Welcome to Harpy Seminar, a regular feature we plan to have at regular intervals, unless we get too busy to have it at regular intervals, in which case it shall appear whenever we have time and inclination for it. Each Seminar begins with a question, which we discuss amongst ourselves, and we then edit the highlights of our conversation into a post. Please feel free to join in in the comments!
I had intended to do my own thorough dashing of Charlotte Raven’s soi-disant book review at the Guardian, but it was just too wrong and fucked up. So, I sent the link around, and the other Harpies helped me sort it. It’s still wrong and fucked up, but at least we’ve sifted the wheat from the chaff.
PhDork: Okey-doke. So I’m all “whaaa?” about this article, and I think it’s due to Raven’s all-over-the-map writing (although it could be Spring Brain).
The thing is, she does have some good points:
- Self-consciousness is a hallmark of the current age
- Women and girls are getting horrible conflicting messages in mass culture about how to succeed as women
- A consumer mentality is detrimental to a political one
But those legitimate views are all scrambled up with screwy generalizations, like “Thinking women have turned their backs on feminism” and even more problematic ideas like women are just weak and simple, unable to resist the siren song of Sephora (or whatever), and therefore responsible for Katie Price tarting up her toddler.
BeckySharper: She really lost me with her “Thinking women have turned their backs on feminism” and her constant use of a monolithic “we”: “We simply couldn’t be bothered to be political. If we could prove there was no need for it, that would leave more time for deciding between fabulous face creams.”
O RLY? Speak for yourself, sister.
PhDork: What, you got a mouse in your purse? Also: is there such a thing as “the new feminism”? Is this a “wave” I haven’t heard about?
SarahMC: Babies wearing fake eyelashes and women trading in books for stripper instruction videos is not the new feminism. It’s the old consumerism masquerading as the new feminism. It’s obnoxious when people who should know better perpetuate the myth that anyone who yells “Girl power!” is a deluded feminist when in reality s/he is probably just a savvy capitalist.
PhDork: That’s what it is. She should know better. Why is she laying all this blame at the feet of feminists (or good lard, Madonna), rather than looking at how fucked up the larger culture is, and pointing a finger at it, for purposefully trying to undermine women at every turn?
BeckySharper: It’s indicative of a larger belief that feminists are supposed to be the custodians of all Womanity. She seems to believe that when women co-opt harmful Patriarchial bullshit, it’s because feminists aren’t cock-blocking the Patriarchy hard enough. No blame is being placed on the Patriarchy! Or the media! Or advertising! Or politics! Just feminism! Instead of pointing the finger at the underminers, she’s just going to do a little undermining herself.
PilgrimSoul: I actually do think there is a problem with the conflation of political action and self-assertion with consumerism.
SarahMC: A consumer mentality is detrimental to a political one. And that applies not only to women but to men too. There’s been an across-the-board dumbing down and yet all the hand-wringing is about women (and women get all the blame).
PilgrimSoul: This is mostly just crazed ranting. I mean, I’m not sure the sex industry has entirely successfully rebranded itself as a legitimate choice. That strikes me as a pretty reductive analysis, considering that it’s still pretty much the case that putting “porn star” on your resume rules you out of basically all other career choices in a way that “lawyer” does not. Again, there’s this weirdly reductive vision of agency working in reverse here – it’s imagining that patriarchy really wants us as porn stars, when in fact it wants us to do nothing at any time which involves asserting ourselves, including BOTH being lawyers and being porn stars.
BeckySharper: I totally agree with her points about mass culture, the sexualization of girls, etc. But why is it feminism’s fault that such nastiness is proliferating? It should be be the responsibility of all parents–male and female, feminist and non-feminist–to ensure that their daughters aren’t hypersexualized or exploited by a porn-obsessed culture.
PhDork: And for all people, parents or not, to provide alternate messages for girls and boys (and women and men). Which you can do in a zillion different ways.
PilgrimSoul: I find a lot of her “I don’t wanna be a victim!” stuff annoying because it implies that there’s something wrong with meaningfully and seriously addressing the fact that someone has victimized you.
BeckySharper: I totally co-sign on that point. Acknowledging that you’ve been victimized–and seeking redress or justice for it–is not something to be ashamed of. It returns dignity to the victim, and dignity is what’s conspicuously missing from the hypersexualized, “I Wanna Be a Glamour Model” streak of Girl Power Raven’s talking about.
And for the record, societal avoidance of talking about women’s victimization is really JUST A PART OF THE VICTIMIZATION!
Ooh, sorry for yelling.
PhDork: Yelling can be a perfectly reasonable response to stupid crap.
Commenters, you got anything to yell about?