[personal profile] flexibeast
i don't post about feminist stuff as much as i used to. A major part of that is that i've been involved with feminism since the age of 14 (and i'm now 33)1. i've participated in so many actions, discussions and debates with so many people about so many women's / trans / gender issues that i've lost count. And basically, i'm currently in a state of burnout around this stuff - i get really tired of having the same arguments again and again and again without any reward in the form of deeper / more sophisticated understandings of the issues on the part of all people involved (including myself).

Terminology, sadly, plays a large factor in this. i call myself 'pro-porn', and other people call themselves 'anti-porn'. But those terms are loaded with assumed meanings. The 'anti-porn' crowd usually assume that i think that porn doesn't need to be, or shouldn't be, criticised on issues of class, race, gender, ability, ethnicity etc; that i have no problem with women being exploited by the sex industry; that i'm fine with violence against women. Yet none of that is the case. Conversely, i have all too often assumed that the 'anti-porn' crowd all want to ban anything that they deem to be 'porn' rather than 'erotica' (oh how i loathe that supposed distinction, and particulary its stench of classism), and that they all want to reduce women's sexual expression to the One True Path as described by She Who Knows What Woman Are Really Like, Sheila Jeffreys. Yet i have had discussions with 'anti-porn' feminists in which we managed to discover that our assumptions about each other were incorrect, and that we basically held the same position, but just came at it from different angles and ended up giving our position different labels.

Then there's the term 'radical feminism'. The Wikipedia artice on radical feminism begins with:
Radical Feminism is a "current" within feminism that focuses on patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships producing a "male supremacy" that oppresses women. Radical feminism seeks to challenge and to overthrow patriarchy by opposing standard gender roles and male oppression of women, and calls for a radical reordering of society.
In that sense, i see myself as part of the radical feminist current. And yet radical feminism segued into currents which have been highly hostile to sex work (and often to the women who do it2) and to trans people (well, perhaps more to trans women in particular), both stances i strongly disagree with3.

A close friend of mine has a number of years' experience both doing sex work and talking to other women who do / have done sex work, as part of her work for a community organisation. She and i are both frustrated by the dichtomisation that all too often controls debates over sex work. On the one hand, there are organisations in Australia that claim that the vast majority women in the sex industry are there on the basis of a completely voluntary, duress-free choice on their part, and that things like the trafficking of women into sex work (as shown by court cases in which people have been convicted of such trafficking) are merely an aberration. On the other hand, we have feminists who claim that no women are in the sex industry due to their own choice, that it is always a choice made under duress, and that the working conditions of women in sex work inevitably involve beatings, torture, etc.

Of course, the reality is much more complex - the above two positions really represent only two extreme points on the edges of the multi-dimensional space that is sex work. Women's reasons for entering the sex industry, and their experiences once there, are diverse. And the issue of the extent to which women enter the industry as a voluntary, duress-free, choice is a complex one.

A good example of this can be found in at least some discussions in the [livejournal.com profile] kissmyass_cosmo community. There, some people claim that they just happen to like what's currently fashionable, and that they're not being influenced by the fashion industry at all; whilst other people respond with something along the lines of "Yeah, right, you just happen to like what's currently fashionable - an amazing co-incidence. :-P"

Amongst the latter crowd, there seems to be an air of "anti-fashion": "anti-fashion" not in sense that fashion shouldn't dictate people's lives and sense of self-worth (a belief which i share), but the notion that unless a woman is doing the opposite of what the fashion industry is saying is currently 'fashionable', then she's obviously merely a slave to fashion. i can't see the logic in this, myself: it seems to me that this sort of attitude would still mean that one is controlled by the fashion industry, in that when the fashion is to jump left, one has to jump right; and when the fashion changes to jumping right, one then has to jump left.

Having said that, the argument made by some women that they just happen to like to wear the same clothes etc. as are currently fashionable, that they are totally independent of influence from the fashion industry, seems to me to be highly unlikely. We are all influenced by social, cultural, economic, political and marketing pressures in some way or another. i don't think it's unreasonable to consider the possibility that maybe women are raised to be very sensitive to fashion cues, such that they subconsciously, and with lesser or greater subtlety, alter their preferences to be more in line with what's currently "in".

