Feminism Makes Another Curtain Call

If one reads the New York Times and other popular journals, they will find the occasional feature discussing the end of feminism. Depending on the editorial stance and intended audience of the journal, this article will either decry or celebrate the “return” of feminine sexuality and sexiness. No matter what the slant, this faux return, along with other indicators pulled out of the empty air that denotes much of popular culture, will be portrayed as proof that feminism is dead and may have even failed. The truth of the matter, however, is that there was no return because feminine sexuality and sexiness never left. Neither did sexism.

It is this last point that the authors of Reclaiming the F Word use as a beginning point for their recently published book. Furthermore, write authors Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, neither has feminism. Indeed, as long as the issues denigrating women and forcing them to accept less than what they are capable of exist, then feminism will exist. Today’s feminism does not look like the mass movement of the 1970s, but is arguably more integrated into women’s daily lives. It also does not always call itself feminism.

It was that movement of the 1970s–a movement known historically as second-wave feminism–that made the phrase “the personal is the political” popular. The essence of this statement is that what we do in our private daily lives is as political as the overtly political actions we take on the public stage. One effects the other and to pretend otherwise is not only hypocrisy but dishonest. Overall, the entrance of this concept into the leftist and countercultural movements of the time did create a greater consciousness regarding the relationship between the private and the public personas we all have. Simultaneously, it also created a dynamic where a personal mistake could often become a greater issue than one’s positive political acts, consequently destroying whatever potential those political acts may have had. Perhaps the most obvious example of this for many liberals in the United States was the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Those liberals who truly appreciated Clinton’s political acts and policies were forced to watch the man’s personal mistakes being used as a justification by those who hated the man and his policies to discredit both. The irony is that Clinton’s destroyers had absolutely no use for feminism, but were able to manipulate “the personal is political” dictum into one more element of a hypocritical puritanical attack on everything he stood for.

Second wave feminism–or women’s liberation as it was called back then–assumed that the liberation of women would occur within the wave of universal liberation that many believed was near in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As we know, that struggle for universal liberation ultimately slipped into the particularities and occasional pettiness of identity politics. Identity politics is a politics that, among other things, removes the question of class struggle from the equation and replaces it with a combination of victimhood and special privilege designed to “make up” for previous wrongs. Of course, many of these wrongs cannot be compensated for because they are based on one’s economic relationship to the masters of capital, not to the relationships between different elements of those subordinate to the masters. Reclaiming the F Word walks a fine line between these two opposing understandings. While generally understanding that women’s rights can only be obtained through the struggle for universal human rights, the authors tend to work within the framework of identity politics when it comes to specifics. This approach is no more evident than it is in their failure to discuss the world’s greatest violator of human rights–imperial war. The omission of this discussion clearly weakens the book, especially at a time when both Washington and London have used women’s rights to justify their wars against Muslim nations.

Redfern and Aune are British and therefore write mostly about Britain. They discuss current efforts to end violence against women, for equal pay and for sexual and reproductive freedom and choice. While doing this, they comment on the nature of British society in the 2000s. It is a society that is considerably more ethnically and religiously diverse, with a large population of Muslim and other non-Christian women. This fact creates a new way of looking at conventional women’s issues. The need for cultural sensitivity is a challenge to conventional western feminists who may not understand the reasons a woman might wear a burqa or chador or accept the roles proscribed by non-Western cultures. Yet, oftentimes women working with these women find that the common bond of womanhood is enough and it is from that point that they begin their work.

A discussion in the book that I found particularly intriguing revolved around the relationship between feminism and religion. No religion is held out for special scorn or praise and all of the monotheistic ones (which form the bulk of believers in the West) are looked at honestly. Attempts by feminists who consider themselves believers to transform their churches are discussed as are those women who want nothing to do with religion, considering such attempts to be pointless in the face of those religions’ fundamental patriarchal belief systems.

The overriding theme of Reclaiming the F Word is that women’s rights are human rights. From the right to control one’s own body to the right to an education and healthcare, Redfern and Aune do a good job of elucidating the current approach modern-day feminists are taking in the struggles for these things. If one wants to read an honest discussion of where modern day western feminism stands, this book is a good place to begin. Accessible and informative, it is a brief survey of many of the issues faced by women in the early part of the 21st century and the attempts by many to address them.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on September 4th, 2010 at 10:09am #

    To what degree, or if any, does meritocracy, of which even torah approves of, cause belittlement of women since, say, 10 k yrs?
    But, then, does not meritocratic thinking cause belittlement of men?
    My own answer is yes. And furthermore, it, to me, being THE FIRST CAUSE for it.
    Alas, jacobs does not even postulate let alone posit the FIRST CAUSE for belitlement of people.
    And, apodicticly— of a necessary or apsolutly certain truth—everything is caused.
    As an aside, “apodictic“ truth appears to have been coined by aristotle!
    About torahic promotion of meritocracy— or is it biblical?— the book says, and i paraphrase: those that do not have, even that little what they have will, be taken from them. And i add, by more valauble people!
    And obama heard that loud and clear! tnx

  2. hayate said on September 4th, 2010 at 10:45am #

    This para:

    “It was that movement of the 1970s–a movement known historically as second-wave feminism–that made the phrase “the personal is the political” popular…..”

