but I'd rather have my social action ethically informed and radically based - aiming to make root and branch change to women's lives rather than enpower a select few to continue to oppress the many.

Sam Rico // Posted 11 July 2009 at 20:00

So, basically, you want us to all agree on something which is, or is at least close to, your feminism, which at a glance looks to me like some sort of 3rd-wave liberal feminism. Sorry, but this doesn't add anything new, most feminists would like feminists to unite, but they all have different ideas of what to unite on, hence the in-fighting. I agree that it is, pragmatically, a problem, but just saying 'all feminists should agree on sticking to one type of feminism- mine' doesn't really help. Thats why there is real debate between the different types.

delphyne // Posted 12 July 2009 at 13:55

"I think you might find that it's actually the Daily Mail who's doing all these things, not older feminists."

I don't think Ellie will be blaming the Daily Mail for anything any time soon. Biting the hand that feeds and all that:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1193385/Feminists-flirt-noughtie-ideas.html

Ellie, if the Daily Mail like your ideas about what feminism is, maybe it's time for a rethink, no?

To me this book looks like a journalist who wanted a book deal and found an angle, not feminism or women's liberation.

MariaS // Posted 12 July 2009 at 14:17

Marcella at Abyss2Hope picks up on the uncritical way that Levenson takes the "humourless feminist" stereotype seriously - Levenson says here:
"... feminism in the past has been characterised by po-faced earnestness, It is a movement where all too often humour has been missing"

Marcella's take on Levenson's article:
"Women who worked tirelessly on behalf of other women and girls who were raped or murdered by men are bad feminists -- who must be repudiated -- because when they did this work they didn't have enough humor.

Levenson says in her commentary that women can make any personal choice they'd like but by her repeated slams against older feminists this is clearly a false statement. Any choice which could get a woman labeled as humorless is the wrong choice.

When men organize to end world hunger or when people organize to fight a particular deadly disease I hear no criticism that when these men speak out against those harms that they lack humor."

Jennifer Drew // Posted 13 July 2009 at 12:16

Having now read Ms. Levenson's book which contains nothing but annecdotes concerning Ms. Levenson's experiences.This book is definitely not a guide for young women. Instead it is a 'mish mash' of individualism and promotion of 'you can have it all'. Very easy to say because there is no criticism or discussion of precisely how our male-dominated society operates and why despite so many women and girls struggle to achieve their full potential they continue to be blamed and subjected to discrimination and devaluation by a male-dominated and male-centered society.

As an antidote to this latest piece of pseudo feminism I highly recommend Antifeminism and Family Terrorism by Rhonda Hammer. Ms. Hammer very succinctly takes apart pseudo feminists such as Camille Paglia, Christine Sommers and Naomi Wolfe. Ms. Levenson's approach is not new but is very similar to the above anti-feminists.

Rhonda Hammer debunks the myth 'feminists are not humorous etc' and also discusses how and why feminism is not a one size fits all. But Ms. Hammer recognises that feminism can only grow via debate and discussion which is far different from dominant deliberate media misrepresentations which constantly claim 'feminists are all man-haters; feminists are a powerful group intent on destroying mankind (sic).'

Read Rhonda Hammer because she shows how anti-feminism which is promoted as 'feminism' operates.

Kate // Posted 13 July 2009 at 13:38

Ellie, I applaud you for wanting to write a book for the layperson but that shouldn’t be an excuse for sloppy writing or thinking. Statements like your dinner date reference above, framed the way they are, will always be open to the misinterpretation (and I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt in saying that) that you mean men can somehow, legitimately, buy sex by buying dinner. Perhaps you were trying to talk about men’s sense of entitlement to sex, or how both men and women can struggle to navigate sexual situations? I have a sinking suspicion that you do somehow think women should expect to put out if they accept a dinner date and if so I’d be fascinated to see how you approach that from a feminist perspective.

I agree with the above posters who say you seem to have confused feminism with individualism. For me feminism isn’t about defending women’s choices, do matter how much they contradict what is actually feminist. “Choice” was an easy term to bandy around to try and defend reproductive rights in an acceptable way to an increasingly individualistic society. It does not mean it’s the measure that all “feminist” actions should be judged against.

I wonder if you’re book does contain any analysis of what those “old” feminists would call the patriarchy, or is it just all about the “girls” having fun and being a bit naughty?

George // Posted 13 July 2009 at 16:45

@Anne Onne

My point was that by labelling this incredibly important function as infighting and bickering, we are paying feminism a disservice. However, I see this sort of conversation as somewhat seperate from the sort of fighting and bickering that can often erupt in close groups, communities etc, and which needs to be addressed as a constant project by the group itself. One is a function of debate and discussion; the other is the set of problems associated with the formation of working groups. Of course, the two can cross over occassionally, but I think that realising that they are seperate issues stops any accusation that feminism is intrinsically a "bitchy" movement.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 09:45

Hello,

Thank you all for commenting. There's a lot to work through but I will try to respond to them all over the course of today.

Also please note that my name is Ellie not Elly.

Ellie

MariaS // Posted 14 July 2009 at 09:47

In the introduction, Levenson writes:

"My husband has a badge ... [that] says 'real men are feminists'. I love him for having it ... but I'd probably be embarrassed if he wore it in public. After all, feminism can be an embarrassing word. The term seems to make most people think of bra burning and hairy armpits which is a shame because while 1970s feminists achieved a lot that women today should be grateful for, they are not the only icons of the feminist movement. I have no intention of ever throwing myself in front of a horse, very little makes me want to chain myself to the railings at Downing Street and my longest hunger strike has been an hour, but the suffragettes are my feminist icons. What's more, I am a feminist who wears a bra and shaves my armpits. I don't see it as a choice between being feminine and feminist."

Ellie, if you feel embarassed by feminism does that not suggest that you're not really at the right place in your life to be writing something as ambitious as a guide to it? If you'd presented the book as your own conflicted thoughts about feminism, you'd probably still be getting the same disagreements as to your arguments, but the fact that this is purports to be the first (non-academic) UK book about feminism in ages, following several accessible feminist books from the US by and for younger women, and it is such a shoddy misrepresentation of feminism, is what is really rankling us here, many of us women of the generation you are trying to speak for.

You seem vaguely aware that the classic media caricature of feminists minimises and belittles the women's movement of the 1970s, but at the same time you take it at face value and spend a great deal of effort in distancing yourself from it. It's not the wearing a bra or not, or shaving or not, that is or is not feminist, it's your aversion to being identified with the hairy-armpitted, non-fashion/beauty-compliant women that is anti-feminist. What would be feminist, regardless of your own personal choices and preferences, would be to assert, "what's wrong with women with not shaving their armpits and not wearing bras?" (or whatever).

Side thought: what's wrong with bra-burning? Yes, I know it didn't actually happen, but the women at that protest did throw bras in a bin. They may as well have burnt them. Why do we never question the media's framing of this action as something ridiculous? Why don't we say, what a great symbolic protest, and retrospectively applaud them? (There's a book called Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas, principally a very readable feminist analysis of the representation of women in 1950s, 60s, 70s & 80s American television, but which also includes an interesting account of how the media at the time reported on the women's movement, and shows that the ridicule and the minimisation was always there, the backlash was right at the start).

A lot of your book seems to waste time asking and answering "can I be/do [x] and be a feminist?". To which the answer is, of course you can. I understand why women feel like that, but the uncertainty they feel isn't down to some flaw in feminism. It's strange, the underlying feeling is really self-doubt, inculcated in women by a society that devalues them, "does [x] mean I'm not good enough to be a feminist?", but it comes out as a defensive, "feminism is wrong because it is excluding me!". The uncertainty is because women are used to being judged, to being told what to do and how to be a woman, to be told what's wrong with them. (The most obvious example is the bossy, scolding tone of women's magazines, couched as coming from a pseudo-best friend figure, but constantly telling us, this is what's in, what's out, this is what not to wear, this is what too fat looks like, this is what too outrageous looks like, etc etc). So, it's not surprising that in encountering something else that is for and about women, they expect the usual criticism, and instructions about how to be, and so that's what they hear, even when it's not there.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 09:58

Jessica,

I do not mean that when a man buys you dinner you should sleep with him – that is the wrong interpretation of what I said. But as I say in the book in more detail, I think that if a financially independent woman has dinner with a man and lets him pay for it (outside of genuine friendship or business) then she is giving a signal that she is interested and something sexual may happen and to pretend that she is not doing this is naïve. Of course at any time she can decide nothing sexual will happen, dinner bought for her or not, but let’s not pretend that allowing someone to buy you dinner in a date like situation without offering to pay half isn’t giving out a signal of interest – to say otherwise is to either not be truthful about the signals you are sending out or is pretty financially unfair to the person buying you dinner.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 09:59

Jess McCabe,

I think you are right, we do need to be careful not to play into and repeat misogynist stereotyping meant explicitly to ridicule feminists and older women in general. But I don’t think I do that. I have spoken to many people who were active feminists in the seventies and eighties who speak of the women’s movement of that time as exclusive, humourless and destructive. Of course this is just one view of it and I am sure there are many people who would characterise the movement as not being like that at all. Accounts of Greenham Common for example as well as other protests talk a lot about the fun and the communal spirit and there is no doubt that there are many instances of women helping each other to have better lives, from small acts of kindness in their own community to larger scale campaigns on big issues. So I don’t want to demonise previous generations of feminists but I do want to move away from the element within previous generations of feminists that were not inclusive. And while I think it is good to have a sense of feminist history and understanding of previous waves of feminism, I don’t think this is essential (or even important) in order to be a feminist today – after all there are enough inequalities in our own lives that this can make us a feminist without any other knowledge. But I do take your point about being careful not to demonise past feminists and I look forward to hearing your views when you have read the book.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:03

Cath Elliott,

Please see my answer to Jessica above regarding your first point.

The point about rape jokes in the book is that humour can be a way society deals with difficult issues to help understand them. Do you for example feel we should never make jokes about natural disasters? Doing so does not mean we do not care about the people who have died. I hope the examples in the book show this.

I’m sorry you do not like the idea of the book. I hope if you read it you change your mind but I am more than happy to engage in debate on forums such as this if you take issue with anything in it.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:08

Lydia,

I am pleased you agree with me that short skirts, high heels and pink are about individual choices and that choice is a key tenet of feminism.

Again I look forward to hearing what you think when you’ve read the book. I think the Subtext blog misunderstood the point I made about rape.

As for me “making women feel bad for allowing a man to buy them dinner once in a while” – I enjoy being bought dinner, I’m sure others do. But when I was single I also knew that being bought dinner gave certain signals and I had to be prepared for the consequences of that ie either know I was giving out signals to do something that I would then not be doing, or that I was using it as a tool to flirt. Let’s not pretend this is not the case.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:09

Lydia,

I am pleased you agree with me that short skirts, high heels and pink are about individual choices and that choice is a key tenet of feminism.

Again I look forward to hearing what you think when you’ve read the book. I think the Subtext blog misunderstood the point I made about rape.

As for me “making women feel bad for allowing a man to buy them dinner once in a while” – I enjoy being bought dinner, I’m sure others do. But when I was single I also knew that being bought dinner gave certain signals and I had to be prepared for the consequences of that ie either know I was giving out signals to do something that I would then not be doing, or that I was using it as a tool to flirt. Let’s not pretend this is not the case.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:12


Kristin,

The MPs knicker story was interesting – it was a direct response to a female broadcaster asking male politicians what type of underwear they wore. I wondered whether women would be so candid given how hard we have fought not to be defined by our underwear. They weren’t, I am pleased to say.

I think I’ve answered your other point above.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:17

Molly,

I was invited to be a guest blogger to The F Word but of course this article is part of the book’s promotion. As with any author, I want as many people as possible to read my book. And though I hope people who are already feminists read it, I also very much hope it persuades people who do not consider themselves feminist, or do not like to use the word, that being a feminist is a good thing to be. Not to want this would be to buy into the idea that feminism is an exclusive movement not open to most people.

Sorry you do not like the cover. I hope this is not a reason for you not to read it and I look forward to debating the issues in it with you when you have.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:20

Jessica,

Thank you for posting regarding infighting. I agree – this discussion is not infighting, it’s a discussion. What I object to is when women are portrayed as having a spat instead of having a debate – it happens often in the coverage of feminism, though not, I should say, on The F Word.

Ellie Levenson

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:26

Ariel,

Thank you for posting – I agree with you and think it’s important to have debates about the issues you raise within feminism. That’s not what I mean by infighting. I mean when we are set up, as women, to have public fights that are more than debate and that harm the movement as a whole.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:29

Holly Combe,

I’m delighted you’ve commented as I quote your definition of feminism from an article you write on this site in the book.

I hope I’ve answered your dinner point in my response to other comments.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:30

JenniferRuth,

I think I have answered your point in my response to other posts above.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:32

Denise,

I think I have answered your point in my response to other posts above.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:34


sianmarie,

Sorry to hear you have been pressured into sex in the past and I’m pleased you’re determined that won’t happen again. I hope I have answered your point in my previous responses.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:37

George,

Thanks for your points – I agree with you that what can be “a lengthy, nuanced, technical, difficult, painful, essential debate” is, when it’s done by women, branded by the media and others as gossiping, bitching and complaining. That is the point of my article.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:38

Msruth,

I think I have answered your point in my response to other posts above. That is a shame that you no longer wish to read the book.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 10:59


Catherine Redfern,

Thank you. I look forward to reading the review (I think!)

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:05

Karen,

I hope I’ve answered your comment elsewhere here.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:05


polly styrene,

That is a shame you don’t want to read the book but at least the review served its purpose and helped you decide what to read. I am sure the reviewer will be delighted.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:08

Amity,

I look forward to reading your review. I will be particularly interested to know whether your thoughts about the book before reading changed after reading.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:30

Anne Onne,

Thank you for your comment which raised lots of interesting points. I don’t think it asks for a specific response from me but wanted to comment to say I found it interesting.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:41

Jennifer Drew

I disagree with you. I am not promoting individualism, I am promoting individual choices. They are different. I very much hope people’s individuals choices lead to communal good.

As I said above, I hope the design of the book appeals to women (and men) who wouldn’t normally pick up a book on feminism.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:44

wriggles,

I think being too prescriptive about what feminists do and don’t believe is wrong. For example, when it comes to abortion I am pro choice and I would like everyone to be so. This means regardless of whatever my own personal views on abortion are I believe every woman should be able to make her own mind up on the issue. But if a woman is not pro-choice I do not think she then cannot be a feminist – that would be to exclude a whole lot of people from a movement that is about more than this one issue.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:50

delphyne,

Your point about being called girls is interesting and one I considered a lot before deciding on the title of my book. I do object to adults being called girls so you are right. In this case I decided it worked as a title because the pun of noughtie girls/naughty girls.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:56

Laura,

I think I have answered your points above.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:57

Louise Livesey,

Thanks for your interesting comments.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:57

Sam Rico,

I think I’ve answered your points in my other responses.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 11:58

delphyne,

re Daily Mail. It is not my natural home politically. In fact I was initially surprised they decided to run the extracts they did when they could easily have found other extracts from the book to vehemently disagreed with – my defence of women binge drinkers for example or my assertion that promiscuity does not matter. But I am pleased the Daily Mail extracted from the book because as I have said before I think it is important to try to attract people who would not normally read about feminism to do so, and if they do and agree with me then great, and if they do and then disagree with me then great too, because I would like as many people as possible to be discussing feminist issues.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 12:01

MariaS,

Thanks for your comment and for highlighting Marcella’s response. I don’t agree with her analysis but am pleased she has read the book and that it has led to a debate.

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 14 July 2009 at 14:35

Sorry - where I have said I have answered points in my other answers - some have been posted in an odd order and a few appear to be missing. Do read through my answers though - I hope I have managed to address most points.

Ellie

Lydia // Posted 14 July 2009 at 15:00

Ellie,

I think I failed to articulate myself properly. 'Choice' is incredibly problematic. There are probably some not very good reasons why women (inluding feminists) 'choose' to
wear short skirts, high heels and pink.

'Choice' is rarely free and pressure to look a certain way can often influence it even when we're aware of it. (Of course, not every reason for wearing these things is negative.) My point was that no feminist would want to tell a woman outright that it was not ok to wear these things.

"I also knew that being bought dinner gave certain signals and I had to be prepared for the consequences of that ie either know I was giving out signals to do something that I would then not be doing"

I completely disagree with you on this still. Allowing a man to buy you dinner does not mean you should 'prepare' for 'consequences' or that you have been dishonest.

Also, what did you mean by the quotes in Subtext?

Jess McCabe // Posted 14 July 2009 at 15:04

@Ellie Levenson - Well, I'm surprised to hear that. I've read a little bit of your book now, and I was struck by the anecdote you tell in your introduction about not knowing who Gloria Steinem is, or what the phrase 'second wave' refers to.

I don't think you need to know the history of the feminist movement/women's liberation movement in order to be a feminist, not at all: feminism often comes from personal, first hand experience of sexism/ misogyny/male violence. Maybe you were just trying to encourage women and get this point across, but I have to admit to being surprised that anyone would chose to write a book about feminism without finding out the context of how this relates to this history, and the theory which has been produced out of activist and academic feminisms in that time. If only so as not to reinvent the wheel too much, and inform your own thinking. Maybe it'd have been good to make those points about Greenham Common, etc, in your articles and book? I'm not surprised it's been read as a kick in the teeth to older feminists.