So i think it's important for people to consider the ways in which their personal beliefs and/or preferences might be being shaped to suit the needs or objectives of other individuals or groups. At the same time, however, given that historically women have had 'choices' imposed upon them, i think that it's very important that any analysis and/or critique of women's choices avoid sliding down the slippery slope to the point of assuming that if a woman engages in something we don't agree with, that she's "obviously" acting at the behest of internalised patriarchy, that she didn't "really" make the choice of her own accord (implying that if she "truly" had free choice, she wouldn't have made that choice). Because once we move away from the realm of obvious physical coercion and into the realm of possible coercion due to "social, cultural, economic, political and marketing pressures", the extent to which we our choices can be said to be truly our own is not clear-cut. Given this, i think it's better to err on the side of caution, and respect women as autonomous human beings who should be allowed to make their own decisions, rather than having explicit decisions made for them with the aim of countering implicit coercion which might or might not exist in specific cases.

Sadly, though, i've too often found that people seem to want to eschew recognition of the complexities of these issues for a "Women's choices are their own, and shouldn't be analysed or critiqued" / "Women's choices are not their own choices at all, but are those of patriarchy, except when i agree with those choices" sort of dichotomy (of which i guess the "pro-porn" / "anti-porn" dichotomy may be a subset). And i really don't have the energetic resources to continually challenge these dichotomies and the assumptions that they usually seem to entail, with the hope that (a) i can convince other people to move away from these dichotomies and assumptions, so that (b) we can all deepen our understanding of the issues. Plus, of course, that's on top of having to deal with all the crap about me not being a 'real' woman, that i'm a fifth column for patriarchy in the women's movement, that i can't be a feminist etc.

Thus, i've absented myself of late from contributing to feminist groups and discussions. i'm hoping that will change some time in the future, when i have more internal resources; but that time is not now.

1. Which is why i'm interested in such perspectives as that of [livejournal.com profile] winterkoninkje, who recently posted a thought-provoking entry titled "I am not a feminist".

2. For example, a friend told me about a woman seeking to volunteer with an organisation that works with women who do sex work, but who (iirc) wasn't sure that it was appropriate for women who have done (or still do) sex work to themselves be volunteers. :-/

3. [livejournal.com profile] cheshire_bitten recently posted about this issue hirself.


Date: 2007-09-11 07:18 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tacomonkey.livejournal.com
I was just thinking about you! Like.. 20 minutes ago. Heh.

I'm pretty much completely in agreement with you here, but the fashion thing hits a nerve with me. I'm a fashion nut. I own a ridiculous amount of shoes and yeah, some of them are trend-whore brand names but that's not why I buy them - I buy them because I like them, they make me feel good and feel like I look good and I enjoy that. I tend to dress somewhere between goth and girly, with a fair splash of 'emo' thrown in, not because those things are cool - and I'll just as often wear one of my thinkgeek nerd shirts as a pretty dress and heels or spikes - but because I think they're cool and really, fuck what everyone else thinks of how I look - there are people who's opinions matter to me, yes, but the general populace are not those people. One of the things I love about my job is I can dress how I want, I can dye my hair and get tattoos and piercings, and no-one cares. I went in the other day wearing a short skirt, pink-and-black striped tights and huge black stompy new rock boots, rocking the crazy hair and lots of eyeliner, and one of my (least favorite) co-workers asked me, "why are you dressed like that?". My answer was something along the lines of, "because I can be" - and that's a fairly good example of how I feel about fashion. I love it on my terms, but that certainly doesn't mean I have any respect for cosmo.

Okay, I'll get off my high horse now. I hope you're doing well, honey. xx

Date: 2007-09-11 08:10 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
Firstly, great to hear from you! :-D *hugs* i'm actually feeling particularly wiped out today, and in a fair amount of pain, but meh, you know how it is . . . .

Secondly, yeah, i can't imagine you as a fashion victim. :-) i wonder, though, if we're not using the word 'fashion' in two different senses? i'm using 'fashion' in the sense of 'en vogue', whereas i get the feeling that you're using 'fashion' in the sense of simply "what one wears". If so, then the 'fashion' ensemble you wear, in your sense of the word, is not (i believe) currently 'fashionable' in my sense, even if individual components of that ensemble might be. (Personally, fwiw, i like the outfits you wear. :-) )

In any case, i really get the notion of wearing what makes you feel good, regardless of whether it's in or out of fashion; but i guess that doing so may become more problematic if one 'happens' to end up needing to wear "in" things in order to feel good?
From: [identity profile] porcineflight.livejournal.com
I think the situation you describe reflects human nature.

Recognition of all complexity makes it difficult for change agents to form a firm opinion, and therefore to take decisive action. For many people considering all of this makes their heads spin and makes it difficult to find motivation to argue for change. Diversity fatigue?

Those that maintain power often do so because of fundamentalist beliefs... they don't need to consider diverse opinions, which is exactly the reason why they stay in power, they can organise over their own particular brand of self-interest/fundamentalism.

