Tag Archives: feminism

Et tu, Veronica Mars?

This may say more about my social life than I’d wish, but I have to confess that watching Veronica Mars on DVD has been the highlight of my autumn. The show focuses on a high school girl who is a P.I., with lots of sidekicks and boyfriend drama. If this sounds a bit familiar to you, it did to me too–I missed the show when it was on in part because it seemed to be something of a Buffy rip-off, and I’m loyal to the original. However, once I started watching it, I found out it was smart and funny and often had pretty good politics. Perhaps equally importantly, the show’s creators and writers made clear their respect and appreciation for their august predecessor, paying homage to Joss Wheedon’s Buffy-verse through the casting of Buffy actresses Alison Hannigan (Willow) and Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) and a cameo from the great Joss himself. The writing was snappy, the girl power palpable, and I didn’t manage to solve the mystery that spanned the whole of the first season before Veronica did–not bad for a plot stretched across 22 episodes. As we moved into Season 2, we started calling the show The Crack because we could not seem to stop watching it.

Then we hit Season 3, in which Veronica has left high school for the elite Hurst College–and you may want to skip this paragraph if you’re not there yet, because there will indeed be *spoilers ahead*. I should begin by saying that I’m only seven episodes in, so maybe the dire situation that caused me to feel the need to blog this morning will be rectified by the end of the season. I’d heard Season 3 wasn’t as good, but what I hadn’t heard was that it was a parade of feminist-bashing stereotypes of the worst possible sort. Veronica gets embroiled in trying to solve some rapes on campus but lo and behold, she is constantly foiled by the Evil Feminists–played most prominently by actresses who are thus far the only women of color in the season–who Don’t Care About the Truth but just Hate Men (especially fraternity brothers). When their demands that frats be shut down aren’t met, they actually fake a rape to get their way. Yes, ladies, it’s not just trashy gold digging sluts who fake rape charges against fraternity brothers, those Evil Feminists are doing it too! Even if in the rest of the season some of this presentation is corrected, I don’t see how the show could undo its insistence that feminism is a criminally misguided, ideologically rabid and morally bankrupt enterprise.

I also don’t think it’s any accident that this is the season when Veronica leaves high school for college. From one perspective, I can see the writers thinking, ‘What’s a campus issue?’ and ‘What sort of people are associated with college life?’ and coming up with ‘rape’ and ‘activists’ as fairly reasonable answers. They probably wanted something that felt topical and stretched the show away from high school approaches to ongoing concerns. (Rape has been a longstanding issue for the series.) But from another perspective, it seems quite telling to me that, when Veronica leaves high school for the larger world, the show suddenly felt a need to demonstrate that, even if she is a kick-ass young woman with a will of iron and a mind like a steel trap, Veronica should not be associated with that frightening, ridiculous and unsexy creature, the feminist.

In some ways, what’s happened to the show is the best argument against the ‘girl power’ ideal that I can think of. It’s fine for Veronica to have MacGyver-like, polymath talents so long as she’s cordoned off into the toy-town world of high school (and her petite stature is consistently underscored in the early seasons). But once she gets to college and starts using those skills to get things that really matter–like A’s in difficult classes, internship offers, the attention of important professors–then things begin to look a bit more dangerous. The Buffy show dealt with this tension by making Buffy an actual superhero, so that her skills were necessarily cordoned off from the whole of the female population (though things become a bit more complicated over time, as those who’ve watched the whole series know). Because she’s just a really fucking smart and strong young woman, it’s quite a bit more dangerous to let Veronica loose from the cutesy spectacle of a Wee Little Girl taking on Big Big Problems that was presented in the first two seasons. The Evil Feminists plot arc reassures us that, even if Veronica’s girl power is inevitably turning in to woman power as she ages, she won’t be using that power for anything political–anything that might actually challenge the status quo or makes men look bad as a group rather than just pointing out the individual dumb-asses.

I’m sure I’ll watch to the end of the season, as I’m holding on to a sliver of hope that somehow this might be turned around. Though I can’t see how it might be, the show has certainly surprised me before. And I still recommend the first two seasons, despite their girl-power limitations. But that Veronica Mars took it upon itself to perpetrate the most hateful sort of caricatures of feminism really gives new meaning to the word ‘spoiler.’

jke

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Feminists go with the Flow

U.K. feminists went head-to-head with U.S. feminists in an academia smackdown at the Flow television studies conference earlier this month.