Re: the dinner issue, I get this recurring sense throughout reading your book so far, and in this thread, of talking at cross purposes. It just doesn't seem to me that its a great pending feminist issue that going on a date (whoever pays) suggests some interest/attraction. (Although frankly there is such a thing as paying for someone's dinner for other reasons, and the presumption that this doesn't happen is only encouraging the idea that a - straight or bi - woman and man can't be friends or colleagues, etc).

What is (in my view) a big pending issue is consent, and in particular in situations involving straight men and women, because of the strong heterosexual scripts (as Jennifer Drew puts it!) which create expectations around what is going to happen, about women not really having autonymous sexual desires, and about women being the gatekeepers of sex and it being 'natural' and 'normal' for men to try and coerce resistant women into sex. The point that consent should be negotiated and enthusiastic, and that consent to one thing doesn't mean consent to anything, is what we should be reinforcing IMHO, not this message of "be careful not to lead him on!" which seems to be implicit in you bringing up this example.

Jess McCabe // Posted 14 July 2009 at 15:16

I do object to adults being called girls so you are right. In this case I decided it worked as a title because the pun of noughtie girls/naughty girls.

I was surprised by the title too - I mean, one of your first chapters is about sexist language, but painting grown women as 'naughty/noughtie girls' not only refers to women as girls, but implicitly suggests the phrase 'naughty girls' which is even more patronising IMHO.

On the issue of whether you can be anti-choice and feminist at the same time: obviously The F-Word is set up on the basis of not defining who is and not towing a line on what feminism(s) are and are not.

But in my personal capacity (everything I write is in my personal capacity of course, but still, it bears emphasising at this point!) I have trouble seeing how someone who advocates forcing women to stay pregnant and give birth against their will can be feminist. This though is seperate from, say, not personally wanting to have an abortion, or having misgivings about abortions, or not liking abortions or thinking they should be avoided.

Faith from F.N. // Posted 14 July 2009 at 15:29

I don't have much to add other than this:

I will not be reading this book. I have seen no indication from the post above or from the author's response that she is feminist. She barely seems to have any idea what the word means or what it means to live as a feminist. No, I am not sending a signal to a man that I am sexually interested in him by allowing him to pay for my dinner. It is nothing short of pure arrogance and misogyny to insist that I am. No, defending rape jokes is not a feminist act. No, every choice a woman makes is not automatically feminist just because she makes that choice. And for the love of all that is holy: Referring to grown women as "girls" is not feminist.

This whole book sounds like one big joke and slap in the face to women and feminists.

That this can even casually pass as feminism is embarrassing and depressing.

Cath Elliott // Posted 14 July 2009 at 21:02

Ellie, thanks for your response.

"The point about rape jokes in the book is that humour can be a way society deals with difficult issues to help understand them. Do you for example feel we should never make jokes about natural disasters?"

Yes actually, I don't think we should. I think it's pretty sick to be honest, as are rape jokes, but hey, maybe that's just me being a typical humourless 2nd waver....

But anyway, I've started reading your book now, and like others here I do intend to review it at some point soon. But the thing that's struck me most so far is your insistence that basically any woman who ever makes a decision in life is in effect a feminist.

I'm just wondering if there are actually any women you don't consider to be feminists? Maybe that comes later in the book, but at the moment I'm left with a sneaky suspicion that you've actually confused the word "woman" with "feminist."

Also, I notice in the introduction you say you don't discuss any issues that concern lesbians because you don't have any direct experience of what those issues are. By the same token I'm also assuming you don't discuss issues pertaining to black and other minority ethnic women, or disabled women, working class women, or indeed any other women who aren't young, white and heterosexual.

That's a whole lot of feminist history and contribution you've erased there Ellie. Do you honestly expect to be taken seriously as a voice of modern feminism when the only feminists you appear able to represent are the privileged, young, straight white middle-class few?

polly styrene // Posted 14 July 2009 at 21:27

"Also, I notice in the introduction you say you don't discuss any issues that concern lesbians because you don't have any direct experience of what those issues are"

This is true though Cath. Lesbians live on a special lesbian island, separate from the rest of society, eating special lesbian food, doing lesbian jobs and watching only reruns of Ellen and the L Word on TV. It's enough to turn you straight.

Karen // Posted 14 July 2009 at 22:10

Ellie, que? Certain signals? Thank you for taking the time to reply but I won't ever buy that we give certain signals that say something like "you have just bought me a rose/dinner/a bar of fruit and nut, OF COURSE I'll get into bed with you! A chap that equates a gesture like that with an open invitation to sex and reads 'signals' that way wants his signal receptors re-tuning. I can see that you have good intentions but I think there's a bit of a hornets nest stirred here and I just cant see all the in-fighting. Freedom to debate without being stifled and important issues being discussed and considered, yes, but in-fighting, not really.

MariaS // Posted 14 July 2009 at 23:49

Ellie, there is so much that is frustrating in your treatment of the subject of rape in your book I don't know where to begin. For one, your inexplicable need to talk about rape jokes and why they are really aok to laugh at BEFORE you move on to discuss rape.

I'm another who disagrees that jokes about tragic disasters are funny. In the book you compare the telling of rape jokes with a comedian who made jokes about the Asian tsunami. You say that some people booed, but many laughed, and from this you conclude that "there was a consensus that we come to terms with tragedy through humour. No one thought the comedian didn't care about the loss of life in the tsunami."

He didn't care. He may think he cared, I'm sure he would have said he cared, but the fact that to him the tsunami was inspiration for a bit of clever wordplay rather shows that he didn't care that much.

The thing is, it wasn't your tragedy to come to terms with, nor his, nor (probably) that of the people in the audience. The actual disaster victims weren't there. (Would he have done his routine in the midst of a refugee camp, among thousands of people who probably wouldn't have the grace to applaud him for thinking that "tsunami" sounds a lot like "Toon Army"? Very cowardly to use that disaster for comedy material, safe in the knowledge that he doesn't have to face the people he is using for a joke).

Much as you have above, you try to argue for humour as a coping mechanism, as catharsis: "Laughing about rape doesn't make it funny, but it does help us to work out our thoughts and feelings about a subject the way humour does in many other cases too."

But you do not even try to discuss jokes made by rape victims. You relate instead 2 jokes told to you by men (one in conversation, one as part of a stand-up routine that you watched), both giving voice to a rapist role, and both centering on a stated threat to rape women.

Can you see the illogic of that? In what way were those jokes a coping mechanism? Do you think those comedians were trying to come to terms with an issue that troubled them? Or was it the blind privilege of finding something clever to say on a subject that they don't ever conceive of directly affecting them? Where are the rape victims in your analysis of these jokes?

Here is a very insightful discussion about whether or not it's possible to joke about rape, including from the viewpoint of rape survivors, why it matters who is telling the joke, and why it matters who is being subjected to the joke. I really really recommend reading it - both the post & the comments. It is one of a series of posts on that blog dissecting humour that hinges on rape or lack of consent, and other ways in which rape is made light of, and how rape is talked about. This is the latest, and there are links to others in the series at the end of it.

You write: "I am not for one moment saying that rape isn't a horrendous thing. But the way we often deal with horrendous things is to claim them as our own and to make jokes about it."

What strikes me is your unintentional sidelining of rape victims. Apologies if I am wrong, but I am guessing, from your writing about rape, that you, yourself are not a rape survivor. You speak of it as being horrendous, and of using jokes to "own" a difficult subject and try to make sense of it, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there is a whole group of people who have no choice but to claim the experience of rape as their own. You say, "the way we often deal ... " - without acknowledging that this "we" does not really seem to include people who are actually dealing with surviving rape. You think of it as simply a "subject" that you need to work out your thoughts and feelings about, something intellectual to you, not as an experience of an assault, not as trauma to be somehow overcome.

Finally another reason to avoid rape jokes, why the tiny bit of possible funny isn't remotely worth it, is that given the prevalence of rape, there's a high chance that there are rape survivors among one's audience.

As Melissa McEwan says in the post I linked to:
"The distinct possibility of someone experiencing anxiety, panic, or some other distress associated with re-experiencing one's sexual assault after hearing a rape joke sort of renders irrelevant the question of whether the joke is "funny," you know?"

Kate Grace // Posted 15 July 2009 at 00:10

Back to that old chestnut the dinner issue. It's what really stands out for me because it seems to be such a small, straightforward issue but actually Ellie's comments on it speak volumes.

Carrying on from what a few of you have already said, anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that there is the chance of something sexual happening on a date, as dating is our way of getting to know people we have a sexual interest in, right? I think it would be accurate to say that a woman *or a man* is being disingenuous if they go on what is clearly a date and are then shocked if the person they share that date with makes an advance, whether that be verbal flirting, suggestive body language or an attempted kiss, etc.

What is most definitely not acceptable, in my view, is for a woman to go out and have dinner with a man *or a woman* and to feel pressured into sex because the other party has bought the meal, and it is just expected that this favour needs repayment. Same goes if the situation were reversed and a woman bought a man dinner- she does not then have the right to expect sexual recompense.

Ellie, I am genuinely interested- in your opinion, is a man being disingenuous if he allows a woman to buy him dinner and then doesn't automatically start thinking that he's given her the come-on?

Of course, it's best for everyone to offer to go Dutch on the bill, particularly in a date situation where you're just getting to know each other. It's fair and equal on a basic, practical level. But if one of the two people on the date feels moved to pay for the whole load, I just do not accept that this is a way of assuming power over the other. person. And I absolutely refuse to see that they can then assume the right to seek sex in return for their gift.

You say:

. . if a financially independent woman has dinner with a man and lets him pay for it (outside of genuine friendship or business) then she is giving a signal that she is interested and something sexual may happen. . .

No she isn't! The act of having dinner bought for you, whatever your gender, sexuality, or financial circumstance, does not automatically denote a willingness to have sex with the benefactor! You say outside of 'genuine friendship or business'- what does that mean?! That any man who isn't a colleague or a pal since childhood who offers to buy you dinner wants to jump your bones? And that we should all watch out for that and 'be prepared for the consequences' ? That's a dangerous thing to say and most definitely not feminist.

And what's this emphasis on 'financially independent' women? What about those who are financially dependent on the person buying dinner- are they different, do they have rights? Or are they not worthy of comment because we should just assume that they belong to whoever holds the purse strings? I'm thinking of a wife who raises the children in a family while her husband works, so all the money comes through him. He takes her out for dinner- is she then expected to have sex with him as payback rather than in an act of mutual love and respect?

I know there are people, both men and women, who believe that a woman (or, in fewer cases, a man) should pay for dinner dates with sex but I don't think a 'feminist' writer should be perpetuating this outmoded idea. We need to focus on moving away from this notion of sex as a bargaining tool or a payment plan. As Sianmarie says, we should be having sex because we want to, not because we feel we have to.

MariaS // Posted 15 July 2009 at 00:48

Ellie, what precisely do you disagree with in Marcella's analysis of your article? (She's not commenting on your book, btw, but on an article you wrote in The Independent).

Her point is that this is another gender double-standard, another way in which women & their work are devalued and not taken seriously. No other movement for social change is scolded for not having a sense of humour. Additionally, that some of the things that feminists are fighting against don't lend themselves to humour. What do you disagree with there?

Humourlessness - not an actual problem with feminism, but a classic way for anti-feminists to try and undermine feminists.

Quoting Melissa McEwan again, on the charge of humourlessness:
"... the fear of—or, perhaps more accurately, the frustration with—being seen as irrational (unintelligent) and hypersensitive (uncool) are as equally important factors for feminist women, which is why I firmly believe that every women's studies program at every university should include an introductory course called You're Dumb, Oversensitive, and Ugly, the objective of which is to explore the practical realities of being an active feminist in the world. I've seen women with a belly full of fire and a head full of steam about overt sexism at work absolutely crumple like a flan in a cupboard with one comment about how they are humorless, over-reactionary, dowdy, fat, or, simply, not fun. It's a shock to the system to collide head-on with such an entirely inappropriate comment about one's appearance or personality, to have a meritorious argument dismissed with schoolyard mockery dressed up as adult discourse. It can be highly embarrassing, too, particularly if it happens in front of other people, and all the theory in the world can't protect against that sort of paralyzing surprise. Feminists for whom the thick skin is not innate could probably benefit from a little assistance in the form of being taught what to expect. (Especially since any veteran feminist could teach the damn course; we've all experienced the same tired shit. Nothing ever seems to be new in anti-feminism…)"

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 15 July 2009 at 10:33

Ellie,

I haven't read your book yet, but from your articles and comments here it seems you are confused about the idea of women's choice. You seem to define feminism as women's right to choose whatever the hell they want, and yet when it comes to women's right to choose what happens to their own bodies, to choose when or when not to have a child, you think choice is irrelevant to feminism. Personally, I don't think anti-abortion individuals are feminist - their politics has a direct negative, dangerous and deadly effect upon millions of women worldwide. (A feminist woman can be against abortion for herself but support other women's right to access one, but a woman who is against other women having this right is categorically not a feminist. End of.) Similarly, women's choice can only be seen as part of a broader feminist politics - or as something that is not anti-feminist - if it does not harm or hold back other women. Feminism is about liberating ALL women, not enabling women to do whatever the hell they want. As others have pointed out, this is individualism, not feminism, and packaging feminism in this way helps no one but those women who are already in privileged positions in society with a vested interest in keeping things that way.

As for your comments about feminism historically being humourless - how is this relevant? Has anyone ever criticised Marxism or any other political movement for being humourless? Women are being raped, murdered, forced to "choose" dangerous illegal abortions, denied political representation etc etc worldwide and you're bothered that the media think we can't take a joke?

Finally - when you feel the need to try and prove that feminists are feminine, not these nasty bra-burning hairy types, please spare a thought for those of us who have made the genuinely personally empowering decision to break free of the pressure to be stereotypically feminine, to stop shaving and wearing bras and clothes which we feel uncomfortable in - and to put up with the flack we get for doing so - in order that we can feel free. I don't have a problem with you wearing make-up and heels and whatever you are comfortable with, but please at least recognise that for some women - maybe even many, who knows - these things never felt right, never felt like a real choice, and we have made a political and personal decision to reject them. Being held up as an example of what feminism isn't, or what is embarrassing to you about feminism doesn't help anyone but you.

Individualism isn't feminism.

Laura // Posted 15 July 2009 at 11:50

@Ellie Levenson - No, actually you didn't answer my points... instead you parroted the nonsense about what men expect around dinner and didn't address the deeper issues that feminism must face, instead going for the glossy 'hehehe I like heels and pink!'... which fine, no one is trying tell you are a bad person/not a feminist for wearing clothing - but that perhaps the movement has larger issues to focus on - and these kinds of points are the things that are excluding women.

Sarah // Posted 15 July 2009 at 11:52

@Laura Woodhouse
Hear hear!

Cath Elliott // Posted 15 July 2009 at 12:28

MariaS

Great comments.

I also have massive problems with the section on rape, not least of which is the fact that rape is included in the chapter entitled "sex", even though Ellie herself acknowledges in the book that rape isn't about sex at all. If it's not, which I'm sure even the most empowerfulled noughties feminist gal would agree with, then why put it in that chapter?

This quote's a gem though:

"I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis."

Ellie, can I ever so politely suggest you never apply for a job as a rape counsellor?

KJB // Posted 15 July 2009 at 13:15

I'm sorry, but I've read through the excellent comments as well as the post, and I just thought:

'In-fighting injures feminism'

... No it doesn't, arrogance does. As an Asian woman, I must second what Cath says, as well as those who pull you up on your weird and frankly nonsensical views on rape jokes. MariaS's comment was great, thank you.

Ellie - I see what you were trying to say re: your dinner comment. However, you should realise that you're on a slippery slope there. It doesn't take much to go from 'Well, if you agree to dinner, you are admitting the possibility of something sexual happening' to 'Well, if you dress like that and drink loads with a guy, before going back to his, you are admitting the possibility of rape.'