The broad left have been battling this forever, particularly those proponents of community development, democracy etc. There is no coincidnece that when the "Left" has been most successful in maintaining power, it is most likely to have taken the form of fundamentalism with little room for opposing views.

Acceptance of ALL diversity is HARD. Drawing the line is hard. To exclude things that feel intrinsically "wrong" to many (eg National Association for Man-Boy Love from GLBT(TIQQ) communities) requires justification according to rules which sometimes lead to excluding others (eg more extreme forms of BDSM).

Choice, consent and protecting the vulnerable are areas that seem to be the most fraught with controversy.

Some people find even when they agree with 'liberal' values of flexibility and the right to individual choice that there is difficulty when nutting it out... eg the right to accumulate money and spend it according to choice, the right for young people to choose to spend their money on drugs and thier time having sex and not going to school, the right to everyone having safety and security... i.e. when people make "poor" choices.

Given that one only need to scratch the surface to find mind-boggling moral and ethical dilemmas, is it any wonder that change makers "cut corners" and deal with issues in broad brush strokes? The question is whether it is ethical to make change that is postive for some (even many) 'disadvantaged' people if it runs the risk of not improving the lot of all? Often people choose a form of utilitarianism to avoid being trapped in a sense of inaction... Arguably the right for women to vote would have been held back a considerable period if some suffragettes had opted to wait for ALL women including Indigenous women who did not get the vote for another 60 years. In that time the women's movement may have 'run out of puff' as individuals burned out, which could lead to people in power deciding change on thier own terms.

An argument could also be made that insistence on the inclusion of ALL is a form of fundamentalism itself. I am not saying that I believe that, but it could reasonably be made by change agents who feel thir hands are tied. For example, for some, the concept of feminism loses meaning without any firm means of defining what it is to be female. This can be frustrating when "black and white" situations require urgent action and the solution as they see it is being criticised due to theoretical or "exception" arguments.

I don't know what the answer is. I know it is frustrating to argue a point of view that requires considerable education for people to even understand what you are on about. It must also be frustrating for change agents faced with the pragmatic issues of dealing with people in power whose heads would explode contemplating these issues and the temptation to "dumb it down" for them to understand.

Probably all we can do is to continue to slowly keep chipping away. Impatience is not going to win this one.

From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
Wow, food for thought indeed - thanks for such a detailed response. :-)

i'll have to ponder on most of what you've written, but a couple of things that come to mind immediately:

The question is whether it is ethical to make change that is postive for some (even many) 'disadvantaged' people if it runs the risk of not improving the lot of all?

Well . . . .

* The issue is often not whether the change would 'merely' not help everyone, but whether it would improve the lot of some and worsen the lot of others. To give but one example: criminalisation of johns can mean that johns are less willing to come forward to report abuse of women doing sex work, since doing so may require them to incriminate themselves.

* Sometimes what seems to be a change that 'merely' doesn't help everyone can end up actively blocking subsequent attempts at change by those who weren't helped by the original change. For example, queer historian Graham Willett has noted that Australian legislators are often unwilling to revisit an issue until several years after a given piece of legislation for that issue has been passed or defeated. So when bisexuals aren't mentioned in anti-discrimination legislation that is then passed, their ability to amend that legislation is likely to be limited for a number of years.

Probably all we can do is to continue to slowly keep chipping away. Impatience is not going to win this one.

Well, i'm certainly not suggesting that we all just give up! Just that i'm not in a position where i really have the resources to engage in such 'chipping' at the moment. And certainly these things require patience: when i noted in a recent post (http://hierodule.livejournal.com/89306.html) that the religious right has built up its influence over decades; it hasn't expected change to occur as a result of two or three rallies and a bit of lobbying, i was doing so with approval of its willingness to be patient, if not of its perspectives. :-)

Date: 2007-09-11 11:34 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] night101owl.livejournal.com
I think that unless someone is making their own clothes, then they're participating in the fashion industry. The styles and even colors of the clothes at Walmart are determined by the fashion industry.

Of course, even the anti-fashion punks of the 1970s ultimately had a huge influence on mainstream fashion.

Date: 2007-09-13 11:55 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
Interesting . . . . so are you saying that it's disingenuous for people to criticise others for following fashion, given that, unless they're making their own clothes, such critics are themselves supporting the fashion industry?

Date: 2007-09-13 14:25 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] night101owl.livejournal.com
Not disingenuous, so much as not realizing how extensive the fashion industry is, and how it's actually shaped.


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