As a teenager I described myself as a Feminist. I also described myself as a trot; did my Barota project from a Maoist perspective; railed at my friends perpetual diets; and for some reason had little success with boys.
My Feminism was mainly formed from reading the Guardian, but that put me in contact with the works of Germaine Greer and Camilla Paglia, and I found people who made sense of the slut-shaming; casual sexual harassment, and the double standards that are High School for a 15 year old. As a Madonna fan, more in Camilla’s work spoke to me than Germaine’s, and if the word intersectionality had been used I would have used it.
I was also bisexual, although I didn’t know the word. It caused me immense amounts of anguish. Growing up in the 80s gay people were plague carriers, Section 28 was passed and lesbianism was rarely mentioned. The idea of liking men and women, of wanting sex with both of them seemed even worse than being gay, and certainly not something that was discussed by any mainstream media.
Which is where Prisoner comes in. For those under a certain age, Prisoner Cell Block H was set in a women’s prison in Australia. There were a whole host of different relationships, lesbian, bi, Domination, sex traded for luxuries, for comfort, for safety. No one form of sexual behaviour was seen as any less, or more, transgressive than the rest. Women had needs, wanted sex, and found a way to satisfy those needs. Prisoner showed women having sex with women, and sometimes men, (not literally, sadly, that had to remain in my imagination) and made me see I was not alone.
Then I went to university, I defended the existence of the Women’s Room on campus. I understood the need for women only spaces, I listened to people who had lost their kids because they were lesbians, and I screwed up every ounce of my courage to get bi added to the Uni lesbian and gay soc. This should have also been a flowering of my feminism. After all, in one of the world’s foremost educational institutions, lots of big fish from little ponds were pouring into an ocean of learning. The opportunity to learn should have been perfect.
I did learn lots about feminism. I learnt that sex with men was a choice proper feminists did not make; that all porn was fake; that showing any interest in fashion, or make up or high heels made you a tool of men; and most of all that there was no way I could be a Feminist, as I liked sex and enjoyed a lot of the things I saw in porn.
Those actors in a bad soap opera had shown me there were many ways women had sex, the people running my Feminist Society told me there was only one way.
Now if this were just me it wouldn’t matter. If we were living in a society less sexist and more equal than when I was at University this wouldn’t matter. If thousands of women had fought against Kyriarchy and won, then this would just be a navel gazing wander down memory lane. However, the fact is things are worse now than they were when I was growing up. Behaviour that would have got you thrown out of any Uni bar is now acceptable, in fact a successful business model. This poster from a Cardiff University SU event is simply the latest in a long, disreputable line.From before birth, girls drown in pink and princessification.
This is me (not literally, I was far less cute). But ask anyone who was a small child in the 70′s. This is how they dressed, this is the advertising they saw. Girls were encouraged to look beyond the strict gender roles imposed on their Mothers and Grandmothers and we were winning!
And this is now…pink, putrid, tighter gender roles than I ever grew up with, girls told from their first breath that if it doesn’t involve a princess or being nice then it is not for them.
What happened? Well read that bit at the start again, the ever so introspective navel gazing. What did young women like me do when they encountered a Feminism that was anti-everything they knew to be true? They left – if they had ever identified as a Feminist in the first place. There were other role models about, people who said I am a woman, I like sex, and I am proud of it.
Lad culture now may not seem like the saviour of women, but drinking pints; liking your tits; being one of the boys spoke to a lot more women than Second Wave Feminism did in the 80′s. It did not shame us or demand we change who are what we were to be acceptable. Of course the rise of events like Karnage cannot be entirely laid at the dogma of Second Wave Feminists, nor can the things they achieved be denied. However the rise of a whole generation who saw no way to fight objectification; the intensification of gender roles; the marketing of sex; all had no opposition because the people who should have been opposing it were too busy telling other women where they were doing it wrong.
In fact Feminism has got even more narrowly focussed on sex, genitals and projecting only one view of how a woman can be to be acceptable. This week we have had Object and UK Feminista making a fuss about their lose the lad mags campaign gaining traction with Tesco. A pretty pointless campaign since sales of lad mags were in huge decline and will be pulled if and when it makes financial sense (see also No More Page 3) There is something wonderfully naive about people thinking multinationals somehow behave ethically because of a change.org petition, as if capitalism were run by benevolent vicars.
Tesco could be a great target for those concerned with improving the lives of millions of women across the world, from Bangladesh to Birmingham. Workfare; the failure to pay a living wage; unpaid overtime and lack of union recognition, all impact on women hugely.
The bedroom tax; the war on the disabled and universal credit, affect the most vulnerable women in the UK every day. As Zedkat wrote in her searing post on the complete failure of mainstream feminism to look at the situation of disabled women:
“disabled women are twice as likely to be abused in their lifetime and earn nearly 7p less per £1 than non-disabled women. And yet we never hear about these statistics. Why?”
The why seems to be that mainstream Feminism is obsessed, to the point of ignoring the issues the majority of issues women face, with sex.
Ah, but I hear the supporters of the campaigns cry, we are trying to make structural changes which will make society better for all women.
Newsflash! Slut shaming, the dividing of women in good and bad according to the whore/Madonna trope, insisting sexual behaviour is dirty and deviant is not a change. They are tools of the Patriarchy that have been used throughout history to keep women in their place. Anti-porn feminists reinforce the idea only men watch porn. Those pushing the porn block agree with the idea of the hetronormative family as the ideal, and sacred. They attack sex work as something no decent woman would choose to do, and side with the Religious Right in supporting laws that make their lives more dangerous. The reason these campaigns gain traction with those in power is that they are the same methods and beliefs they have had to keep women subdugated.
When some of the biggest campaigns in Feminism could have been written by Mary Whitehouse and reinforces every idea of the myth of female purity we need to ask ourselves two questions.
- When will they get over their obsession with the sex lives of other men and women?
- How many young women, like me over 20 years ago are being turned away from a prudish, conservative, backward looking movement which still denies the experience of so many women?
Jemima is a writer, contributes to a joint blog, http://sometimesitsjustacigar.wordpress.com/ . A sex worker and co founder of the Everyday Whorephobia project she is clinging onto describing herself as a feminist by her finger tips.