Unless it is stated that what is taking place is a date and the woman gives her explicit consent for anything afterwards, the 'possibility of something happening' means nothing. It is redundant, because you can equally say that there is a possibility that NOTHING will happen.

sianmarie // Posted 15 July 2009 at 16:19

hear hear to many comments on this site.

ellie - i don't understand how yu can say the 2nd wave was humourless and say you don't think knowing the history of feminism is important. if the latter were true why say the former? for surely, if the history weren't important then we wouldn't care if old feminists were humourless or not. and as you go on to say, this assertion bascially isn't true, with many of the second wave feminists at greenham common etc having a lively community spirit. many of the older feminists i know from the 70s etc are amazing amazing women who fought and moved together to achieve such great things for women. even if we have a long way to go, we would have furhter to go without these women.
and why are you propagating this myth that old is dull and humourless? why would you want to do that? i simply don't understand what can possibly be achieveed by going "old feminists are dull, young feminists can wear pink" - it's so dull in itself! i'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's such a boring old argument. yes we should be working to show feminism as something vital and important to a "non feminist" audience, but why not do that by showing all the good work that feminism can achieve, rather than by saying "you can shave your armpits these days". your whole argument about choice as feminist seems to exclude the choice to not shave or not wear a bra. apologies if that's my own misunderstanding.

old feminists achieved loads so that young feminists can achieve more with them. if you read gloria steinem then maybe you would see how funny and witty and insightful she was.
(i'm not saying you have to read loads of theory to be a feminist btw, but at least have the courtesey to accept the possibility that the stereotypes of older feminists aren't exactly true.)

as for rape and natural disasater jokes - nope, they are not funny. have you heard any women tell jokes about rape lately? i'd be intrigued to hear an example.

katrina // Posted 15 July 2009 at 16:24

Ellie, if you come back, I really hope you can take the time to read an explanation of the way the passive voice can be used to implicitly redirect responsibility for the actions of one person to another person:
It's at
http://viv.id.au/blog/20070429.497/passive-aggression-foregrounding-the-object/
on a blog called Hoyden About Town.
Your comment about "being bought dinner" is a pretty good example of the phenomenon referred to in the piece, though I suspect you weren't really aware of it.

I also recommend you to google and visit "I Blame the Patriarchy", for examples of lively, witty, jargon-free feminist writing style.

Sam Rico // Posted 15 July 2009 at 17:19

Just want to say that I was going to respond before, but I am short of time, and the others arguing against Ellie have pretty much said what I was going to say. Thanks.

Anna // Posted 15 July 2009 at 18:50

sianmarie - not to derail, and I agree with everything else you've said, but I tell rape jokes both on certain parts of the internet and in private with close acquaintances.

Faith from F.N. // Posted 15 July 2009 at 18:52

"This quote's a gem though:

"I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis.""

:: mouth hanging open in utter shock::

Ellie,

How about telling a bunch of rape victims that rape is about nothing other than a penis? Oh, wait, apparently you already did.

These quotes and arguments could be taken straight off of virtually any MRA site on the internet.

delphyne // Posted 15 July 2009 at 19:23

"'In-fighting injures feminism'

... No it doesn't, arrogance does."

I'd agree with this, and having read Ellie's responses I'd go further. What injures feminism is anti-feminism and misogyny dressed up as feminism. It's a common trick of anti-feminists these days to pretend they are feminists though. What better way to undermine feminism than to completely disregard its philosophy and politics and instead promote misogyny in its place.

Defending rape jokes, asserting that a woman who accepts dinner from a man is sending a sexual signal to him, phoning up women politicians to ask them what colour their underwear is in a disgusting piece of sexual fetishisation of them, arguing that every choice a woman makes is a feminist choice just because a woman made it, calling feminists humourless, attacking older feminists whilst at the same time disingenuously complaining about "in-fighting", saying that feminism embarrasses you, are all the actions of someone who is working against feminism and women's liberation, not for it.

I hope the reason you are taking these positions is because anti-feminism is almost a sure-fire way of for a young woman to get published these days (including in the Daily Mail, like you didn't know), and you aren't actually as attached to these beliefs as you appear to be.

delphyne // Posted 15 July 2009 at 19:32

Also, Ellie, you didn't answer my point about why you are holding feminism to a higher standard than any male-led political movement. All male-led movements have experienced in-fighting and political struggles, so why would women in politics be expected to behave any differently?

Claren // Posted 16 July 2009 at 07:10

"This quote's a gem though:

"I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis.""

Strangling ok too then? It's just hands!

Anna // Posted 16 July 2009 at 08:50

Is that 'rape is just a penis' quote taken from the book? Cos on first bleary-eyed morning read I thought it was paraphrasing Richard sodding Barnbrook.

Kate // Posted 16 July 2009 at 09:32

Rape is "just a penis"?! Ellie, are you moonlighting as a speech writer for the BNP, because suddenly their candidate's line that "rape is like forcefeeding women chocholate" seems right at home in your brand of "feminism".

I'm actually feeling slightly depressed, so many great responses on this thread yet Ellie got the book deal. But then of course a book like Ellie's is so much less threatening...

NicolaH // Posted 17 July 2009 at 16:51

I've just read all your comments after reading the book, enjoying it and searching for more info on the internet about it. I think you have it wrong - Ellie's book doesn't seem to be for people already declaring themselves feminist it's for people who haven't thought about the issues before. I've never called myself a feminist and after reading it I think now maybe I do.

Also the rape stuff isn't as you say it is really. The book definately says rape is bad but it does say we need to look at date rape as different to violent rape for example and I do agree with this because thinking you are going to die is completely different to sex with someone you've had sex with before where you might not want to do it but you don't think they will kill you.

Anyway you all sound much more clued up about feminism than me but I wanted to comment as I did actually really enjoy the book.

Jehenna // Posted 18 July 2009 at 04:58

With the exception of course, that most women are brought up with the fear of stranger-rape and thus we have at least learned somewhat to expect it.

The betrayal of having a friend or ex-lover, or even aquaintance, or someone you met down the pub raping you can't be a barrel of laughs either right? I mean there's the rape, plus the absolute betrayal of trust/affection/love/respect of being reduced to a sextoy by someone you actually know and thought was a bit above that.

But hey, who knows?

And really I think tha's the problem.

It's not for me to tell someone else that their experience was more or less traumatic than someone else's experience. It happened to them. It was traumatic. Why do we need to have a league table in order to tell people that their experience wasn't as valid or traumatic as someone else's?

Fair enough if I get raped at knifepoint and have my throat slashed at some point in the future, it will be pretty traumatic. But right now the trauma I do have, rather than a potential trauma, is the experience of being raped by my partner.

I haven't been shot and killed yet either, but it doesn't mean I'd be joyful at just getting mugged and having my face scarred with acid either.

We're not in a position to determine how traumatic an event is to someone else.

Rachel // Posted 18 July 2009 at 12:06

"The book definately says rape is bad but it does say we need to look at date rape as different to violent rape for example and I do agree with this because thinking you are going to die is completely different to sex with someone you've had sex with before where you might not want to do it but you don't think they will kill you."

Sex where you 'didn't want to do it' is just a euphism for RAPE. When someone you know rapes you it is always violent, because rape is violent. More women are killed by their partners every year than by anyone so why do you think you wouldn't be afraid for your life if it was someone you knew?

Shea // Posted 18 July 2009 at 22:02

"I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis.""

Just sheer disbelief. This is held up as noughties feminism?!?! I'd take the humourless, bra burning 2nd wavers anytime.

And actually Ellie its not just a penis-- ask the women in Bosnia who were raped with glass bottles and branches. But I'm sure you can make a joke out of that somehow.

Can I second Kate's comment, how utterly bloody depressing that there are so many sharp, insightful comments on this thread and the F word every day and posts from the likes of Laura Woodhouse, Anne Onne and Jess McCabe, but Ellie gets the book deal with her clueless, ultra light brand of "feminism".

This is reminiscent of George W Bush's "feminism" that has now "liberated" the women of Afghanistan and given them the one of the worst rates for rape and maternal mortality in the world, but hey ho, progress.

(I want my frickin movement back!)

Ellie Levenson // Posted 19 July 2009 at 22:31

Thank you for all the extra comments since I last responded - I have read them all and find the debate interesting. I am not going to attempt to respond to each one as we risk just rehashing our respective positions many times over. I would however like to clarify the position my book takes on two points; rape and being bought dinner. For those of you who have read this article and the comments here, but not the book, here are two key sections:

On rape:
"Rape is always wrong. I want to write that as clearly as possible. But, and this is where I expect I will get angry letters, I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis.

"Of course there are obviously many occasions when rape is coupled with violence, and that is not just a penis, that is about fear and no longer feeling safe and about being robbed of confidence. It was the feminist writer Germaine Greer who, writing about being raped herself aged nineteen, said it was not the rape itself, the sexual violation, that scared her so much as the violence and potential for violence.

"But the frames of reference around rape as so often about a woman's virtue. While maintaining that rape is a terrible thing to happen, I do think we have to move away from this idea of it as the worst thing that can happen. Being raped is a horrible thing, but by buying into it as the worst possible thing that can happen, we buy into the idea of it being about taking a woman's virtue and of that being her most important asset."

On being bought dinner:
"Sure, if you meet someone for dinner, and if they offer to pay at the end and you let them, that is not an agreement to have sex. Nor is going to someone's house for coffee. Nor is going to someone's house for coffee and kissing them. Nor is following that kiss with some fondling. And if the fondling moves to the bedroom and becomes naked fondling, even then either party can say no, of course they can. But at some point it can be argued that both parties have given clear signals that there maybe sex involved."

For those of you who have not read the book I hope this clears up some of the issues over what I have or have not said in it. For those who have read it thank you for doing so and I am pleased it has led to some debate.

Ellie

Megan // Posted 20 July 2009 at 10:46

I have just finished The Noughtie Girls Guide to Feminism -and I love it! It's a long time since I have laughed out loud at a book - and while not agreeing with every last word - this captures a place where I, and many of my other strong, independent, capable, successful and single woman in their mid 30's, are at (see pg 166). While many of us aren't actively wearing the feminist badge - or struggling with the major feminist issues, Ellie has captured in the light hearted and chatty nature which makes her such a success - before she then hits you between the eyes with a deadly serious point - the essence of what many of us who don't normally read blogs such as this, but subscribe to feminist principles as a way of life - debate in our heads on a daily basis.
Before you judge - based on the selective comments posted here many of you are jumping on a band wagon and expressing an opinion without even reading Ellies arguments in their entirety - at least do her the courtesy of reading the whole book - and make up your own minds and express your own opinions!

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 11:42

"Being raped is a horrible thing, but by buying into it as the worst possible thing that can happen, we buy into the idea of it being about taking a woman's virtue and of that being her most important asset."
-- No. Now being raped may not be the worst thing for every woman, but for many it is traumatic not because any ideas on virtue, but because women have lost agency and control over their bodies and their own sexuality. To have their wants and needs ignored and violated is the issue .

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 11:45

Ellie,

I (and others, I'm sure) really would appreciate it if you could respond to some of our comments. This isn't about simply rehashing our respective positions; to take my example, I asked you why you hold up 'hairy feminists' like myself as examples of what 'noughties' feminism rejects or is a reaction to, why you care about choice in all aspects of a woman's life other than abortion, where the absence of choice leads to thousands of women dying every single year across the globe and, as many others have also asked, why you think being 'humourless' is such a problem. I don't think you've made any of this clear.

As a 24-year-old feminist I assume I come under your title of 'noughties girl', and as such I am hugely frustrated that my feminism is being misrepresented in such a way. I haven't read the book yet, no, but the publicity and articles surrounding the book are what most people are going to read, and that is where I feel feminism is being misrepresented. I will read the book, but I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 11:52

Also, rape is viewed as such a horrible thing by society because of notions of purity; what makes it such a horrible thing for individual women is up to them to determine, and from what I've read (though I can't speak for survivors, not being one myself) purity isn't often the main issue - violation of bodily integrity, betrayal by a trusted friend or lover, loss of control, violence etc are all issues. This is why 'stranger rape' is viewed as worse by society than 'acquaintance rape' or rape by a partner (a partner already has access to a woman's body, so it can't be 'that bad'), while women who experience the latter are unlikely to agree: society prizes women's purity, a woman values herself. Suggesting that women should stop viewing rape as such a terrible thing because of how society frames it seems like a denial of women's voices and experience to me, which is the very antithesis of feminism.

Janine // Posted 20 July 2009 at 12:15

Ellie

I'm sorry, but to say that rape is not the worst thing that can happen to you seems such a useless sentiment, even after your explanation. Would you say that to someone who had actually been through the trauma of rape? Its really not helpful. The point is that it SHOULDNT happen, full stop and we shouldnt be trying to make it seem as though its in any way acceptable or even just 'not the worst thing that can happen to a woman.' It seems antifeminist to me.

If these are the ideas you've CHOSEN to highlight from your book then I have to say I've been put off completely.

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 12:17

NicolaH - I'm glad you're interested in feminism after reading Ellie's book and I hope you enjoy The F Word. I think the main reason for many of the critical comments here is that those of us who are 'clued up' on feminism, as you put it, worry that Ellie's approach to issues like rape and abortion does not really put women first or fairly represent the approach of most feminists and therefore women like yourself who are new to feminism are not being encouraged to think about these issues in a way that really challenges the mainstream. I don't mean to sound patronising - sorry if I do - it's just that I think it would be a shame if a guide to feminism didn't properly introduce you to feminism!

That said, the book has got you reading here, which I think was Ellie's intention, and I hope you can draw your own, informed conclusions on the big issues having read a little more.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 12:31

Hi Laura Woodhouse,

Am happy to answer those questions.

I am not in any doubt that the popular image of feminists as women with dungarees and body hair who burn their bras, whether a true stereotype or not, is an image that puts many women off of feminism. My position is that we need to reclaim feminism from this image, not because this is a bad image but because if that is what women who do not engage with feminism think feminism is about, then we need to show them that it is not about this.

I also state very clearly in the book and in newspaper articles elsewhere that I am strongly pro-choice when it comes to abortion. But I do think that where someone is unable to hold the pro-choice position she can still be a feminist. That is, feminism does not hinge just on the abortion issue.

As for the humourless image of feminism – I do think this puts people off. Do I want to change that? Yes. Why? Because I want more women (and men) to think about feminism and to realise they are feminists, and I think feminism often does not help itself when it comes to this.

I hope that answers your questions.

Ellie

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 12:52

Thanks for replying Ellie.

My issue is that, for me, having body hair and not wearing a bra is about feminism, and I'd rather try and get other women to understand why that is than encourage them to embrace a watered-down version of the feminist label. I don't think the aim of feminism is to get all women to call themselves feminists; I'd rather another woman saw how comfortable I am with my hairy legs and began to maybe question or at least think about a practice that is unthinkingly accepted by millions of people - but not call herself a feminist - than a woman decide to call herself a feminist because that no longer means she's gross and hairy like me, but never consider the pressure society puts on women to be beautiful and why 'beautiful' entails such an input of energy, time, money and, often, self-hatred. I don't think that getting women to call themselves feminists really helps them, but encouraging women to love their bodies does. (That doesn't mean that you have to be hairy to love your body, btw, that's just an example that has helped me.)

I guess we'll just have to disagree that a woman can be anti-choice and a feminist; this seems to me like another example of you caring more about women calling themselves feminists than what feminism actually is or aims to achieve. I'll have to read the book to see what it is you define as feminism, but if you're watering it down to the extent where access to abortion and questioning of beauty rituals is no longer a key element, I'm not sure what the point of getting men and women to think about it really is.

I can understand that you want to hook women in by presenting a less "scary" version of feminism, but if that version doesn't have a lot to offer other than assuring them that whatever they choose is feminist, no matter how that choice affects other women, I don't think you're going to end up with many converts to what I would see as a more developed version of feminism.

I know I'm making assumptions based on reviews and your articles here, so I don't want to say much more before I've read the book; I will be more than happy to retract any statements I feel to be unfair once I have read it!

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:02

Hi Laura Woodhouse,

I think your points are interesting - and I do see what you are saying regarding body hair. But what the book says is that as long as you are making your own decision - so on body hair for example as long as if you are removing body hair you do so because you want to not because society makes you - then I don't care which you choose. It also says that while in theory I don't think women should feel they have to remove body hair, I have no intention of being the one to challenge society in this respect because quite frankly I don't want to be the only one with bushy pubes at a swimming pool, or with unchecked stray hairs elsewhere where you wouldn't expect to find hair, and that if I am not prepared to make this stand then why would I expect other women to be the ones to do so? It may be that by not wanting to be the one to make this stand then some people would not consider me a feminist, but I think that we can be feminists without having to stand up and make these statements if we don't feel comfortable doing so.

With abortion - are you saying that if you are a feminist in every way except you cannot reconcile yourself to the idea that abortion should be an option for every woman, then you cannot be a feminist? Because if this is the case (and I reiterate for anyone reading this comment but not the previous comments that I am pro choice myself) then I think that excludes a huge number of people who are feminists except on this one issue, and that is a shame.

Ellie

Sam Rico // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:03

hi again Elly,

i think the issue with the 'humourless' thing is the clear double standard between feminism and other ideologies. for some reason, feminists are criticised much more for not laughing at outrageous things than others. while i do agree that you can put people off feminism by coming down hard on every possibly sexist thing anyone ever says, i strongly disagree with your position on rape jokes (and, it seems, rape in general).

a simple illustration of this is that noone has ever accused me of being humourless when i get annoyed about people telling racist jokes, jokes about poverty, jokes about my socialist beliefs, etc. BUT, as soon as i refuse to laugh at a rape joke (or some other form of incredibly sexist joke), i am criticised for being humourless. do you not see a double standard here? i personally know 4 girls (and i mean GIRLS, not women) who have been raped already, so if anything i should be even less inclined to laugh at these than the others. and i have actually been in a situation several times where such a joke was said in front of one or more of these girls, although, surprise surprise, the person telling the joke didn't know, because the victims dont generally go around advertising it.

i only have time to reply on this particular aspect of the conversation. rape is no joke, and it is one of the most important issues which must be protected from trivialisation through 'humour'. society doesn't take it seriously enough as it is.

