Look, we all know that the concept of the free market as some kind of glorious objective rational manager of all facets of human life is bullshit, right?
What utterly bugs me is how the Powers That Be – and I’m looking at you too, Labour – treat the vagaries and whims of the market like opinion polls: ignore them (often on very well-argued grounds) when they’re not good for your argument, embrace them when they are.
Latest case in point: the reaction of The Market to the NZ Power announcement. Contact’s shares promptly dropped (a little), leading the right to scream that the end times were nigh and this was proof that the Labour/Greens joint policy announcement was going to cost it the election.
But overall the NZX was up, so Grant Robertson goes declaring that this means there’s no risk of the policy causing capital flight.
It’s the same ludicrous situation we see every time The Market is made the centre of a news story. For the drop in Contact shares to be meaningful we have to simultaneously accept that The Market has made an instantaneous judgement on the future implications of the NZ Power policy … but also isn’t aware that we’re a year out from an election, that policy takes a while to implement, that there’s always the option of NZ First storming in, seizing the balance of power and refusing to do anything until we have a referendum on it.
For the rise in the NZX to be meaningful we have to believe that trading on the share market is dominated by any impulses other than whim, Chicken Little syndrome, rumours, lies, espionage, counter-espionage, and hopefully-educated guesses about the real value and future profitability of things which do not exist in concrete form.
For the drop in Contact shares combined with the rise in the NZX to be meaningful, we have to believe that The Market – at least, the bits of it that aren’t selling off Contact shares – understands the longterm implications of the policy and has judged it good. Or they’ve remembered there’s no election until 2014. Or they don’t believe Labour and the Greens will win and have the numbers and have the consistency and have the will to implement the policy in anything short of four years.
It’s like reading fucking chicken entrails, and yet it’s treated with reverence, like those guys must know something we peons don’t because they’ve got the money to play with so that makes them better than us – even when they buy so much into their own bullshit that they routinely throughout history fuck over entire societies.
I realise that rejecting The Market as the font of all wisdom would basically involve rewiring our entire political system, but … can we at least stop reacting to its every sniffle like it’s a signed affidavit?
Part 1 of this post was published yesterday. Check it out, ’cause it’ll probably make this post make more sense.
3. A life lived in stress is a life half-lived
Let’s assume, for this section, that one completely rejects the notion of “reclaiming” or “subverting” patriarchal norms, that all sexiness is collaboration and all nail polish is Giving Aid And Comfort To The Enemy.
It is pretty fucking difficult spending all one’s time enraged at the strictures and oppressiveness of kyriarchy. It is pretty fucking stressful, at least for me and I have no doubt for others as well, to be constantly analysing my every thought and preference and decision against the context of social narratives.
Do I like these shoes just because patriarchy says I have to look pretty for men? Do I enjoy Game of Thrones just because I’m presented with no other options in terms of racist, sexist medieval fantasy tropes? (I’m going to come back to this shortly …) And let’s not even start on my sexual preferences.
I like a lot of things that are problematic. I dress in a way which is very patriarchy-approved, albeit in a fat body so I can’t really win there (I’m either wrong for daring to look conventionally-sexy while fat, or I’m wrong if I stop trying to l0ok conventionally sexy despite being fat). I enjoy medieval fantasy, the Saw films, corsetry, etc etc. I know these things are problematic, and I know that a lot of the reason I like these things is due to being raised in a white, Western, patriarchal society.
(There’s a hell of a lot of other contributing factors, but let’s not let the complexity of human existence get in the way of judging people now.)
But, and here’s where y’all can start selectively clipping quotes to back up your stereotypes of a “choice feminist”, I still like those things.
I still like those things despite being aware they’re problematic, despite knowing that a lot of my choice is not fully of my own free will. Because none of us are making choices of our own free will.
Put it this way: if you’re a radical feminist who hates society’s treatment of women as a sex class and never wears high heels? In a world where patriarchy completely desexualised women and demanded they be entirely unnoticeable, $5 says you’d be breaking out the mascara and fishnets.
Mascara is not, in of itself, patriarchal. Our ingrained responses to it are.
