March 21, 2006

Feminism, the Mainstream Media, and Pop Culture

A depressing number of conservatives treat the above three things as, if not equivalent, then at least collusive. I don't see it, myself.

The problem is, you have a mainstream media outfit--let's take the New York Times--who hires, say, Maureen Dowd, and she writes in a stereotypically feminine, that is, girlish, way, and sometimes she talks about the dreaded Women's Issues.

"Oh," goes the reaction in some quarters, "Here we have a woman, writing for the New York Times, talking about things that don't always include men. I know what that is! That's a feminist!"

It's kind of like how the New York Times also has a guy writing for them who doesn't always agree with liberals, so William Safire, come on down! You're on "The Token Conservative!" But that doesn't change the fact that most conservatives I know are three times as likely to rave about the latest Mark Steyn column than they are about one of Safire's. He may be conservative compared to the other columnists aboard the NYT, and he may be conservative, period--but it would be news to me if most conservatives considered William Safire wholly representative of conservatism.

Nor is Maureen Dowd wholly representative of feminism. I think most of my commenters get that, but how many right-wing bloggers do? How many posts did I see around the release of Are Men Necessary? that went something like this:

"Maureen couldn't get a husband! Well, that's not because she's smarter than most men, like she says; it's because she got suckered by feminism! That's what you get, MoDo! Feminism's totally bullshit! Everyone knows that!"

It pains me to see Maureen Dowd held up as a feminist when I've read as much criticism of her from feminists as I have from conservatives. It's especially painful when I've read as much criticism of editorials and features in the New York Times from feminists as I have from conservatives. I am rapidly concluding that no one really likes that paper; liberals seem to think it doesn't go far enough and conservatives seem to think it's gone totally overboard. So can we please just all agree to hate the NYT and quit hanging Maureen out in the corn fields to scare the crows?

Pop culture's another facet of this modern life that some would blame feminism for. The short version goes, back in the 60s and 70s feminists pressed for sexual liberation and that's why today ten- and nine- and even eight-year-old girls dress like hookers.

That's a mighty big leap, to me.

The thing is, if you suggest some changes for society as a whole, it shouldn't be surprising when the changes society seems most amenable to implementing are those which it deems most capable of fitting into the existing paradigm. Call it the law of unintended consequences, call it shortsightedness on the part of sexual liberation feminists, call it total misinterpretation of sexual liberation feminists, call it whatever you like--but when you start blaming the proliferation of hookerwear on feminism, I'm sorry, I gotta tune out, because I would much rather blame the proliferation of hookerwear on Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, and whoever else is or recently has been the Preteen Idol of the Week.

Look, I can remember wanting some hookerwear (or at least its 70s equivalent) at eight and nine and ten, but it was because I wanted to look like the women on "Charlie's Angels," not because Gloria Steinem tackled me on the way home from school and forced it on me. Feminists of that era largely hated shows like "Charlie's Angels." And they were jeered, much as they are now, for taking the show's influence too seriously, for just being jealous of beautiful women, and for doing that "raging" thing feminists always seem to do:

While viewers couldn't get enough of the three beautiful women, critics and feminists chewed it to pieces. Goldberg's idea to "inject some really stunning beauty into the genre" of crime shows was not appreciated by raging feminists. They accused CHARLIE'S ANGELS of setting women back one hundred years and were appalled by all the titillation and suggestiveness of Charlie's double entendres. One angry feminist saw the show as "a version of the pimp and his girls. Charlie dispatches his streetwise Angels to use their sexual wiles on the world while he reaps the profits!"

So I don't get how angry, raging feminists caused the hookerwear problem, just like I can't remember the last time I saw angry, raging feminists with tasers herding children into Abercrombie & Fitch stores. But that doesn't stop the charge from being made that it's all feminism's fault, because this is precisely the sort of thing the strawfeminist was made for. Responding to--oh look! Here she is again!--Maureen Dowd's statement that

A lot of women now want to be Maxim babes as much as men want Maxim babes. So women have moved from fighting objectification to seeking it.