Sam Rico // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:10

hi again Elly,

just saw your thing about abortion. in short, i disagree. like laura said, you seem to care more about making women say 'i am a feminist' than actually thinking about what that means. if they dont think about it, then their 'feminism' is basicly useless. i have come across several of these pseudo-'feminists', and they have been far from helpful in debates against those who oppose feminism. if anything, they simply got in the way, and often ended up confused and/ or helping the other side.

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:17

Ellie,

I can understand why you wouldn't want to take a stand on the body hair thing, and I'm not suggesting that a woman has to do so in order to be a feminist. (Though it is actually easier than you would think!) I don't care what women choose either, but I think women aren't particularly free to make these kinds of choices in a society where (to take your example) being able to see a woman's pubes when she goes swimming is considered a huge and embarrassing social faux pas and we are taught from puberty that women 'shouldn't have hairy legs'. I'd prefer to encourage women to think about that than to sideline hairy feminists and prioritise women labelling themselves as feminists at the expense of encouraging them to question a beauty industry and beauty standards which are essentially based on the idea that the natural female body is disgusting and socially unacceptable.

Yes, I do think that women who are against abortion being an option for all women should not and cannot call themselves feminists. Access to abortion - along with access to contraception and better financial and social support for mothers - is essential to women determining our own lives. Without it, women die. If an individual does not support the right to abortion, they are supporting laws which cause the deaths of over 60,000 women every year. That is categorically not feminist. I don't care if that excludes people calling themselves a feminist - women don't need 'feminists' who'd essentially rather women in Nicaragua die than be allowed access to safe, legal abortion.

George // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:26

As Laura said, "this seems to me like another example of you caring more about women calling themselves feminists than what feminism actually is or aims to achieve."

It seems to be that Ellie's feminism is a brand or badge or tradename to be sold and marketed, and that is very odd.

I know that one aim of feminism *might* be to make other people into feminists. I just don't think that this top-down approach is helpful. Why should someone with perfect mainstream credentials be the voice of the movement? Moreover, what gives her the right to say that various important areas are just fine now, so we can go back to wearing mascara and having lots of fun?

I'd rather educate people about feminism by having an active, vibrant, inclusive movement... rather than by telling them repeatedly that feminism is an easy-to-wear brand of friendly fun.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:30

Hi Laura Woodhouse, (using surname sounds so formal - apologies, just trying to make clear who I am replying to).

I wholly agree with you on your body hair point. I think you might find we have more in common in our views than you think.

We differ on the abortion point in that I do think you can be anti abortion yet still be a feminist, but it is a very interesting argument and I am interested to know what others think.

Ellie

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:41

Glad you agree on the body hair, Ellie; does that mean you won't use 'hairy feminist' as an example of the bad ol' feminism that noughties feminism isn't about?!

I'm more worried about the abortion issue, however, as I'd say being pro-choice is possibly one of the only things that unites all the various feminisms, and saying anti-choice women can be feminist is a huge misrepresentation of feminism in my view. How exactly do you think being anti-abortion can be reconciled with valuing women's lives, women's autonomy and women's freedom? You must have reasons for wanting to include anti-choice women in feminism; what are they?

lauredhel // Posted 20 July 2009 at 13:53

"I am not in any doubt that the popular image of feminists as women with dungarees and body hair who burn their bras, whether a true stereotype or not, is an image that puts many women off of feminism. My position is that we need to reclaim feminism from this image"

Who's "we", Ellie?

Kate // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:19

Ellie, how do you think a woman can take the position that another woman should be forced to continue with a pregnancy against her wishes and still be called a feminist? I’m interested to hear how you’ve actually squared this, rather than just repeating “a woman can be a feminist and anti-abortion.”

Also, how far would you extend the idea of choice (in the wider context of abortion) being a feminist act? I can agree that choosing to shave or not doesn’t have to detract from feminism (but then I would say that) but would you say an 18-year-old who “chooses” a designer vagina should be applauded for making this “choice”, or would you concede that this is ultimately an act which is harmful to women as a whole and that there are wider influences at work?

And Megan, thank you very much for posting that press release. I now know that the “chatty style” should have been a red flag to my humourless feminist bent. And thanks for the clarification that it’s aimed at women in their 30s, I still have a few more years to go before I can grow into being a “noughtie girl”. I’m looking forward for that point where I leave my silly obsessions with domestic violence, the pay gap and maternity rights behind and can really immerse myself in the pros and cons of dungarees.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:26

Hi Laura Woodhouse,

You can only counter stereotypes such as 'hairy feminist' by addressing them. So no, I am not going to stop acknowledging the stereotype some people have in order to argue against it.

On abortion - my point is that I do not want to alienate people who are not pro choice from the rest of feminism and I do believe that it is possible not to be pro choice and to still be a feminist which is something we disagree on. It does not mean that I don't want everyone to be pro choice - I do - but I don't want being pro choice to be a pre-requisite to being a feminist. I guess one of our major differences is that you do see being pro-choice as a pre-requisite for being a feminist which effectively stops huge numbers of people from identifying with a movement where they may agree with everything else but this. Mary Wollstonecraft was not in favour of abortion. Nor was Elizabeth Cady Stanton - under your definition this means they could not be feminists.

Incidentally, the seven demands of the 1978 National Women’s Liberation Conference did not include an obligation to be pro-choice. The demands were:

1. Equal pay for equal work
2. Equal education and job oportunities
3. Free contraception
4. Free 24-hour community-controlled childcare
5. Legal and financial independence for women
6. An end to discrimination against lesbians
7. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of male violence. An end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and men's agression towards women

Ellie

Kate // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:35

Ellie, do you think maybe the context surrounding abortion has moved on a little since the 18th Century and Mary Wollstencraft may not be relevant when justifying why you think it can be feminist to oppose abortion?

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:37

I feel like we're going round in circles here, Ellie. So you agree with my take on body hair, but you still think hairy feminist is a stereotype which needs to be argued against. You still think that I am something to be held up as an example of what feminism isn't.

You still haven't clarified why you want people who support laws which oppress and kill women to be part of the feminist movement.

As for the seven demands - I'd say anti-abortion laws perpetuate male dominance in that they deny women the same control over their bodies and lives as men and mean that men can force women to bear their children, which is of particular concern in cases of rape. I know I wouldn't feel as safe or free in a society where I could not access abortion; I certainly wouldn't have sex with the same sense of freedom as men, for a start. I'll do some research if I have time, but I'd imagine access to abortion was therefore covered under point 7, and if it wasn't done so explicitly, it certainly could be.

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:41

And what Kate said regarding Wollstonecraft.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:44

Hi Laura Woodhouse,

No I don't think you are an example of what a feminist isn't - I have not said that. But I think my definition of feminism is more inclusive than yours and I think you agree with that as you explicitly say you have to be pro choice to be a feminist whereas I don't agree with this.

But I think we have probably both made our positions clear so won't rehash it again.

Thank you for engaging with this article though.

Ellie

lauredhel // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:52

"I'd imagine access to abortion was therefore covered under point 7"

I totally agree with this. Abortion being illegal means that the State explicitly threatens and uses violence against women who choose it. Like commenters above, I _cannot_ reconcile feminism with the embracing of State violence against women for claiming bodily autonomy. I just don't know what sort of intellectual knots you'd have to tie yourself into to justify that; but whatever they are, they're not woman-centred, and they're not feminist.

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 14:57

Well, I'm a hairy, braless feminist so saying you want to reclaim feminism from and fight against the stereotype of the hairy feminist seems a pretty good indication that I'm not a 'noughties' feminist.

Yes, your definition of feminist is more inclusive than mine, but when it's including people who support laws that actively oppress women and have resulted in the unnecessary death of who knows how many women while we've been having this conversation, then I'm fine with that.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 15:01

Hi Laura Woodhouse,

I don't want to reclaim feminism from that stereotype, I want to show people that you do not have to be that stereotype to be a feminist, which is different to being against people who also fit that stereotype.

Ellie

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 15:18

Ellie,

Fair enough, as long as that is done in such a way as to acknowledge that some feminists are hairy and the reasons behind that, rather than implying that we're a bunch of weirdos!

lauredhel // Posted 20 July 2009 at 15:21

" My position is that we need to reclaim feminism from this image"

[2.5 hours later] "I don't want to reclaim feminism from that stereotype"

Are you drawing a distinction between "image" and "stereotype" here? I can't figure it out.

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 15:50

Hi Laura Woodhouse,

I don't think feminists are a bunch of weirdos! (I do think some people think feminists are though - that's what I am hoping to change).

Ellie

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 15:53

Hi Lauredhel,

What I mean is women who do not consider themselves feminists because of this image should realise that you do not need to confirm to this stereotype in order to be a feminist, while at the same time acknowledging that this stereotype where it does exist is not a bad thing. ie there is nothing wrong with being bra-less or hairy but you don't have to be bra-less or hairy.

I hope that clears it up for you.

Ellie

lauredhel // Posted 20 July 2009 at 16:14

No, it doesn't clear it up. Are you rescinding one of the comments that I quoted, or not? I'm looking for some intellectual consistency in your stated aims, here, and failing to find it.

I'm also looking for a body of cites for the feminism that demands that feminists must be hairy and bra-less (not one or two isolated incidences, but a substantial and consistent body of evidence), because it looks like yet another yawn-inducing and unoriginal strawfeminist argument from here.

Legible Susan // Posted 20 July 2009 at 16:39

Ellie,

Incidentally, the seven demands of the 1978 National Women’s Liberation Conference did not include an obligation to be pro-choice. The demands were:

1. Equal pay for equal work
2. Equal education and job oportunities
3. Free contraception
4. Free 24-hour community-controlled childcare
...

O really? I never heard that the demands had been neutered like that. In '74, no. 3 still said
Free contraception and abortion on demand.

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 16:44

Should have checked that myself, Legible Susan. According to the Feminist Archive, abortion on demand was indeed included:

http://feministarchivenorth.org.uk/chronology/appendixi.htm

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 16:45

Hi Legible Susan,

I used this as my source - apologies if it is wrong. http://www.feministseventies.net/demandsx.html

My argument remains the same.

Please note I am strongly pro choice and want abortion on demand. I am just saying you do not have to agree with this to be a feminist.

Ellie

Faith from F.N. // Posted 20 July 2009 at 16:48

"Well, I'm a hairy, braless feminist so saying you want to reclaim feminism from and fight against the stereotype of the hairy feminist seems a pretty good indication that I'm not a 'noughties' feminist."

I'd say you should consider the fact that you aren't a 'noughties' feminist a compliment.

"As for the humourless image of feminism – I do think this puts people off. Do I want to change that? Yes. Why? Because I want more women (and men) to think about feminism and to realise they are feminists, and I think feminism often does not help itself when it comes to this."

Ellie,

Feminism is -scary-. Feminists deal with and actively try to change some of the most horrifying, damaging beliefs and behaviors in existence. Might I suggest that if a woman's biggest concern when she's considering declaring herself a feminist is whether or not she'll have to shave her legs - or whether or not people will believe she's a fat, ugly, humourless, hairy feminist - that perhaps she is not ready to embrace the stress and difficulties that are a large part of being a feminist? Attempting to make feminism more "user friendly", so to speak, will not solve a thing. It only serves to help maintain some of the very realities that feminism is intended to destroy.

Harry Brown // Posted 20 July 2009 at 16:55

Please note I am strongly pro choice and want abortion on demand. I am just saying you do not have to agree with this to be a feminist.

Why not? If feminism is to mean anything then it must stand for something. No-one argues that it's OK to call yourself an anti-racist whilst owning slaves (it's just this one little thing! I agree with everything else!)

Feminism is about the liberation of women from patriarchal standards. At the most basic level this is about having bodily autonomy - if you don't have that you don't have anything.

To be pre-life / anti-choice / anti abortion and in favour of forced pregnancy disqualifies someone from being a feminist. Deal with it.

Legible Susan // Posted 20 July 2009 at 16:56

Laura W,

Thanks for that link! I see it was the one in '78 that I was at. That makes more sense - I was a baby feminist in '74 and wouldn't have had the contacts to get there.

Sam // Posted 20 July 2009 at 17:40

Ellie,

"I do think that when a man buys you dinner it is disingenuous to think you haven’t given him the impression that something sexual may happen."

I'm a guy and I don't think that's the case. Women do have ways to give men the impression that something sexual may happen even if they aren't actually interested in that, and I do find it disingenous when women manipulate guys into paying drinks by being all over them if the women aren't even interested in talking to them.

But agreeing to go *on a date* implies that I have already spent at least half an hour talking to her during which I have had the chance to figure out whether I'm interested in her or not. The very fact of going out *on a date* implies that something sexual *may* happen, but it just as easily *may not*.

Were I to pay for the dinner, it would be a signal of my ability to do so, and of my interest in a continued relationship which would give her the opportunity to reciprocate the next time.

Quite frankly, it is my experience that both women and men are usually happy to split the bill if neither is interested in seeing each other again.

Simle thing - gender switch: when a girl pays for me, she doesn't automatically get access to my pants either.

polly styrene // Posted 20 July 2009 at 19:09

"Sex where you 'didn't want to do it' is just a euphism for RAPE. When someone you know rapes you it is always violent, because rape is violent. More women are killed by their partners every year than by anyone so why do you think you wouldn't be afraid for your life if it was someone you knew?"

Exactly, thanks Rachel. Does Ellie Levenson seriously think that partner rape is a friendly non threatening act? It's more often than not part of a continuum of domestic violence.

polly styrene // Posted 20 July 2009 at 19:28

"I am not in any doubt that the popular image of feminists as women with dungarees and body hair who burn their bras, whether a true stereotype or not, is an image that puts many women off of feminism. My position is that we need to reclaim feminism from this image, not because this is a bad image but because if that is what women who do not engage with feminism think feminism is about, then we need to show them that it is not about this. "

Is it just me whose head hurt when reading that?

If someone is convinced that being a feminist is just about hairy legs, blah blah blah are they really going to buy a book about it anyway?

It's kind of like when the Tories go on about how gay friendly they are. You just think, sorry mate, I'm not your target market and I don't believe you.

MariaS // Posted 20 July 2009 at 21:08

Ellie - are you confusing being against abortion as a personal choice, with being anti-choice? Laura W. explained it very clearly and very well in several comments - an anti-choice position in fact advocates the removal of choice for other women, and is NOT the same as a personal ethical choice not to have an abortion.

To be anti-choice is to be supportive of legislation against abortion and restricting abortion. Of stopping other women being able to have abortions.

Quite often there is an unspoken agenda behind anti-choice rhetoric, whether conscious or not. It is not about unborn foetuses, but about the control of women's bodies. (I am indebted to many American feminist blogs for articulating and illustrating this - it's important to realise how very precarious the availability of abortion and contraception is over there). It's also important to get past the red herring of the idea that women have abortions frivolously - when you think about it it's bloody obvious that women take the decision to end a pregnancy seriously. The real issue is about trusting women to make decisions about their own bodies. If you think of abortion as a private medical decision made by the pregnant woman, and not something women should be punished by the state for (the logical consequence of advocating to make abortion illegal), then being pro-choice is the only logical and consistent feminist position.

Perhaps the most vital, yet often unspoken because it is expressed in many different ways - regarding abortion and reproductive choice, regarding sex and consent - about many different issues, idea at the heart feminism is that women belong to no one but themselves. Our bodies do not exist for the benefit and use of other people, yet that is the subtle message we are socialised with in so many little ways. We are not selfless incubators of future humans. We are not there to look pretty for heterosexual men. We are not vending machines for sex. To be feminist is to assert that we women are human beings, and our autonomy, our freedom, matters and is worth fighting for. To assert this is to value ourselves and other women.

I will choose what enters me, what becomes of my flesh. Without choice, no politics, no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield, not your uranium mine, not your calf for fattening, not your cow for milking. You may not use me as your factory. Priests and legislators do not hold shares in my womb or my mind. This is my body. If I give it to you I want it back. My life is a non-negotiable demand. Excerpt from Right To Life by Marge Piercy

Ellie Levenson // Posted 20 July 2009 at 21:28

Here is a link to my views on being pro-choice where I specifically write about the importance of being pro choice.

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/ellie-levenson-the-misogyny-of-the-antiabortion-lobby-544032.html

I don't think I have anything more to add to this thread as I have clarified all the areas where comments seem to misunderstand or challenge my views, but I will continue to read comments posted.

Thanks again for your contributions.

Ellie

MariaS // Posted 20 July 2009 at 21:35

Ellie, you say:
"... what the book says is that as long as you are making your own decision - so on body hair for example as long as if you are removing body hair you do so because you want to not because society makes you - then I don't care which you choose. It also says that while in theory I don't think women should feel they have to remove body hair, I have no intention of being the one to challenge society in this respect because quite frankly I don't want to be the only one with bushy pubes at a swimming pool, or with unchecked stray hairs elsewhere where you wouldn't expect to find hair, and that if I am not prepared to make this stand then why would I expect other women to be the ones to do so?"

You're trying to argue two incompatible things - that shaving one's legs is totally about free choice, yet what keeps you from not shaving is fear - fear of standing out, fear of looking different, fear of disapproval, of ridicule, of embarrasment.

