A post at Feministe ("Protect Yourselves, Ladies"), mocking the ever-mockable Dawn Eden, unexpectedly inspired me to write the following.
...but, see, it’s this sort of remark, (from the comments at the Eden site)
Women used to have a civilizing effect on men. Now feminists wallow in the pig sty right along with the men.
And they call this “liberation”.
…that makes me eyeball feminists who talk about “Raunch Culture” (for example) with the same sort of disapproving tones, or even the general emphasis on Woman-as-eternally-abused/exploited-Sex Class rather cynically: where have we heard this one, again?
Because y’know, that whole “women must civilize men” does creep into certain strains of feminism as well, most notably what’s been called “cultural feminism.” This is from whence the notion that women are inherently more moral/peaceful/less aggressive/less likely to be “perverted” than men; or at least so well socially trained as to make no effective difference, and, the implication is, in some ways this is a good thing. (hence things like the womens’ anti-nuke camp in Greenham in the early 80’s; goodly chunks of the anti-porn/prostitution movement; and a few other things). Here in reactionary right-wing land you hear the “this is a good thing” more overtly; it gets more muddled on the left, because most of us understand that no, actually, this isn’t terrifically helpful, ultimately; and yet, bunch of mixed messages that haven’t really been quite sorted out.
It all stems from Victorianism: (white, middle-class and up) woman as “angel in the house.” It’s related to the Industrial Revolution, the uneasy admixture of the then-new concepts of evolution with the Calvinist Christianity we’d/they’d already been steeped in, and a kind of “undoing” of the earlier form of misogyny: “women are MORE likely to be aggressive, MORE savage, man’s undoing; and thus need to be controlled.”
As we see, one theme doesn’t cancel out the other; what happens is, now more than ever, perhaps, the “bad woman” (dirty, beastlike), drags men down instead of elevating them) is still there; she just gets “split” and personified in certain demographics. Lower-class women. Black women. “Fallen” women (i.e. whores and sluts). And so on.
And of course first-wave feminism is very much connected to this notion that women are the civilizing, moral, even -Christian- influence; you get Temperance connected to both suffrage and the early abolitionists (after a certain point there is a split between black civil rights advocates and the white feminists/suffragists, which regrettable echoes down even to today).
Somewhere between then and the second wave you get all kinds of other shit thrown in the cultural mix as well: now you have a post-War world which looks very VERY different from the one that came before; you also have the models of communist/socialist activism (workers of the world, unite! is a bit far afield from Carrie Nation). You have of course the Sexual Revolution and the hippies. Gay Lib. The resurrection of the civil rights movement. And so on, and so on, and so on.
But, and this is where the whole “examination of roots” thing comes in, those earlier influences never quite completely go away, either. They just comingle, sometimes merging relatively easily, sometimes sitting, again, rather uneasily with each other.
Anyway, this is a good part of -why- i am (yes, here is the Eternal Subject) a “sex-positive” feminist, with all the various connotations that that has for at least some people. Among other things. Well, why I won’t decry “raunch culture” and so forth, or at least not for i think the same reasons a lot of people do (and the reasons i do are the same problems i have with advanced corporate capitalism in general; thus, don’t really care to single out “raunch” or anything of the sort). It's not about, "oh, I rilly like my lippy and my blowjobs and my comfortably lowered consciousness, lemme 'lone." And it’s not just about "choice"; we ALL have ideological roots in that Enlightenment notion of individuality; there IS no feminism -or- leftieism as we know it, pretty much, without the Enlightenment, and yup, “individual choice, freedom, yadda” is a big part of it. Inevitably. It’s in the template. For better and for worse, and yes, there are good arguments to be made about the Enlightenment’s limitations.
But the trouble is there are only (thus far) so many other models and influences to draw upon besides the Enlightenment; and, further, most of us don’t do it at all consciously. Well, on the left, one way out of it is to base it on one of the collectivist socioeconomic models we’re familiar with this past century or so.
But the other, especially wrt feminism, especially wrt American feminism, it’s back to that whole “woman as civilizing influence” business.
And the dirty little secret about -that- one is, there are BENEFITS to buying into this mindset as well as drawbacks. For some people, anyway. Yeah, virgin/angel in the house versus whore/slut, again, no one wins, sure…but in fact the “angel” is -not- on equal footing with the “slut;” there is a one-up power dynamic there as well. White/black. Lady/slattern. Classy/trashy. Good girl/-whore.- Old as the hills, that one, of course, even before the most familiar Victorian incarnation that I’m talking about.
But, and my point is: actually, there is a reason that people say things like, f’r example to i dunno someone who’s ranting about “sexbots” and how women really need to pull it together and stop tottering around on those high heels, they’re “making the rest of us look bad,” to folks like Dawn Eden here. It’s not that they are the SAME, obviously; there are different other influences and philosophies going on as well.
But, but. But there are also common roots here. And when you call your own movement “radical,” you’d better be looking at -all- your roots. I’m saying: here’s one that’s been a big old blind spot.
The -other- part is, again: the secret benefits of being the “moral” sex.
And here’s the thing: the rightwingers like the ones on Dawn Eden are much MUCH clearer about this than some of us are. That’s WHY they’re drawn to Dawn Eden’s take instead of I don’t know Sheila Jeffreys’. They make no bones about it at all: yes! we LIKE being the “angel in the house!” I mean! It’s being an angel! Who wouldn’t rather be an angel than a slattern?”
My argument is, that sentiment may be a lot more incoherent and murked up with other stuff ’round these parts, but it’s often still there, in fact.
So I’m not gonna trash my “trashy” sisters. At all. Not for being sluts, not for being “sexbots,” not for “gee, if only we could all stop wearing these degrading heels/whatever at once, then by Goddess, the world might finally split open and then we could get on with bringing about a Better World.”
Because it isn’t gonna work that way.
“radical,” as such, isn’t.
Keep looking. Keep exploring. And, maybe, in the process: more kindness.