Feminists! Why don’t we all stop moaning and, like, do stuff?

Writing in Saturday’s Guardian, Deborah Orr is a bit mean about feminism, suggesting that its “influence […] on contemporary society is overstated”. Obviously this upsets me. Feminism is my fwend. I don’t like people being mean about it. So there. She also proposes that when faced with misogyny “we need to say a great deal more than: ‘This is horrible. Poor us'”. Sod that. I just like saying “this is horrible. Poor us”. There’s nothing like undirected bitterness to fuel the feminist fire.

Obviously I’m being sarcastic, unlike Orr, who is being “reasonable”. She’s written one of those pieces that even the most ardent misogynist – who won’t actually think of himself as a misogynist – might consider “reasonable”. It ticks all the boxes: has a go at feminism, crediting “progress” for all the stuff for which we’ve been thanking it; bigs up the lives of middle-class women, who have opportunities galore and do sod all to help anyone else; stresses the need to understand why men might be a bit cross with women and want to photoshop their faces onto pictures of female genitalia; emphasizes the fact that thus far feminism has been about moaning and wussy supportive networks and absolutely nothing to do with getting to grips with the True Nature of Misogyny. This is unlike Deborah Orr, obviously, who wishes to highlight the “unfortunate consequences” of all this:

One is that many women have an inflated view of the practical efficacy of feminism, and continue to place uncritical hope in it. Another is that many men have a similarly inflated view, and see feminism, and the women who seem to have benefited richly from it, as the focus of their angry feelings of failure and rejection.

Hence said men are “hunkered over the web, superimposing vulvas on to the noses of historians and sharing it with like-minded chums on a website designed for the purpose”. And what are we feminists doing? “Speaking out.” Yet as Orr notes, while speaking out is not the problem, “it might be time to accept that [it] is not the solution either”. Wise words indeed.

In an effort to be similarly reasonable, I will cast aside my naive, scattergun feminist ire for a moment and say this: I think Orr has a point. Or rather, I think she has a point if you assume all of the following to be true:

  1. feminism has been solely about middle-class women gaining access to higher education and middle-class jobs (and not about, say, sexual and domestic violence, sexual liberation, the pay gap and broader financial inequality, reproductive rights, social and political exclusion, challenging gender stereotypes etc.)
  2. all misogynists are men’s right activists, middle-class men nursing bitter resentment about the way in which middle-class female progress has totally screwed them over. Old-style misogyny – the kind of thing that meant there was a need for said progress in the first place – doesn’t exist any more.
  3. all feminists are journalists and not researchers, activists or support workers – you know, people who really do go beyond saying “poor us” and actually get their hands dirty. Because no one has done that as yet.
  4. it is easy to separate the effects of “technological and economic change” on the status of women from anything that feminism has actually achieved. Once you start noticing the former, feminism starts to look a bit airy fairy and rubbish by comparison. Hence it can’t be an inseparable combination of these things, just a lucky coincidence for which the women’s movement has unjustly claimed credit.  

Alas, I don’t think any of the above are true. In fact, I think it’s horrible. Poor me.

It’s not that I don’t want to be constructive, or that I don’t think there’s any value in examining the motives of those who fundamentally hate women. I just don’t believe Orr is offering an effective strategy for this. On the contrary, it’s one that seems to smack of too much immersion in the petty bitterness of the average MRA and too little engagement with attitudes to women which are more deep-rooted and ongoing than that. Misogyny has a long history. Pretending that it can now be located within the past 200 years, on the assumption that everything else has withered and died, seems dangerous to me. So too does deciding that it’s all a question of men who’ve decided to “turn their anger on women”. I know men who are not angry or bitter, men who have done very well in life, who nevertheless consider themselves to be better than women. It’s not a defensive response to anything, it’s just what they’ve been brought up to think. They don’t even think they hate them (“but I love women!”). They consider themselves to have greater value because they are surrounded by so many cultural messages which reinforce this. Challenging these messages is another of the things which feminism does (when it’s not just women sitting around having a moan).

One of the things I value about feminism is that it is not just one fixed, limited project. It’s not merely a group of women sat around “supporting” one another while Rome burns. It’s become integrated into different areas of our lives – social care networks, academia, education, politics, healthcare. Media engagement – the kind of consciousness raising one might uncharitably term the “poor me” approach – is just one part of what’s happening. It’s not a part of which I’d be dismissive, but it’s hardly the whole.

So anyhow, that Deborah Orr article made me a bit angry. Which is a shame, since I’d really liked her piece on transphobia the week before, although I’m worried it will now be followed by a piece on how all of us – each and every one – needs to stop calling out hatred and really get to grips with why Julie Burchill is upset. Now there’s a real question for modern times.

4 thoughts on “Feminists! Why don’t we all stop moaning and, like, do stuff?

  1. Morning! Go you, not only have you already read the Guardian, you have written about it, bloody hell, I have just about stopped dribbling the coffee out of the side of my mouth. Unfortunately I think she may be a bit right in saying that the feminist influence is overstated. I think there is a lot of interest in lightweight feminism, from me included, cos its easy and funny and wears cool clothes, but in terms of dealing with the more serious side I don’t see it covered in depth away from its own corner as such. Bugger, had a point, but then my kids all got up and asked questions and I forgot it. I SWEAR I would be one of feminisms great authorities if it wasn’t for them pesky kids…….

