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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Gorgeously humanising. 

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In 1974, the sociologist Richard Sennett worried that “the more a person concentrates on feeling genuinely, rather on the objective content of what is felt, the more subjectivity becomes an end in itself, the less expressive he can be.”

This quest to understand and cope with our own feelings and desires – the current term of art is “self-care” – can lead to what the writer Christopher Lasch called “pseudo-self-awareness”. It can leave us too preoccupied with personal satisfaction to see the world clearly. “The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety,” Mr Lasch wrote in his 1979 book “The Culture of Narcissism.” “He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life.”

In her 2001 book “Race Experts,” Dr. Lasch-Quinn (who is Christopher Lasch’s daughter) argues that the vogue for therapeutic self-help has steered the American left off course, encouraging well-meaning activists to push for sensitivity training seminars instead of real gains in racial and economic equality. The phrase “I feel like” is a mundane extension of this pattern, a means of avoiding rigorous debate over structures of society that are hard to change.

From Molly Worthen’s “Stop saying ‘I feel like'” in The New York Times. 

It must be said about Lasch that while he did highlight the importance of unpaid care work, he was not always so very popular with feminists for good reason. But I like the idea of pseudo-self-awareness. (And I love Richard Sennett).

 

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Here is my latest article for Daily Life:

And dependence is a funny word to use for older women.

By the time they are claiming the aged pension, paltry as it is, a lot of older women will have raised children, coddled a husband through his working life (that might seem harsh but, honestly, what would you call the fact that she, alone, washed and ironed all their work clothes, cooked the dinners and made him those daily cups of tea), maintained at least one deteriorating elderly parent, and had a hand in also caring for grandchildren.

These women have known some dependency, but you can see it was not all their own. The economy is built upon the toil of unpaid care, largely undertaken by women. That the provision of this essential care work leaves women financially depleted is evidenced by their eventual over-representation in numbers on the age pension, which the Treasurer has so sympathetically observed.

He notes the government pays for these women’s public healthcare, saying it as though governments did not raise revenue from their taxes. Which is interesting, because older women are contributing the fastest growing incomes to the gender income ratio. If women are to eventually catch up to men in terms of income and employment, it may be older women who get us there.

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This misses a couple of big points, maternal feminism for one, and probably misses the mark in taking on a target like Beyonce, however lovingly. Plus, as my friend, Helen pointed out, feminism holds itself to account in a way few other movements do. This means we can focus on criticism without recalling that it is also ok for feminists to specialise at times, or to just not have time and that doesn’t necessarily equate to a disinterest in structural issues.

But certainly, Sarah Jaffe’s “Feminism for Sale” in the New Republic describes the overlap of some areas of feminism with neoliberalism very well. This may be an especially useful read if you found Eleanor Robertson’s piece on liberal feminism too much, too soon.

I picked a side in this fight a while back, and so I have been waiting rather excitedly for Andi Zeisler’s new book, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. (This is where I disclose that Zeisler has edited me in the past for Bitch magazine, where she remains creative director.) In a political moment that has seen thrilling, radical new movements spring up around racial justice and economic inequality, the fact that mainstream feminism still seems so enthralled with neoliberalism has been a source of deep frustration to many. And yet when we attempt to argue about issues, we get bogged down in battles over personality; pointing out that the liberation of a CEO does little for her nanny is likened to “trashing.” The personality trap is itself a function of the problem that Zeisler has put a name to in her book: marketplace feminism.

In the world of marketplace feminism, she writes, “the fight for gender equality has transmogrified from a collective goal to a consumer brand.” It is a world where “purchasing itself [is] a feminist act,” where status is confused with liberation, where freedom is measured in what we consume or who we control, where what we wear, watch, and wax is more important than what we organize and fight for. Under marketplace feminism, feminism is a commodity to be purchased, an identity to proclaim and print on a T-shirt, a litmus test to be applied to other commodities, rather than a collective social movement that aims to change the structures of a sexist society. The problem with marketplace feminism is simple: marketplace feminism is good for capitalism, but what is good for capitalism is not necessarily good for women.