Here’s my main point: I choose to not fight against every single patriarchy-approved preference in my head. I choose to prioritise other things to spend my mental energy on.
I understand how my conforming choices can benefit me, can make my life easier, can allow me to pass under the radar in some aspects of my life.
I acknowledge that it’s utterly shitty that our society demands such choices of us and rewards us for going along.
But my mental energy is my own to spend. My stress is my own to decrease or increase. And if I choose a type of activism which isn’t about standing as a personal refutation of patriarchy, if I choose to balance up the number of areas where I will challenge my programming and decide that I can’t live a full and happy life worrying about every last little thing I do … that’s how I will survive. That’s how I will make the best fight I can of this, and achieve a hell of a lot more than if I worry myself into a death-spiral of self-criticism.
And you can fuck right off judging me for that. You can fuck right off dictating that I put stress and pressure on myself to conform to Real Feminist Approved non-conformity. It’s simultaneously tragic and fucking hilarious.
4. Guess what, conforming doesn’t make life easier
Because, and this might be a slightly off-the-wall idea, we live in a patriarchy. So as women, we’re already the lesser, the other, the object. (Extend to kyriarchy and other oppressed identities as necessary.)
So even if we pucker up and make up and dress up, we’ll still be at the bottom. Even if we’re given a modicum of influence/status (see every painfully poorly written article of the past year entitled something like Why I’m A Smart Enough Girl To Reject Silly Feminism And Love Men), there’s still no getting around the fact that we only hold influence/status by the grace of The Man. And that can be taken away with the merest flick of a Leaked Nude Photos magic wand.
Conforming does grease the rails. And for those of us who can conform (remember, the majority of women are never going to be equally considered sexy or attractive or permitted a little autonomy as the most privileged, white/cis/hetero class) things get a lot less stressful. Bully for us. It’s still patriarchy, it still dumps on all of us (though, yes, less so on some than others.)
Sure, choices aren’t feminist just because a woman chooses them. The act of choosing isn’t inherently feminist and isn’t distinct and exclusive of kyriarchal programming.
But. Hate the game, not the player. Kyriarchy/patriarchy puts us in these positions and gives us these non-choices and labels all our actions in line with its own priorities. And it’s pretty much just massively uncool to take a superior attitude and judge individual women who for all you know are navigating life as best they can in the face of massive pressures to conform.
Even when – no, especially when these “choices” aren’t just about lipstick and heels, when we’re talking about sex-selective abortion or surname-changing or participating in sex work, how fucking cruel do you have to be to tell a person, “you have to suck it up and take whatever violence or deprivation is going to be thrown at you, it’s your job to represent our entire struggle against [insert problem here] because choosing anything else is UnFeminist”?
Fight sexism. Fight discrimination. Fight the norms and standards and assumptions. Don’t fight the people who you’re presuming to defend, and try not to act too fucking smug about how much better you are than the rest of us.
Related reading: amandaw at FWD/Forward.
This post got a little long, so tune in tomorrow for part 2, in which I reserve the right to manage my own spoons, we note that a life conforming ain’t perfect either, and I get to the point. Kinda.
I always end up describing the concept of “choice feminism” to other people in two ways: if someone’s using it as a serious term they probably mean some variation on “people who pretend every choice they make is feminist because they make it.” If it’s me arguing against that idea, it’s “let’s stop shitting on other women from orbit just so we can prove that not shaving our legs makes us Superior Patriarchy-Fighting Machines.”
Because no choice is perfect in a society which narrates and interprets our actions against an evil spirit level of power dynamics and biological essentialism. We can never win; all our choices are, on some level, wrong because we are women making them in a patriarchal society.
Wearing high heels? You’re just superficial and obsessed with shoes, like a woman (and sucking up to the patriarchy to boot) (and are probably stupid because omg who would ever like shoes which hurt your feet unless they were brainwashed???) Wearing “sensible” shoes? Prepare to be marked down as a dyke, as a square, as “not well-presented”, and all the attendant harassment and employment discrimination that comes along with it.
And that’s one of the most trivial examples (albeit one which I, as a very-privileged heel-wearer, take a little to heart).