  2. Interesting piece – thank you. As you have pointed out, a white, middle class female journalist’s point of view is rooted in what is being said in the media – and, as the media is owned and run by men, then yes feminism isn’t having too much effect. Meanwhile, away from the self-satified media bubble, feminists are working in rape crisis centres, supporting safe spaces for sex workers, agitating to get a voice at the table where policies are made, calling out misogyny across boardrooms, from within funding bids, influencing transport systems, protesting about austerity cuts – I could go on and on and on. What Orr is missing is that real life activism is found in what the media bubble thinks is the small stuff – but if even ONE policy decision is shaped by one woman in the room, or a sex worker makes the brave and courageous decision to exit due to the support she is provided by a local project, or a rape survivor damn well stands up in court because of the support offered by her rape crisis centre who has stood shoulder to shoulder with her – then THAT is progress. There are plenty of hands getting dirty back at the ranch Orr, and all these hands are pushing women’s experiences of misogyny further and further up the noses of those who think they have all the power. It is a shame that you, and your ilk bow down to your male editors: instead I suggest that you leave the media bubble once in a while and perhaps you will notice the magnificent women who work day after day after day for change.

  3. It would also seem that – to add something in to the second of the four ‘truths’ – that all misogynists are either single or, at best, in relationships that are a bit crap. […were the men doling out this abuse living in satisfying relationships…”]

    It seems like a weird argument that Deborah Orr is making, although I’m not sure that I fully understand the thrust of it. She’s trying to find an effective way to combat misogyny and anti-feminism, right?

    So…men are bitter, resentful, etc, and they blame feminism for this, and this anti-feminism manifests itself as misogynistic abuse and behaviour. Okay…what’s the solution? Either:

    a) Continue to explain and promote the amazing and various work that feminism contributes to and influences, and to demonstrate that feminism is (or – at least – has the potential to be) a powerful force for good in men’s lives, by breaking down the existing structures of oppression that are the real source of men’s problems; or

    b) Explain to misogynists and anti-feminists that actually they’re barking up the wrong tree, cos there’s no way that feminism could have done all that stuff that they’re upset about, cos actually feminism is just not all it’s cracked up to be.

    Hmmm…tough choice…but…the second one! Let’s go for the second one!

    But maybe it’s all a bluff, to distract men’s rights activists: “The greatest trick feminism ever pulled was to convince the world that it was a bit shit.”

  4. First, just to get it out there, I don’t think feminism has had as small of an effect on society as some claim. However, I don’t think it’s feminism per se that has been the culprit all by itself. Feminism is but one tip of a much larger iceberg called Modernism (see Pascendi Dominici Gregis for a nice prognosis of how the 20th century would play out). Now, I try really hard to get across the message that I am critical of nearly all parties in this societal war because frequently, abuses in one direction provide the fertilizer for abuses and backlash in the other. And as counterintuitive as it may seem to the naive, modernism has contributed greatly to the sexualization of women and their objectification. Gender studies, a pseudoscience which should in time be discarded in the wastebasket of history, has in all its sophistry convinced many that no difference exists between male and female, that men and women are NECESSARILY no different, that no generalities may be made about the natures of male and female because these are merely social constructs. Of course, such nonsense does not stand up to reason or science, just as the notion of equality overstretched, from equality under the law to equality in all senses.

    I quite agree that there exist many bitter and stupid men, mediocre creatures, which resent women categorically, making them no better than the hordes of feminists who find, in the absence of any real purpose in life, meaning in their irrational resentment. Both are signs of mediocrity. Both suggest a objectification of the opposite sex, a jealousy of those endowed with more — in short, it is a sign of arrogance. The great bulk of femininist and masculinist movements is some deep-seated insecurity and inferiority complex which, as it always the case, has manifested in arrogance and self-righteousness. We live in the age of the pervert and arrogance. We live in an age of narcissism (which not only manifests itself in the corporate, but in the social justice camp). The hypocrisy and lies of the previous age haven’t been mended, they have been given unapologetic free reign. I don’t seek to glorify the past. I seek to condemn the great god of Progress. The seething lie which should have had its throat slit whenever it reared its head has been given its own cult.

    Let me add a note about that great modern lie pile of bullshit we call sexual liberation. It is a sophist’s term, a manipulative concealment of the truth. Sexual liberation is more aptly termed sexual slavery. Sex as we see it today is a prison, a mode of self-destruction, a wail of despair, exploitation of another whether mutual and consensual or not. Abortion and contraception are but the products of sexual decadence, or overall spiritual and intellectual decadence. The more one fans the flames of lust, the more one becomes their slave, the more one burns for his next fix in some compulsive and disgusting act. This is no liberation. One corruption leads to another. What exactly is sexual liberation? Hmm? It’s a contradiction, as silly as “square circle”. It cripples men and women in very deep ways, makes them incapable of relating to one another properly, with love and humility, it impedes the healthy exercise of sexuality in the narrow context within which it is permissible and where it can be legitimately, thought optionally, be exercised. It undermines in the mind the value of human life for its disrespects human life. It is a hideous and pitiable disease that one must seek to cure oneself of with all one’s strength. Those pathetic, disgusting men today who would rape and exploit women, who see them as objects either in the sense of trash or in some idolatrous way, aren’t any more reformed today than you would think. They merely fear to act on their hideous desires. No respect has been won here. The solution isn’t to trample masculinity which is the complement of femininity. It isn’t to trample femininity through gender studies, only to “mock-masculinize” women. It is to produce real men and women. Real men and women know how what it truly means to be a man or to be a women. One does not cripple strength because it may be abused. One cultivates and nurtures the man so that he may make sacrificial, noble use of it. One does not harden one’s heart and run from oneself to escape pain. One cultivates and nurtures the women so that her humble vulnerability may inspire nobility and virtue.

    All else is a nihilistic, absurd circus.

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