Feminism

Review: “Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny” by Anna Goldsworthy [2013]

unfinished-business-sex-freedom-and-misogynyThere has been a notable surge in narrative non-fiction on the idea of misogyny in Australia (the excellent Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport by Anna Krien and The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers). It has become quite topical due to several high profile events within the last year, most notably the rape and murder of Jill Meagher and the axing of our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

This essay begins with one of the more memorable speeches Julia Gillard made during her term. The speech is not one on politics but rather, an accusation against the male members of the opposition party (namely, the opposition leader Tony Abbott) for constantly viewing the Prime Minister of Australia as a woman first and foremost. The constant gender jibes and insults that Gillard has had to put up with during her term that, arguably, a male PM would have not had to endure. Gillard’s personal life was particularly under scrutiny as she is also unmarried,  in a defacto relationship and has never had children (“deliberately barren”, as a shock jock elegantly phrased it).

Aside from that, Goldsworthy leads into a lively discussion of what feminism is in today’s society when many in the younger generation have eschewed that term. Have we really come as far as we had hoped as a society where there is gender equality?

The essay also briefly explores the perception of the female as a writer as Goldsworthy wonders about

… the suggestion that women – by writing about ‘smaller’ topics such as friendship, motherhood and domesticity – ghettorise themselves from a male readership. Similar criticisms have rarely been made of the male writer, lovingly documenting his midlife crisis. The assumption is that women, as the accommodating sex, are better prepared to read across gender. – p. 32

I think that is an excellent point. I think awhile ago, there was a discussion on the idea of ‘gender’ writing. Is there really such a thing? Can you really tell if an author is female/male/ungendered exclusively by their writing? From authorship Goldsworthy moves across to the image of the woman and how she constructs herself. No matter what she does, she will always have preconceived expectations on her simply because she is female. The way she does or does not do her hair, make-up and the amount of clothing she wears. She will be under scrutiny no matter what she does despite the progress society has seemingly made:

As clothing continues to disappear, the body itself becomes more stylized. The gowns of our forebears may have been restrictive, but they concealed any number of modern-day female sins – cellulite, varicose veins, leg hair, armpit hair, pubic hair. The more we were liberated from these garments, the fiercer the scrutiny we stepped into. – p. 41

We may be out of the corsets but are we even now more restricted by the invisible cage built around us? The cage we build around ourselves to fit into society?

A very interesting essay and it’s also a reminder that despite the progress in society, we still have a way to go to achieve gender equality.

Here is the video of that speech by Julia Gillard that made such an impact:

Review: “Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice” by Emily Maguire [2010]

Your Skirt’s Too Short is a dissection of the current situation of the female sex in the world today. Yes, sexism still exist. Maguire, having already written an earlier version of this book entitled Princesses and Pornstars, explores the various aspects that threatens and prevent the female sex achieving sexual equality. The book also looks at what feminism means since society’s perception of feminism still recalls the movement in the 60s and of women burning bras:

To be clear: feminism never says that men and women are exactly the same. But the vast majority of gender differences are socialised, not natural, and are not significant enough to justify unequal legal and social treatment of women. A common misconception about feminism is that it means taking something – power, rights, status – away from men. But feminism is about restoring the rights, power and status of women so that they match those of men; not taking, no giving, simply restoring the natural order. And it is the natural order unless you believe that men are inherently more deserving than women. – p. 181

This is one of the best explanations I’ve read. Feminism is not about aggression, unshaved legs, burning bras or ‘acting like a man’ but simply restoring rights to women that had been systematically stripped away from women over the centuries simply because they menstruated and had a vagina. Of course, it is easier said than done.

There is also the ever persistent double standard of sex where Maguire likens society’s perception of a woman’s vagina to that of a used car: it goes down in value with every use/man. And yet, virginity has become somewhat of a shameful badge to carry around. Too many lovers, the girl is a slut. Too little, she’s a prude.

Men believe women don’t really like sex, they complain about it to their mates, they contrive ways to convince the women in their lives to go to bed with them, and they lament the unfairness of having to work so hard just to get laid. And then they meet a woman who’s totally into it, and they collapse into misery and confusion … And women play along, going home frustrated every night because he hasn’t performed enough money-spending, movie-romance rituals to allow her to sleep with him without feeling like a ‘slut’. Or they stop playing the game, sleep with whomever they want whenever they want, and end up stigmatised or pitied. – p. 32

Alongside the recurring debates about women and the portrayal of their sexuality, Maguire also discusses sex education. The focus on sex education is to explain the changes in the body, safe sex and how to prevent pregnancies. However, Maguire argues that it should also include all the other aspects generally involved with sex: the emotions in play, how to say no, masturbation and advice for those dealing with their sexuality.

Emily Maguire discusses other issues that are hounding the female sex that I can’t do justice to in this pithy review. However, I do highly recommend this as it did leave me rather enlightened although also a little more disheartened that we still have to battle our way through socially ingrained sexism. Most of these I believe are due to laziness (household product commercials – I despise you). Maguire doesn’t blame only the male sex for the ongoing oppression of women but women also partly carry the blame. To achieve gender equality, it is ultimately up to all individuals to not socially discriminate according to their gender.