The American Princess says:

No matter how its justified, its true. Although Ms. Dowd insists that this is some form of retaliation against the no-bra Seventies sisters, and unshaved armpits (which don't even look good on the French), I prefer to believe that this is not a reaction to feminism, but a symptom of feminism. What started as a quest for equality has morphed into a self-centric individualistic theory that has stolen women's feminine nature along with their souls.

And she's hardly alone in "prefer[ring] to believe" this, but for the life of me, I don't know why. I don't know why, when considering the sexual revolution, some of us routinely omit the number-one enabler of it, that little thing called The Pill. I don't know why, when considering the sexual revolution, we jump so quickly from the idea that women have sexual needs, too, to "who needs brains when you have these?" Most of all, I do not for the life of me understand why the teenage girls who organized the boycott (I will NOT use the term "girlcott," you can't make me) of those shirts were sneered at by conservative and libertarian men. It's as though we want young women to take responsibility for how they're perceived--so that when we treat them like bimbos and sluts, we can blame them for it--but also, we'd sure appreciate it if they enjoyed being perceived as jerkoff material for the congenitally microdicked.

I don't deny that feminism has had some influence on pop culture. I don't deny that feminism has had some influence on the mainstream media. What's debateable is how much influence.

What isn't debateable is that these three things are not equivalent. What isn't debateable is that these three things are not tied up together in a grand conspiracy to Destroy America. Begin an argument from either of those two faulty premises, and you'll have me into the martinis in no time at all.

Posted by Ilyka at March 21, 2006 11:11 AM in blog against the strawfeminist

Post Hoc: Ever since [foo (and many other unrelated things)] happened the world has gone to hell in handbasket. What can we do?

Ergo Propter Hoc: Those evil [foo]ists! They just want to steal our precious bodily essences! We need to turn back the relentless hegemoney of [foo]!1!

Post Hoc: Someone oughta make a law agin [foo]!!

Ergo Propter Hoc: My neighbour's accountant's nephew writes for the NYT - let's get him to write about nasty [foo]! That'll show 'em!!!1!

Disclaimer: excessive use of exclamation marks is meant to illustrate the unhinged minds of the characters above, not the commenter

Posted by: tigtog at March 21, 2006 06:32 PM

Ilyka, I'm surprised you're surprised that conservative men sneered. Generally speaking, especially when it comes to men who think female chastity is a virtue, you're dealing with a worldview that puts women's role as sex object front and center. The girls didn't protest the shirts because they wanted to be sex objects owned by one and only man--they protested the shirts because they don't want to be objects. And the Playboy worshippers and virginity fetishists both dislike women who view themselves as more than sex objects.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte at March 21, 2006 07:57 PM
Generally speaking, especially when it comes to men who think female chastity is a virtue, you're dealing with a worldview that puts women's role as sex object front and center.

Agreed, mostly, though I think there are conservatives with devotion to religious values that necessarily incorporate "chastity is a virtue" who mean exactly that, in the way they might mean "not eating pork is a virtue" or "not committing adultery is a virtue," and that's how you get outfits like the American Family Association supporting the A & F boycotters. (Though note, I don't intend that as an endorsement of the AFA.)

Anyway, maybe for balance I should have linked that while I was off diving into the pool o'crazy that is Free Republic. But the Freepers, and whatshisname, are both promoters of the madonna/whore mentality of which I so tire. Whether you're a Freeper who's horrified that someone's agreeing with your position (because that someone isn't agreeing with you for the right reasons), or just a sad little dickweed who can't understand that the world is not his strip club, the result is the same; as you put it, they both dislike women who view themselves as more than sex objects.

Posted by: ilyka at March 21, 2006 08:30 PM

I think it's a matter of a lot of people accepting the way society is. People who, if they were told there were flaws with the way women are treated in our society TODAY and they were forced to discover those flaws, would actually respond with the dropjaw awe expression. If women would realize that they DO want to be those Maxim babes...I wish everyone would open their eyes and see what's really going on. That even women are objectifying women. How sad is that? In my opinion, despite what positive change has happened, we have gotten locked down into a deep, deep pit where not only do we have no sight of the top, but we don't even realize we're in the pit. I'm not bringing more children into this culture until it has been rearranged.

