04 April, 2010

Feminist Rage™ - the brand you can trust?

The Big Bad Feminist. It’s a cliché we all know and loathe – ugly, hairy, either too fat (and therefore minging) or too thin (and therefore bitterly bustless), lesbian because she’s been rejected by men (because we all know that’s how sexuality works!) and yet somehow hoping for some nice chap to “turn” her, possessed of a Victorianly hysterical victim complex, possibly vegan, and probably wearing organic hessian dungarees. But above all, angry. Not in a torrid, “feisty one, you are!” fuck-or-fight kind of way, but... well, dear me, pass the smelling salts, in a terribly unseemly, unfeminine way.

And of course, it’s all that ire and bitterness that makes her not only angry, but pathologically enraged almost to the point of statemented disability. To your left, ladies and gentlemen, the lesser-spotted Feminazi! See her (because it is always a “her”, naturally) stalk through free-range lentil markets! Witness her trade communist propaganda leaflets for mung beans! Recoil in horror as she kicks random innocent men in the balls! ...Yawn, verily. Haven’t been there, will never get the T-shirt, because it’s a load of groundless bollocks. Where exactly this stereotype comes from is more of a mystery (oh yeah, apart from the fevered imaginations of tabloids and louts’ mags) and I have yet to meet an avowed anti-feminist who’s ever met a real live feminist, let alone one like that.

... Are you waiting for a “but” yet? Because the problem is, there is one. Passion is integral to any kind of conviction or activism, usually on the angry side; strong belief in anything engenders a will to fight for it. And what a telling phrase that is in its aggression, for ’twas ever thus; when societal evolution goes awry, revolution is always against its status quo, whether that be slave-trading or whaling or serfdom or rule by monarchy.

Or sexism. I was struck reading Kira Cochrane’s interview with the author of Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism with how struck she was by Walter’s apparent calm; the article even opens, “I'm trying to establish just how often the feminist writer Natasha Walter gets angry”. Of course, Cochrane is no numbNuts, quickly championing the validity of feminist rage, and I am not about to rehash her article – but it got my pretty little head thinking. So much feminist debate and defence (even on this blog of late) centres on dismantling the fictional bully-girl/self-appointed victim who roams the organic markets of our adversaries’ imaginations, and in some ways, rightly so. Certainly none of the feminists I've met conform to this stereotype – if anything, quite the opposite.

Whether it’s contentedness born of having worked out what they believe and want in life, the independence and originality that tend to accompany openness to unpopular ideas, the fact that a well-developed sense humour is so essential to sanely navigating an insane world, or what, I don’t know – but all the female feminists I've known or met are confident, positive, witty, and generally just fun. What’s more, a great many (if not most, in my personal experience) are also – shock and rocky horror – in fulfilling, stable relationships. Mostly with – nurse! the sal volatile and a fan, at once! – heterosexual feminist men. It also bears mentioning that, on the whole, they’re a pretty damn good-looking bunch too (not “just” to their fellow feminists, I might add; a fair few models grace our ranks, donchaknow. I think that says a lot about how society treats even the “lucky” women who conform to its beauty myth). Overall, feminists are generally pretty productive, happy people – quite strikingly so.

And this is all fine and dandy except that, directed to non-, or (more to the point) anti-, feminists, it falls on frantically-plugged ears further deafened by the sand in which their owners’ heads are buried. Deciding whether to engage with these people at all is of course a Hobson’s choice between preaching only to the converted and trying to reason with what is often the intellectual equivalent of a brick wall, but if any debate is to be undertaken, I think we need to change its terms.

There is a tendency (understandable given the PMT-ridden, irrational-not-intellectual popular “bloody women” construct) to shy away from our emotions in feminism, to show how detachedly logical it all is. I think this is a mistake because it can be not only transparently disingenuous, but also a spectacular own-goal. Maintaining the kind of Socratic serenity needed to argue protractedly for feminism is a noble but (for a good 99% of us, anyway) impossible goal, and I would challenge most human beings of any socio-political persuasion to defend something they’re passionate about that dispassionately without an unholy amount of Valium.

