Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Archive for June, 2016

“Lefties: Angry Wimmin” – BBC

I just watched the documentary Lefties: Angry Wimmin (BBC, 2006), exploring the world of the revolutionary feminists of the 1970s and 1980s. This episode is from a three-part series about left-wing politics, and it’s a fascinating look at the “boom”, if you like, of radical feminism.

I think it’s important we look back at the work that these women did. Some of it might seem shocking – it certainly shocked me! I knew that some lesbian/separatist feminists advocated for “political lesbianism” and for the excision of men from women’s social circles, but I never realised how many women actually put it into practice. Please consider it in its social and historical context, though; these women were living in a dramatically different society to the one we live in now. Feminists of my generation don’t push for the abolition of heterosexuality because we don’t need to – these ladies paved the way for us and made the statement that desperately needed to be made at the time. At that point in time, we had only just begun describing the unequal social hierarchy as patriarchy, and its looming presence in their lives forced the revolutionary feminists into much more radical activism.

I particularly appreciated the inclusion of Linda Bellos, especially the frank discussion about how mainstream white feminism treated her. That highlighted what third-wave feminists and intersectional feminists have always asserted: that second-wave feminism wasn’t very inclusive. The dismissive attitudes of the white, cis, able-bodied feminists who were interviewed demonstrates just how reluctant they were to address issues of accessibility and discrimination within their own movement. The repercussions of that lack of insight into diversity is something with which we are still dealing today.

I also found it pretty startling that these women – some of whom, like Julie Bindel, are lesbians – seemed to believe that homosexuality is a choice. One could accuse them almost of appropriating and misrepresenting the gay rights movement. I understand why they opted for “political lesbianism”, but really, this kind of rhetoric just played into the hands of homophobes. For years, the LGBTQ+ community has fought to assert that sexualities are not arbitrarily “chosen”.

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Writing – Artemisia

The third (very belated) part of my historical women series. You can read Cleopatra and Olympias first, if you like, but they’re not interconnected. This is not 100% historically accurate, but I wasn’t really aiming for that. Artemisia’s life has become part of mine, and I simply enjoyed taking the time to explore how I feel about her work. Trigger warning for non-explicit references to rape and sexual assault, as well as some moderate violence.

For Artemisia, and for the sister she never had.

Rome, 1612

Artemisia approaches the canvas. She hesitates briefly, as though asking permission from a lover, before placing a hand upon its textured surface. She touches every bump, every ridge, every pore, until she knows each one intimately. She feels a strange sort of camaraderie with it, like an old friend.

Her wounded hands are glaringly obvious against the white and her thumbs throb with remembered pain, caught in a tightening vice that has not touched her flesh for months. She remembers how she shrieked until her throat was dry and burning and she could shout no longer – even now, she swallows slowly, at a thankful, reverent pace – and she remembers the metal inside her. How cold, how clinical. They never drew blood, not there, but still she felt dissected, split asunder. For months, she could not quite believe that anything below her waist belonged to her. It had become public property. It had become evidence.

She had become evidence. She had been victim, witness, judge and jury.

Her body may have healed from that indignity, but her soul had not.

 

She wants her next work to be powerful. She wants to give her weeping heart manifest form. Looking up at the canvas, she knows the space would allow for it. Empty as it is, it already physically dominates, but she wants it to be emotionally overwhelming too.

She wants something epic, something towering and forceful.

“Something of Biblical proportions,” her father had said when she told him; she had agreed.

She wants rage and she wants revenge and she wants blood, yet she craves companionship and sisterhood and triumph.

Judith, she thinks, it can only be Judith. I must paint Judith, here and now, for when she slays her Holofernes, I will have slain mine too.

She gathers her materials. Slowly but firmly, she starts to sketch. For now, it is bare bones. One day, it will have a heartbeat of its very own.

 

Over the months following the trial, she gets to know Judith very well. She could have told the tale with ease prior to this, but she could not have attested to the slick darkness of Judith’s hair, like the Tiber on a stormy day. She could not have described the flex of the tendons in Judith’s forearm, nor the grip of her fist in Holofernes’ hair, nor the thrust and the drive of the blade in her hand. Judith is fluidity and Judith is motion, so Artemisia lets herself be taken with the ebb and flow of her tide.