    One of the interesting aspects of how some elements of feminism, especially “radical” feminism, changed the views of some women was how closely they came to resembling puritans in their ways of thinking – I don’t mean that they accepted 17th century puritans views, they just duplicated the narrow-minded attitude. It fit right in with the reversals of the 80′s, where the opening up of the 60′s was consciously and deliberately reversed and narrow mindedness was heavily promoted.

  3. Deadbeat said on September 4th, 2010 at 2:15pm #

    I would think that Sharon Smith book Women and Socialism would be a better place to start. Ron says it himself …

    Reclaiming the F Word walks a fine line between these two opposing understandings [of identity and class].

    and

    This approach is no more evident than it is in their failure to discuss the world’s greatest violator of human rights–imperial war. The omission of this discussion clearly weakens the book, especially at a time when both Washington and London have used women’s rights to justify their wars against Muslim nations.

    It would appear this book still remains confined to 2nd-wave identity mode of thinking which means failing to examine its contradictions. You cannot walk a fine line between class and identity. One is going to give way to the other. And let’s face it the power structure clearly isn’t walking such a fine line. And it would appear from Ron’s comments that the authors fail to address the power configurations that influence today’s imperial wars and political economy — namely Zionism.

    Also I thought Ron’s use of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair was rather surreal. He comments …

    Those liberals who truly appreciated Clinton’s political acts and policies were forced to watch the man’s personal mistakes being used as a justification by those who hated the man and his policies to discredit both.

    I guess the Liberals appreciated the following Clinton political acts:

    * the largest growth of incarceration of WOMEN in U.S. history.

    * terminating AFDC for the crappy TANF that forced many women onto the work roles for their benefits.

    * The deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.

    * The use of depleted uranium weapons on Yugoslavia

    * Nafta and further withering of the job base.

    * Repeal of Glass-Steagel and the ensuing banking/housing bubbles.

    Clinton was a sexist, racist, sleaze bag even before Lewinsky. Thank goodness the Lewinsky affair occurred otherwise older women today may have faced cuts to their Social Security benefits.

    Let’s face it. Feminism is a MIDDLE CLASS WHITE WOMEN thing. What feminists really care about is there ability to compete and grow within the Capitalist hierarchy. The REAL fine line they are walking is how to rally women at the bottom of the pyramid to make conditions better for women at the upper levels of the pyramid. Identity politics is the one of the reasons why we have an Obama Presidency today and may have a Clinton or Palin one in the future.

    A Socialist society is what will bring liberation to women and that is what women should be fighting for.

  4. mary said on September 4th, 2010 at 2:25pm #

    Spot on Deadbeat.

  5. lichen said on September 4th, 2010 at 3:06pm #

    I’d like to think that men’s rights are also human rights; and there might be anywhere near the funding, time, and effort taken to end the epidemic of violence against men and boys, stop the mutilation of boy’s genitals, end sexism that puts men into a box, end corporal punishment, and, yes, also strive for a completely equal society–where no one, whether ceo or male or female or young or old makes a higher wage and gets better respect than anyone else. Immature identity politic feminist thinking tells women they can ask for something they don’t give in return–whether it is respect, consideration, or sensitivity to the other half of the human population.

  6. bozh said on September 4th, 2010 at 3:53pm #

    “Greatest violator of human rights– imperial war”. Yes, of course! The question arises, does it not, what precedes any war of aggression or an imperial war.
    Words! Yes or no? I say, yes! First in people’s heads;followed by different but spoken words!
    However, even before words occur, one sees two, three tanks in one’s backyard and no tank or only one tank in neighbors backyard.
    And mystory taught in schools world-wide, becomes clear history. tnx
    Thanks for an ear. Also spricht bozhidarevski!

  7. teafoe2 said on September 4th, 2010 at 4:50pm #

    Great job, DB. Impressive knowledge!

  8. hayate said on September 4th, 2010 at 8:43pm #

    Deadbeat

    That’s one of the better comments I’ve read here. Thanks.

  9. Deadbeat said on September 4th, 2010 at 10:15pm #

    Thanks T42, mary and hayate.

    IMO clarity is found when you just cut to chase.