Posted by: molly at March 22, 2006 09:40 AM

Good luck with that, Molly [says the mother of a newborn -- BOY, actually].

AND as a mom, OF THREE BOYS that I'm trying to raise as thoughtful and considerate men, I get a little weary of the "if it possesses a penis it will hurt me and is inherently evil" mentality.

You will hear me tell my sons that boys AND girls are stupid.

Lookit: Some people are assholes. That's really it. The world is divided into "Assholes" and "People."

I might be guilty of massive oversimplification, but that's how I see it.

Posted by: margi at March 22, 2006 12:00 PM

First, the phrase "congenitally microdicked" actually made me want to come, a rare case of a metaphor winning out hands-down over the real thing.

Second, your post is great. One thing you mentioned: one of my pet peeves is the ever-present-bullshit of 'women's issues' and 'women's interests' as opposed to 'men's issues' and 'men's interest.' Women's interests are supposed to be weaker news and less important. Men's interests are assumed to be the hard-hitting stuff. It's sickening and pretty fucking stupid as well.

I get that there may be some issues on a personal level that are more pressing for men (testicle retrieval operations, for example) and more pressing for women (finding an early test for ovarian cancer). But, aren't these issues really, on a more global scale, everyone's issues? Hell, yes.

Plus, I want to believe this is, indeed, all about conservative men gone wild but honestly, I've seen a lot of letters in the lefty magazines/newspapers about how certain sections are the 'woman's section,' not hard-hitting news and how those sections 'have their place' or just shouldn't be there. It's completely fucked up.

Last thing ... the way in which pop culture is attached to 'feminism' is a commercial one, I think. So, of course, you're right. It's not feminism that influences pop culture, though, sadly, it might be the other way 'round. It's more people trying to sell something and seeing an avenue to get there. It's not feminism at all. It's really 'I am woman! See how sexy I am! I can sell things with my vagina and my perky breasts!

This is known as consumerism--a totally different -ism-- a re-packaged version of woman is nothing but a fucktoy/babymaker, i.e., a powerful fucktoy/babymaker--for your teen years and early adulthood, after which you are a useless old hag. (Probably created by the same people that say, "But do we want to hit that?" before hiring some female to play a role in Hollywood.)

I guess anyone can be a powerful fucktoy or babymaker... man or woman ... but the advertising appears to be aimed at young girls and pretends to be about their strength, except that their 'strength' turns out to be about their worth as an object.

It sure as hell isn't about feminism and liberation.

Posted by: insanityrabbit at March 22, 2006 01:20 PM

I have to address one issue in the section, addressed by Down and the Conservative Princess, which is that feminism and female perception in the 70's had something to do with aiming for crunchy-granola, meanwhile now women are aiming for the Nair-perfect stairmaster lifestyle that we all know and love. The truth is, women were just as concerned about weight in the 70's. If they weren't into depilatories it wasn't necessarily because they were feminists, although I'm sure a part of them were. It's because in the 70's that was what was in. Women AND men went for the great untidy. Hair was long, body hair was even longer, and this applies to both sexes-why should we make the leap that women in the 70's were free because they had the pits? It was the times, pop culture dictated it, media dictated it, and it was the preference.

Today both sexes are aiming for tidier. The "I can braid my pubic hair" days are over-for BOTH sexes. Men AND women do the trimming, as no one likes to be confronted by Brillo. At what point does free will take over? It's not necessarily that we see a picture of a newlywed (gasp!) Gloria Steinam wearing (gasp!) makeup and with her hair done and think: Right! Time to buy me a Bic! It's that women and culture progressively changes too.

