Feminism in the Observer

// 17 May 2009

Update! Amelia from the Observer has promised that the worst misquote will be corrected tomorrow.


Probably I’ll write something a bit longer tomorrow, about this article in today’s Observer, about the launch of Double X and subsequent controversy, in which I’m (mis)quoted.

But in the meantime, the whole interview was done by email, should on the offchance you want to read what I actually said you can do so over here. In particular: at no point did I say that “feminism today” is “characterised by infighting and factionalism”.

Comments From You

Lizzie // Posted 17 May 2009 at 12:35 pm

I think one of most offensive things about that article (apart from all the obvious offensive things that I’m sure will be raised better by others) is the way in which the authors clearly tried to erect a hierarchy of feminism. The very fact that ‘older feminists’ *are* feminist, while The F Word apparently only *describes itself as* feminist, speaks volumes to me about the attitudes of the authors to the current ‘debate.’

I’m sure other people will say it better, and Jess already has in her original email linked above, but the debate should *not* be about who should and should not be let into the feminist ‘club,’ but rather about why it is still acceptable to blame rape victims for their and others’ attacks. Accusing women of ‘irresponsibility’ and even ‘immorality’ for not reporting rape only serves to take the focus off the rapist, who apparently was not wrong, immoral, or even irresponsible, because he can’t help himself, and it is up to naughty, seductive, irresistible women to stop him from raping again by curbing their own sexuality and by exposing themselves to humiliation and ridicule by a police force that seems to believe, in the majority, that women are pre-programmed to ‘cry rape.’

Julia // Posted 17 May 2009 at 12:39 pm

Wow, very powerful insight given by your email publication. Helps me to see the conversation rather than the synopsis of the article format, and I feel that the bad journalism should be apologised for by the Author. We are lucky to be able to see your input to the research, how much else is misrepresented in the Article, I wonder?

Feminist Avatar // Posted 17 May 2009 at 1:36 pm

Is it just me or is that article trying to create a storm in a teacup? It is taking some rather balanced comments and presenting them as two sides in a debate. Look at Naomi Wolfe’s comment which is a long list of the benefits of the third wave with a brief criticism of the role of sexuality within that- and yet the whole comment is set up as if all the good things she is pointing to are actually negative as well. And, this is without getting into whether people are even being cited accurately.

And some of the criticisms of modern feminism are the same ones I hear being made by ourselves (where are the grassroots campaigns?). Yet, it is set-up as if we don’t think that or that is directly the opposite of our concerns.

I think the authors have a lot to answer for.

Jess McCabe // Posted 17 May 2009 at 1:50 pm

@Feminist Avatar – I agree. Also, it’s disturbing to me that the main criticism of the post on Double X was about them berating the writer at Jezebel for not reporting being raped, and the Observer piece barely touched on it…

Like I said in my email, why is the force of the criticism directed at women for not dealing ‘appropriately’ with being raped, and for being ‘promiscuous’, not about, say, rapists?! >headdesk

Jen // Posted 17 May 2009 at 2:12 pm

This is such an obvious publicity campaign, they’re just superimposing a bunch of bullshit on various people’s work, and more despicably, onto stuff that actually happens to women (like date rape) and pitting them against each other. Great, feminism today is apparently all about “sex, drink and fashion”, so let’s do an article about it, in our lifestyle supplement, interviewing only white middle-class women, where we all but fill a pit with mud and tell them to disrobe, get in, and wrestle with one another, and don’t be shy about using teeth and nails.

I mean, mind you, having seen Double X, trans women should probably be flattered not to be part of the target audience. I sure as shit wish I wasn’t.

I mean, mind you, it’s not that different from most articles I’ve seen about “feminism today”, or for that matter most lifestyle supplement articles in general.

I’d be inclined to refuse to engage with them at all, in any shape or form, because they’ll only use you, and you don’t really have anything to gain from that particular partnership. Mind you, I’m not the editor of an influential feminist zine, responding to this stuff probably comes with the territory.