No worries - it's a common enough way to rationalise the choices we as women make while living in a sexist society, to assert that the option that you are really pressured into taking is the one you just happen to independently like best. These reasons you give are the exactly the same reasons why I remove my leg hair or don't show my leg hair publicly. It's not my free choice though. (Here's a good post that discusses the politics of pubic hair removal)

There are no positive mainstream images of women being naturally hairy. Hairy women are to be mocked, to be regarded as freaks or a fetish.

But feminism is political. It is about non-conformity, about resistance, about rebellion. That's what's so bloody wonderful about it.

It's about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, it is LIBERATION. If you can find the strength to make a stand, whether it's by biting the bullet and showing off your leg hair, or by joining a protest, or by challenging a sexist remark, or supporting another woman against a harrasser, whatever - all of these things, large and small are hard to do, but are empowering.

Being a feminist isn't about doing those things yourself necessarily though but it is about cheering on the women who do, about facilitating and supporting them, and about, however quietly, letting yourself be inspired by them and feeling that little bit stronger and more rebellious yourself inside, whether you act on it or not. Women's liberation is a collective effort.

I said it in an earlier comment, whether you personally shave or not is not irrelevant to whether you think of yourself as feminist or not. What is not feminist is to be overly-concerned to differentiate yourself from the hairy feminists. To say, feminists can be conventionally feminine is not problematic - of course they can. But what feminism is about with regard to body and appearance is about furthering and supporting women's freedom to dress and present themselves however the hell they feel most comfortable doing so, to not feel shame about being fat, about being hairy, or any number of other body image issues.

Laura // Posted 20 July 2009 at 21:48

No one's disputing that you're pro-choice, Ellie, and it's great to have a pro-choice voice in the media, but you haven't provided any reasons as to why you think an anti-choice stance is compatible with feminism or why you want people who are not pro-choice (not just for themselves, but for all women) to be part of feminism.

Maxine // Posted 20 July 2009 at 23:15

The point Ellie's work seems keen to make is that you don't have to be/wear/do XYZ in order to be a feminist. Fair enough. But it misses the point. Humourless and elitist people exist in all political factions and all sections of society. This is a feature of human nature, not a feature of feminism, and it does not undermine the fundamental rightness of the cause. To present this as some flaw inherent to feminism (or, worse, to the female sex) is misleading, and damaging in itself.

Shea // Posted 20 July 2009 at 23:59

I just want to add, this is incredibly powerful:

" [the] idea at the heart feminism is that women belong to no one but themselves. Our bodies do not exist for the benefit and use of other people, yet that is the subtle message we are socialised with in so many little ways. We are not selfless incubators of future humans. We are not there to look pretty for heterosexual men. We are not vending machines for sex. To be feminist is to assert that we women are human beings, and our autonomy, our freedom, matters and is worth fighting for. To assert this is to value ourselves and other women."

This to me is the essence of feminism, above and beyond the infighting and disagreements on key issues. If there is a feminist credo then this would be it.

lauredhel // Posted 21 July 2009 at 04:53

OK, Ellie. Since you've avoided the two direct questions I asked you, I'll invite you to talk about something else.

What does your book have to say to women who have disabilities, women who aren't white, women who are lesbian or bisexual or queer, trans women, poor women, abused women, and women who weren't raised in the UK?

JenniferRuth // Posted 21 July 2009 at 09:02

@ Ellie

I don't think I have anything more to add to this thread as I have clarified all the areas where comments seem to misunderstand or challenge my views, but I will continue to read comments posted.

I can't find in the comments thread where you clarify why you believe that anti-choicers can be feminist. You stated this belief a number of times but you have not explained your reasons. This is important because anyone who wishes to deny women their bodily autonomy is not a feminist. I think we are all interested in knowing why you think they can be.
This has nothing to do with your views on abortion - this is to do with why you would welcome those who want to control women's bodies into feminism.

Emma Jane // Posted 21 July 2009 at 09:04

First, I'd like to thank Ellie for taking the time to try to reply to all of the comments on here.

Unlike a number of people on here, I have read the book. I found it interesting and thought provoking. That doesn't mean I agreed with everything in it, but the chances of ever reading anything you agree with entirely are very low indeed. I find it odd that people would refuse to read a book just because they disagree with some of the points made, but that’s your choice.

There are a large number of points made that I would like to address. I will keep it to three though, if I can.

The dinner question – I understand people being upset about this. But I don’t think the message is meant to be that if someone buys you dinner then you owe them something, or that they have any right to think that. Surely – and maybe I got this more from the book than from the article – the point is that on a date you give certain subtle hints about your level of interest. Right or wrong, allowing a man to pay for you might give him the impression that you are enjoying the date and like him and might want to take things further in some way. It’s not that you pay for dinner with your body, it’s just that your action might be read as interest. Whether you think that it should be read that way or not, saying this is a far cry from saying that letting someone buy dinner is tantamount to handing out an all access VIP pass to your body; I really don’t think that was what was being said.

Another point is the one about abortion. I agree that a woman’s right to choose is incredibly important. And having the ultimate right to choose over issues about their own bodies is one of the most important things that feminism has done for women. I would like to thank all who have gone before me for that. And for my right to vote, while I’m thanking people. But I don’t think that thinking abortion is wrong is anti-feminist. The line gets drawn when you think that your right to say ‘no’ to abortion equals a right to make other people have to say ‘no’ too. The right to choose is, like religion, one of things that are personal to an individual. I respect everyone’s right to believe what they choose to believe in – be that religion, abortion – as long as they make informed choices for themselves without thinking they have the right to impose those beliefs on others (I suppose this doesn’t hold up when you get into politics and welfare and redistribution of wealth etc. But it works pretty well for abortion and religion).

And, yes, choice is what feminism is all about. Feminism is certainly about empowering yourself through whatever choices are right for you. Even if you choose something that is not traditionally seen as the feminist option (queue the high heels, mini-skirts and pink lipstick). Believing that we have the right to make our own decisions is what feminism is. I don’t see why we shouldn’t think of all women are feminists as long as they believe that they are of no less consequence for not being a man.

I am a feminist. So’s my (male) partner. All women, and all men, should be able to call themselves feminists – it’s about believing in equality and choice; very few people would actually object to that, right?

Laura // Posted 21 July 2009 at 10:01

Hi Emma Jane,

You say feminism is about 'equality and choice', but personally I think it is about liberation - freeing all women from male dominance, male dominated society and everything that goes with that. Individual women making their own choices does not necessarily help us achieve this, and can harm other women or hold other women back. This can be linked to aiming for 'equality' rather than 'liberation' - feminists such as Luce Irigaray argue that aiming for equality inevitably entails aiming for equality with those who dominate in society: men. Assuming we work within the already established rules and norms of male dominated society in order to do this we are not really challenging anything and many, many women will be left behind; in our capitalist, homophobic, transphobic, disablist society this means that poor, gay, trans, disabled women are likely to be ignored and trampled on as able bodied, white, het cis women fight for a share of able bodied, white, het cis men's power.

So, if an individual woman fights for the equal right to become Prime Minister, but then enacts laws which oppress and harm women, that is no success for feminism. If a woman freely chooses to be and fights for acceptance as a top city banker but then screws over the rest of the country in exchange for a massive bonus, she may be earning the same as the top men, she may have equal pay (which is unlikely anyway), but that is no success for feminism, particularly when women are disproportionately affected by poverty.

Persuading men and women that they can all call themselves feminists because actually the word 'feminist' means so very little will not help us challenge male dominance and all the other forms of oppression which affect women worldwide. There are huge numbers of people doing all sorts of work to help women and tackle oppression that don't call themselves feminists, and that's fine by me. As I've said before, the aim of feminism isn't to get everyone to put 'feminist' on their facebook page, and watering down feminism to the extent that anyone can call themselves a feminist is completely unproductive.

On abortion - I agree that women can be against abortion for themselves and still claim to support feminist ideals, but if they are against other women being able to access abortion they cannot. This doesn't mean we should pile vitriol on individual anti-choice women who are not in positions of power or directly working to limit our access to abortion - I believe we should talk to them and do what we can to change their minds - but they are not feminists, and those who actively oppose abortion are out-and-out anti-feminists and anti-women in my opinion.

Kate // Posted 21 July 2009 at 10:14

@Emma Jane, I’m sorry but I do think thinking abortion is “wrong” is anti-feminist. Ultimately what you’re saying is it’s wrong for women to exercise bodily autonomy and the “right” decision would be for them to sacrifice their own interests and potentially health and sanity to carry a baby to term.

@Ellie, thanks for posting that Independent link. I’m still massively unclear how you think being anti-choice can be feminist, especially as you write this: “Pro-life is one of the great misnomers of our age. People who are pro-life refer to the life of an unborn child versus that of a living woman. It is the ultimate misogyny, pro foetal life and anti women's lives.”

You also write this: “Being pro-choice is as much about the right to choose to go ahead with a pregnancy as it is to terminate it.” I absolutely agree that we have to support individual women to continue with their pregnancies if that is what they want. It is not woman-friendly to promote abortion because it clears up a “problem” of people having children younger or with fewer resources than society condones.

I would appreciate it if you would rejoin the thread to clarify whether you’re trying to argue that someone can be anti-choice in general and be feminist, or know they would never have an abortion themselves and still be a feminist. If it is the former, I really am interested to know how you swear this as I just don’t think it’s possible. As the poster above said, to me it really does equate with keeping slaves but claiming to be terribly distressed about racism.

I reiterate what I said above as well that I think your book would have been better if you’d had these debates before writing it. You talk about women making choices to shave, wear lipstick etc and that being a feminist act because it is based on a choice. Yet you accept that you don’t really feel free to choose not to wax your bikini line etc. A choice where you can only comfortably choose one option is not a choice at all. Until we have a culture where women, especially those who consider themselves feminists, can rock up to a swimming pool with “bushy pubes” without feeling mortified then we are not operating within a neutral context that allows a genuinely free choice.

However, I don’t want to get too bogged down in bushy pubes because for me this whole argument about feminists being hairy or humourless is really a strawman argument. As I see it, the challenge for feminism isn’t the lack of women willing to sign up to the feminist “brand” because they’re put of by some stereotype. It’s the actual issues; the pay gaps, the violence, the sexual exploitation, the maternity discrimination and so much more. That’s what I think feminists should be arguing about, and there’s a lot less scope of infighting in these areas.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 21 July 2009 at 11:12

Hi Kate

I don't think that's what Emma Jane said. She said: "The line gets drawn when you think that your right to say ‘no’ to abortion equals a right to make other people have to say ‘no’ too."

So I think you both agree!

Denise // Posted 21 July 2009 at 12:51

Catherine Redfern and Jess McCabe, would either (or both) of you not consider writing your own book on contemporary feminism? Maybe with contributions from other F-Word bloggers? I'm sure you would both have enough publishing credentials/contacts to get a deal?
You've got one buyer already!

katrina // Posted 21 July 2009 at 13:53

Emma Jane, I for one wouldn't bother with this book, not simply because I disagree with Ellie's statements, but because she really doesn't seem to have thought much about the issues -- let alone read up on them. She seems very callow, incapable of engaging in real discussion with those who question what she says. Instead she repeats herself, using slightly different word order or vocabulary, and genuinely seems to believe that that will "clear things up".
I'm enjoying the wit and wisdom of those who DO have a clue, as they try to explain to Ellie what she's missed in her assertions about dinner, rape, body hair, abortion and stereotypes.
But everything Ellie herself is saying, I've heard before from sexist men and/or my mother.


Catherine Redfern // Posted 21 July 2009 at 17:19

Dear Denise,

Many thanks for the kind words. In fact I am currently co-writing a book about feminism with Kristin Aune to be published in July 2010, by Zed books. It will be based on our survey of around 1300 feminists that we have been doing this year and last year (by the way, in case anyone reading had completed our survey, the responses have been a real honour to read, thank you).
http://www.tinyurl.com/feministresearch

I'll obviously keep everyone updated (hopefully without boring you all too much) as we want to share a lot of our survey data back with the feminist community as it is really interesting.

Natasha Walter also has a book coming out but I'm not sure exactly when. Its called Living Dolls and you can look it up on Amazon.

I have heard that another UK feminist activist is also writing a book but I don't have any more details.

In any case, there does seem to be a bit of a wave for UK books about feminism at the moment, which is good I think as it will hopefully push feminist issues up the agenda.

Denise // Posted 21 July 2009 at 18:29

Thanks, Catherine.
That's all excellent news! Cheered me up.

Lilly // Posted 21 July 2009 at 18:41

I seem to remember reading something about September, but currently Amazon gives a February 2010 release date for 'Living Dolls'.

It sounds very interesting. I wonder to what extent Walter's opinions have changed since the last book...

Carrie // Posted 21 July 2009 at 19:30

It strikes me as ironic that a feminist calls for an end to infighting and all she gets is a barrage of abuse from people who have decided they not she has the moral highground on feminism. If I were Ellie I wouldn't have replied to a single one of the abusive comments.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 July 2009 at 19:37

On abortion - I agree that women can be against abortion for themselves and still claim to support feminist ideals, but if they are against other women being able to access abortion they cannot. This doesn't mean we should pile vitriol on individual anti-choice women who are not in positions of power or directly working to limit our access to abortion - I believe we should talk to them and do what we can to change their minds - but they are not feminists, and those who actively oppose abortion are out-and-out anti-feminists and anti-women in my opinion.

Perfectly summed up, I think. A woman doesn't need to want abortions to be a feminist. They don't need to even think it's 'right'. even feminists can have their own issues with abortion. I'd love everyone to be perfectly OK with it, but I know realistically even many pro-choicers have their own baggage when it comes to foetuses. As long as they believe that their beliefs shouldn't legally force other people's decisions, their beliefs are their own (though of course the idea of being pro-choice but seeing abortions as wrong or icky is worthy of discussion).

But I don't feel someone can be vehemently against all women having the right to choose for themselves and be a feminist. Because to me, being feminist is about recognising that no matter my personal preferences, I should not be making decisions for someone else. And I can't personally see how someone could support freedom of bodily autonomy for women and conveniently leave the right to choose whether to carry to term out of it. I have never yet heard a convincing argument as to how someone can be pro-life and feminist.

Feminism is about choices, but it's also about reflection and deconstruction. It's not enough to merely have choice, it's about examining our contexts and whether those choices really are free. Feminism isn't about piling on women who choose a choice that has been traditionally a result of the patriarchy. It's never about attacking victims or blaming the oppressed for not being perfectly strong.

But, feminism's also not about presenting a choice as being inherently feminist when it's formed at least partly as a result of the patriarchy's pressure on women. That isn't to say that women shouldn't have the right to that choice or any other, or that they deserve hassle if they accept that choice, but that simply making a choice does not make that choice feminist itself, particularly when it's the 'path of least resistance' patriarchically speaking. It doesn't need to be called feminist, because that's not what every choice is about. A lot of what society is feeding us at the moment tells us that making a (particularly patriarchy-following) choice is an empowering, feminist deed simply because we make a choice. It's not. We make choices because we have to, there is no special credit for this. And it's often easier to make a choice society wants us to make.

Sometimes we fight, sometimes we give in, and sometimes we like the choice that the patriarchy will have us choose anyway. That's all OK. But feminism isn't just about the fact that these choices exist, it's about the fact that they're not all equal choices, and that there may be more choices we are denied or heavily pressured to not pursue. Framing every choice as an equal choice or a feminist choice takes focus away from all the pressure we face to conform, and all the misogyny still surrounding us. We're not in a post-patriarchy, so every choice is not the same.

People deserve to have their individual choices respected and have no obligation to prove their feminist cred by explaining a choice, however 'unfeminist' the context. However, the choices themselves, their context and the way the patriarchy feeds into them, are something we should definitely engage with.

Laura // Posted 21 July 2009 at 19:55

Carrie - I'd say 'in-fighting' (though I wouldn't call it that) is necessary in order to define what we want and how we're going to get there. Feminists need to challenge each other in order to hash out ideas and ensure different women's voices are heard. And when a feminist writes a guide to feminism which appears from the promo material to misrepresent what many feminists believe feminism to be it's no wonder these feminists speak up.