Zeisler avoids entering the war of personalities. Indeed, up front, she includes herself in her critique, noting that we are inundated with feminist critiques of pop culture, many of which owe their lineage to her work at Bitch, which has been publishing “a feminist response to pop culture” since 1996, with articles ranging from “Amazon Women on the Moon: Images of Femininity in the Video Age” (by Zeisler, from the magazine’s very early days) to updates on the battle of pop star Kesha to extricate herself from her record contract, which ties her to the man she says abused her. Meanwhile, abortion restriction bills and “bathroom bills” aimed at institutionalizing discrimination against transgender people proliferate, the gender wage gap continues, and women are the fastest-growing part of the prison population. These are problems, she notes, that will not be solved by marketplace feminism. They will require collective political action.

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With the debate escalating again on attachment parenting and feminism  – I thought now might be a good time to re-post this old one from my archives. I seem to need to re-post it about every two years. 

When feelings run deep, as they do about mothers and motherhood, the temptation to make extreme statements is high… Motherhood is a raw, tender point of identity, and its relationship to other aspects of ourselves – our other aspirations, our need to work, our need for solitude – almost inevitably involves a tension. It is hard to sit with that tension, which is one reason discussions of motherhood tend toward a split view of the world.

Where we side depends on what we see as the most essential threat. For those working for gender equality over the past forty years, an enduring concern has been that women will be marched back home, restricting the exercise of their talents and their full participation in political and economic life. Efforts to mobilize public opinion against that regressive alternative have at times oversimplified women’s desire to mother and assigned it to a generally backward-looking, sentimental view of women’s place. When taken to the extreme, the argument suggests that women’s care for their children, the time spent as well as the emotions aroused, is foisted on them by purely external economic and ideological forces. Locating the sources of the desire to mother “out there” may temporarily banish the conflict, but ultimately it backfires, alienating women who feel it does not take into account, or help them to attain, their own valued maternal goals.

For those who identify most strongly with their role as mother, the greatest threat has been that caring for children and the honorable motivations behind it will be minimized and misunderstood, becoming one more source of women’s devaluation. Such women feel they suffer not at the hands of traditionalist ideology but rather from the general social devaluation of caregiving, a devaluation with economic and psychological effects. At times, proponents of this position insist on the essential differences between the sexes and the sanctity of conservative-defined “family values”. Such views end up alienating both women who question such prescriptive generalizations and those who feel their own sense of self or their aspirations are not reflected by them.

Most of us feel ill at ease at either pole of this debate, because though the poles represent opposing position, they both flatten the complexity of mothers’ own desires.

From Maternal Desire by Daphne de Marneffe. And I really enjoyed reading this book.

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In the coming decade, feminists would gain a transformative foothold in public discourse through the democratizing force of the internet.

From Kate Groetzinger’s “How feminists took on the mainstream media and won” in Quartz.

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Endless blooming and wilting of new identities based on this circus of images constitutes the psychological-affective dimension of liberal feminism’s lack of organising power. The horizontal seepage of capitalist imperatives through feminism since the early 1990s explains why identity-based politics now responds and reshapes itself constantly as a series of trends and conflicts, all mediated by chains of response emanating from mass cultural images: as Tolentino intimates, it is a consumer marketplace in search of new target demographics, not a social justice movement.

The conversations sparked by these images frequently concern issues of diversity in media, business and entertainment. Profit-seeking products and enterprises such as movies, television and corporate boards are invested with crucial significance that they clearly do not possess; being able to recognise an image of oneself in these domains is reconstrued as liberation itself. Disadvantage functions as a cleansing ritual bath, with the power to wash away the sliminess of equating pleasure-seeking consumer practice with political action.

From Eleanor Robertson’s excellent “Get mad and get even” in the Meanjin.

As someone who also writes critically about liberal feminism I agree with pretty much everything in here.. but the only thing I would say in defence of liberal feminism is that its end goals of equal opportunity are not incompatible with those of more collectivist approaches to feminism. We have some middle ground here.
And, we are not born with multiple integrated perspectives. We develop this over time. Identifying one’s own experiences in psychological, physical and environmental interactions and how that all plays out on a backdrop of sexism is a crucial step on the way to developing a wider appreciation of systematic oppression and collective solutions. In other words, if you haven’t yet developed that perspective you won’t see the next perspective.

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