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  • Saturday, August 20, 2005


    Post-Feminist Feminism

    I try to keep up with the times, try to listen to what the youngsters have to say. (I ain't a youngster in my late forties.) Nah, I'm not trying to be hip and "with it" or pick up the lingo/slang. I just think young people often have different approaches and perspectives on problems than older people. This is refreshing and sometimes excellent ideas come from them. Do I sound patronizing yet? It's not intended but I have more than a bit of the surly curmudgeon in me, soon to transmute into crotchety querulousness.

    I've been a pro-feminist kind of guy since my teen years in the 1970s. I like to think I know a little about feminist theory, history, and practice. I actually read and agreed with much of the SCUM Manifesto. So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that I often buy copies of Bitch and BUST on the newsstands. Both magazines have a feminist slant to them and are aimed at a young audience. Bitch's subtitle is "Feminist Response to Pop Culture" and BUST's is "for women who have something to get off their chests." I tend to prefer Bitch because it seems to have a much more explicit feminist analysis and editorial slant. BUST is, generally, a little more pop-y and short-attention span oriented in the length of their articles.

    I was somewhat surprised when the current issue of BUST had a theme of "Men We Love." This seemed a little... odd. I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt but I still couldn't bring myself to buy it. It's not that I think feminists should hate men or have to be lesbians. I just couldn't quite understand the theme. I was having a bit of cognitive dissonance about it. Perhaps there was a really good reason why these were men feminists would love, men who were breaking patriarchal structures and gender roles. Perhaps.

    I skimmed the intro editorial for the issue and was horrified to read about the staff becoming giddy and "squealing" over some of the pictures of the men. Then I paused. Who am I, a man, to judge what these feminists think of these men? Who am I to pretend to be an arbiter of proper feminism? Then I thought, What the hell. Let the judgment flow.

    There seems to be a strain of feminism among twenty-somethings which I will call "feminism lite". (And yes, that accursed "lite" spelling is deliberate.) As far as I can tell, there is little I would recognize as feminism beyond having a pro-choice position. There's actually a kind of inversion of feminist analysis in some ways, a use of the term "feminism" to justify actions: "I am a woman and call myself a feminist, and I like and do these particular things therefore these are feminist actions."

    An article in the May-June, 2005 issue of off our backs ("Shaving is the Pits" by Robin Friebur) had a slightly different take on this phenomenon but is very close to what I'm talking about.
    The "slut feminism" embraced by some women in the 1980s and 90s made it difficult to question the rules about "sexy" appearance propagated by media moguls (rich men) and enforced by the less privileged men who may be our husbands, fathers, boyfriends, or sons. "Slut feminism" suggested that as long as we had our orgasms, it didn't much matter how we got them. If being "sexy" the way the media moguls said was sexy helped us get off, then we shouldn't question what "sexy" was, or those who insisted on its restrictive standards. And one of the most iron-clad rules of being sexy was, and is, shaving.
    Some women may see this particular issue as being a throwback to an earlier and more primitive vision of second wave feminism but it illustrates the current ascendancy of a form of self-esteem feminism. This is more about feeling good about yourself, your life, and your desires rather than changing yourself and trying to change society. I'm not saying these feminists are not challenging themselves or society. But I do see many of them letting attitudes and behaviors go unquestioned that would have been analyzed more thoroughly in the past.

    Often these feminists claim they are dealing with different issues than the 1960s and 70s, they have "progressed" beyond those old issues. Theirs is a new, modern feminism. It's hipper. It's Post-Modern and improved! This feminism winks slyly to the outdated feminism, sure it's doing much better.

    I'm not convinced.

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