    DB

  10. shabnam said on September 5th, 2010 at 9:00pm #

    For the population of the targeted countries, the word Feminism is suspicious at best; because we have witness the rise of western feminists to power but hardly any changes has taken place in the foreign policy of the United States. The feminists in the government have not changed the nature of the US government and its policy important to the larger population. We were told by the feminists that they will change the patriarchal nature of the power to make it more humane based on equal opportunity for both sexes. But since the rise of the feminist movement, the world has become more violent and the gap between rich and poor has widened especially for poor immigrants of both sexes and poor women worldwide. Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice are two examples of the American feminists who have assumed high position in the government but they have walked on the same path as other war mongers who are willing to exterminate the Iranian population as well as the Sudanese population, meaning business as usual.
    Since the 9/11 terror, however, the Muslim communities came under attack as enemies, thus, the feminists on both sides of the aisle have become valuable tools to be used in the propaganda against Muslims. In the case of Afghanistan, military action gathered support on the basis of a ‘feminist’ cause to save Afghani women from Islam. Many ‘feminists’ cooperated with the imperial project as AGENTS to help the war mongers’ agenda meaning the occupation of Afghanistan. The feminist attack on status of women in Islam aimed at demonization of the religion to present Islam as ‘backward’ against the west as the ‘savior’ and ‘progressive’. Bahramitash an Iranian sociologist argues:
    The negative images of Islam and Muslims that are dominant in North America can best be understood through Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Gramsci argues that hegemonic knowledge is a system of thought that is formed over time and that is representative of the interests of the dominant class that manages to universalize its own beliefs and value systems to subordinate classes. These beliefs are formulated by the intellectual elites which result in controlling structures that are imposed through ‘civil society’ rather than through the state. Therefore, the negative stereotypes of Muslims as part of the dominant ideology of North America are reinforced through institutions independent of the state such as media.
    Therefore, after 9/11, orientalist feminism sold their military agenda based on demonization of Islam and bleak status of women in Muslim countries. They awarded Muslim women who were willing to cooperate with the project of the West with thousands of dollars to encourage other women to join the campaign to destabilize Muslim communities for regime change.
    Western domination and military action against Muslims throughout the colonial history was legitimized on the assumption that Muslim societies were inferior to those in the West. Therefore, the work of feminists who are willing to paint this picture of Islam will be viewed valuable in legitimizing military action against the enemy for the ignorant population of the West.
    Since the Iranian revolution, Iran has been viewed negatively and therefore is subject to regime change. The west has used Iranian and Western feminists to paint Islam as evil which treats the Iranian women as slaves, using campaign of LIES & DECEPTION to spread this message around. They have produced many books including “Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, films like “the stoning of Soraya M” based on unreal story packaged as TRUE story to be consumed by the ignorant population of the North America spread through public library system which is an effective means of reaching the public.
    In an interview Catherine Redfern said that:
    The book is an overview of what issues are important to feminists today – a very broad range of topics, ranging from issues to do with the body (abortion, body image, childbirth, contraception, Female Genital Mutilation), all the way through to sex/sexuality and relationships, the workplace, the home, politics, religion, popular culture and finally feminism itself.
    Many of these issues, like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), religion, union, are used to demonize the imagined enemy, here Islam. The FGM is not Islamic rather an African tradition is practiced in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and other African neighboring countries. Many imposters deliberately associate FGM to Islam which is not true. If FGM is Islamic then why is not practiced in Saudi Arabia where Islam originated.
    Eve Ensler claimed that women everywhere are oppressed and subordinate:
    {I think that the oppression of women is universal. I think we are bonded in every single place of the world. I think the conditions are exactly the same. We all have different forms of enforced burqas. Every culture has it. Whether it’s an idea or a fascist tyranny of what women are supposed to look like–so that women go to the extremes of liposuction, anorexia and bulimia to achieve it–or whether it’s being covered in a burqa, we all have deep, profound, ongoing daily forms of oppression.}
    But t feminist warmongers like Christina Hoffsommers paints the situation differently:
    {The number of American women who undergo “vaginal labial rejuvenation” is minuscule: There were 793 such procedures in 2005, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. By contrast, a World Health Organization 2000 fact sheet reports: “Today, the number of girls and women who have undergone female genital mutilation is estimated at between 100 and 140 million. It is estimated that each year, a further 2 million girls are at risk of undergoing FGM.}
    This feminist warmongers views FGM differently from Male Circumcision because if she views them the same then the ‘chosen people’ and other non Muslims are coming into the picture. I don’t know why the feminist war mongers are shedding crocodile tears for an issue which appears to be a non issue in these African societies. Furthermore, if FGM is such a big issue, then, why don’t we leave it to the population of these societies to solve it for themselves. This arrogant attitude towards Muslims is there to demonize them in order to get control over the ‘inferiors’. Thus, I have no trust in the F-word. The human rights of female are not separated from the human rights of males. One without the other cannot be fruitful.
    For the above reason, Mr. Jacobs, I agree with your point when you write:
    {This approach is no more evident than it is in their failure to discuss the world’s greatest violator of human rights–imperial war. The omission of this discussion clearly weakens the book, especially at a time when both Washington and London have used women’s rights to justify their wars against Muslim nations.}

    Thank you for introducing this work for us.

