19 May 2016

Feminism ruins everything

Feminism has been accused of a lot of ills. It's been said that feminism causes women to leave their husbands, take up witchcraft and become lesbians (seriously). Feminism has been accused of emasculating men and boys, demanding special treatment for women, wanting to institute a matriarchy and much, much more.

As a feminist, obviously I can see these accusations for what they are; the resentful cries of those who benefit from the status quo disliking the fact they might actually have to cede some spaces at the table of power. I recognise that feminism has only ever benefited my life, as well as that of the men and women around me. Do I have rights over my own body? For that, I need to thank a feminist. Do I have the freedom to have my own bank account, passport and own property? Yup - and for that, I need to thank a feminist. Is any job I wish to do open to me? Yup - thank a feminist. Am I educated? Thank a feminist. Am I free to choose a life without marriage or children should I wish? Thank a feminist. And so on.

However, one way in which I will concede that feminism seriously arses up one's life is when it comes to dealing with popular culture. Once you start becoming aware of the myriad ways in which pop culture perpetuates sexism, it becomes very difficult to enjoy any of it any more. I love music videos, but I've given up flicking through the music channels because I'm tired of the fact that female artists don't seem to be permitted to wear more than a few handkerchief's worth of fabric in them any more, while male artists are of course, always fully clothed. I love films, but I can't watch any of them any more without considering if they pass the Bechdel Test (and pitifully few still do); I was also seriously depressed by the fact that the last two films I went to see at the cinema (The Big Short and Deadpool) both contained totally unnecessary scenes in strip clubs, yet again using the sexualised female form as window dressing to films whose storylines gained absolutely fuck-all from the inclusion of those scenes.

"In a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you." 
- Lindy West

Recently, I tried watching Blazing Saddles, the famous Mel Brooks cowboy film spoof from 1972 that everyone tells me is so hilarious. Given the era, I expected the humour to be somewhat retrograde, but in the end I lasted about 15 minutes after hearing racial slurs against black and Chinese people and homophobic slurs pepper the dialogue so casually that it turned my stomach. I gave up watching; I just couldn't find it funny. It was too vile. Seeing privileged white men leaving two black men up to their necks in quicksand didn't seem like a funny relic from another time - it seemed more like an eerie metaphor for what's still going on in many parts of the USA today.

Intersectional feminism has given me such exacting standards for pop culture that it's ultimately very hard for anything to measure up. I still haven't bothered watching Jessica Jones because 1) I'm tired of being told to be grateful any time a 'kick-ass' female protagonist features - after all, are men expected to cheer every time a man who's not a total twat features in a film or TV show? I think not - and 2) because I'm not sure what exactly is supposed to be so progressive about another young, long-haired white woman who's so slim she looks like she'd struggle to lift a spoon of cornflakes kicking the crap out of baddies. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was showing that nearly 20 years ago. Also, I was pretty dismayed, but not surprised, to read about fat-shaming in Jessica Jones. Seems you can be a heroine as long as you're not fat, or unfeminine, or not conventionally attractive. Woo fucking hoo for progress.

Whenever I watch a film, I'm not just looking out for whether it passes The Bechdel Test - even though it is seriously depressing how few films still contain two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man, I mean how fecking LOW is that setting the bar! - but I'm looking out for whether it portrays women as anything other than slim, young, white and femme.  I'm also asking myself questions like: does the female lead constantly have perfect hair and make-up even when she's just woken up, or is supposed to be trudging through a war zone? Points off (and yo! Jennifer Connolly in Blood Diamond). Are there any old, fat or butch women who are allowed to be full, richly drawn characters? Orange is the New Black has torn up the rule book on how TV shows can depict women, now it'd be nice if film-makers would catch on to the notion that there's a captive audience happy to see women portrayed just as they actually are and give us some female ensemble movies. It'd be even nicer if we reached a point where female ensemble movies were no longer considered worthy of comment. A male friend of mine watched the criminally underrated movie Set It Off the other day, and remarked how he didn't even really notice that the four leads were women.
Maybe that's because women are people, and when you write roles for them that treat them like this, rather than like some exotic, incomprehensible species, gender is irrelevant to whether they're good characters or not.

So yes, I blame feminism for making me aware of all this. I blame it for making me unable to watch the trailer for Eddie the Eagle without thinking "FFS, another underdog film about a man's story. Where's the fucking film about Flo-Jo, or the Williams sisters?", for making me head straight home after watching The Big Short and going online to find out that one of the major players who predicted the 2008 financial crisis was actually a woman; Meredith Whitney, who features precisely erm, nowhere amongst the main (all male) characters even though she was in the book that the film is based on (and also, CHRIST how badly did that film waste the fantastic Marisa Tomei?!). I blame it for making me not willing to give a pass to men who tell me they "just didn't notice" or "just didn't think it was that big a deal" when I mention the above to them, and invariably leave me having to bat away their bruised egos and butthurt demands that I don't lump them in with AllOtherMen when I suggest that perhaps not noticing and not thinking it's that big a deal are actually pretty typical reactions when you're not a member of the group being shat on.

But I thank feminism too, for giving me the confidence to not put up with any of that shit, to not give my attention and money to media that demonstrates little but contempt for my gender, to not tolerate in my life men who are immediately hostile to any mention of feminism while simultaneously demanding to be acknowledged as Nice Guys, to go out and buy books by women, about women, see movies directed by women, starring women, and not just twenty-something slim long-haired white women sporting perfect make-up, but women of color, fat women, butch women, punky women, gay women, trans women, completely average women, ugly women, old women, consume TV series that do more than just pass the Bechdel Test, support art made by women, and pretty much fight the stereotype of the passive moronic consumer who will just take what they're given and therefore justify executives saying "we have to keep making more of the same thing because that's what people WANT." I thank feminism to alerting me to the fact I have a choice in what media I consume, and a choice to make people aware of it (they too, of course, have the choice to reject this awareness and paint me as unreasonable and reactionary, but that itself is also a silver lining because it alerts me to the fact this is a person with whom I probably don't want to have much interaction). I thank feminism for showing me there are other options.

So yes, in one way feminism ruins everything. But it also forces you to wonder: was that "everything" really worth so much anyway? Was it really "everything?" Or was it just the sexist, racist, heteronormative, capitalism-loving slice of mainstream media you were taught to blindly accept?
Long may the ruination continue.

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1 comment:

Ella Davis said...

Great post, 'everything' most definitely wasn't worth it!