Nov 30, 2010

The feminist revolution will not be televised

I was at the wonderful feminist book group in Bristol last night, and we were discussing this months' book - the biography of Marie Antoinette. I've always felt kind of sorry for her - she was a rather stupid, reasonably harmless person who just seemed to have become identified with all the depravity and wastefulness of the French aristocracy. But when you start picking in apart by looking at the affair of the necklace or the way she was hounded and plotted against by her own court, and you think, Zounds! how come this rather uninteresting woman, who's not even French, is the first thing we think of when we think of pre-revolution France and its injustices? Someone's done a proper hatchet job on that one and no mistake - and the mud seems to have stuck fast through the centuries.

We got to talking about revolution in general - what with mounted police charging at children in Whitehall today it's very topical - and then I started thinking about feminist revolution, not unnaturally, and that made me think about what it would take to create a similar upheaval in the world of gender relations as the French or Russian revolutions did in land ownership and political institutions.

It seems to me that every major revolution - and by that I mean every revolution that stuck, every revolution that has successfully wiped away the preceding regime and made it impossible to go back, regardless of the moral ins and outs of the old order, the new order, or the route taken from A to B - has had a significant component of misdirected hatred in it.

Of course, there's always a core intellectual elite that is thoughtful and motivated by progressive ideology; but the force of numbers required for a violent overthrow of the state relies on the participation of people who neither know nor care about the details of the theory of capital, but would dearly love to lob a few bricks through the windows of a few shops kept by people they don't like. Or, you know, murder 14 year old boys and bury them in the woods.

But the feminist "revolution", the process of slowly reversing millennia of segregation and discrimination to gradually increase the participation of women in the public sphere, doesn't work like that. No irreversible advance has been made so far; no line has been crossed that it is unthinkable to go back upon. Not the right to vote, not the right to divorce or reproductive freedom, not the right to physical security and freedom from violence.

One of the frustrating things about feminism, as someone at the same book group articulated a few months ago, is that it doesn't seem to "stick" - you make some advances, convince some people of the importance of granting women respect and agency, and then a couple of decades later wham! you're having to do it all over again for a new generation. A new generation, I might add, that is ll young and snide and self important and thinks it knows better than you do why exactly pole dancing is a tip-top feminist activity, or why baking cupcakes is a "choice" that is just as feminist as volunteering at a women's shelter. With, you know, apologies to all the feminist cupcake bakers out there (I don't like cupcakes, so I always pick on cupcake makers, and I'm getting to feel pretty bad about that. Maybe if they all made pie instead I wouldn't be so rude? Alternatively, from now on I might persecute soup-cookers).

Feminists are always being accused of hating men, when of course that is not even remotely true. It has been often pointed out that casting men as mouth breathing knuckle-walkers who are as unable to control their sexual urges and domestic behaviour as a pre-toilet trained infant is actually the slightly, er, less complimentary position. But it doesn't wash - it seems that the changes to the power structures of society proposed by the feminist movement are so frightening that we get tarred with the agent provocateur brush whether the shoe fits or not (metaphor mixing FTW!).

In the end I think this lack of a fulcrum of hatred is what's holding the feminist revolt back. Most of us - heck, let's be bold and say all of us - love our brothers, fathers, sons, partners and friends. We don't want to create feminist Killing Fields where they will be exterminated for their inability to completely identify with our new and glorious regime. We want them to like us, and we want them to see that what we're trying to do is for the good of everyone, and to help. And for that we get called Feminazis, man-hating lesbians, and as someone on a community I used to like did a while back, a "species", like we're animals.

Crazy, no?


  1. Maybe we need to accept an evolution, rather than a revolution? It's painfully slow, certainly, but SOME stuff sticks (and though it may not feel like it often, I suspect that proportionally more sticks with every generation, so that evolution becomes faster) but at least it can be achieved without that hate - and misdirected hate is surely an undesirable thing.

  2. Yes I'm sure you're right - I am by no means advocating violence! In fact the moral core of the feminist project is the fact that it privileges collaboration and education over coercion. It's just that it can feel a little frustrating when you're faced with an emergency situation, like FGM or honour killings.