Actually, it wasn’t even like that. I just felt like being dramatic. It was, however, a really great conversation on a panel titled, “Feminisms and Feminists in the Public Sphere.” The panel’s organizers voiced a need to take a good hard look at how feminism is represented in the public sphere—widely defined as public discourse or conversations about feminism. Who does the media select to represent feminism? What issues are deemed feminist enough for the mainstream media?

Frustratingly, for me, whoever chose the response papers decided that public sphere meant “blogosphere.” Was it the suffix –sphere that threw them off? I mean, dang, I like blogging, but I refuse to concede the terrain of, well, all mass media except the Internet to anti-feminist viewpoints.

For example, my bête noir is the Observer’s monthly Woman supplement. I was way excited when its arrival was announced and way-er disappointed when I actually picked up the rag. For one thing, it featured its same, tired columnists (Burchill, Vernon, host of SNAGS*) with their one-note, “Look, Ma, I can say ‘pussy’!” version of feminism.

Second, the topics were those hard-hitting gems of feminist discourse about to-shave-or-not-to-shave, public breastfeeding dilemmas, and does high street retailer Marks & Spencer represent today’s Bridget Jones? To be fair, there are occasional glimmers of political analysis, but they are usually an afterthought or way behind the progressive press in its coverage of significant feminist politics. The result is the neutered idea that just because one is talking about something related to females or women that feminism is sorted.

That might all seem like a load of sour grapes, but trust: I hate the game, not the playa. Our argument about feminisms and public discourse is not new and one that radical feminists made quite adeptly in the early 1970s: the star system blows because there are many more voices that represent feminism than the mainstream press allows.  The response would seem to be that blogging allows these voices to be heard, but yet, I quibble with the notion that blogs are the be-all, end-all and not merely preaching to the choir.

Going Public: Girl City TV and feminism 3.0

From the U.S. side of things, our co-panelists offered a range of ways (besides blogging) to bulldoze one’s way into the public discourse. Artist and theorist Stella Marrs is building on her catalogue of kickass patriarchy subverting postcards.

Using online video to encourage storytelling, GirlCity.tv, starts with stories about Barbie.  The goal is for the videos to detail experiences with the leggy legend and how women of all sizes, races, classes, etc. played with/manipulated Barbie.

Also notable was Vicki Callahan’s  feminisms 3.0.  It’s a feminist media website dedicated to exploring how we communicate differently via the web. Here theory and practice are intertwined through “distributed authorship” of, not only blogs, but also videos and podcasts. Both Girl City TV and feminism 3.0 recognize that the terms of public discourse are not set in stone and that the public sphere only remains public because we demand it remain so.

Feminisms

The panel also raised challenging questions for feminists on both sides of the tenure divide regarding academic freedom and blogging. If our goal is to spread feminism’s message (assuming there’s only one), does blogging anonymously as we do here at Across the Pond count as a significant intervention in the public sphere? Do women who are just starting careers in higher ed risk job prospects by being vocal on the web or in the press about their feminism or discrimination they may face in the academy?

Our conclusion was that, in addition to fostering existing connections, perhaps we need to more closely examine the idea of a plurality of feminisms. As a black feminist, I found it provocative to think that perhaps 1980s interventions around multiple identities have diluted feminism’s overall strength in public discourse.  Surely, feminist issues gained breadth and depth by thinking through gender, sexuality, race, class, and physical ability. But what might we have lost in this balkanization? We can’t speak for everyone, but in that knowledge, has feminism ended up still speaking for the very few of us? Has the lack of a singular message or issue made feminism inscrutable to the mainstream media?

*Sensitive New Age Guys: they attend Billy Bragg concerts and hold up the fist salute when he sings union songs despite the fact they’ve never even been near a union hall.

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Move over Hillary & Barack: it’s Shirley!