Jack Leland // Posted 21 July 2009 at 20:14

You say feminism is about 'equality and choice', but personally I think it is about liberation - freeing all women from male dominance, male dominated society and everything that goes with that

What if most women don't want to be liberated from male dominated society, but do want a conception of equality within it realized and more choice to boot? Why is it that these pro-equality, pro-choice, anti-liberation women cannot rightly call themselves feminists?

sianmarie // Posted 21 July 2009 at 21:30

laura w:
I agree that women can be against abortion for themselves and still claim to support feminist ideals, but if they are against other women being able to access abortion they cannot.

sianmarie // Posted 21 July 2009 at 21:34

laura w:
I agree that women can be against abortion for themselves and still claim to support feminist ideals, but if they are against other women being able to access abortion they cannot.

i totally agree. an individual woman may not choose abortion for herself, but we must fight to support the right for women to be able to make that choice. i think we forget to easily that we are lucky to have access to abortion in the uk. many many women do not have that choice. i am lucky enough that i have never had to make that decision, but i am grateful that if i ever did become pregnant i would be able to make a choice, because of what feminists before me have thought for.

and quick one on the hair thing - so long as beauty standards are the way we are, the idea of choice is almost a moot point on hair removal, as there is so much pressure on women to be hairless. even the way ellie's comment phrases it, stray hairs where you wouldn't expect hair - where exactly is this referring to? hair grows on your body pretty much everywhere. to be embarrassed by body hair is to say that you have no choice about removing it or not.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 July 2009 at 22:16

Carrie, if the author had wanted comments that agreed with everything they had written, they would have been asking for not only an end to in-fighting in feminism but an end to criticism of any sort. I may have missed the 'abuse' (saying a particular opinion isn't very feminist isn't abuse AFAIK), so feel free to point it out if someone personally attacked the author. However, a person writing a book and publicising it should expect criticism of their opinions because they are putting them forward in a public place for discussion. This isn't an excuse for ad hominem attacks, sexist slurs, threats etc, which women in the public sphere are all too often the subject of.

But, as feminists, many of us here are interested in just what kind of portrayal of feminism is going into a book that many people with little knowledge of feminism might read. If we feel that people would be reading the book and getting a wrong impression of what many feminists think, it is only fair for people to share words to that effect.

As for in-fighting, (and further to many great things written by others here) let's not forget that disagreements occur on many scales, from polite differences in opinion, to pointing out flawed arguments and privilege, to full out oppressive arguments between large groups of people in which one is marginalised by the other. Just because there is disagreement does not automatically mean that someone is being marginalised or unfairly treated, it depends how this disagreement is voiced.

Ideally, I'd like the (to put them crudely) radical vs trans feminism, womanism vs feminism and sex positive feminism vs anti-sex work feminism divides to be bridged. I'd like us to remember we're working towards the same thing, and that sometimes we need to check our privilege and stop dictating what someone else's life should be like. I'd like us to be able to talk through our disagreements without it becoming something major.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't have disagreements, that we shouldn't call out each other's privilege, and that people can't disagree with someone else's summary of what feminism is.

I don't like 'in-fighting' as much as the next person. But I don't believe in going along with opinions that oppose what I believe feminism is, either, for the sake of presenting a unified face.So often it's considered the job of the oppressed to keep the peace and not make a deal. It's not the job of feminists who feel another feminist is making privileged or ignorant or oppressive statements to keep the peace.

Taken from the perspective of the person doing the othering/taking the patriarchy's defense/etc without realising, If we're all not prepared to check our privilege and listen, rifts will be a reality because those who should be our natural allies will get sick of being told to play nice whilst they are dismissed or told that oppression is sometimes OK.

If we don't want in-fighting we need to listen to everyone who is marginalised by mainstream feminism, or we will be contributing to rifts by ignoring our privilege and how it feeds into our sometimes flawed beliefs.

Laura // Posted 21 July 2009 at 22:18

@ Jack Leland,

I'm not saying pro-equality, pro-choice women cannot call themselves feminists, rather that I personally prefer the liberation model of feminism to the equality model, while appreciating that aspects of the equality model are necessary and useful in working towards women's liberation. I only said that anti-abortion individuals cannot be called feminists. Not sure that any woman would say she is 'anti-liberation' (!), but I see what you're getting at.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 July 2009 at 22:36

What if most women don't want to be liberated from male dominated society, but do want a conception of equality within it realized and more choice to boot? Why is it that these pro-equality, pro-choice, anti-liberation women cannot rightly call themselves feminists?

How can someone imagine 'equality' and 'choice' in a society that is 'male dominated'? By definition a society where one gender dominates power cannot be equal.

But you're right, most women don't see the whole picture. Not only because not everyone reads feminist literature or the feminist internet. Society puts a fair amount of effort in persuading people that feminism is no big deal. They're just fat ugly power-hungry lesbian man-haters with no sense of humour who want to have all the power and make men redundant. And it's no wonder that with all the conditioning, many women are wary of feminism or the idea of equality. After all, we're told over and over again that we already have it. We're in a 'post-feminist' age where women may even have too much equality, apparently. We're told the system isn't biased against anyone any more, that women are benefiting from positive discrimination and that everything is fine.

Within this context, women who see problems in their lives that they feel can be addressed through more choice may well shy of feminism, or the idea that deeply ingrained misogyny in a biased system is at the root of it. After all, they're told repeatedly that feminism is over and that we pretty much have equality. We're taught by the patriarchy that the system works, and it's the only thing we've known. Of course many people would be wary of wanting to change it or it would never have occurred to them. They might not have given it as much thought or they might think that it's their fault.

Someone who wants more freedom for themselves but hasn't yet fully realised how far up this goes, and that the problems are due to how society at its core is set up may well see themselves as a feminist and be a fledgeling one. Maybe they like the status quo. Maybe they can't imagine how a more equal society would look like. Maybe they believe some of the lies about feminists wanting female supremacy and wanting to castrate men. Whatever the reason, they clearly want equality of a sorts. They might just not understand what real equality would mean for all of us, for women, for men, and for the system. It doesn't make them bad people, hey, even I can't imagine what real equality for everyone would be like. It's so different from the world I've grown up in, and there are so many privileges I may not even know that I have.

But they would still be ignorant of many of the issues surrounding feminism. They may be feminists, but that does not mean that the viewpoint that there can be equality within a male dominated system is true or feminist. Whether a person is a feminist is separate to whether every opinion they hold is a truly feminist stance.

In short, one may be ignorant of some issues and be a feminist. One might even have some anti-feminist ideas and be a feminist, since we are all on a journey of learning to examine. But that does not make the position itself that you described feminist because someone calling themselves a feminist holds it, when at its core it's about maintaining a status quo that puts men at the top.

Besides, what does 'liberation' in this case mean? It pretty much sounds to me like you're describing radical feminists (those who want to smash the system) and those who want to work within the system to improve it. But all of the above want less male-domination. You can't have 'equality' without this.

KJB // Posted 21 July 2009 at 23:11

Given Ellie's comments about rape (which I still find pretty unbelievable, even when she attempted to 'justify' them), I felt it was necessary to link to this.

A REAL LIVE RAPE VICTIM discusses rape jokes:

http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/2009/06/24/a-woman-walks-into-a-rape-uh-bar/

Kristel // Posted 21 July 2009 at 23:27

Carrie. I don't see how you could seriously label the comments here on Ellie's book 'abusive'.

Your comment suggests that you're a mate of Ellie's and posting a supportive comment.

Jehenna // Posted 22 July 2009 at 02:03

@Jack

Because in a male dominated society no woman would be equal to a man simpy because she doesn't have a penis. That's why its called male dominated.

Are you suggesting that those women who want dignity, equality, respect but only for them, are real feminists?

Are you suggesting that women who openly embrace an unequal situation and would fight to keep themselves (and their sisters) subjugated are real feminists?

If we were equal, we could then renegotiate specific terms which are meaningful for us - equality does not mean 'the same as' but rather pertains to 'having the same rights and opportunities and the same freedom from persecution as'.

I cannot see why someone fighting for the right to abortion, but happily supporting inequal pay could be called a feminist. And if the inequalities they wish to embrace are only for themselves, then surely we should focus on equality first then negotiate specific terms for our individual subjugation?

Jack Leland // Posted 22 July 2009 at 05:42

Not sure that any woman would say she is 'anti-liberation' (!), but I see what you're getting at.

That was, of course, rhetorical.

I'm not saying pro-equality, pro-choice women cannot call themselves feminists, rather that I personally prefer the liberation model of feminism to the equality model, while appreciating that aspects of the equality model are necessary and useful in working towards women's liberation. I only said that anti-abortion individuals cannot be called feminists.

Just to be clear, I prefer the liberation model to the equality model as well, and I salute your hairy armpits. (And, they aren't that hairy, anyway.) But your abortion comments are interesting, because the most popular arguments for abortion are equality-based, even though those make no sense (you could have an all -female government with an all-female population that freely votes to restrict abortion, so abortion rights aren't a precondition for equality). A liberation argument for abortion does make sense (control over bodies, bodily integrity), no matter the relative quantum of female political power.

An equality feminist could theoretically say that when women are equal they could all vote to ban abortion. They would be feminists and they would have autonomy, but they would not have abortion rights. That doesn't sound like liberation to you, because it isn't: it's just a conception of equality. But to women who think feminism is about equality, it may be feminism.

Jess McCabe // Posted 22 July 2009 at 09:55

But your abortion comments are interesting, because the most popular arguments for abortion are equality-based, even though those make no sense (you could have an all -female government with an all-female population that freely votes to restrict abortion, so abortion rights aren't a precondition for equality)

I really don't see what you're getting at here - maybe you could give some examples of what pro-choice arguments you're talking about?

More liberal feminists are not opposed to restrictions on abortion because they would be voted in by a majority-male parliament, trust me! (Although it's not accidental that anti-abortion restrictions are voted in by male politicians, by any means).

Helen // Posted 22 July 2009 at 11:22

cannot reconcile yourself to the idea that abortion should be an option for every woman,...

So, which women should have abortions, Ellie, and which not? What is the guiding principle?

Jack Leland // Posted 22 July 2009 at 12:12

Jess,

I'm an American. Over here, the legal justifcations accepted by judges for abortion rights have moved from privacy (which most law professors reject) to bodily integrity (which only goes so far, because the State has an interest in protecting self-sufficient life) and equality (which, in theory, goes the rest of the distance). The notion is that women can't participate in the social, economic, and political life of the nation without abortion rights. No one believes that. It is a terrible argument. Women can vote, work, serve on juries, and obtain educations with or without abortion rights. The equality argument is popular amongst liberal legal theorists, but they acknowledge it is false. Abortion isn't as popular with the public as advertised, and equality is the argument they think sells best with the public. No one disputes the bodily integrity argument, though, which is why the split between liberals and conservatives is whether the right should remain federal or whether it should be returned to the states for the legislatures to decide on a state-by-state basis.

Laura // Posted 22 July 2009 at 12:32

Jack,

The notion is that women can't participate in the social, economic, and political life of the nation without abortion rights. No one believes that. It is a terrible argument.

Is it? If a woman is forced to have a baby that she cannot really afford to bring up she may not be able participate in the political or economic life of the nation to the extent she could if she were able to access abortion: she may have to give up her job, she may not have the time to be politically active etc With the lack of support available to mothers she is highly unlikely to be able to participate in the social, economic and political life of the nation to the same extent as a childless man. Hell, even a man with a child, as it's most likely the child's mother is looking after him/her. No equality there.

And if she's dead because she accessed a dangerous, backstreet abortion, or because she was unable to terminate an ectopic pregnancy, she certainly cannot participate in the life of the nation.

Jack Leland // Posted 22 July 2009 at 12:48

she may have to give up her job, she may not have the time to be politically active

Like I said, no one believes this.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents this, and no serious legal person disputes the bodily integrity argument, so the argument now is over keeping it federal or returning it to the states, not creating some dystopian world with billions of back-alley abortions.

If returned to the states, on a state-by-state basis, the way it works out is the liberal states will have them and the conservative states will tack more restrictions on late term abortions. The women who live in those states are religious conservatives, and they want those restrictions.

Nothing else will change, because the Supreme Court would probably keep the bodily integrity rationale intact as a federal matter, but leave the policy details to the state legislatures. That is pretty much what it is doing now, anyway, as there is a conservative majority on the Court.

Women can still vote.

sianmarie // Posted 22 July 2009 at 13:44

jack leland -

she may have to give up her job, she may not have the time to be politically active

Like I said, no one believes this...

i mean, surely we all know that having a baby changes your life and most women (esp in low level employment) do give up their jobs. do you not believe it, or are you saying most people in the us don't believe it. i'm just curious why this is the case.

as i read once, if men got pregnant abortion would be sacred.


i'm not sure i understand why no one believes this

Faith from F.N. // Posted 22 July 2009 at 13:49

"The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents this"

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not prevent a woman from possibly having to give up her job. Even with the act, a woman may still have to give up her job to actually, you know, be a mother. And when you have a newborn on your hip, you're not terribly likely to be very politically active unless you're fairly wealthy and can hire a nanny. I certainly wasn't politically active when my children were infants and toddlers. It was also nearly impossible to work when my children were small. Even now holding down a job is a tremendous difficulty.

Laura // Posted 22 July 2009 at 13:54

Look, if I had a kid now, there is no way in hell I would be able to carry on with my life as planned; I would have an abortion. Not having access to abortion, not being able to choose when or if I have a child would affect my ability to participate in society and determine the path of my own life. For men, fathering a child may change their life, but with the child not growing in their body they can choose not to be involved: it doesn't have to change their life. In order to have equal opportunities in life to men, then, women need to be able to access abortion.

You seem to be implying that it's OK for states to impose restrictions on abortion as 'the women who live in those states are religious conservatives, and they want those restrictions', which is a massive generalisation. All sorts of women need and want access to abortion in all states, and the views of others should not prevent them doing so, even if those others are in the majority. If a woman cannot access abortion in her state she can't necessarily just go to another state (and she shouldn't have to) - there are all sorts of barriers to her doing so, and this means the abortion will take place at a later date - and restrictions could very well lead to dangerous, illegal abortions taking place.

Jack Leland // Posted 22 July 2009 at 14:11

I haven't sympathized with any legal conservatives. The point is only that the legal regime now won't be changed much if abortion is no longer a federal right (not at all if you live in a liberal state), and the political rights women have won't change, either. I imagine all of you would live in "blue states" if you lived over here; nothing would change for you. Sure, a woman in Kansas might have a harder time getting a late term abortion (most women terminate within the first trimester, anyway), but she'd just drive over to Missouri. Literally, the difference in her life would be paying for the gas for the trip.

Carrie // Posted 22 July 2009 at 14:38

If you can't disagree with comments here without being told you must be a mate of whoever you are agreeing with as I have been by Kristel then this is a poor place for debate. I've read a few articles here and find them thought provoking but the comments put me off engaging further as if you don't completely agree with the other commenters you get shot down.

By the way murder isn't funny either but there are plenty of jokes about killing people. I would actually have agreed with most of you about rape jokes before I read the book but I think Ellie makes a convincing point - not that joking about rape is acceptable per se but that in the right context it helps us to deal with the subject and place it at heart of discussions of what behaviour is and isn't acceptable.

What's red and white and black all over? A nun in a food processor. Guess what - I'm not going to put a real nun in a food processor. Rape jokes do not mean you condone rape.

Chiara Tucker // Posted 22 July 2009 at 15:10

"I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis."

I am deeply saddened that Ellie's book even got published with the word 'feminism' on the cover while including this sentiment. There can be no justification for this attitude, no context excuses it. Same for the 'pro-lifers can be feminist' claim, about which she has contradicted herself and avoided the main question many times above. Ellie is not a feminist and I hope that any curious new feminists who read her book are logically minded enough to realise its massive inconsistencies. I read the Daily Mail extract - enough, I think.

Anne Onne // Posted 22 July 2009 at 15:37

The notion is that women can't participate in the social, economic, and political life of the nation without abortion rights. No one believes that. It is a terrible argument. Women can vote, work, serve on juries, and obtain educations with or without abortion rights.

Technically. Except life is not theory. Without abortion rights, particularly if also tied to a lack of contraception or sex education, women's participation in society (particularly work) IS tied to their reproductive capability, luck and whether they can afford to raise that child or get help caring for it.

For many people (especially many women), having a child, especially an unplanned or unwanted one puts a lot of stress on one's resources whether financial or emotional or time itself. It affects whether many people can work or stay in school or take part in society.

You're right in that abortion rights do not in themselves magically give women time or an education. It is theoretically possible to not have abortion rights and finish school and have a job and take part in society. But this is only so long as one does not get pregnant, which is dependant on whether one is fortunate enough to have access to contraceptives (and where there are no abortion rights, lack of contraception is often a feature, for similar reasons), whether one takes these precautions and whether one has consensual sex. It also assumes that women who can't abort have the support systems to be able to look after the resulting child/ren and participate in society or work or carry on schooling.

We're talking about more than theory, here. We're talking about women's lives. In reality many women with no abortion rights would often find their schooling, work and participation in society affected by an unwanted pregnancy.

And evidently some people (here being an example ) DO believe this. Saying nobody believes it to a bunch of people who tell you they do (and why) isn't actually going to change their minds.

No one disputes the bodily integrity argument, though, which is why the split between liberals and conservatives is whether the right should remain federal or whether it should be returned to the states for the legislatures to decide on a state-by-state basis.

I disagree. If nobody disputed it then there would be no reason to try to make it state-by-state rather than federal. If bodily integrity is seen as a right, and abortions as a right because of that, it would be seen as something which should apply in every state. The fact that some people want the right in their state to deny abortion rights implies that they don't care for the bodily integrity argument either. I don't feel one can think something is a right and insist at the same time that someone should be able to deny someone else in their state that right.

If returned to the states, on a state-by-state basis, the way it works out is the liberal states will have them and the conservative states will tack more restrictions on late term abortions. The women who live in those states are religious conservatives, and they want those restrictions.

Do they? Really? ALL the women? Are just women going to vote? What if it's mostly men voting in abortion limitations or bans?