She even acquaints herself with Holofernes. She had no desire to know him before she began. It was Judith who mattered most, and that remains gospel in her heart. That doesn’t stop her from feeling a surge of ragehatepity at the sight of his frightened eyes, his grasping hands, his gaping mouth. Perhaps this is because she is familiar with this expression. It is the same look she has seen in the eyes of dying fish, asphyxiating in fishermen’s nets, and it is the same look she saw on the face of Agostino Tassi that day in court.

She paints Holofernes differently, violently. Judith is born of tender recognition, but Holofernes is born of painful otherness. Holofernes is dissonance, he is an untuned string in the symphony of Artemisia’s… Judith’s life. Sometimes, she has to stop herself for fear that she will stab him, right through the heart and right through the canvas. She has to pause occasionally, for she is breathless, she is spent. She leaves a trail of blood in her wake. It spatters, adorning his throat and chest, a garland of roses, a chain of rubies. She is caught in their crossfire as Judith plunges downwards with her dagger and Holofernes fights upwards and, often, she wonders: when did she stop being an onlooker and become a participant? When did she join the brawl?

Artemisia is not the only one dragged in from the sidelines. Behind them both is Judith’s maidservant, pinning the general down while Judith beheads him. Despite Holofernes’ punishing grasp on the front of her gown, the maid stands firm, determined. She is more a sister than a servant. Artemisia wishes desperately that she had a sister, so she is gentle, coaxing the maid out from the shadows as she paints. Perhaps there is a secret part of her that is jealous, that craves what Judith has.

She remembers how she had screamed for Tuzia all those months ago. It was hard with his hand over her mouth, dragging stale stinging air into her lungs as she inhaled, but still she had screamed and screamed. She had begged. Tuzia never came.

In court, Tuzia had denied all knowledge. I heard nothing, she said, I saw nothing.  I’ve never followed Artemisia into her workshop. I heard nothing.

She kept saying it, over and over, I heard nothing. Artemisia is sure she burst into tears at one point and had to be consoled, for she would have made herself ill with the sobbing. You heard everything, she had wanted to bellow, I yelled and I begged and you heard but you never came, you traitor. But she hadn’t screamed. She only had to look Tuzia in the eye for a second and the woman knew it all. Remember me, she demanded with those precious moments of eye-contact, Don’t you ever forget me, don’t you dare.

Artemisia used to hope – and she hated herself for hoping – that whenever Tuzia broke bread, she’d think of her former friend’s broken body and whenever she sipped wine, she’d think of the dried blood on the bedsheets. She doesn’t wish for that now. She might not have forgiven Tuzia, but she wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. It is not in her nature.

 

Rome, 1613

When she steps away from the canvas, for what she knows is the very last time, Artemisia is not shocked by what she sees.

Not Judith, Holofernes and the maid.

Rather, Artemisia, Agostino, and Tuzia.

Her instinct is to rush to change it, to scrub away its significance. With a darker shadow here, a more pronounced cheekbone there, there would be no sign, no suspicion, that the three of them ever shared a canvas.

But she can’t do it. She won’t do it.

 

For weeks, people come to see the painting.  News travels fast on the streets of Rome, and they soon flock to her father’s exhibitions to see the works of both father and daughter. Some of them marvel. Some of them are aghast. One lady faints at the thought that a woman could paint such a thing as this. How improper to depict a Biblical widow engaging in wilful decapitation.

This is her testament. This is her monument.

It makes her laugh to think that – on a wall, rather than the gallows – Agostino Tassi will hang.

 

Florence, 1614

When Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, asks her to recreate the work, she paints with such vigour that it scares her. It takes her six years to complete. The finished work, far more refined and yet far more animal than the original, certainly scares the Dowager Grand Duchess Cristina, but, unsurprisingly, Cosimo loves it. So she paints another, and another, and another.

The scandal dies down, the gossip withers, but she is still an oddity in the Florentine court. An artist’s daughter from Rome, a victim of rape, a sociological phenomenon.

This is fine by her. She is content to be an oddity, on her own terms.

Everything is on her own terms now.

The Tide

I don’t know if we can talk about ‘waves’ of feminism anymore – by my reckoning, the next wave would be the fifth, and I suspect it’s around the fifth wave that you stop referring to individual waves, and start to refer, simply, to an incoming tide.

– Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman

With the establishment of my Instagram (@dollydastardly, if you’re interested!), I’ve connected with so many different activist accounts – some of them dedicated to feminism, some of them to womanism, some of them to equalism… and some of them to anti-feminism.

Or, more specifically, anti third wave feminism.

Often, in their Instagram bios, activist accounts will list the things they are “pro-” and “anti-“. “Anti third wave feminism” occurs frequently. Sometimes they will even specify that they “respect” first and second wave feminism, but they hate third wave feminism. This statement troubles me for several reasons. (Mostly, it’s because I am 99.9% certain that they don’t actually know what “third wave feminism” means.)

Sooo, let’s make sure we’re all starting on an equal playing field and begin with a crash course in the three(ish) waves of feminism:

First-wave feminism usually refers both to activity that occurred prior to any organised feminist activism and to the fight for voting and legal rights (i.e. ownership of property, financial independence). By some definitions (including by that of Simone de Beauvoir), it can stretch back to Christine de Pizan, writing in the 15th century. Much of her work focused on practical advice for women and on the role women ought to play in society. The works of Mary Wollstonecraft also belong to this era of feminism; she penned treatises on the social and moral equality of the sexes. First-wave feminism is generally accepted to have culminated in women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, at least by Western standards – see, we’re already having trouble with this wave system, right?

Second-wave feminism began in the early 1960s and “ended” (yes, those quotation marks are deliberate – another problem with these bloody waves!) in the 1980s. It differed from the first wave in terms of purpose. It still retained the basic tenets of gender equality, but the second wave was characterised by activism based upon reproductive rights, relationships and sexuality. It drew attention to domestic violence and sexual assault. In 1961, the contraceptive pill became commercially available in the USA, leading to greater autonomy for women. Feminists in this period began to critique the social expectations of women and their role in the family. Authors like Betty Friedan, in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, argued that the idealised familial structure was in fact degrading to women.

But there were problems with this second wave of feminism, and who better to solve them than…

Third-wave feminism is generally accepted to have originated in the 1990s. This is an entirely different kind of feminism. There is no cohesive goal, instead replaced by a strong sense of individuality and identity. Amid the riot grrrl scene (think Bikini Kill) and the rebirth of radical feminism, third-wave feminists have sought to build upon second-wave feminism. They have acknowledged that their foremothers cultivated a movement that was exclusively white, straight and cisgender, leading to the inception of intersectional feminism and more celebration of the beauty in diversity. This has led to conflict between the ideals of second-wave feminism – which still exists, living and breathing in the realm of academia – and those of the newer movement.

Class dismissed.

Some people argue that the third wave has ended and we’re now in the fourth or possibly even fifth wave of feminism. Personally, I like Caitlin Moran’s analogy more – a truly feminist society sometimes feels like an oncoming inevitability for me, as though one day the straw will break the camel’s back (i.e. we’ll break the patriarchy) and we’ll be free. I know that’s idealistic and downright silly, so, on other occasions, I feel as though we’ll never achieve that.

This is why I object to condemnation of so-called third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminism is improving the movement. Imagine that the first wave of feminists have planted a seed, the second wave have cultivated and felled the tree for their daughters and granddaughters to make use of, and the third wave are whittling the wood into something beautiful – a chair or a table or a massive wooden vulva.

H&M - sculpture

Spot the vulva, babes.

To be honest, with all the overlap and uncertainty in the waves system, I think a more accurate way of dividing up feminism is to look at the different strains that have emerged. From womanism to chicanisma, from lesbian feminism  to ecofeminism, there’s a branch on the feminist tree for everyone to sit on (yes, I’m sticking with this metaphor, shut up). If you – assuming you are an anti-feminist – have beef with a particular aspect of feminism, why not take it up with the group within the wider feminist community who actually uphold that belief? We’re not a hive mind; we don’t all think the same way.

I don’t describe myself as a third-wave feminist, by the way, although I probably technically am. At some point, I want to write another article talking about the labels I apply to myself and why, as well as a bit of musing about which feminist variant fits most closely with my own activism.