If you’ve not seen the fab documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed and you’re in London this Wednesday (29 October, 4pm), get thee to King’s College London. The American Studies Department is screening the film about Shirley Chisholm‘s 1972 presidential campaign.

The film is followed by  a discussion on race, gender and the presidential race. On hand will be Diane Abbott who is the first black woman member of the House of Commons. Who better to comment on the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress?

While Shirley wasn’t the first black woman to run for President (Charlene Mitchell ran for the Communist Party in ’64), she’s so sassum-frassum-awesome that we really should start a Shirley Chisholm Day!

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Filed under African Americans, race, Social Justice, women

Free Sarah Palin!

Campbell Brown at CNN does it again. This time, she chimes in with a commentary that may be the single smartest statement anyone has made about Sarah Palin since she was nominated for VP.

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Sarah Palin, You’ve Left Me Speechless

Katie Couric, nice work. Look at these journalists asking questions, and REASKING them when they aren’t answered. It’s like we have a free press, dontcha know.

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The Audacity of Entitlement

It was only a matter of time.

Rebecca Walker- self-anointed mother of the naval-gazing third-wave feminism that we so dislike here at Across the Pond – posted on Palin Power today over at the Huffington Post.

I posted on the similarities between Palin and Walker’s weak brand of feminism almost immediately after Palin hit the scene. It seems that Walker also sees striking similarities between her experiences as a feminist and Palin’s rise to the top.

Walker claims that feminists who just can’t get with the fact that not all feminists are “progressive” have maligned her and Palin. Now, we like to think that feminism is progressive by definition, but according to Walker, we’re wrong.

Of course, Walker has seized on this historic moment in US political history to talk about her pain at being rejected by 2,000 participants at the National Women’s Studies Association annual meeting a couple of years ago. They didn’t like her talk and suggested to readers of their newsletter that Walker is not actually very feminist. What did Walker do? What any hard-working, grass roots, in-the-trenches feminist would do – she threatened to sue.

It couldn’t be that 2,000 women were right to be pissed of at her, just like it can’t be that mobs of women who are pissed off at the blatant tokenism, co-optation and distortion of feminism that resulted in Palin’s nomination can’t be right either. There can’t be something wrong with Walker’s or Palin’s politics…it must be us.

Walker embraces her shared victimhood with Palin and then blames feminists for it all. She warned us about all of this 15 years ago, she writes, and what did she get in response: “I’ve been attacked, undermined, and politically abused by some of the very women I sought to serve.”

Sought to serve?

Please.

Real feminists, and women with any shred of dignity, don’t get all petulant when the people they “seek to serve” don’t bow at their feet. By the way, real feminists understand the problematic power dynamics that are reflected in the phrase “women I sought to serve.”

I am a feminist woman in her thirties and I have always found Walker’s brand of feminism to be vapid and slight compared to the work of other feminist women, and not just the feminist icons that Walker always alludes to in the hope that it will get her more press. I’m talking about my mother and those millions of women who are deeply engaged in feminist practice – not “just” ideology – without always looking around for a pat on the head or some other nauseating form of approval.

Walker’s critique is as superficial as Palin’s lipstick.

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No Victims Here (But One Big Whiner, Phyllis Schlafly)

“Is this Feminism?” That’s how the San Francisco Chronicle headlined this weekend’s Insight, a special Sunday pullout section, focused on women’s reactions to Sarah Palin. Then they featured an op-ed by (cue groan) Phyllis Schlafly.

Here is a small sample:

The bad attitude of victimhood is indoctrinated in students by the bitter feminist faculty in university women’s studies courses and even in some law schools. Victimhood is nurtured and exaggerated by feminist organizations using their tactic called “consciousness raising,” i.e., retelling horror stories about how badly some women have been treated until small personal annoyances grow into societal grievances.

How is it that agents of change, like feminists, are branded victims by conservatives like Schlafly? Aren’t action and whining complete opposites?

I know of no progressive women who carve a life out of whining; as jke notes in an earlier post here, the media hungers truly for traitors.

I’m not sure Schlafly would be a household name, however, if she wasn’t tapped over and again to berate feminism. So you could say that Schlafly, and women like her, owe their lives to feminism.

Read the response to Schlafly by Caille Millner here.

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