Also, is it not possible that there will be women who will want abortions at some point in their life in these states? They might even be conservative, or even call themselves 'pro-life' until it happens to them. What if these women change their minds once they know what it's like to be pregnant with a child they don't want? They won't get a chance to opt out, nobody will.

Why should anybody be allowed to put additional restrictions on a perfectly legal procedure they don't ever intend to (or can't) use? Why should anyone get to decide what someone else should do with their body? There's no good argument for states getting to decide for the simple reason that if anyone doesn't want one they should just not have an abortion. Anything else is trying to control other people's bodies, and nobody should be subject to some sort of postcode lottery over whether they can have a perfectly legal procedure because someone else disagrees.

True, lots of women may want these restrictions, and many women may not be affected by all of the above. But feminism isn't just about the women who thrive under the status quo. It's especially about helping those who don't, those who fall between the cracks and whose lives are made much more difficult by society.

Jess McCabe // Posted 22 July 2009 at 15:55

There's substantial evidence that pregnant women are discriminated against, and of women being put on the 'mummy track' once they return to work. In the US, there is no right to maternity leave, and a significant lack of financial and practical support for parents, such as childcare. Legislation preventing discrimination doesn't mean that it never happens (just like the fact that theft is a crime doesn't mean it never occurs!) If liberal feminism is about anything, it's about - as Louise says earlier in this thread - making gradual improvements to the current situation, not making up hypothetical 'utopias'.

Moreover, a legal system which prevented women from exercising control over our own bodies does not treat woman as fully human; it prioritises the life of a feotus over the rights of an adult woman. Therefore the idea that abortion could be illegal makes it questionable that your hypothetical society would be all that equal in reality.

Anne Onne // Posted 22 July 2009 at 16:07

By the way murder isn't funny either but there are plenty of jokes about killing people.

Except that we are all in danger (theoretically) of being killed. Murder as a crime is taken seriously. When someone is accused or convicted of murder, people don't first think 'Poor soul, this could ruin their career if they are innocent!'. People don't (as often as with rape) think that the victim deserved it if they knew the murderer or slept with the murderer or wore a short skirt or shouted at the murderer etc. Murder is understood to be bad and people don't argue over whether it really was murder because the victim wanted to die. People don't normally deny a murder has occurred if they don't feel they have enough evidence to convict. The conviction rates for murder are relatively high. Murder is also much rarer than rape or abuse. and

Also, if you tell a joke about death and one of the people you are telling it to says it's not funny because their mum died a week ago, I hope most people would apologise and change the subject. Someone who complains about a rape joke doesn't get apologies or sympathy,even if they have been a victim (assuming they feel ready to share something that personal with the person telling jokes anyway). They normally get told they can't take a joke because they are too sensitive.

Now personally, I believe that if one doesn't want to apologise for offending someone, part of the intention must on some level have been to offend, otherwise one would be mortified at having inadvertently hurt someone. The fact that nobody thinks joking about a crime that is rarely taken seriously is not offensive only shows how little people think of the crime.

In short, society acknowledges the seriousness of murder in a way it does not acknowledge rape. Rape is a different crime, one that disproportionately affects one subset of the population. It is all very well to joke about something that could affect us all, but it is not on to joke about something that does not affect you for the reason that you are making light of something very serious that you never have to fear.

It would be wrong for a white comedian to joke about race hate and lynchings for the same reason: their group is historically the one that perpetrates these crimes, and they know nothing of what it is like to be a victim or potential victim. Whilst many men do not rape, it would be very rude, surely for someone to joke about a crime they could easily commit against a particular group of people and walk off scott-free with. If nothing else it's insensitive and very bad taste.

We are in a society where the majority of rapes are not convicted. Around 1/3 of people say they think women should take at least partial responsibility if they are raped if it wasn't a stranger-out-of-the-bushes situation. Women who have been raped face people telling them they deserved it or that it wasn't rape. Men who have been raped get told they were girly and deserved it. Not forgetting intersex or trans people, who are also disproportionally affected by abuse and rape.

Perhaps for rape survivors joking about rape in a safe space there may be some way of using black humour to deal with reality. But this is not what most rape jokes in the media or in our everyday lives are about. Most people telling rape jokes are men, far likely to have raped than have been raped, and most rape jokes minimise the seriousness of rape, making it no big deal. If anyone complains (say, a rape victim was triggered), then they just don't get the 'edgy' humour at their extent.

Why should the rights of someone who will likely never be raped to tell jokes about a crime they or someone they know will statistically commit override the rights of people who live in fear of this crime, or who have suffered it to not be reminded of it every day, and not have it shoved in their faces as a joke?

This all adds to a society where it's seen as no big deal and something women bring on themselves. Rape jokes are wrong because they aren't told to make survivors feel better or to make us examine the crime.

If you genuinely want more information and don't see why we're finding this an issue, google Feminism 101 or head over to Shakesville. There's a lot more to rape and feminism than a beginner's level book by someone a lot of feminists disagree with.

* Incidentally, I think rape jokes about men as well are wrong. Prison rape is not a joke, and someone being in prison doesn't mean they deserve to be raped or that it should be accepted!

Laura // Posted 22 July 2009 at 16:25

Just to point out that there's a new post on rape jokes up if you want to take this conversation there.

Jack Leland // Posted 22 July 2009 at 16:38

Are just women going to vote? What if it's mostly men voting in abortion limitations or bans?

If you want to pretend that mostly men are voting in West Virginia, fine by me. But it's mostly women, and they're the ones who disproportionately want abortion restrictions. I'm not a conservative, and I have no reason to make this up. Most of the anti-abortion people are religious, and it's mostly religious women who are picketing abortion clinics harassing other women. I don't know how it is over where you are.

If bodily integrity is seen as a right, and abortions as a right because of that, it would be seen as something which should apply in every state.

Perhaps you didn't understand, but I already explained that bodily integrity only explains up to the point of viability, so even if that were retained as federal law, anything after that would be up to state legislatures, and conservative jurisdictions would impose more restrictions on late term abortions.

The fact that some people want the right in their state to deny abortion rights implies that they don't care for the bodily integrity argument either.

No, it doesn't. It means they want to restrict late term abortions because they think it's no longer an issue of the woman's body and they're now dealing with an "unborn child". I'm not a conservative, but I do know what their arguments actually are.

In the US, there is no right to maternity leave

There's the Family Medical Leave Act and many companies have maternity leave. It depends on the employer.

In reality many women with no abortion rights would often find their schooling, work and participation in society affected by an unwanted pregnancy.

In reality, that's not true. As I said before, the practical effect of "striking down Roe" would be to force women to take AMTRAK or drive a bit longer into the neighboring state for an abortion. I'm not kidding or making light of things, but your dire scenarios are just not true.

Also, contraceptives are readily available here. There is no jurisdiction in which you cannot purchase contraceptives and sex toys off the Internet. The counties that purchase most of the hardcore Internet porn are the most "conservative" ones. So appearances can be deceiving.

I'm going to stop responding to these arguments, because I think I'm being misunderstood. I do not lack an understanding of the legal arguments, the public polling, or the social realities in the US, and I'm not making light of women's issues, nor I am defending a conservative, anti-abortion position. I'm just providing some factual context.

JenniferRuth // Posted 22 July 2009 at 17:29

@ Jack

In reality, that's not true. As I said before, the practical effect of "striking down Roe" would be to force women to take AMTRAK or drive a bit longer into the neighboring state for an abortion. I'm not kidding or making light of things, but your dire scenarios are just not true.

You are making the assumption that all women have a car. Or the money for gas. Or the money for AMTRAK. Or even the ability to get the time to drive over state lines.
Women who travel to Great Britain for abortions can pay as much as £1,000 and are getting into debt, according to Marie Stopes International.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7396817.stm

I don't believe it would be any easier for women in America. The scenario might not be dire for you, as someone for whom this conversation is entirely hypothetical, but it is for the women have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. You seem to be making light of what can be extremely heavy issues for women.

Also, contraceptives are readily available here.

Contraceptives may be readily available, but that doesn't mean that women can't get pregnant.

katrina // Posted 22 July 2009 at 17:48

Carrie, you said Ellie's critics are being abusive here, and that's not true. They are criticizing her statements and her arguments. If you're commenting solely to complain about that and not to offer anything else to the debate, it stands to reason that you're just a mate.
When I read Ellie's comment equating "being bought dinner" with giving out sexual signals, I was really angry and wrote a comment saying something rude. Guess what? It disappeared in moderation, because the moderators don't allow abuse.

Jack Leland // Posted 22 July 2009 at 18:10

You are making the assumption that all women have a car. Or the money for gas. Or the money for AMTRAK. Or even the ability to get the time to drive over state lines.

Okay, I will respond to this. In the rural "red states" having a car is mandatory, because mass transit is concentrated in urbanized areas in "blue states".

The differential in gas costs for driving into the neighboring state will be minimal. We're talking about less than 20-30 miles, and most cars get 40 miles on the gallon, so that's 3 dollars.

AMTRAK tickets are dirt cheap. AMTRAK is subsidized by the federal government and never turns a profit for this reason.

They will have just as much time to have an abortion as they had before (the law has nothing to do with that).

I'm not making any bizarre assumptions: we're arguing about 3 dollars.

Anne Onne // Posted 22 July 2009 at 22:24

Perhaps you didn't understand, but I already explained that bodily integrity only explains up to the point of viability, so even if that were retained as federal law, anything after that would be up to state legislatures, and conservative jurisdictions would impose more restrictions on late term abortions.
I must have missed that this was referring to late term abortions specifically. However, given that rules on late term abortions are always strict, I don't see why these can't also be decided at a federal level. Maybe I'm losing the American system in translation, so to speak. I don't think that any state should be able to opt out of allowing mothers who have been raped, are carrying heavily disabled foetuses which will die soon after birth or be stillborn, or whose lives are in danger, just because some women in that state feel that this would be wrong because they would still be deciding what someone else should do with their body. Some conservatives may not see it as an issue of bodily integrity, but at the end of the day, the foetus, even if we take it to be a person, is still in someone else's body. We don't let a living adult or child, or baby, live off another's person without consent (the kidney argument) because of bodily integrity, therefore foetuses don't deserve special treatment whilst they are in someone else's body.

I know you may not agree with these arguments just because you are mentioning them, but I'm saying that their argument about bodily integrity implies that a foetus deserves what no already born person would be granted: rights to override someone's bodily integrity. The fact that they don't see it as such doesn't mean I or someone else think they recognise bodily integrity fully.

Evidently you're not a conservative. You live in the US, in many ways you know a lot more about it than anyone here. But, you are not a woman on the poverty line who may need an abortion. You imply the worst effect of lack of abortion rights to be women travelling a bit further because it's academic to you if poor women in all the states will be able to afford an abortion, or find one in time. You don't intend to make light of the topic, but at the same time you dismiss anyone who says things are more serious than you believe. It's your privilege that you can believe access to abortion is easy.

CanadaGoose // Posted 22 July 2009 at 22:34

Whether it's OK to laugh ar rape jokes: I have a hard time imagining a rape joke that would be funny. I've never heard a rape joke, but I just can't fathom an amusing one.

On whether a person can be anti-choice and still be a feminist: No.
Abortion is just another medical procedure. We don't make judgments about tonsilectomies being "wrong" or "icky." As long as we allow others to frame abortion as some sort of special Big Deal, we have abandoned the moral high ground. I don't tell others whether or not to have their tonsils out and I expect the same in return.

Faith from F.N. // Posted 23 July 2009 at 02:17

"You are making the assumption that all women have a car. Or the money for gas. Or the money for AMTRAK. Or even the ability to get the time to drive over state lines."

Thank you, Jennifer Ruth. I was just scrolling down and getting ready to post exactly that. I likely couldn't afford to drive to a different state, pay for a hotel room, gas, or get a babysitter for the length of time that such travel would require and I live in the grand old USA.

"Contraceptives may be readily available, but that doesn't mean that women can't get pregnant."

Not to mention that just because they are readily available, that doesn't mean that the woman - or teenaged girl - can readily access contraceptives. Due to the heavy conservatism in the U.S. it is still quite difficult for a large portion of teenaged girls and poor women to acquire contraceptives.

Jack's privilege is in this conversation is becoming increasingly glaring.

Jessica Asato // Posted 23 July 2009 at 08:17

I'm a friend of Ellie Levenson's which is why I came to this site to read her article. I have to say that reading through the comments, I think her point was completely proved.

This particular comment by MariaS on 14th July made me think that Ellie's book is worthwhile: "A lot of your book seems to waste time asking and answering "can I be/do [x] and be a feminist?". To which the answer is, of course you can. I understand why women feel like that, but the uncertainty they feel isn't down to some flaw in feminism. It's strange, the underlying feeling is really self-doubt, inculcated in women by a society that devalues them"

I think that the best thing we can do is to empower women to question why they feel unjustly treated and do something about it. Which is what Ellie in a simple way is trying to do. SImply blaming all the bad things which happen to women on some grand feminist theory of society is dis-empowering, in the same way as suggesting that poverty exists because the Marxist revolution hasn't come yet. I just don't think enough feminists want to change the lives of women as they are now and can't see how much of this discourse is incredibly off-putting and helps to stop women from thinking about why things are as they are.

I don't think anyone is trying to say that there are lots of things we should be proud of feminists doing from getting the vote to campaigning for legal abortion. Ellie acknowledges the real changes that feminists have brought about and that we should celebrate. But this isn't enough to convince women in their 20s that they should be feminists too. Neither do I think that the vast majority of women are going to take up arms because feminism gives a "shit about intersectionality and womanism" as one poster put it. We need to take the academic and make it more practical, and I think this is what Ellie is trying to do.

MariaS // Posted 23 July 2009 at 10:23

Carrie, I'm sorry that you are finding this comment thread discouraging, but Kristel was right in so far as the criticisms directed against Ellie's book and her comments are not abusive. Ellie has published a book on a well-established and well-discussed subject, and it's going to have to stand or fall in that context. It doesn't stand up well at all.

I have read the book. Or rather I started it, and got very frustrated with it from the get-go (the trite and utterly heteronormative - meaning that it's written, intentionally or not, assuming completely that the reader is straight, ignoring the existence of lesbian & bisexual women - multiple choice quiz that starts the book, that I could probably write a whole essay describing what's wrong with it), and gave up after her chapter "Sex", where she discusses sex, rape jokes, rape, and the sex industry. (I did later skim through the rest of it, but that didn't change my overall opinion of it).

That chapter on sex made it patently clear how little Ellie had bothered to research for the book, and how superficial and badly thought out her arguments were. Her discussion of the sex industry, at the end of that chapter, for example consists of telling us about a friend who has worked as a topless waitress and who thought that it was more the male customers who were being exploited than herself; a friend who got upset when learning that her boyfriend had visited a strip club while on his stag holiday - Ellie's comment on this is something like, "but really what did she expect he and his friends would be doing on their trip?"; and a concluding page on how feminist criticism of porn may have a point in saying that it objectifies women, but not all depictions of sex are bad. (She really really doesn't go into any more depth than that).

What makes me want to cry in frustration is that there is so very much thoughtful, insightful feminist writing just here on the internet about all these subjects, from many different points of view, with many different interpretations, and Ellie's clearly not gone in search of it. I KNOW could rewrite that chapter ten times better just with the insights I've learned from reading feminist blogs.

Her discussion of rape is really why I am so fiercely against this book though, and will be actively de-recommending it to anyone who asks about it. She reinforces the misconceptions about stranger rape versus acquaintance rape that feminist writers and activists have painstakingly worked to pull apart, and manages to write about rape jokes completely without giving voice to rape victims. This minimising attitude is harmful both to women trying to make sense of their experience of forced/coerced sex and to wider activism raising awareness about rape. Ellie clearly has not researched the subject and if she'd just spent some time reading and learning from key posts from just a couple of blogs by rape survivor-activists - e.g. Abyss2Hope and The Curvature, she'd have done a hugely better job on it.

Carrie, no there really are not that many jokes actually about murder. And if you have read the book you will know that the two jokes she describes are not jokes told by women nor even jokes told by rape survivors. They are actually quite threatening jokes. The fact that the men telling those jokes probably haven't actually raped anyone is not the point - the point is that making a joke out of rape is making light of a very common and very traumatic experience, and additionally when women struggle to get rape taken seriously by society as a whole making a joke out of it does not help one bit. (I'll try & write more in a comment on the new post specifically on this subject, thanks Laura, and thanks KJB for linking to that great post from the Fugitivus blog)

Ellie's book does voice the ambivalence about and alienation from that young women may feel with regard to feminism thanks to the long-standing media misrepresentation of feminism, and the contradictions of living in an era when you're told that women have it all, and there's no need for feminism any more, and yet still coming bang up against discriminatory and oppressive acts and attitudes. The problem is that she's not written a book trying to make sense of these contradictions, she's written a book that aims to be a "guide to feminism" and which tries to make feminism fit with all these contradictions, instead of using feminism to analyse them.

