The Sexist

Sexist Beatdown: Who’s Killing Feminism Now? Edition


The death of feminism ain't news. Feminism has died a thousand deaths by this point. But wait a second: Today, someone is killing feminism in a totally new way, and this time it involves something called a "diamanté phone cover," whatever the fuck that is. This, according to Nina Power in her book "One Dimensional Woman." Power writes:

Stripped of any internationalist and political quality, feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover. [Jessica Valenti] ‘truly believes’ that feminism is necessary for women ‘to live happy fulfilled lives’. Slipping down as easily as a friendly-bacteria yoghurt drink, Valenti’s version of feminism, with its total lack of structural analysis, genuine outrage, or collective demand, believes it has to compliment capitalism in order to effectively sell its product. When she claims that ‘ladies, we have to take individual action’, what she really means is that it’s every woman for herself and if it is the Feminist™ woman who gets the nicest shoes and the chocolatiest sex, then that’s just too bad for you, sister.

That's right, everybody. You know that sparkly, fun-loving, chocolate-coated feminism that's so popular among capitalists nowadays? Not familiar? Well: It is killing feminism! And how: By making it accessible to more women. Wait, what?

Valenti herself has already responded to Power's critiques on behalf of non-humorless-feminists everywhere, and her points are quite reasonable, particularly when you consider the fact that she's responding to a person who has just compared her to a yoghurt drink. "First of all," Valenti writes, "why anyone wouldn’t want feminism to be the latest must-have accessory is beyond me—because that would be awesome." Agreed.

Join Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown as we draft an application for inclusion in the Real Feminists Club, bedazzle our feminist credentials, and attempt to get to the bottom of this feminist yoghurt drink analogy once and for all. I'll tell you one thing: There better be some fruit at the bottom of this sucker.

SADY: Hello! I have chosen to make myself accessible! In the name, of course, of FEMINISM.

AMANDA: On to it!

SADY: Yes! Are too many of the kids today into it? Should we make it harder for them? SHOULD THERE BE A WRITTEN APPLICATION? Such are the questions before us now.

AMANDA: I have to admit, I found the whole accusation that Jessica Valenti is not a serious feminist a bit ... puzzling. If Jessica Valenti is a fluffy feminist, then what are we? Are we like marshmallow feminists?

SADY: I am a pure spun sugar feminist made of glitter and twinkles. I am the feminist that floats upon the air, so lightweight am I. And this is the thing, the thing that gets me kind of so angry: For years and years and years upon years, people have been like, "Well, of course The Patriarchy will attack us for being humorless and dour, but that is a harsh stereotype and a lie!"


SADY: And, yes: Yes it is. So why is this lady suddenly piping up to tell Jessica Valenti to keep it down over there and not have so much fun?

AMANDA: Well: I understand the general argument. If people accuse me of being "too serious" about feminist issues—which they do, whenever I write about harassment or assault or rape or whatever—the appropriate response would not be to just sexy up my sexual assault coverage. However! There are issues related to feminism that are, in fact, not depressing at all! Like, when feminism happens, and then we can all have sex with whomever we want to when we want to without being assaulted or called whores. This is, indeed, a sexy development! And I fail to see the harm in celebrating that.

SADY: Right you are! It is extremely sexy. And, I mean, I think there's a line between "feminism that is accessible"—let us say, YOU, for I am in a complimentary mood this evening—and "feminism that is so very accessible that it is even accessible to people who are not feminists because it is not actually feminism at all" —let us say, Sarah Palin. And I think that a lot of people are just trying to figure out where that line gets drawn. I understand the calls for more "seriousness," insofar as they are asking you to "seriously" think about the issues in question. But I do not understand "seriousness" insofar as it is like, "I am sorry, this must be written in some modern super-language, for I can read it even without a post-graduate education in Ladyology."

AMANDA: Right. Like if you're a teenager who happens to not identify as a feminist, which is the group Valenti was largely writing her book for. I think one of the arguments against the happy-go-lucky feminism was actually like, Oh No! If we pretend that feminism is a wonderful happy thing, these women will be sorely disappointed when they become feminists and realize that there are like, some serious issues to deal with as well. Again ... I fail to see why the soft pitch ends up being a bad thing. If a girl decides she's interested in feminism because she understands what Valenti has to say about the more "girl power" type stuff, and then she ends up realizing why it's important to support feminism for ALL women, what is the problem?

