Quick flick through some disparate links….

// 9 September 2008

Strong Female Characters and how not to do itRenee at Feministe has a fabulous entry on why make up and fashion isn’t empowerment for most women.

When women who are middle/upper class engage in a debate as to whether an article of clothing, or makeup is suitably feminist what they are ignoring is that they are in a position to engage in this particular conversation, because they exist with class privilege. A woman who is making less than 1USD per day does not have time to concern herself with whether or not patriarchy is informing her clothing choices. This woman must deal with trying to provide subsistence for herself and her family under brutal economic slave labour. Her class location informs her position, as the realities of her daily lived experience extinguish the angst that lipstick/utility feminists engage in.

Regardless of your position regarding performing femininity through make up and or clothing, what cannot be denied is that any purchase within our capitalist economy is predicated on the exploitation of women. The cult of I blinds us from the reality that in our debate about agency and autonomy, we are completely obscuring the degree to which we personally are responsible for the impoverishment of others.

Discussions of the word empowerment reminded me of Latoya’s post also on Feministe about why song lyrics and music videos often have a mismatch – empowered female lyrics often being subverted by sexualised, unempowered visual projections of male video directors wet dreams. And of this piece on Overthinking It about how “strong female characters” in films may individually meet the three words (strong, female, and character) but often not the phrase (and the picture at the top of this entry is borrowed from this article too). And their Linda Hamilton Women-in-Action Screenwriting Contest which has the following rules:


  • 1. Write an action movie. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be in any specific format, but it needs dialogue, and it needs action . . .
  • 2. . . . and it needs characters! Specifically, female characters. The LEAD must be a WOMAN. The MAJORITY of the characters must be WOMEN.
  • 3. Specifically, the parts need to be GOOD PARTS. I want to see interesting, compelling characters with some depth who get to say and/or do interesting things.
  • 4. Your movie should NOT be about MEN or about SEX. Your women can be sexy, but they cannot be EXPLOITATIVE.
  • 5. Your movie must pass the Bechdel test — two women must talk about something other than a man.
  • 6. Making your women LESBIANS just so they can MAKE OUT is CHEATING! Lesbians in general aren’t against the rules, but entries will be judged within the spirit of the contest, so keep that in mind.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see this being given to scriptwriters at Film School to get them to think differently (not withstanding this insight into film school we already put up).

Now I try to avoid London-centric issues because, as a northerner, I grew up with that sense that three inches of rain in London is a crisis whilst two foot of snow in the northwest doesn’t make the national news. However, this story from Londonist got my hackles rising. Provocatively titled “Hooker Hotline” (oh how witty, see my sides splitting) its about a Conservative parliamentary candidate in Lambeth has vowed to disrupt on-street prostitution in his area by harassing women he thinks are engaging in prostitution. His tactics? To chase after prostitutes in his car (according to Londonist) and to stand next to prostitutes to prevent them getting clients.

Mark Clarke, 31, of Fontenoy Road, pledged every time a resident emails him with a prostitute sighting, he will arrive at the scene and disrupt her work.

From This is London

Mr Clarke claims to also offer help and advice but I just can see what sort of advice a white, middle class, Conservative parliamentary candidate might offer. Added to which this little publicity stunt comes after the local Safer Neighbourhood Team made tackling prostitution a priority last month after requests from its public panel. So here’s a privileged bloke bandwagoning to make excuses for, apparently, harassing women. Way to go there!

And before anyone of our lovely (I use the term ironically) MRA readers get all flustered as to how I or The F Word can carry one story about how Harriet Harman wants to criminalise men buying sex and on the other hand complain about someone harrying suspected prostitutes off the streets here the long explanation – both are about men using male privilege to the detriment of women. Men buying sex are exploiting the relative economic and socially weak position women inhabit which currently means many women in prostitution are forced into it by poverty and lack of options and in which they are more likely to be arrested than the “punters” thus further reinforcing their disadvantaged position with a criminal record for “solicitation”. The second is about a man, with privilege, deciding he can “know” who is and isn’t a prostitute and that he has the right to go and harass them on that basis. It didn’t work for the Contagious Diseases Act and it’s unlikely to work now, all it will do it ensure that all women find the streets even more unsafe – if they don’t get propositioned by curb-crawlers they get harranged by men coat-tailing on their own safety concerns to justify having a go at women out on the streets at night (how dare they! I mean, running out of milk or wanting a social life is just unreasonable if you are female isn’t it!).