NicolaH in a comment way above remarked on how clued up a lot of us commenters here all sound. If we sound clued-up it's because we've thought a lot about issues of gender, women, men, society, inequality, oppression and power - and not necessarily in an academic way, nor necessarily from reading history and theory, or even reading books (though I'd recommend getting around to reading some books, the internet hasn't been around for that long really, and some feminist history - we don't do ourselves any good by trying to reinvent the wheel).

I've been reading feminist blogs for a few years now and more than anything I would credit reading those blogs and their comment discussions with teaching me how to think with a feminist perspective (Melissa McEwan's work at Shakesville is a particularly good example of feminist writing that doesn't necessarily employ academic theory or refer to obscure history, but simply an incredibly insightful, thoughtful feminist perspective on contemporary culture and society. This is a link to her collected Feminism 101 posts, it's a great place to start.) It's why I can read Ellie's book and comments and immediately spot the problems and inconsistencies - a few years ago I would have probably been struggling with the same kind of contradictions that she is, and been floored by the same anti-feminist arguments that she tries to accomodate instead of taking apart. Reading the collective feminist blogosphere I am constantly shown things I'd never thought of before - for example above someone talked about the agent-erasure in the language used to describe who is doing what to women, and linked to the same post at Hoyden that I'd also read and learned from. I'd never thought of that before. Another example of feminist writing that was a real early lightbulb moment for me was thanks to this piece by Cath Redfern right here at the FWord - "Feminists Are Sexist" - Should feminists have to spend exactly half their time, energy, and resources working on behalf of men to be taken seriously?. So much of the feminist writing that I read gives me the nous and the confidence to ignore and counter anti-feminist arguments - the beauty of the internet is that feminists have come to realise that the same flawed arguments are thrown at them again and again.

No feminists come to feminism with fully-formed ideas and politically savviness. As women we came to it and come to it through growing up as girls and/or living as women, and experiencing inequality and injustices, large and small, and being aware of unjust and oppressive treatment of women, even if we ourselves are not subjected to it directly. One day we encounter feminism in some small way - maybe a book, a blog, an article, a pamphlet, another woman expressing a feminist opinion, a pithy, funny feminist cartoon or a slogan on a badge - and it resonates with us, it opens up a different perspective on our experiences. That this isn't just how things are, it isn't that men are this way and women are that way, it isn't something we just take for granted and put up with - instead we start to get an inkling of old, old patterns of injustice and oppression being played out, that other women before us have noticed this and spoken against it.

This recent wonderful post by The Apostate describes what I'm trying to get at, the awakening of feminst consciousness:

"Feminism is not just a simple belief in the fundamental human equality of women with men; nor is it simply a desire for women’s liberation from patriarchy. It’s too easy to set aside those two goals from time to time, because not everything is about women. No. Instead, feminism is also a way of looking at the world, at history, at our lives while we are steeped in systems that deny the full humanity of women.

I didn’t always have feminist consciousness. My consciousness was raised – is still in the process of being raised, probably, even though it feels like I’ve reached the peak of feminist-consciousness – mainly through doing a lot of reading and thinking about what has been done to women (by men, by other women, by society, by religion, by political institutions, by families, by laws). It helped that I could connect it all to my life as a woman in Islam – there was a certain immediacy there that eventually radicalized me, but at first merely brought my attention to it. Now, when I read something like what Paul Campos said – or any amount of pseudo-scientific bunk that is used to prove women’s inferiority in the sciences or to show their biological disposition to wear pink and eschew trucks and treehouses – the tentacles of my feminist-consciousness reach out into all corners of my brain where memories are stored of things I’ve read about the exclusion of women from certain fields, about the way lies are repeated until women themselves believe them and undercut their ambitions and desires, about anecdotes I’ve heard from women and about women, and it all ties together into the coherent narrative of oppression that undergirds our lives."

Please do read the whole thing

Jack Leland, stop pontificating on abortion, start listening. Good grief, you really think that all (!) that women need to do is move to a state where their own opinions on abortion are upheld, or that conservative women never have abortions, or that all women can easily order contraception on the internet? Logic and reality fail.

JenniferRuth // Posted 23 July 2009 at 11:11

@ Jack Leland

You are still making wide and sweeping assumptions about women's lives. Read Faith from FN's comment:

I likely couldn't afford to drive to a different state, pay for a hotel room, gas, or get a babysitter for the length of time that such travel would require and I live in the grand old USA.

Jack - you are basically denying that there could ever be a problem for women trying to access abortion. Lack of medical coverage, distance and low income are also all factors that can make it difficult for women to access abortion. And this is while abortion is a fedral right! You really think it wouldn't be any more difficult for women if this wasn't the case? That they would only face the simple problem of "crossing state lines"?

Please take the time to read the following:

http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2009/07/rachel_maddow_-

http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/07/22/for-lowincome-women-lack-coverage-leads-anxiety-and-delays-terminating-pregnancies

http://www.abortionreview.org/index.php/site/article/81/
Quote: Poor women were about twice as likely to be delayed by difficulties in making arrangements.

I could find much, much more.

This will never be a problem you will face yet you feel qualified to dismiss what women are saying. I would recommend that you educate yourself on the reality as told by women rather than imagining what you would do if you were a woman in a position of privilege.

Laura // Posted 23 July 2009 at 11:14

Hi Jessica,

I don't think anyone is trying to say that there are lots of things we should be proud of feminists doing from getting the vote to campaigning for legal abortion.

Well that would be because that's not what this comments thread is about. If you read around on this site you'll find there are plenty of posts and articles doing just that.

Neither do I think that the vast majority of women are going to take up arms because feminism gives a "shit about intersectionality and womanism" as one poster put it. We need to take the academic and make it more practical, and I think this is what Ellie is trying to do.

The point isn't that women are going to take up arms because feminism gives a shit about sexuality and womanism, but that if feminism only addresses the concerns of and gives voice to white, straight, able bodied middle class women it actually alienates huge sections of the female population, meaning it does not help all women nor will all women want to take an interest in it. From what MariaS has said below, it appears Ellie's book is guilty of doing this in that it only addresses straight women.

I agree that making the academic more practical is a worthwhile aim. However, if the core messages of the 'academic' (although I disagree that all feminist issues are academic) are distorted in the process then it's a waste of time, as seems to have occurred with Ellie arguing that anti-abortion individuals can be feminist. I've written countless comments now explaining why this isn't true and asking Ellie to explain why she wants women who support laws which oppress and kill other women to be included in feminism, but she has yet to provide an answer.

As for the thread proving Ellie's point about in-fighting, it seems to me that the vast majority of us here in this feminist community have similar views on the issues Ellie raises in her post (abortion, there being different degrees of rape etc), are backing each other up and agree that Ellie appears to be misrepresenting feminism in these areas; Ellie is the voice of dissent, and challenging / critiquing her approach is just that. I don't see any 'in-fighting'.

Jack Leland // Posted 23 July 2009 at 13:49

Good grief, you really think that all (!) that women need to do is move to a state where their own opinions on abortion are upheld, or that conservative women never have abortions, or that all women can easily order contraception on the internet? Logic and reality fail.

No. My point is state abortion policy usually reflects the political will of who is living there.

I likely couldn't afford to drive to a different state, pay for a hotel room, gas, or get a babysitter for the length of time that such travel would require and I live in the grand old USA.

No offense, but that is true whether abortion is a federal right or a state right. That's all I'm saying.

But, you are not a woman on the poverty line who may need an abortion. You imply the worst effect of lack of abortion rights to be women travelling a bit further because it's academic to you if poor women in all the states will be able to afford an abortion, or find one in time. You don't intend to make light of the topic, but at the same time you dismiss anyone who says things are more serious than you believe. It's your privilege that you can believe access to abortion is easy.

Okay, I see where the problem is. I was just talking about the relative changes from the present regime to one in which Roe was struck down. Of course, there could be more funding for abortion, etc. But that has nothing to do with the legal right to have an abortion (at least here, all the right means is no one can stop you, not that the government will pay). Funding abortion is a very, very controversial topic in the US. I have nothing against government funding of abortion, but it's very unpopular. Arguments over government funding abortion are usually about religious belief, not gender inequality. I'm not religious, either, but that's how the issue breaks down. So if you were making pro-abortion gender equality arguments here, the response would be "you're an atheist," not "your armpits are hairy". Unfortunate, but true.

I may agree with your goals, but getting people to budge on religion is nearly hopeless.

Faith from F.N. // Posted 23 July 2009 at 20:38

"In the rural "red states" having a car is mandatory, because mass transit is concentrated in urbanized areas in "blue states"."

I live in a rural area. In a red state. I know plenty of people who do not have cars. If they need to travel, they have to borrow someone else's vehicle or walk. And AMTRAK is -not- dirt cheap. A ticket to another state is - in most cases - going to cost over $100.

"No offense, but that is true whether abortion is a federal right or a state right. That's all I'm saying."

Huh? Of course it's true regardless. However, if abortion is a federal right then I don't have to worry about traveling to another state. I could manage to travel 45 miles (the current distance that I'd have to travel to have an abortion) but I could not afford (in any regard) to travel a few hundred miles.

Anne Onne // Posted 23 July 2009 at 23:34

@ Jessica Asato: Thanks for your comment, it's genuinely given me food for thought.

You're right, entry-level books designed at explaining the injustices women face in their everyday lives are always needed. I don't personally take issue with there being more of them, and there are also fantastic ones recently published (albeit in the US) by Jessica Valenti for example (I think they were called Full Frontal Feminism and He's a Stud, she's a Slut), but I haven't read them myself.

Most people here don't seem to be taking issue with the idea of such a book, though quite a few are taking issue with specific opinions that the author may or may not have written into the book. It's because the book is aimed at people with little knowledge of feminism that many of the commenters here feel the views presented could be more polished and thought out, or more representative of what they feel feminism is.

Ellie acknowledges the real changes that feminists have brought about and that we should celebrate. But this isn't enough to convince women in their 20s that they should be feminists too.

You'll be surprised. My exposure to feminism wasn't articles in the Mail or books from the 70s, it was sites like this. I think more people than we realise find the more challenging approach of engaging with actual feminists (and getting their privilege pointed out) more educational and engaging than

Neither do I think that the vast majority of women are going to take up arms because feminism gives a "shit about intersectionality and womanism" as one poster put it.

Perhaps true. But then one doesn't alter feminism to suit people who don't believe in equality, one explains to them bit by bit without compromising the fact that what they are trying to explain is equality.

If someone's presenting rape myths worthy of the Mail, they're selling ideals that are at odds with the core ideals of feminism in order to make the idea of feminism more palatable to people who would otherwise disagree with feminist theory a lot of the time.

In the short term this may make more people identify with feminism, but it wouldn't encourage people to examine or learn if they are not challenged. As you say people should be encouraged to think about the injustices in their lives.

To everyone who has read the book: you're within your rights to review it frankly on Amazon. I'd suggest doing so, and perhaps recommending another book in your review if you feel strongly about it.

Kate // Posted 24 July 2009 at 10:46

@Jack. If any other medical procedure was moved out of state there would be an outcry, why is abortion ghettoised as the only medical procedure that can be dicked around with and slowly made less accessible? Does this not come down to gender inequality? It baffles me here in the UK that the Conservatives can be in favour of restricting access to abortion but would never vote for longer waiting lists for hip replacements. As long as women's legal medical requirements are considered somehow other and disposable women will be second class citizens.

MariaS // Posted 24 July 2009 at 11:21

Libby Brooks has an article on Comment Is Free about contemporary representation of feminists & feminism and The Noughtie Girl's Guide...

She lists three upcoming UK feminist books:
"Kat Banyard of the Fawcett Society assesses the "equality illusion", examining how the language of liberation has become co-opted and arguing that feminism remains the most important motor for social justice of our time. Catherine Redfern, founder of the F-word, surveys the activist trend and uncovers why younger women are engaging like never before. [Natasha] Walter returns to the fray, challenging a cultural sexism she admits she didn't take seriously enough in her last book. All three will be published early next year."

And
"In a blog about initial responses to her book, Levenson says "infighting" harms feminism. But does it? The women I meet, of every generation, are desperate for debate, especially if it can be conducted under the unflattering lights of the mainstream and take in Katie Price as well as crappy rape conviction rates. And when older women remind younger ones about the history of the movement, it's because many of the answers to our present day questions can be found there.

If infighting means having an unashamedly intellectual, rigorously conducted, unflinchingly honest discussion about what feminism is and what it isn't at the end of the noughties, then count me first in the ring ... Feminism can never equate with individualism, no matter what the pick-and-mix proselytisers might tell you. That a single woman feels empowered to make a particular choice means nothing if the grassroots organisations and political lobbies don't exist to manifest real social shifts. It is still collective theory and collective action that changes the world. At a moment for British feminism when the theory is fresh and the action is vibrant, all of us should be thinking and doing, and mindful that there's nothing so empowering as a good scrap about what we believe in."

Now let's see if CiF comments over there are full of feminists discussing and debating feminism. (I can dream).

abyss2hope // Posted 24 July 2009 at 18:38

Ellie's comments about how certain media outlets want to frame their coverage of her and feminism in a one-dimensional fashion reflect longstanding and harmful practices which I believe have influenced her own stereotypical and monolithic statements about other feminists.

My other thoughts about her words related to rape and a man paying for a woman's dinner were too long for a comment and are instead published on my blog.

delphyne // Posted 24 July 2009 at 23:56

I wonder if Ellie has had her feminist consciousness raised one iota by this discussion, or whether it has flown over her head just as it appears much of the rest of feminist politics and thought already has (if she ever bothered to investigate it in the first place which looks quite doubtful).

Just to go back to this statement and why it is so problematic:

"Rape is always wrong. I want to write that as clearly as possible. But, and this is where I expect I will get angry letters, I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis."

It's interesting that Ellie thinks that there is a "we" who gets to tell women the level of importance of their experiences. She appears to be volunteering to put herself in that authoritarian role.

Ellie, who is this "we" that you speak of? And why do you think it is up to you to tell women what they should think about their rapes?

Feminist politics are grounded in women's experience - women discussing the meaning of our own lives and examining that in the context of living in a male supremacist society. Ellie seems to have changed this focus and is setting herself up as an authority and judge on women's experiences.

Because from that statement it appears that she is taking it upon herself to tell women that rape is not the worst thing that can happen to them thus silencing anybody whose experiences might tell them differently.

The thing is my rapes were two of the worst things that ever happened to me. Although they don't affect me in a day to day way now, I still think about the awful fact that the were done to me and wish desperately that they had never happened. I certainly wouldn't say that about most of the rest of my life, even the bad stuff. Rape for me was on a completely different level of awfulness though.

But there is Ellie stupidly claiming "it's only a penis". Well Ellie it wasn't only a penis, it was discovering that two men at different times thought they could use my body and do what they wanted to me whether I liked it or not. All my power was taken away from me and I was rendered helpless by them. I had to live through that and then suffer afterwards all that that experience meant to me.

If you think "it's only a penis" I think you might be either severely disconnected from your own body, or you have an exteremely callous attitude and not to be allowed anywhere near survivors let alone be making pronouncements on rape.

So until you can get your head around some of these issues, it might help if you could publicly keep quiet about feminism, because at the moment you are doing more harm to women than good.

Pattie // Posted 28 July 2009 at 11:34

I've looked at the Amazon.co.uk reviews of this book. Almost (not all) the reviews are favourable and when I click on the "see all my reviews", nearly all the reviewers have not reviewed any other book on Amazon.
Conspiracy?!

Bitethehand // Posted 31 July 2009 at 04:24

Ellie Levenson has now posted an article on The Guardian's Comment is Free site.

"Barbie can be a feminist, too"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/30/feminism-choice-matriarchy-libby-brooks?commentpage=1&commentposted=1

Laura // Posted 31 July 2009 at 10:06

I love how she's cited all those genuine examples of feminists telling women what they should wear...oh...wait....

Lara // Posted 31 July 2009 at 12:38

"I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis."

STILL.
IN.
SHOCK.

There are no words to describe this woman's ignorance to the humilation, de-humanisation, pain, violence and tragedy that rape causes.

And apart from the act itself? What about catching HIV? Becoming pregnant in a country where abortions are banned? Becoming infertile as you have no access to sexual health treatment?

Ellie please respond to this. I REALLY want to hear you try and continue to defend that statement.

sianmarie // Posted 31 July 2009 at 15:48

ellie says in the barbie blog:

"Hold the dungaree and body hair jokes. For just as women come in all shapes and sizes – despite Barbie's improbable vital statistics – feminists come in all different outfits too."

i don't know whether to laugh or cry.

sianmarie // Posted 31 July 2009 at 15:56

ellie levenson also said:

Perhaps the key difference between me and my critics is that while I am keen to look at our everyday lives in the context of the society in which we live, they seem to prefer the idea of overthrowing the patriarchy

which makes me furious!!! what a way to dismiss all her critics - as if wanting to overthrow the patriarchy is even a bad thing. her feminism seems content of allowing women to live to male standards, not questionning the patriarchal systems at all, rather than helping create a world which is fair to women on women's terms.
and not all her critics i'm sure are interested in overthrowing the patriarchy. it's jsut a cheap shot to make any one who criticises her look radical and extreme, and not to be taken seriously*

*(i don't think overthrowing the patriarchy is something not be taken seriously btw but i know this kind of comment would be taken that way by many people)

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