Zombie feminism?

// 19 November 2005

Two books have re-ignited the old (tired?) debate over whether feminism is, at this moment, dead. ‘Are Men Necessary?’ by Maureen Dowd and ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture’, by Ariel Levy, both spawn from the pages of American editorials. Dowd concerns herself with the supposed difficulties strong women experience on the dating scene, while both focus in on the “hypersexualized culture of ‘hotness'”.

AlterNet comes back with two well argued deconstructions, most impressively by Jennifer Baumgardner – who co-wrote the excellent field guide to feminist activism, Manifesta.

“While Dowd’s book has some feminists of my acquaintance furious (‘I don’t recognize the world she is describing at all,’ a 35-year-old editor at the Washington Post told me), Levy’s is more dangerous. Intentional or not, Levy contributes to that mean finger, pointed only at girls, that says ‘You think you are being sexy, you think you’re cool and powerful, but you’re not. You’re a slut and people are making fun of you.’

“Feminism has given me a powerful lens with which to view the world. What I needed as a young woman, and what I think women need now, are not more critics shaking their fingers, but more models and examples of the free, powerful sexuality that Levy says she advocates.”

Then Katha Pollitt from the Nation challenges Dowd’s reliance on personal anecdotes and dubious studies, and her conclusion that “feminism may be a ‘hoax’ because it keeps women single — men are scared of spunky, successful women”.

She notes: “Dowd is such a credulous audience for backlash propaganda it doesn’t occur to her that she is promoting, not reporting, the problem she describes. I’m amazed, actually, that feminism is still around, given the press it gets.”

Meanwhile, here at the F-Word, Lara McKinnon explores the reason why her own bid to get Germaine Greer elected as a rector at St Andrews failed, and Sharon Noviss expands on her own experience of sexism and why we need a new wave of feminism.

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