Feminism does not treat men as stupid, worthless, uncontrollable, savage, dangerous or expendable. The system that does that is called patriarchy and we live under one. It’s a system that relies on restrictive gender roles as a means of keeping us all under control. If the men stay in their place and the women in theirs, and if when they do meet they are filled with misunderstanding and bitterness and resentment, then maybe they will never recognise each other as friends and allies, and they will never join together to make things better for everyone. – p. 194

Review: “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” by Ariel Levy [2005]

There is no denying that raunch is everywhere in our culture today. Music videos, advertisements and even children products are more often than not targeted as ‘sexy’ because, let’s face it, sex sells. In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy explores and discusses how this culture has risen and how the second-wave feminist struggle has appropriated into the war cry that sex and stripping now means liberalisation for women. Levy writes:

This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We’d earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes.  – p. 4

But have women actually come so far as to not be objectified? Levy asks herself:

And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star – a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place – going to render us sexually liberated? – p. 4

[Strippers] are merely sexual personae, erotic dollies from the land of make-believe. In their performances, which is the only capacity in which we see these women we so fetishize, they don’t even speak … they have no ideas, no feelings, no political beliefs, no relationships, no past, no future, no humanity. – p. 196

How has stripping, imitating sexually explicit poses and flashing their breasts in public or for the camera render women ‘sexually liberated’? Are they still not being objectified as sexual objects by men? Levy sets out to ascertain why the raunch culture is so appealing to women, particularly young, educated women and more concerning, young teenage girls, some as young as twelve, who strive to embody the raunch culture by wearing make-up and snapping g-strings at boys. Levy discovers that raunch and sexual appeal have become separated from the act of sex itself. These young girls understand acting and dressing sexily is what gets attention from boys but they do not understand the act of sex and its pleasures.

Raunch culture, then, isn’t an entertainment option, it’s a litmus test of female uptightness. – p. 40

In the book, Levy also details the history and battles of the second-wave feminist movement and key activists. Women have finally broken through the barriers and have presumably gained gender equality. The problem is, as Levy suggests, that women are still not free to act as ‘women’ or as themselves but they are now pressured to act as ‘men’ so they will be included and considered as one of the boys. Levy discusses women like Christie Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s daughter and the CEO of Playboy, and  Sheila Nevins, a high profile and formidable veteran producer for HBO. They see no problems with producing media that promotes and encourages female raunch. Women either have to ‘get with the program’ or risk looking prudish and uptight to both other men and women.

… the Female Chauvinist Pig (FCP) has risen to a kind of exalted status. She is post-feminist. She is funny. She gets it. She doesn’t mind cartoonish stereotypes of female sexuality, and she doesn’t mind a cartoonishly macho response to them. The FCP asks: Why throw your boyfriend’s Playboy in a freedom trash can when you could be partying at the Mansion? Why worry about disgusting or degrading when you could be giving – or getting – a lap dance yourself? Why try to beat them when you can join them? – p. 93

The female chauvinist pigs are women who consider themselves apart from their less raunchy sisters,

a new sort of loophole woman who is ‘not like other women’, who is instead ‘like a man’. – p. 96

And there lies the problem. Who is this invisible, ideal man that everybody strives to emulate? And are women actually liberated when all it seems is that they are still struggling to be accepted as themselves? Why aren’t the men concerning themselves that if they don’t flash their genitals, women might not find them sexy and think them prudish? The FCP is not limited to heterosexual women and Levy discusses how the lesbian community have appeared to have taken similar heterosexual gender roles such as butches, femmes and bois.

Female Chauvinist Pigs is a slim but thorough and interesting volume and Levy ties in the current, past and alternative cultures nicely although it is very American-centric. The raunch culture have appeared to stabilised since the book was published in 2005 but, having said that, strippers, gyrating dancers, porn stars and Paris Hilton are still figures that many young girls and women look up to. Women still find it hard to find their own independent voice, particularly if they work in male dominated and cut-throat worlds. To succeed, they ultimately have to become ‘one of the boys’ or otherwise come across as uptight.

Library Finds

I found some goodies from the library recently. I try not to borrow many since I want to read my own TBRs but I can’t help myself. Instead, I try to make it equal and alternate between library books and my own.

The titles are:

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
  • I Dream of Magda – Stefan Laszczuk
  • The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf
  • The Well – Elizabeth Jolley
  • Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller
  • Female Chauvinist Pigs – Ariel Levy
  • To Room Nineteen and other collected stories – Doris Lessing

There’s a bit of a feminist and gender theory theme going on here. An excellent article I read recently has re-sparked my interest and reminded me that it’s been awhile since I read some work on feminist issues. It’s an area I’m hugely interested in and I’ve always leaned towards the feminist stream while doing my arts degree which culminated in a rather feminist theme for my honours thesis where I wrote about female performance, Simone de Beauvoir, Sensation fiction and the idea of the female villain. Oh, it was such fun!

Women’s Writing

Here is a link to an excellent article by Rachel Cusk discussing women’s writing, what it was, and what it means today and the effects from the two defining feminist works – A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I found it highly fascinating and relevant.