SADY: Right. And, I mean, there is something to be said for the gateway drug. The only problem is if the kids don't get past the gateway. Like, let's just point out that I am not talking about Feministing or Valenti here, because they have in fact always managed to cover the hard stuff as well as the basics—more of the hard stuff than I have, in fact, because my goal is basically to be the Skittles of feminism—BUT. There is, in fact, something to the idea of "consumerist feminism" or "lifestyle accessory" feminism. Which is, I do think there are some ladies whose involvement with feminism is exclusively confined to their own problems, which they elevate to the position of WORST PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD, even though they are like, "a guy won't like me unless I shave my personal regions" or "I worry that women nowadays are taking the pole-dancing classes, which is gross!" Which: nothing to be said against those problems! Mandatory bodily presentation or the idea that women are always sexual and that "sexual" equals "sex industry performance" at all times are things we can talk about! BUT, it's when we get stuck there, because then feminism becomes sort of obsessively, exclusively personal, and you're not thinking about anything else.

AMANDA: Agreed. I'll reiterate that presenting Valenti as the representative of that kind of feminism is whack, however. I mean, Nina Power compares Valenti to a "friendly-bacteria yoghurt drink.” What the fuck does that mean?

SADY: I have NO IDEA. It reminds me of those Activia commercials, though. And, on the overpersonalizing-feminism thing, can I say? I think that's a line everybody has to walk, and I fall on the wrong side of it sometimes. If by "sometimes" you mean "A LOT OF TIMES." But I think that this is the thing, like the core problem with the argument insofar as I understand it: she IS CONFLATING "accessible" with "shallow."

AMANDA: Yeah. I’ll tell you one thing that's not going to make feminism accessible to the masses: Feminist infighting! I realize I may be implicating this very Sexist Beatdown by saying this, but feminists arguing about who is the bestest feminist? Not particularly riveting to non-feminists.


AMANDA: But since Nina Power is concerned with feminism becoming too accessible, perhaps this was her plan all along! "I know. I'll write a book dedicated to feminist infighting that makes absurd claims about several well-known 'accessible' feminists. That's sure to throw them off their work of making feminism more accessible! At least for a few blog posts!"

SADY: True! Now we can all quote Serious Theory at each other until we fall asleep. Also, in the morning, there might still be some sexism? But whatever! I get Cixous!

AMANDA: I get Yoghurt.

SADY: Um, OK. Lightweight.

Photo via lovejanine, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • Coleman

    Sounds like a media-staged standoff where there might be a misreading going on in both directions. BLAWG!

    This post caught my eye precisely because I'm a reader of Nina's blog and I was all like what?

    I think commenter OSJ (on the Valenti post cited above) gets it right:

    First we need to get past the superficial mischaracterizations, Valenti is not substance-free, as Power wrongly asserts. But Power is hardly an elitist, nor is she “not young” as those who claim she’s attacking “young feminists” don’t seem to understand. She’s not angry at “young feminists,” she’s angry at what she sees to be fruitless, unsubstantial feminism. While you may disagree with her take, it’s not a stupid thing for feminists to be worried about the types of feminism that are out there.

  • Coleman

    Also a good post at Anodyne Lite on possible sources of misunderstanding between the (stuffy) British and (burger-munching) American feminists.

  • janine

    Radical femninism is equivalent to an extremist hate group and has given rise to a whole range of injustices and attcks on civil liberties in the disingenous guise of equality.

    For those interested read the following as examples, you will not find these issues discussed in the feminist media. If people are ending up dead because of bias unquestioned propaganda then in a day of human rights and civil liberties, I think someone should speak up for the dead men and the injustices even if others wont:

    i) An article from a feminist in sexual harassment, in particular the paragraph

    "Second, it is important to hammer in the toll of human misery that has been inflicted upon those who are accused of sexual harassment. Universities, in particular. At universities, those accused have no presumption of innocence...that is something they must prove to committees that often have the power to ruin their lives. They have no right to face their accuser or to question witnesses, no right to a lawyer or even, necessarily, to know the exact charges being brought against them. And the charges can be brought for nothing more than assigning the wrong homework, telling the wrong joke, asking female students tough questions or not asking them enough questions.

    Daphne Patai is very good at driving home the savagery of sexual harassment laws and policies. One third of her book, part II, is entitled "Typifying Tales." There she offers real life stories. For case...a very over-weight and by all accounts a very popular, competent professor responded to a taunt shouted out in class by a female student. She rudely commented on the extreme 'size' of his chest: in response, he observed that she had no such problem. A witch-hunt of sexual harassment charges ensued. It was so extreme that the professor committed suicide. In a press release, the university's main concern was that the professor's death would not discourage other similarly "abused" women from "speaking out."
    ii) A book named Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism by Daphne Patai. You can read extracts here:

    ii) A memo (again by a woman) from the cato institute entitled feminist jurispudence -

  • AL

    I call "men's rights advocate" Poe on Janine.

    "She" hit all the right talking points, complete with the "a woman wrote this article--I swear!--that means it's a legitimate feminist POV" sidebar. Brava. Or Bravo. Whatever.