Okay, so I’ve read this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and now this. (Oh, and this. I have no doubt that by the time this post goes up there will be more.) And I had promised myself, really I had, that I would say nothing, but the longer this got dragged out, the more it ate away at my self-control. And so here I am.
I wrote a long time ago in this space about my then-nascent belief that maybe, just maybe, there was a place for a certain degree of generosity in feminist discussions. Since I wrote that post – almost a year ago now, God – I have only become more convinced of it. Unfortunately I think it’s made me a lot shittier of a blogger than I used to be, because it means that when I am tempted to write a screed, I have to sit on my hands, or just get up and walk away. Because I’m trying to live by my rules for others, and it’s a really fucking hard thing to do, and a good three-quarters of the time I’m not even successful at it. But I still believe that the quarter of the time I do manage it is worth the effort.
I say that not because I think anyone owes Tina Fey in particular any obligation of generosity. I watched the clip everyone’s currently complaining about, the SNL Women’s News Segment in which she tears into Michelle McGhee, Jesse James’ mistress. I cringed at the whore stuff, and the tattoo stuff (I myself will be getting a tattoo at the end of this month, with BeckySharper squeezing my hand!) and the overall lack of comment on the shitty behaviour of men which leads us to even be aware of the women Tina Fey was criticizing. It was a bad sketch. I have yet to see any commentator anywhere defend it on the grounds of overall funniness. So taken on its own terms, as a “comedy item,” the segment was a failure. Point final, as my French-Canadian grandmother would say.
No, I say it because the enormous amount of brainpower and pixels devoted to Tina Fey’s various fuckups seem to me equally enormously out of proportion with the original offense.
And that’s partially, sure, because the woman in question – Ms. McGhee – appears to be a white supremacist. In no universe am I interested in even vaguely implying that she is owed solidarity as a result of her identifying with the same gender I do. That’s part of the context here, and that’s worth considering.
But mostly I object to it because I think of it as a fight that is definitionally alienating to a significant swath of women – namely, the millions upon millions of women for whom the question of whether identification with Liz Lemon/Tina Fey isn’t really, well, a question. And I don’t just mean that in terms of the fact that she’s fictional. The Liz Lemon/Tina Fey archetype is far from the lived reality of so many women who: (a) do not live in New York; (b) do not have “creative class” and/or professional careers; (c) are not straight; (d) are not white; (e) are not able-bodied; (f) are not cisgendered; (g) are not college graduates; (h) are not American; (i) are not thin; and/or (j) some or even all of the above, plus their hundreds of other distinguishing characterisics. Liz Lemon/Tina Fey, in other words, is somehow both an abstraction and a very particular sort of one, with a very particular appeal.
And I guess what I am saying is that as a result I am confused as to the “feminist value” (if I can call it that) of this entire discussion.
Don’t get me wrong. What we might call “intra-disciplinary criticism” in feminist thought has a long and proud history. I’m not suggesting we all let each other off the hook for obvious fuckups. Nor do I want to in any way imply that women who feel excluded from feminism, for whatever reason, shouldn’t be able to voice those critiques. Making those voices central is key, it seems to me. And if callouts make some space for other voices to be heard, well, more power to the callouts.
(Also, sometimes the callouts are extremely witty and I enjoy them in a Michael-Jackson-popcorn-eating-gif kind of way. So there’s that.)
But I have always found, as in the case of arguments over the sanctity of Liz Lemon/Tina Fey, is that they’re hardly bringing the margin into the center. Usually, they’re the center fighting over control of the center, so to speak. You can tell these apart from genuine attempts to engage with exclusionary tactics in feminism by gauging the participants. Not that I can speak to every commenter on every site involved in this hullabaloo, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of women who have passionate views on this particular, narrow subject, are women who answer to a great many Liz Lemon/Tina Fey-esque characteristics. (Frankly, I do too, though less than people on the internet seem to believe me to.) And while, to an extent, I’m all in favour of self-criticism and awareness, there is a point at which navel-gazing itself excludes other participants from the debate. In brief: I think we have reached that point in this particular discussion.
I don’t mean to accuse anyone of not caring about other intersections, here. I am sure that every single person who’s so much as made a blog comment on this issue somewhere on the internet could show, if it were necessary, that their commitments to social justice are well-focused on the margins. I’m just saying that if the point of this whole episode was to highlight the exclusivity of certain consumer-friendly brands of feminism (because, in the end, that’s all “Tina Fey” is in this debate – a brand), that eventually gets lost when the people whose interests we are all allegedly defending aren’t much present in the debate.
Now, please make my death by snarky rejoinder painless and swift.