John Pilger, allow me to femsplain

Two days ago someone explained the verb “to mansplain” to me. To be fair, it was a woman who explained it, so it’s probably wrong. All the same, that word’s been annoying me ever since. I don’t want to use it – it sounds silly and snide and it’s not even a proper pun – but I now keep finding examples of it everywhere. It’s as though all of a sudden, all the time, men are telling women what women should think. Is it just me? Has this always been happening? If we come up with another totally rubbish verb – “to femsplain”, for instance – will it even up the balance? Surely that’s gotta be worth a try.

In the meantime, today’s Guardian features John Pilger telling misguided feministas everywhere that Julia Gillard is no feminist hero, despite her much-celebrated righteous fury directed at opponent Tony Abbott:

Misogyny is an Australian blight and a craven reality in political life. But for so many commentators around the world to describe Julia Gillard’s attack on Abbott as a “turning point for Australian women” is absurd. Promoted by glass-ceiling feminists with scant interest in the actual politics and actions of their hero, Gillard is the embodiment of the Australian Labor party machine – a number-crunching machine long bereft of principle that has attacked and betrayed Australia’s most vulnerable people, especially women.

Thanks, John. Misogyny is indeed a blight. Indeed, it’s just the kind of thing which might make you dismiss women who are merely pleased that a woman in power is publicly calling out sexism as “glass-ceiling feminists with scant interest in the actual politics […] of their hero”. Because it’s not as though challenging sexism within power structures is relevant to “actual politics” anyhow, is it? It’s not as though feminists are capable of distinguishing between a woman being right about one thing and wrong about another. It’s not as though such a protest is so overdue and so rare that, regardless of who’s making it, it remains A Big Deal.

John – I can call you John, can’t I? – please allow me to femsplain. I am a feminist. I am not a supporter of Julia Gillard as a politician. I am supporter of a political forum being used once – just once – to explicitly and publicly highlight the misogyny that rots its core. You tell us that “Gillard came to power by plotting secretly with an all-male cabal to depose the elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd”. All very Lady MacBeth / Samson and Delilah / add the name of any other evil hell bitch you like. It is rather missing the point. Julia Gillard’s anger was self-interested, but that doesn’t matter. The sexism she experienced could have been directed at a any woman in power. The “glass-ceiling feminists” you deride aren’t in Julia Gillard’s position, but another woman – any woman – could have been (or perhaps not, at least not if we still need all-male cabals in order to get our way).

You note that Gillard’s “true feminist distinction, perversely, is her removal of gender discrimination in combat roles in the Australian army”:

Thanks to her, women are now liberated to kill Afghans and others who offer no threat to Australia.

Perhaps in future she should consult with you – perhaps we all should. Which morally deplorable things are men permitted to do but not women? I can’t help feeling that if you are a man, woman or child about to be killed in Afghanistan, you don’t actually care about the gender of the person doing the killing (although I imagine, as long as you’re still alive, you might still care about gender equality as a broader principle. You might even feel disconcerted when those who pose as your defenders see fit to drop that principle whenever it suits).

I accept that some feminists, frustrared by the boorish misogyny of lefty men in particular, might just blindly think “sod it! Go Julia!” What’s more, if a woman adversely affected by Gillard’s policies were to write a critical article, stating that Julia Gillard did not speak for her, I’d be inclined to take it seriously, far more seriously than I’m able to take your piece. Is that sexist? I don’t think so. Because feminism surely allows women to speak for themselves. It’s not a debating contest – it is “actual politics”. And it’s not an arena in which men use “weaker” women as weapons with which to bash women they perceive to be stronger – the imaginary “glass-ceiling feminists”, unnamed, but clearly a bit uppity for your liking. And all this clearly relates to Gillard’s original point. She showed – and was correct to show – that men accuse other women of misogyny in order to promote their own agendas. It’s not fair. Feminist discourse is not there to be co-opted, managed and exploited to increase male dominance, neither in the political sphere nor in column inches. When that happens anyone – even the most flawed amongst us – have a right and a responsibility to call it out. Now that’s feminism.