Moving swiftly onwards, there is good news that a new and more accurate test for cervical cancer may have been found. Sadly it doesn’t get rid of the need for a smear test (which are a necessary ordeal and women should regularly have them) but it does pinpoint changes with less false positives (which cause recalls and stress) than the existing test.

And, to wrap up, Diary of an Anxious Black Woman flags up MADRE’s campaign for women in the hurricane devasted Haiti. MADRE is an international women’s human right’s organisation.

Comments From You

Liz // Posted 9 September 2008 at 11:44 am

RE – empowering pop songs

Has anyone seen the video for Ida Maria’s I like you so much better ?

I think it’s a fab song, there’s no mention of female nudity, lyrics like ‘ok you’re kinda sexy, but you’re just another guy’. Definately funny and cool ( and do surprise that she hails from Norway)- but the video, where it doesn’t over play her sexuality it makes male nudity into some joke with bananas and X ray specs ( which are being looked through by a bloke)

I thought it was disappointing, and like the film-makers just couldn’t handle male sexuality as performed for a female, for a change…

tom hulley // Posted 9 September 2008 at 12:19 pm

Your explanation of how male privilege is the problem in both examples of harassing women (by buying sex and by stopping women selling it) is SPOT ON.

Often, when writing to F-word, I have attracted defensive and what look like ‘MRA’ responses. For me, the usefulness of feminist analysis is that it gives me a means of challenging friends and strangers who see male privilege as unquestionable and even natural.(Even when they pretend to be enlightened!)

Thanks Louise, you argued the point beautifully. Incidentally, when will men realise that male privilege harms men too?

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 9 September 2008 at 1:09 pm

Why is Mark Clarke harassing prostituted women rather than attempting to shame the numerous male buyers? Answer, because he like so many believes prostitution is a woman’s issue and therefore women must be punished but not the men who demand and believe it is their right to buy women and then masturbate into their bodies and commit violence against them.

If the rules on How to Make Films were to be adopted then this would really make a huge radical change to the dominant perception and belief concerning women as a group. But it is the producers and financiers of films whose attitudes and misognystic practices which needs to be challenged and changed as well as the practitioners.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 9 September 2008 at 5:36 pm

It’s a publicity stunt and it’s imperfect and it doesn’t target the real problem, but at least Mr Clarke is doing SOMETHING, even if it fails to tick every box for analysis.

Good god, he’s just one man, not a whole police division. How powerful do you think he really is?

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 9 September 2008 at 5:41 pm

And – incidentally, I think Renee is wrong.

Well, not wrong exactly, in her explanation of exploitation, which really, we all should know by now anyway.

I think she’s wrong in saying that women igore their priviledge to engage in such debate.

I also suspect that her subtext is that unless you’re at the bottom of the food chain, you have no right to an opinion.

Liz // Posted 10 September 2008 at 10:03 am

but surely the subtext to arguing about empowerment through clothes and make up is that those who make them cannot have an opinion? Something that is the subtext of so much of capitalism as it is?

I even think it is an argument that alienates british working classes, as make up is expensive enough that women are going without something else to buy it – thus it’s not empowering. Whether you are aware of privalage or not, you are still putting it aside in some way, so that is still ignoring it. I do think it’s the sort of thing that can be diversionary too.

I often think this is the case with efforts to find and support queer/feminist porn – which tend to divert attention away from the 99.99% of porn which is exploitative. So many arguments as to ‘if porn could ever be good’ which take time away from tackling the masses and masses of it which are bad.

These arguments often coming from a privalaged place, and really finding something better to consume or better ways to consume, ultimately isn’t the point for me.

Surely people high up in ‘the food chain’ ( bit of an offensive way of talking about the exploited no? Animal imagary ? Food chain?) get plenty of time and scope to air their opinion?

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