I struggle to see why a T-shirt with a rather lame logo can be the cause of such furore-sure it's a stupid statement and pretty much of a backslide in terms of how we view ourselves, but then if it's such an issue, don't buy it and don't shop there (I don't really shop at A&F anymore anyway-not only don't they have them here but they seem to sell clothes for those that are a size 0. Funny that.) I have to side with Ilyka-although the times have changed they have also included the likes of Simpson and Spears who seem to show way more flesh that I actually think I own. Hookerwear isn't being predicated by men-it's being predicated by women. It's being dictated simply because they can wear it.

I think you were bang on with the observation of the Pill.

And Molly's comment: "I'm not bringing more children into this culture until it has been rearranged."? God knows how many times I've heard similar about the environment/the government/the state of the dollar/tinted pistachios. I think it's called over-reacting.

Posted by: Helen at March 22, 2006 01:33 PM

I, for one, am a believer in personal responsibility. Feminism can't *make* anyone do anything. If a woman chooses to run around half-naked, I'd say she made her own choice. It's called free will.

This isn't rocket science... it's pretty simple, actually. So why are people so bent on blaming feminism for everything when it is individuals who make their own choices?

Posted by: Redneck Feminist at March 22, 2006 09:05 PM

When did the NY Times become liberal again? Did I miss something? :)

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at March 24, 2006 08:58 PM

insanity rabbit said:
One thing you mentioned: one of my pet peeves is the ever-present-bullshit of 'women's issues' and 'women's interests' as opposed to 'men's issues' and 'men's interest.' Women's interests are supposed to be weaker news and less important. Men's interests are assumed to be the hard-hitting stuff. It's sickening and pretty fucking stupid as well.


Which brings me to my pet peeve with feminism. I've had my motivations questioned for saying precisely the same thing. Maybe because I also happen to be a conservative? In other words, if I say "x" I don't understand feminism or I'm anti-feminism, but if certain others say "x," it's pro-feminist. This happens ALL THE TIME, and not just with me. And you wonder why there are feminist-bashers on the right? I don't know, but I'm starting to understand it a little better, and I'm really about tired of having my motivations questioned by other feminists (yes, I consider myself one).

See, this is the problem I always have when I pay attention to "feminism." I don't question the motivations of the movement; I don't think feminists are, by definition, hairy man-haters (or whatever), and I agree with a lot of what the feminist movement has to say (abortion being a HUGE exception). But I can't speak my mind on any of it, because I'm a conservative--therefore, whatever I say is wrong. Naturally, I'm just going to say "fuckit" and ignore the whole thing all over again for a few more years, a decade, whatever, until I feel a need to speak up again.

Is THAT feminism? Silencing other women, because we don't have the "correct" politics to qualify as feminists? Is there really no such thing as a conservative feminist? I think I know the answer others would give, and it infuriates and completely alienates me. Again, I can understand a little better why so much feminist-bashing is seen, in light of this kind of thing.

Posted by: Beth at March 28, 2006 06:58 AM

And BTW, I've been reading all the "strawfeminist" posts, but not commenting for the above reason.

Posted by: Beth at March 28, 2006 07:01 AM
And BTW, I've been reading all the "strawfeminist" posts, but not commenting for the above reason.

Then you silenced yourself, Beth. Go stand in the corner with Mr. Martin Sheen.

I kid, but in all seriousness, you wasted a rare opportunity here, and I'll be damned if you're gonna pin that on me, feminism, other commenters, or anyone but yourself. You could have engaged any of the commenters from feminist blogs who came over and left their thoughts on what feminism is. You could have followed any of the dozens of links I spilled this week and found people discussing issues that are important to you, and given them a piece of your mind. Hell, you could have done as Darleen has, and written a rebuttal on your blog.

The opportunities to participate and to speak up and to tell your side of the story were here. You didn't take 'em. That's not feminism's fault, and screaming over and over again in my comments that IT IS, TOO will not make it so.

Never even mind how personally offended I am that you think I'd let people shout you down on my blog. Give me a fucking break--when have I ever done any such thing to you?

Posted by: ilyka at March 28, 2006 04:39 PM