7 thoughts on “John Pilger, allow me to femsplain

  1. I’m not a fan of the word either – the “man” part seems to imply things that people probably don’t mean when they use it.

    That, and some people do seem to use it to say “men can’t comment on feminist issues at all”, which is not the point.

  2. ‘Mansplain, is when a man comments on something that is the preserve of female columnists.

    For example, many female columnists make a dammed good living commenting on sex, feminism, and how awful men are. A male columnist who dares to touch these subject subjects will always be derided.

    1. Er, no. it’s not. Or it’s not supposed to be. But that’s what it sounds like (“explaining while being a man”, which the implication that the one using the word doesn’t think men should have opinions on this) and that’s how it is often used. Which is why I don’t use it at all.

      I’ve also heard two quite different opinions on what it should mean. Which really doesn’t help at all. That’s the trouble with these new/made-up words. The people using them and the people listening have to agree what is meant by them.

      1 – Commenting from a position of privilege on how those in less-privileged positions should think/feel
      e.g. man says “what women don’t understand about sexism is…”
      Equivalent to a white person saying “what black people should really be doing about racism is…”

      2 – Much more general, refers to how people who live their lives from a position of privilege believe that what they have to say is always valuable and worth listening to, no matter how ill-qualified they may be to comment on a matter.
      e.g. the subject of WWII comes up, someone who has watched Band of Brothers thinks they are therefore qualified to hold court for 20 minutes talking about what they think about it, regardless of whether another person in the room might have a PhD in military history.
      A feeling of entitlement, of “I am important”. (not all men have this feeling, but in general women are more likely to start a sentence with “I’m not an expert” or “This is just my opinion”, if they decide it’s worth speaking at all)

      1. Well put, charlieemunds.

        Your meaning 2 is what the originator of the term wanted to convey – meaning 1 is what men use to stifle women’s attempts to have an independent voice.

        And forums like this one can be safe spaces where women can learn to speak with the same sense of entitlement as men.

  3. You are right, glosswitch – it is important to counter sexism *within* existing political structures. And Ms Gillard has faced a veritable Vesuvius of vicious misogynist drivel, especially from an opposition party under the influence of very conservative catholics and from certain misogynistic shock-jocks on one particular radio network and its female listeners.

    But Mr Pilger is also right. More pairs of Jimmy Choos under boardroom tables will not improve women’s lot – it will only render us liable to being screwed by representatives of our own gender as well as by men. “Breaking the glass ceiling” will not result in a gentler, more nurturing style of capitalism – instead it will produce women like Gina Rinehart, who wants to import labourers to work for $2 a day in her West Australian mines.

    Similarly, more Manolo Blahniks or even ASDA / Target (1) court shoes in a bourgeois parliament will not bring the Revolution, since they will most likely be worn by the likes of a Hilary Clinton or a Maggot Thatcher, eager to put a female face on capitalist repression. Nor will they be able to counter the business lobbyists (many of them women) who want to reduce or abolish Maternity Leave and are prepared to shuffle money in the direction of political parties who will do just that.

    Yes “we’ve come a long way, baby” (and I will forever be glad that we have) but we’re not quite there yet. As fine a person as Julia Gillard is, and however little she deserves the filth directed at her, she is still a capitalist politician serving capitalist interests – which means that she will never be able to find enough in the Federal Budget for high-quality Childcare (or Aboriginal health ) but will always have enough for adventures into Afghanistan as junior partner to US imperialism, subsidies to Mitsubishi or tax concessions to BHP-Billiton … or to Gina Rinehart.

    And I think that was Mr Pilger’s point.

    (1) No snobbery here – I dress myself from, Target / K Mart / Big W. Their clothes are of reasonable quality, are comfortable, serviceable and look good.

    1. “No snobbery here – I dress myself from, Target / K Mart / Big W. Their clothes are of reasonable quality, are comfortable, serviceable and look good.”

      Ah the white Western socialist dresses herself with sweatshop made clothing from three of the biggest corporate parasites in Australia. How very typical.

  4. And, sorry, charlieemunds – I meant that Alecmac’s definition was the one that men use…

    (WordPress doesn’t have an Edit Post button 😦 )

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