20 April, 2010

Virgin/Whore/Lunatic then?

Company have re-printed a quiz published in Ellie Levenson's book The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism. The original may well have been presented as a tongue-in-cheek bit of humour, but it comes across as a bit... shite, really. Instead of embracing the different facets of feminism and womanhood, it gives three answers for each question: doormat, man-hater, "normal" girl. It still presents the option of being a radical feminist as both foolish and wrong. It's not wrong, if that's how you roll - after all, marriage is a patriarchal tradition. Holding the opinion that more women should hold management and board positions in a company isn't radical feminism, it's fucking feminism.

Let's take a look at question four
"Your partner offers to take the male contraceptive pill as part of a trial study so you can give your body a break from the extra hormones. Do you...
  • Say "Actually honey, women's bodies are designed this way in order to bear children. We should be stopping contraception altogether and making a family - that's all I want in life."
  • Say "Why make the empty gesture, every time I sleep with you the act of penetration feels like a crime against women anyway?"
  • Say yes, but because you don't trust him to remember you secretly get fitted with a coil as well.
Where is option four - "discuss it reasonably, including whether you would be prepared to take the risk of an unwanted pregnancy and whether or not a second back-up method of contraception should be used"? Why the fuck do I have to choose between caricature doormat, caricature feminist, or distrustful woman? Why the fuck is it assumed I'm shagging a man anyway?

Why does each "normal" option, the one women are supposed to choose, include a slightly negative side. Why do I have to be secretly pleased when I'm wolf-whistled at by strange men? Why does offering to split the cost of dinner exclude the possibility to have sex with the dinner date in question? Why do I have to be a man-hating lunatic to be a feminist? I get that Company/Levenson are trying to say that feminism doesn't have to be scary, but - to borrow a phrase from a friend,
"Feminism IS scary because it questions the gender stratification of society and that's a good thing, scary is good when looked at that way"
The quiz makes feminism fluffy instead - like the book, it presents feminism as pink and fluffy and "girly"; it buys into the fallacy that women are supposed to (only) like pink fluffy girly shit, that their brains can't cope with long words like patriarchy - it seems to say that feminism needs to be fun and fluffy for women to understand. In patronises women. We do not need pink fluffy to make something understandable or attractive.

Today's feminism doesn't mean you have to hate on men. But it doesn't mean you should embrace being "feminine" (whatever the fuck that is). It doesn't even mean you need to have ovaries. Feminism doesn't need to be fluffy. It needs to be scary enough to make a bloody difference.

In an attempt to answer the question "are you a feminist?", Feminazery presents another version:

Question One: Do you think that an individual's rights and opportunities should be limited due to any of the following factors: their biological sex, their gender, their choice in sexual partners, whether or not they are mentally or physically disabled, what colour their skin is, what their surname is, how old they are, whether or not they are presenting as the same gender as the one they were assigned at birth, where they were educated, the accent they speak with, whether they fit a narrow definition of beauty, or whether they are over- or underweight?
  1. Yes
  2. No
If you chose option two, you're a feminist. How radical you are is up to you! If you want to hate all men, wear high heels, have kids, watch porn... whatever, it's YOUR CHOICE. As long as you take a moment to think about why you're choosing whatever, and decide if that choice is one that doesn't harm anyone else, then carry the fuck on.

If you chose option one, you're a twunt.


  1. Sadly, it's easier for some people to think about feminism in terms of these ridiculous derivative stereotypes because they can then dismiss it as a nonsensical movement created by silly angry wimmins rather than a legitimate point of view held by an astonishing variety of men and women across the world.

  2. Honestly, you should follow the debate on Twitter, if you aren't already. The absolute rubbish Levenson is spewing, particularly in her tweets to Dr Petra Boynton, is mind-blowing. 140 characters have never been so offensive!

  3. Excellent post, by the way - as always :)

  4. I emailed Company about the quiz, and it's been taken down - when I saw it was still up this morning, I emailed again, and the deputy ed said it *had* been taken down as promised, but that changes to their site can take a while to go through, which is why it's still up. Just goes to show complaining can sometimes make a difference!

    @LHearts, who on Twitter should I look out for to follow this debate?

  5. JoanaMary - follow @drpetra and @ellielevenson

  6. Thank you for such a sensible post. It never fails to amaze me how many people just don't get this.

    Loving this quote:
    "Feminism IS scary because it questions the gender stratification of society and that's a good thing, scary is good when looked at that way"

  7. According to Levenson's blog, the reason everone's kicked up a fuss is "sour grapes" and "cyber bullying"...

  8. The article on feminism in Company magazine isn't actually terrible, it's not perfect (opening line is about feminists burning bras in 70's....) but as a light introduction it's fine which makes the quiz seem odder. It's like the article warmed everyone up to feminism not being as terrible as they seem to think & then the quiz basically tells them the opposite.

  9. I found Ellie Levenson's book really patronising and as you say it makes feminism into something pink and fluffy - yuk!

  10. i really didn't get on with levenson's book at all, and accusing zoe margolis of disliking the quiz because of 'sour grapes' was patronising at best and plain nasty at worst.
    this quiz is presented as being light hearted and fun but it just isn't funny! it presents women as being little more than idiots. makes me so angry!
    full review of levenson's book here:

    and you can read my take on the quiz at ukfeminista.org if you fancy!

  11. I was following the furore over the quiz with ineterest - one of my friends pointed out how awful it was and within a couple of hours we were all talking about it on Twitter, doing the collective facepalm. I can't believe Levenson's comments about it being 'sour grapes' tbh, it's merely resentment at feminism being presented as something fluffy and tongue in cheek, making it more about lipstick, heels and dating than anything else.

  12. Not to mention...even the most misogynist, racist, disablist, (insert "ist" here) asshole would answer "yes" to that last question...at least openly. There'd be a tiny minority of Fred Phelps' ilk who'd disagree, but at least 99% of people would be like..."of course it's wrong to discriminate! Give me a cookie."
    Acting on it, however, is a different story.


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