  11. Deadbeat said on September 5th, 2010 at 10:37pm #

    Thank you shabnam. Excellent commentary. Especially this…

    This feminist warmongers views FGM differently from Male Circumcision because if she views them the same then the ‘chosen people’ and other non Muslims are coming into the picture.

  12. shabnam said on September 6th, 2010 at 7:45am #

    Deadbeat thank you.

    The Feminist, Bella Abzug, and Marxist feminist, Betty Friedan both were supporter of the Shah, a dictator and friend of Israel, and his sister Ashraf, who burned a journalist pro Mosaddeq, toppled by the CIA/MI6 coup in 1953, to death, viewed the Iranian revolution negatively and spoke against the “veil” in an organized demonstration 2 years after the revolution, but no one condemned e de-veiling of Muslim women in the region who had to adopt western clothing according to the British Empire’s order which let many women to abandon the public sphere for years. We are fed up with double standard.
    The following article shows the hypocrisy of the west and the Iranian feminist who are at the service of the Zionism and imperialism to get recognition.

    http://www.stjohns.ubc.ca/pdf_files/waronterror.pdf

  13. bozh said on September 6th, 2010 at 8:16am #

    Yes, in my knowledge, women everywhere appear to be taught differently than boys or men.
    Generally, girls are taught not to care about the business of running the country or even to think of themselves as inferior, dumb, etc., for this arena.

    And then feeling like that also teach other girls— mostly by behavior— to behave like they do.
    But s`mthing precedes this phenomenon of not caring about one`s business.
    Waging unknowledge, poverty, exploitation, oppression, abuse, torture, jailings, threats, etc., by clerico-plutocratic lowlife, appears a necessity in order to wage wars and the rest of the iniquities.
    In an much or even s`mwhat egalitarian society, say, that of switzerland, almost all iniquities evanesce.
    The problem is that most collumnists and posters on DV, and other sites appear strongly one-issuistic or inegalitarian. And never look at or study some euro lands! `
    This post is highly hasbaritic, sybaritic, americanistic, talmudic, mosheic, islamic so don`t read it. tnx

  14. Don Hawkins said on September 6th, 2010 at 8:53am #

    I read it Bozh and then had my wife read it. She had one question; what is a clerico-plutocratic lowlife. So I said you know when I watch the U.S. Senate on c-span kind of like that but we must add some people you don’t see well dressed standing in the light or dark if you prefer from afar. Aha she said from afar how far?

  15. bozh said on September 6th, 2010 at 9:14am #

    Don,
    Wise woman u have, having said: from afar how far? And u did not know the answer? Well, i don`t either! My old-young wife was quite close and personal when she looked at my improved ass! tnx

  16. shabnam said on September 6th, 2010 at 9:14am #

    {Waging unknowledge, poverty, exploitation, oppression, abuse, torture, jailings, threats, etc., by clerico-plutocratic lowlife, appears a necessity in order to wage wars and the rest of the iniquities.}

    ONLY A CLOSET ZIONIST JEW OR AN IGNORANT PERSON WRITES THIS RUBBISH. The 9/11 terror was designed and implement by the Zionists and the neocons in the Bush administration to frame Muslims to occupy Islamic countries and topple governments in the interest of ISRAEL to be able to control the resources. If anyone by now has not understood that these wars are NOT RELEGIOUS WARS, and the twin trade buildings were not brought down by 19 Arabs carrying $2 box cutters, but by explosive where put in place before the arrival of the airplane by those who designed it, then must get lost. He/she will never learn anything by posting comments.

  17. bozh said on September 6th, 2010 at 9:33am #

    Shabnam, don`t read this!
    I did not have in mind 9.11 when i wrote my post that u`r mad at. Actually, i believe that 9.11 was allowed to happen by cia-fbi-govt. I do not think that a sane muslim would have done that; especially if he saw US leadership as i do: extemely criminal.

    What i said in that post, no `jew` or an inegalitarian had, as far as i know, ever said that.
    In the main, because that would amount to a condemnation of US constitution; US lawlessness, chasmic difference in earnings and needs for most people being about the same or similar.
    This analyses pertains also to emirates, saudis, egypt, iraq. This not being pleasing to any pious muslim, christian, or talmudnik! Oh, how i love rattling up such moodniks.
    Mind u, it doesn`t take all that much for them to go ballistic; being rendered by their teachers unsane. Oh how truth hurts! tnx