Nov 9, 2013

Katy Perry, Joss Whedon, and who is and isn't a feminist

Anyone who says "I'm not a feminist, but..." is not a feminist. Not because they don't “really” believe in equality or anything like that, but because they clearly don't want to align themselves with the radical potential of feminism. And that's fair enough.

I don’t like the discourse that says "if you're not a terrible person and in principle are pro-equality, then you’rea feminist, by definition, because we say so". Quite apart from being kind of arrogant, it's wrong, because belief in equality is nowhere near being a sufficient condition for feminism. It's all well and good to say that you’re against discrimination, but discrimination isn't like a coffee stain, something discrete that can simply be rubbed out of the world and then everything will be hunky dory. It's part of a system - in fact it's just a means to an end - and if you're not ready to see the system collapse, then your belief in equality is about as much use as a chocolate teapot in terms of improving people's lives in meaningful ways.

The systemic discrimination against women, people of colour, people whose gender identity or sexual/romantic preferences don't support the capitalist heteronormative dualist model, people who are disabled, people who have mental or cognitive problems - all of this is not a bug. It’s a feature. In order to continue existing in its current form, the capitalist white supremacist patriarchy needs to sort us all into neat little pairs in which one is economically and morally subordinate to the other (it also needs to sort us into larger groups in which one is always subordinate to another: poor to rich, black to white, female to male). That’s frankly what makes the world go round (nope, not money - this arrangement is what gets the money made). 

You can’t get rid of discrimination - or inequality, they're two sides of the same coin - while leaving the rest of the system in place. The whole thing needs to come down, the world needs to change in startling and as yet unimaginable ways, in order for anything like “equality” to be a remotely viable proposition.

The revolutionary potential of feminism is in the fact that it sees, unmasks, explains, analyses and critiques all of the myriad mechanisms that the capitalist white supremacist patriarchy employs in order to make sure that these dualist, antagonistic alignments stay in place. There are of course some superficial changes from time to time. What used to be achieved through out and out coercion - physical and economic - of women into the subordinate role of dependent wife, now continues to be achieved through the blanket propaganda of the beauty industrial and entertainment complexes. Unlike liberalism, which sees this as progress, radicalism (and all real feminism is radical) sees this for what it is: same shit, different century.

This being the case, of course the majority of people find the few feminists who call out the duplicity and pervasiveness of this system aggressive, man-hating, extremist lunatics. If they didn't, we'd be doing something wrong here, frankly.

So when Katy Perry says "I'm not a feminist”, or Joss Whedon does, or Lady Gaga, my reaction is: of course you're not. If you said you were, you'd be lying. Your wealth and success are inextricably dependent on the beauty and entertainment industrial complexes. You are entirely in hock to the capitalist white supremacist patriarchy, whether you like to think of yourself as such or not.

So I never try to say to anyone "no wait, you really are a feminist, you just haven't realised it yet" (with the single exception of my sister, but that's a separate blog post). First of all, it's damned patronising. And secondly, it's wrong, as we saw. Anyone who says "I believe in equality but I'm not a feminist" is telling the truth, because a belief in equality is not even a fraction of what it means to really be a feminist.


  1. Capitalism is reliant on sorting people into dualist antagonistic alignments, but it does not do so according to every arbitrary feature a person may possess.

    A liberal, who supports capitalism but considers themselves a feminist would argue that capitalism can remain functional, even if it no longer divided people by male and female but instead treated gender like, say, eye-colour. They could go further and argue that capitalism need not rely on arbitrary characteristics (such as race, sexuality, parental wealth) at all, but instead divide people according to characteristics they choose themselves, and allow movement between these characteristics.

    I do not see why someone who believes in that possibility cannot also consider themselves to be a feminist?

    1. Because while the basic principle of subordination and unequal power distribution remain, even if the y run along different axes, then you don't have equality for all, but just "equality for me".

      The key limitation of liberal white feminism is that it conceives of legal land economic parity for white women in rich countries as a sufficient aim. But those gains have been made at the expense of others, primarily women of colour in developing countries. That's as much as you can do when all you're prepared to risk is a rearrangement of the deck chairs. And no, I don't think anyone who has this kind of self-serving view of what equality is can really be considered a feminist.

      Whether they consider themselves such, or choose to call themselves feminists, I'm a lot less bothered by.

  2. Anyone who blames capitalism should have a long hard look at the USSR. (Full disclosure: I grew up in that state and saw, and cheered, its end as a teenager).

    I'm not necessarily saying it disproves your argument (it did make me a fan of capitalism but you are not obliged to agree). However it was clearly not capitalist. And it did not work. There is much to look at there for any aspiring socialist.

    This includes the action taken there for women and how it panned out.

    1. I was born in the USSR too, but not in Russia; my analysis of Soviet collapse is that what failed there was imperialism, not necessarily state capitalism. That's why the USSR collapsed from the edges in.

      I think it's important to keep in mind that econo-political regimes aren't like operation systems: you choose well-defined, fully articulated off-the-shelf versions of capitalism or socialism & install them on your country, like Mac OS or Windows on a discrete, standalone hard rive. Capitalism is a global hegemony, and is largely trans-national. That's why the economic crisis is global, not contained neatly to the countries with the worst banking practices or the biggest housing bubbles. Capitalism, if you like, is in the Cloud.

      In any case, the collapse of the Communist (so-called) bloc isn't really much proof of some kind of evolutionary advantage for capitalism; the French and British empires collapsed in the 20th century too, just like the Russian one did, and they weren't exactly proletariat-forward! :)