If you’re curious about how we analyse the waves of feminism, this article from Pacific University, Oregon, was really interesting. The PSA (Political Studies Association) also have a great article exploring whether we have entered a fourth wave, due to the influence of the internet on feminist activism. The quote from Caitlin Moran came from her fabulous book How To Be A Woman, which you can peruse on Amazon here, should you wish to! It’s naughty, but it’s utterly hilarious and I adored it. My copy is thoroughly thumbed to pieces.

So there you go, that’s all my thoughts on this particular issue – hope you enjoyed! Please like and share on Facebook/Twitter/Google+, and help me to spread the word about feminism!

Quote #16

Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

– Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

The F Word 2: The Second One

“I understand feminism to be a social saviour because it liberates everyone without exclusion.” – Morrissey

After I published my FAQ page, my cousin reminded me that I hadn’t answered his question: why I call myself a feminist, rather than just saying I’m committed to gender equality. (That’s not to say my cousin isn’t in favour of gender equality; he’s a very smart, progressive dude and I admire him very much.) I suppose I roughly addressed this in my article The F Word, although I’ve re-read that particular post and found that it wasn’t as well-structured as I had once thought it was. It wasn’t a strong argument. I was annoyed at the time (I spent a good portion of 2015 being annoyed – last year was an awful year, for many reasons) and it was a very emotive piece. I always think my articles are better when they come from a place of emotion and a place of knowledge.

It came off as bitter, frankly, a child’s tirade at not having their opinion immediately accepted and held as gospel. And that’s the opposite of what I had wanted and planned.

I’m going to build on my original idea but, hopefully, this will turn out to be far superior to that first specimen. Like how Toy Story 2 is way better than Toy Story (harsh but true).

In that original post, I stated in response to the question “Why are you a feminist?”:

The simple answer is: I’m a woman. It would be foolish not to be on my own side. It would be foolish not to participate in a movement that directly seeks to put me on a level playing field with men.

All that is accurate insofar that it’s what I feel to be true. But it’s not what I know to be true.

know that, of the two main players in the Gender Games (although I’m aware that the gender spectrum stretches far beyond male and female), women have always been the worst off. That’s just historical fact. We were the first to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden; for the longest time, womankind has not only been the origin of the population (shoutout to all my uteri-having folks) but the origin of sin. For the last 2000 years (if we consider that the Book of Genesis probably arrived in its original form between 500 BCE and 70 ACE), women have been by turns depicted as morally corrupt, emotionally stunted and biologically flawed. We have been pseudo-men; we have been men lacking something. Born of Adam’s rib, we are lesser.

I’m getting philosophical here, but the implications of this characterisation of women are far-reaching. Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, with 2.2 billion followers, but I can’t lay the blame at the feet of Christians. That would be unfair and unfounded. Throughout history, women have been depicted in practically every culture as stupid and inherently servile, and if we’re not stupid and submissive, then we’re dangerous. I’ve discussed before how the ancient Athenians seemed to consider women childlike and in need of guidance. Without proper control, they would inevitably become liars, adulterers and murderers. It’s this pervasive virgin-whore complex that has invaded our whole ethos. Men get to decide who is pure and who isn’t, even today, and I think that’s vile. Spend ten minutes on social media and witness as women are condemned for being “sluts” and “hoes” by the same men who buy Playboy or watch porn. You can be sexual, is the message, but only on our terms. As my good friend once put it, “you jack off with your left hand and point with your right.” 2000 years on and we’re stillstill seen as morally bankrupt. Take your clothes off – boom, you’ve clearly no self-respect, young lady.

The main issue (after all that waffle) is: why feminist? Why pick something so polarising, something that opens you up to so many misinterpretations and misconceptions? Why not humanist or egalitarian or equalist?

I use feminist – take note of the fem– part – because I  believe, legitimately, that women still have it harder on a social and an economic level. The wage gap is something I lament a lot and I don’t particularly want to reiterate it here, but the sites/articles to which I like to refer people are here, here and here. Better paternity leave and equal caring responsibilities would clear that up nicely (yet another way feminism helps men that MRAs enjoy ignoring). A lot of men’s issues are rooted deeply in our bias against femininity. There’s a high suicide rate among young males and men don’t feel they can access domestic violence services; much of that originates in social pressures surrounding expression of emotion or vulnerability. In a society where being “like a girl” is still an insult – why oh why aren’t we past that yet?! – we keep on enforcing this idea of women being almost a different class of people altogether. And for many men, it’s not a class they want to be associated with.