What gets me with these articles is that they always put words in all our mouths as well, not just people they misquote (you’re the lucky ones!), but in general. “It seemed like a coup for feminism”. Really? I never heard of this Double X site until I saw it linked on the F-Word. And I clicked away pretty quick cause it was turning my stomach by being basically a print-version of Women’s Hour. And, “finally a magazine that’s not anti=intellectual but without being condescending”. What the fuck? Who wants their politics to be represented by a lifestyle magazine? I (part of the target audience, remember) certainly never fucking asked for that, in fact I’d like them not to steal my politics or my language for their little profit-generating circle-jerk, thank you very much.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 17 May 2009 at 3:03 pm

It makes me laugh how Sandrine Levêque from Object is positioned in that article as if she is an ‘older feminist’, as opposed to so-called ‘younger feminists’ such as Jess, and Ellie Levenson. How old do they think Sandrine is? It’s as if the journalists assume that people involved with Object – who are presented as having ‘more traditional feminist views’ are all ‘older’ feminists. Which as we know is not true.

Naomi Mc // Posted 17 May 2009 at 3:09 pm

I agree that the article is woefully simplistic and adversarial although I do think that there is a problem with *some* feminist critiques of those feminists who publicise their promiscuity, are labelled ‘pro-sex’ or engage in things such as burlesque. There is a lively feminist debate out there about these things however, I have frequently been part of ones that descend (or retreat) into generational camps: either “these young women are not proper feminists” or “second wave feminism is outdated and sexually repressed”. Both are false and yet many feminists self-identify with one of these groups.

*shameless self-publicity* I’ve blogged on this article, please click on my name above. But I also think that blogging is vital for Western feminist discourse. Sites like the F Word demonstrate how and why women should be engaging in these debates. Blogging is a democratic way for women to engage in feminism, put their views forward rather than just passively listen to the ‘keepers of the flame’. That’s emancipation if you ask me :)

Davina // Posted 17 May 2009 at 3:25 pm

Grr, bad journalism pisses me off!

Thanks for putting up your actual answers Jess – I really wish the journalist had quoted you properly and included what you said here: “The questions about the identity of online feminists are more about working towards a kyriarchal approach to feminism and the discussions are about what is happening to marginalised voices within feminism, not about ‘are we third wave’ or ‘what are we going to call ourselves’.”

polly styrene // Posted 17 May 2009 at 4:31 pm

“Jezebel is a tabloid-style website dedicated to “Celebrity, sex, fashion for women – without airbrushing”. Based in the US, it has almost 900,000 readers across the world. Its writers lead divided lives: landing some hard-hitting feminist punches – such as raising funds for the victims of “honour” killings in Basra – while at the same time writing salaciously and candidly about their choice to live lives of unashamed promiscuity.”

So does the Observer think ‘promiscuous’ women SHOULD be ashamed then?

dervilise // Posted 17 May 2009 at 9:37 pm

“Don’t Trust The Corporate Media”

Saw it on a T-shirt. See it as a good rule.

I think the shirt was on sale from FAIR.org.

I’m glad that there is a way to redress the balance, countering the disinformation with your own. Thank zool for blogs and saved email. Without them the Observer might get away with this sort of shit-headed self service.

sianmarie // Posted 18 May 2009 at 12:53 pm

this kind of article makes m so cross! it proposes the idea that young and old feminists are against one another which in my experience simply is not true! at bristol feminist network we have such a huge age range, and as one of the “younger” ones, (i’m 24) i love the fact that i have formed friendships with women from the second wave who are older than me, who are interested in the issues that young women face, and conversely, i am interested in the issues that they faced, the issues that i haven’t yet had to deal and the victories that were made. feminist issues are for all women and men of all ages, all political and religious backgrounds because they are for people, and for making our lives better. this sort of nasty journalism encourages the outmoded and untrue ideea that all feminists are arguing amoungst themselves and fighting one another, rather than fighting the problems that matter. i oftne think how much easier it would be if as feminists we didn’t have to spend half the time justifiying our existence, and the other half the time proving that we can and do work together and respect one another. it is impossible to agree on everything and of course we are all entitled to different opinons and viewpoints, but that makes debate exciting, not divisive!

sorry, bit of an unstructured rant…

Jo // Posted 21 May 2009 at 4:07 pm

Hey Jess,

Lordy goodness, what a mess. But then, should we expect anything better from the Observer, which after all produces Observer Woman Magazine, a publication even more teeth-hurtingly obnoxious than even the Hell on Sunday’s rag for women?

Honestly, I really wish the Spitting Mad Woman (www.spittingmadwoman.blogspot.com) site were still extant to give OWM the regular kicking it deserves. Don’t suppose the F Word could take up the cudgels instead? :)

Hope it all gets sorted out to your satisfaction, anyway.

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