What the anti-“choice feminist” people want to say, though, is that my wearing of high heels might be fine and dandy, oh, they might be magnanimous enough to tolerate my collaborator’s footwear, but don’t I dare claim that wearing high heels is a feminist action.
Because you know, I do that all the time.
And of course I’d better be okay with being called “stupid”, and I’d better be okay with people questioning my feminist credentials because I’m obviously too selfish/superficial to understand that High Heels Are Tools Of The Man.
To me, this is not only demeaning, and a tad misogynist, it’s also a refusal to even consider that the spectrum of our actions and choices is a bit more extensive than (a) Conforms to patriarchal standards ergo Is Bad vs (b) Doesn’t conform to mainstream patriarchal standards ergo Is Good.
So, a couple of points about why I’m frankly just fine with the label “choice feminist”.
1. Patriarchal standards aren’t uniform.
Sure, high heels are a great go-to for Things Approved Of By Patriarchy. If the only role women were ever forced into was that of “sex kitten”.
But there’s also “mother” or “teacher” or “nurse” – the unsexy woman held up for her Nurturing Qualities, her understanding of Her Place, her utter lack of autonomy and an identity focused entirely on being a helpmeet to others.
Betcha she wears “sensible shoes”.
This is one of the ways patriarchy gets us coming and going (well, not usually coming, boom boom!). There isn’t a perfect choice, even if your one goal in life is to conform (a goal which, I’m going to address later, does not actually make you an evil person.)
2. That whole “reclaiming” thing
People can, and do, do things which are surface-level conforming, yet present a challenge to kyriarchy/patriarchy.
It is a challenge to conventional beauty standards when a fat person dares to dress, and act, like a sexually-aware being. It is a challenge to people’s assumptions when a woman changes her name after marriage – and lets them know it’s only because she has no emotional connection to her “maiden” name. It is a challenge if a sex worker chooses to call herself a whore.
A lot of people take issue with the notion of reclaiming. I simply submit that shaking up the assumptions of others and causing them to rethink their immediate impressions of things is a form of activism in itself.
Part 2’s up tomorrow. Tune in then, or comment now, as you like.
There’s a phenomenon you experience every now and then as a progressive: hating the thing the mainstream is currently telling you to hate, only for different reasons.
Reasons you have to keep explaining to people because you find yourself agreeing with them, but have to let them know that you’re not agreeing with their racist/sexist/classist/ageist/ableist ideas.
Today’s case in point: Madonna.
News with Nipples has a great post about a shite article which basically says “Ew, Madonna is old and gross and should stop being old and gross in public.”
The intro to the Madonna article is full of age-shaming:
“ON WHICH SIDE DO YOU SIT IN THE GREAT MADONNA DEBATE? SHOULD SHE KEEP REINVENTING HERSELF OR RETIRE GRACEFULLY?”
I’m sitting on the side with the third option: MADONNA SHOULD DO WHATEVER THE HELL SHE WANTS TO DO.
Besides, we all know that “retire gracefully” means “become invisible so we don’t have to see old people enjoying themselves in public and WORSE, have to look at their bodies”.
And it immediately made me think of a (fairly) recent Madonna music video which I, in face-value accordance with the mainstream and that article, utterly hate.
Here’s the bit I find myself always explaining to people, on the oddly-common occasions this comes up.
The mainstream hates it because: Madonna is acting like she’s still fit, fuckable, and entitled to wear spandex, but ew gross she isn’t because she’s old, ew.
I hate it because: the song ripped the core out of ABBA’s Gimme Gimme Gimme and that’s the only reason it’s memorable. In fact, it makes it so damn memorable I find myself singing it aloud in the shower. But the song is cack! It’s boring! It’s utterly mundane and unchallenging and ARGH I HATE IT.
Also, THAT’S NOT HOW YOU PLAY DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION.
But you can’t just get away with saying things like “God, I hate Madonna’s music video for Hung Up” because the immediate assumption is that you agree with the social narrative. And as soon as you start ranting about DDR and ABBA it’s glazed looks and “why do you take this so seriously” for all … then there’s nothing for it but slamming your head against a brick wall.