The problem with feminist thinkpieces

22 May

I use Ask.FM a lot and enjoy most of the questions I get, even though they often delete my answers because I like discussing the usual things like period blood, sex and vaginal yeast.

Every now and then I get a big question that I don’t want to lose to the modbots so I’ll copy the odd one over there.

Here was the first question (copy and paste):
I’m passionate about feminism but like a lot of people am nauseated by a lot of what passes for mainstream feminist discourse. Its garbage, but it annoys me that instead of dismissing terrible opinion pieces, many want to dismiss feminism as a whole and get kudos for doing so. What needs to change?

I asked some clarifying questions:
1) who are these “a lot of people”?
2) what’s “mainstream feminist discourse”?
3) and the “terrible opinion pieces”?

Here’s the full two part question I received (two part because Ask.FM has character restrictions):
My question was poorly worded, by mainstream i mean what gains the most traction, what you’d mainly see if you didnt dig further eg newspapers, twitter, tv. I get the feeling some of the women writing about feminism, particularly in their 20’s dont seem to really care about it at all beyond what they can gain from it, like making it their ‘brand’ and then trashing it, rather than improving things for women as a whole. terrible think pieces include championing Hillary just because she’s a woman, endless talk about whether a woman should change her name if she marries or not.

Here’s my response:

I think it’s a hornet’s nest of a question and I mean that in a very neutral sense.

Let’s not forget that feminists are often held to a standard other ideologies aren’t – no one asks these questions of male writers.

Firstly, there’s a series of fences writers have to get through so I (with no small amount of bias and experience) would direct people to realise feminist writers don’t get this work on the front page of the newspaper without getting through those fences.

The main fence are editors. Editors will have certain soft points and know what will get a response. Some won’t touch certain topics – like feminism – and others won’t touch other topics within feminism.

The other fence is payment and, as a subset, return on investment. We are pretty much all freelance – that means no job security, we only live off what we can sell to an editor and we don’t get super or sick days. We don’t get paid a lot and the money has at least halved (or more) in the four years I’ve been writing. That means you get less time to write and you have to write more to make anything close to a livable wage.

The impact of that? A reduced level of quality in research and formulating arguments.

The other area to consider is that editors are relatively time poor – they don’t have time to grow “talent”, so that means they’re less likely to take chances on other writers and will often go to “favourites”. The net result of that is shitty representation.

Another issue: feminism and anything relating to women is still considered a novel and niche area. As an example, I was on a radio panel a while back discussing domestic violence. We had 10mins to talk, if that. When the host remarked we all seem to discuss the same thing, I challenged them to go deep by doing a series of topics within domestic violence to actually give indepth coverage of the topic. They got in contact later, I gave them a huge list of topic/pitches. They never covered them.

So that’s editors out of the way.

The next item you’ve alluded to and I’ve mentioned here directly before is that feminism is ageist as fuck. Now, that’s partly generational but it’s also partly ignorance. The majority of the people who trash second wavers like Greer and Dworkin et al haven’t read them. They’re basing their dismissal on shallow five minute media bytes or tumblr forwards. This is partly because feminism has been successful in reaching out from academia to popular culture, but also because people are too damn lazy to truly specialise and get in depth historical knowledge beyond google (and remember they have no time or financial incentive to do so).

But let’s also not forget that for many women, the process of aging forces them off the public platform. Now, this is because celebrity(ism) feeds off youth like oxygen but also because many women are forced out of industries as they age. Some of them create their own platforms and some defy stats but it still edges most out through commision/$ starvation.

I’m not going to trash a woman from making a brand because we don’t trash men for doing the same. It’s key to really question the standards to which we hold feminists who are living under the same capitalist structures as other writers.

Women are allowed to make money. Feminists are allowed to make money. They’re allowed to be just as shitty as men.

So we have endless repetition of topics because people can’t respect older work (and women), editors like clickable churn and no one has a fucking collective memory or enough sustained subject exposure for the public to develop knowledge and move onto the next point (same as climate change, in a sense) and writers who get blamed for trying to survive in a system, face more accusations than their contemporaries while failing to shrug off multiple intersection points of privilege.

The other aspect is that feminism has an uneasy tension between progressing academic theories and consciousness raising. That means their personal experiences are considered political and profound which results in churn and repetition because while it’s not new to feminist discourse, it’s new to them.

But let’s tackle one thing head on: don’t expect feminists to speak with the same voice. They won’t. You shouldn’t expect that. If you’re going to argue feminists aren’t intersectional enough, don’t then expect them to hold one single opinion. They may like Hillary – each to their own and I’d also argue there are just as many thinkpieces on “why this woman/feminist/carbon-based life form will vote for Bernie”. We may want to improve things for women as a whole but don’t treat them as a single organism that thinks as a whole.

2 Responses to “The problem with feminist thinkpieces”

  1. greenspace01 May 22, 2016 at 5:43 pm #

    Wonderful discussion

  2. lusextonwordsmith May 23, 2016 at 10:22 am #

    Well put in so many ways. I wouldn’t have even known how to begin to answer that (and I am rarely lost for words or opinions.)

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