I have been incredibly ill this past week. Ideas run through my head day and night as I lie wheezing and gasping, my brain revved up on ventolin and prednisone. Forgive this blog entry for its lack of coherence. Since I already can't breathe well, I just want to get a few things off my chest about The Pussy Cat Dolls, post-feminism, and distorted notions of freedom.
So, to begin, I recently was up all night, very ill, and began watching a marathon showing of The Search for the Next Pussy Cat Doll on Much Music. I really liked it, but that doesn't negate my feminism. I like Pepsi too, but my critiques of capitalism still hold. (Better to live as a hypocrite than be in self-denial.)
So, around the same time, I was browsing some of the big U.S.feminist sites on the web and feeling a bit annoyed, because so much of it is this sugary, sexy feminism that really isn't so far from the notions of female empowerment put out there by The Pussy Cat Dolls. And, can I just say, for the record, that one can be pro-sex and anti-pornography. Can I also just say that this is not about lipstick or Brazilians or any of that shit. Hey, I am ready to fluff and puff myself too. But, I draw the line at my ideas; they are rough and ugly and not the stuff of fuck-me-now, friendly feminism.
Also in this past week, I have been reading bits and pieces out of an edited book (from one of my internet impulse buys) called Material Feminism:A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women's Lives. Many of the writers in this book echo other writers that I have read recently (e.g. Mohanty, Bennholdt-Thomsen, etc.) that lament the descent of feminism into postmodernism and identity politics. The editors of this book, Hennessy and Ingraham, write:
...if feminism is to be social movement that aspires to meet the needs of all women, it must also confront its own class investments in refusing to connect its analysis to a global social system whose very premise is that some women benefit to the expense of others...The colonization of the unconscious promoted through advertising and high-tech telecommunications produces desire and sexuality, family and femininity in modalities that commodify women's bodies and labor as the property of men, even as some women are allowed more freedom to exert their "independence" in the competitive marketplace.
This reminded me of a piece I read by Barbara Ehrenreich some time ago in which she took aim at post-feminists pointedly remarking: "...while Muslim women are being stuffed into burkas, American post-feminists are trying to stuff their feet into stilettos." After which, she goes on to herald the return of paleo-feminism.
Let me now jump to the March/April Canadian edition of Adbusters in which there is a thought-provoking photo essay by Kalle Lasn, which he writes was inspired by an essay by Hanif Kureishi that appeared in The Guardian.
The photo essay features advertisements from the 1920s to present day that are interspersed with historical images, such as those from the civil rights and women's rights movements and on to the fall of the Berlin wall and the veiling of the statue of Saddam Hussein with the American Flag prior to it being pulled down.
a passionate struggle for freedom is deeply embedded in the history of the western world. freedom is our great meta-meme, the crowning jewel of our civilization...
but lately, in our own back yard, freedom has taken a perverse, hyper-individualistic turn.
we use up more resources, create more waste, and deliberately flaunt our wealth, power, and sexuality more than any other culture on earth.
why are we trying to impose our freedom around the world at the point of a gun?
...now there's a growing movement around the world - a new kind of freedom fight - to be free of our brand of me-first freedom.
But Muslims are far more aware than we are of our self-deceit, of the "spiritual" price we pay for our freedom. They can see that the beautiful ideas we are peddling - democracy, free speech, individualism - bring considerable negatives with them. If the west is trying to sell these excellent ideas they are also, like a sleazy salesman, failing to mention their obverse - what it is, as it were, that you see when you turn the pretty picture round. (Read in full here.)
I've scanned two of the images from the Adbusters spread (don't sue me, Adbusters). Notice in the one image that the soldiers -- the freedom fighters-- peruse Hustler and Penthouse as they take time off from the fight. Yes, women of Iraq and Afghanistan, we are coming to save you, because we Western women have figured freedom out. If you're lucky, your men and society will come to hold you in as high regard as does ours! Now, the second image...who is free? who is empowered?
So, what am I trying to say? I am rethinking my notion of freedom. It is not enough to dare to proclaim yourself a feminist and facebook yourself up the kazoo with feminist groups. We have to ask if our so-called freedom and equality is coming at the expense of others? And, while understanding cultural and individual mechanisms of both social control and agency are crucial, we have to get back to the basics of labour and exploitation. This post-feminist, cultural transformation bullshit feminism is annoying. It reduces feminism to a mere identity: ooh, she's so urban chic, she's so goth, she's so ghetto, she's so freakin' feministing. At the end of the day, pro-choice, pro-equality, pro-porn feminists are no more of a threat to the system than The Pussy Cat Dolls. Seriously, if Paul Wolfowitz supports your version of female empowerment, you have to ask yourself if you're really on the right track.
Find yourselves some boas and learn how to dance, my pretties, because your analyses are literally going down in flames in others' backyards.
'Give Me That Old-Time Feminism' by Barbara Ehrenreich, via AlterNet
'Reaping the Harvest of Our Self-Disgust' by Hanif Kureishi, via The Guardian
Try to get a hold of a copy of the March/April edition of Adbusters to see the captivating photo essay 'The Existential Divide' by Kalle Lasn
Join the Facebook group Unearthing Paleo-Feminism - consider it counterpositioning
Also, visit the BreadnRoses forum for what I consider a good antidote to post-feminism on the web, as well as all-round interesting discussion.
Hennessy, R., & Ingraham, C. (Eds.). (1997). Material Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women's Lives. New York: Routledge.