Ironically enough, I think we stand a better chance of maintaining calm by acknowledging turmoil; in a debate so popularly (gender-)constructed as women’s emotional overreactions vs. what “everybody knows” the world is “really” like, as passion vs. reason, we’re missing a trick by buying into that binary. It’s a truism that the personal is political; I believe passion and reason are just as intertwined. “Angry” is an adjective not an insult, and even our worse dismissal, “bitterness”, cannot be triggered in a vacuum; we shouldn’t be trying to explain how feminism isn’t angry and bitter, but why it has reason to be. There are few more logical laws than that of cause and effect.

So really, so what if they call us us angry feminists; what's it to us when we can cogently articulate why our anger makes perfect sense? But wait, what’s that rustling in the bushes? To your right, ladies and gentlemen, the greater-spotted “make me a sandwich” brigade! Watch in amazement as they fail to argue their way out of a Subway bag.


  1. Anger is absolutely a rational and even necessary reaction to anyone with a clue (the ol' bumper sticker, "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention"). People try to tell feminsts all the time that their points are valid, and they're ready to listen if only they'd just calm down and stop being so angry/bitter/irrational/what-have-you. I've heard this over and over again from close friends, even. I've been called a "lil' firecracker," a "manic pixie dreamgirl," been told that my anger is only hurting myself, that I should "be like water," and given more crappy, half-hearted unsolicited advice than I know what to do with. But without the passion that comes from strong emotions like anger, nothing would ever change. If we were all passive observers, inertia would take over, evolution would grind to a halt and the human race would just fizzle. Not that that would be a bad thing, necessarily.

    Where I disagree with you is that it matters one single whit whether or not any members of the feminist ranks are pretty, happy, smiling heterosexuals. I dig the point you made (that even genetically-blessed, gender-conforming heterosexual females still get shafted by the patriarchy), but it feels somehow insincere to try to validate the entirety of feminism by reassuring misogynists that valid people (valid people = pretty people) agree with us. It also marginalizes we non-hetero, non-makeup-wearing ladies.

  2. I wasn't "reassuring misogynists" as you put it, I was empirically pointing out yet another way in which the "ugly"/lesbian/single/etc stereotype of feminism is ridiculous.

    A lot of us make-up-wearing and/or hetero women are sick of being told, "but you can't be a feminist, you're wearing lipstick" (man to my mum at a party) or having our sexuality aggressively questioned as soon as we express our views ("Yes, I'm a feminist." - "You mean you're lesbian because you hate men?"/"What do you think of sex? Don't you like it? What do you think about it? What do you do?") I even had one fuckwit try to "turn" me from this imaginary feminism-induced lesbianism. The grass isn't wonderfully green on the gender-conforming side of the fence, either.

  3. oh, and speak of the drivel, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=wall&ref=mf&gid=226510063355. argh.

  4. I have never believed that anyone who has been raped has deserved what they got under any circumstances and I'm confident you all know that. I also have overcome objections by way of dabate or by finding out what the persons needs are in order to facilitate that change before and probably will again, but not always.

    I simply suggest cause and effect. rapists will still exist even if everyone did everything they could to protect themselves and did nothing that we all know rubs that particular animal up the wrong way. just advocating self presevation and not pulling dogs tails as a sensible option considering that rapists exist.

    i do have a question however, are thier only two options femanist and mysoginist? because all the things i think i have said could easily apply to a man or a woman in one way or another. you guys seem determined to look at things in a way that only considers male and female afairs and i think that men and women are more alike, having to deal with the same shit than you can imagine. the physical differences are obvious but we all want the same things and i'm fairly confident have pretty much the same chance at getting them.

    completely unspell checked and probably my last post here. i know i'm not the bad man y'all need me to be and it makes no difference to me if you carry on thinking i am. just relax, and take care.

  5. Anger is a feminist act. In an environment that pretends to privilege compliant, mute, acquiescent women, it's our duty as feminists to call bullshit on that false promise by demonstrating the reality of female passion.

  6. Does Mike actually read anything before he posts, I wonder, or did I unwittingly write a post all about rape?

    Oh wait... I don't care.


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