Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Feminism, Class-Warrior, Sex-Warrior

Tonight I'd like to continue on the topic of feminism, sort-of, by exploring an issue that's also related to my identity as a socialist (and really any kind of activist faces this):

The question is, how much is our activism part of our everyday life, and how actively do we need to push for things that help us reach our ends?

Let's introduce a topic to give context:In the case of feminist theory, we have the notion of the male gaze. This is an observation that most films, literature, etc, is written from the perspective of (an often moderately piggish) heterosexual male. This perspective establishes what often feels like a "default gender" of maleness and establishing women as the "other" (See note 1). This does weird things to women! Similarly, women often get short shift in media, and a common test in noticing the marginalisation of women is the Bechdel Test, asking if a given piece of media depicts scenes of more than one woman who have significant interactions with each other not on the topic of men.

Analysis of media portrayals of women is generally a good thing for feminists to do, either as an activity or as something done in general while watching movies. The issue I have is, how strongly do we demand media help or conform to good practice? If a film is set in the past in a time when women were often objectified, do the injustices always have to be highlighted (or acknowledged)?

I make a distinction here that leads the way to my provisional opinion, but I do find the question genuinely difficult: the idea of degrees of normativity in works. A work is normative on a topic to the extent that it seriously praises or argues for a status quo strongly related to a topic.

My provisional opinion is that for works that are not normative, it is only a mild concern if they are not explicitly feminist-friendly in nature, while those that are normative, it is a severe concern and worth getting grumpy/angry over.

I am not entirely comfortable with my position on this (even as it may be the one I settle on) because I wonder if it's appropriate for activists to settle on matters like this. On the other hand, I am not inclined to go further for a few reasons:

  • Always grumbling about everything is very unpleasant and not very run
  • With feminism, we need to balance moving the mainstream and building a subculture.
(these two are the most prominent, and adequate to illustrate my unsureness)

A bit more on that second point: in the short-to-medium-term, we need feminist subculture in order to provide a space to do the needed analysis and provide intellectual leadership, with the goal of doing the long-term task of reshaping society to eliminate sexism. As such, we should be wary of stances that are either excessively specific on language/theory (if your feminism requires others to accept the gender theory from gender studies, you're doomed to (and deserve to) fail), control behaviour excessively, or mark off large parts of existing cultural content without a very strong reason. Society will always have a broad swathe of opinions, and attempts to narrow it too much generally either fail or produce terrible results. I believe broad and approximate success is doable for feminism. Any excessively specific feminist movement will be both ugly and fail.

This issue is fairly relevant to the works of Jonathan Coulton, which often get flack for the role of women in what are generally fairly twisted stories of weird men. I am presently inclined to disregard the criticism of his works because they do not feel normative to me.


  • I am ordinarily reluctant to link to the Geek Feminism wiki because its brand of feminism, like many (but clearly not all or even most, in my opinion), is kind of loopy by my standards (if I remember correctly, anyhow; if you're curious, challenge me on this and I'll go into more details or conclude that I misremembered)

(this was slightly long-winded, but it is late at night)

Tags: philosophy

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