To explain it briefly:

Feminists: Look, there’s this social theory called the patriarchy and it’s a huge problem which results in all these derivative problems, like the wage gap and FGM and loss of abortion rights! If we solved it, everybody would be better off!

Anti-fems: Ummmm… everybody else has problems too, y’know… look at this stack of problems that men have! Less paternity leave, high suicide rates, no support after intimate partner violence. You don’t care about those, do you?!

Feminists: But if you’d help us solve this problem, we could-

Anti-fems: No.

Feminists: But the patriarchy ultimately contributes to your issues-

Anti-fems: No.

Feminists: You’re benefiting from oppression now, but sooner or later-

Anti-fems: LALALA I’M NOT LISTENING YOU HATE MEN

Feminists:  

eds gif

And so forth.

I know that wasn’t very concise, but I hope it clarified the point at least a little bit. Honestly, I think saying you’re committed to gender equality is amazing, but it’s too generalised. That doesn’t say anything about what you’re planning to do. Feminism – of all the “social justice” movements out there – is the most dynamic; it’s the one that gets stuff done. It’s about women, but under that umbrella of womanhood is a whole range of experiences. Women are in every walk of life, which gives feminists room to explore the impact of racism, sexual discrimination (specifically lesbophobia, but also biphobia), transphobia and classism. There are people who might have DFAB/AFAB experiences who still deal with sexism, despite not being female – a double whammy of misgendering and misogyny. Not pleasant.

At the end of the day, I don’t really care if you identify yourself as a feminist or not. For me, it’s part of my life. I love being a feminist. I love the sense of community, I love the sisterhood, I love that I’m never, ever alone – there’s always a woman (or man, or non-binary person!) out there who feels the same way.

I also think there’s a little bit of my soul that really, really enjoys being contrary. Feminism is the internet’s favourite punching bag, so why wouldn’t I – underdog extraordinaire – align myself with that?

tumblr_nz1z7w4YWP1r8brruo1_500

This is the kind of girl I am.

Dolly xxx

 

Quote #15

There is nothing inevitable about men oppressing women, being full of aggression, or clamping down on other men who don’t conform to a rigid concept of masculinity. Being a man can mean being inclusive, open and accepting. Masculinity is fluid and its future is up for grabs.

– Owen Jones, left-wing journalist and Guardian columnist, writing for The New Statesman, 2nd June 2016 (x).

Why OCG is the real OG

If you haven’t witnessed the spectacular work of Orange Coat Girl, you really should. There isn’t a copy of the video on YouTube, aside from one published on Milo Yiannopoulos’ channel which you can find here. The clip of her starts at 00:09 and ends at 00:39. I hate to give him any more views than he has (because his politics are gross), so you can also access the video on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.

In the video, Orange Coat Girl, a student of UCLA, has taken down posters which read “Feminism is cancer”, followed by an image of Milo Yiannopoulos’ face. She is carrying the posters, presumably to dispose of them. She is pursued by an aggressive anti-feminist – another student who had previously put these posters up – who yells at her and films the encounter. To her credit, OCG remains totally calm and dignified throughout, despite the other student calling her “cancerous to society”. Honestly, the student filming sounds completely desperate, demanding to know why OCG removed the posters and insisting that OCG nearly assaulted her when she reached past her to take down a poster.

I don’t know the full story; perhaps OCG was more hostile when she initially removed the images. But she was well within her rights to do so, as has been pointed out – material of that nature is against the university’s regulations. OCG herself called the posters “hateful” and “illegally posted”.

As of 3rd June, a clip posted by @itsfeminism on Instagram has been viewed 13, 565 times. Another I saw on Facebook, posted by BRUHH, has been seen 8, 545 times. Orange Coat Girl herself (who you can find on Twitter as @orangecoatgirl) has 9, 393 followers, and it’s still trending. Little gestures of rebellion like this are great. They foster a much better, safer, fairer environment and they clear the path for more activism.

From Orange Coat Girl:

Just goes to show that you have a voice, no matter how small you believe it to be!

ocg