You know, I think Maia had one tiny point in amongst the letting us all know that blogging about cupcakes is Diluting The Great Feminist Message.
Posting something frivolous to a feminist group or blog does imply/assume that thing is feminist or should be treated as a feminist issue.
Where we disagree* is that she thinks that means we have to explain why that thing is explicitly feminist or refrain from posting it. And I think the very fact of a thing being discussed on a feminist blog puts it in a feminist or wider progressive context.
So just what is a feminist issue?
Are silly boutique clothing stores which cut clothes to fit bigger-busted women a feminist issue?
Of course they fucking are because we live in a patriarchy that demands conformity to an incredibly narrow set of standards of beauty. The fit and fashionableness of clothes have implications for women’s lives from the ability to meet professional or corporate wardrobe standards to being able to feel comfortable in their bodies to presenting a challenge to those beauty standards by the merest fact of being a non-standard body shape wearing edgy, new, well-fitting or fashionable clothes in public.
Are “aesthetics” a feminist issue?
An alternative title for this post was “Because wearing lipstick can be a feminist act”. I just said it a paragraph above: beauty standards. Daring to be visible in public. Add to that gender performativity and people’s choice to challenge norms or desire to blend in to make their lives that little bit easier if they need/want to. Add to that the entire area of human attraction and romance and celebrity crushes or appreciation of the physical form and our ability to challenge those things without scrapping the notion of finding other human beings fucking hot.
Are cupcakes and knitting feminist issues?
Obviously not, I mean, duh, there’s no room for reclamation of traditionally “feminine” roles and crafts. No space for a discussion of the pressures of modern life depriving people of time to really engage with the food they eat or maintain old customs or challenge that big evil capitalist system by taking charge of the means of production even in small home-cooking cottage-industry ways. We definitely don’t want to break down orthorexic messages about “bad foods” and we definitely shouldn’t prop up our mental health and self-esteem defences against the constant criticism of patriarchy by taking pride in creating things.
But what if we don’t spell out why these things are feminist issues?
Plenty of conversations about cupcakes or clothing stores don’t actually involve posts saying “I have baked cupcakes in accordance with my personal desire to bake uninfluenced by notions of proper women’s roles, for a bake sale at my children-who-have-my-surname’s school because my male life-partner was too tired after a hard day’s respecting my reproductive choices.”
Do we seriously fucking have to?**
I am a staunch fucking warrior for the feminist cause, people. I will rant at the drop of a hat or the merest sighting of a Cosmo cover, I will march, I will campaign. But sometimes I have to take a break. Sometimes people who work even harder than me, like Sady Fucking Doyle, need to take a break, and build up our reserves of stamina and anger in order to continue the fight and not burn out.
Sometimes I just want to have a fucking glass of cider with some friends, and talk shit about baking and weddings, and it’s really fucking awesome to be able to do that in a group where I am guaranteed not to encounter casual racism or homophobia or transphobia or classism or any other gratuitous exercise of privilege. It’s really fucking awesome to know I could post on a forum about hating fucking Valentine’s Day and not run the stellarly high risk of having someone fucking bingo me with “oh but you’ll feel different when you’re in a relationship” or “oh you just need to drop your man and find one who’ll treat you right.”***
And I can imagine someone coming across Emma’s, and thinking “who can I share this with without getting a dozen “oh I had that problem but then I tried X diet” or “tee hee I’m so lucky I can just buy straight off the rack at Glassons” or “do you ever try wearing your bra as a hat?”**** responses?”
And maybe they just fucking thought hey, this group of women who I know are all in Wellington and who I can probably assume will all have some understanding of basic feminist critiques of beauty standards and the fashion industry will totally want to know that there are other patriarchy-busting resources out there for those of them with this particular problem.
But fuck, I guess they just weren’t being real feminists.
*And oh my god can you BELIEVE that we might be able to disagree without me declaring Maia has lost 10 Feminist House Points?
**Statement of the fucking obvious: some places have narrow commenting policies. Some places explicitly spell out what qualifies as on- or off-topic. The owners of those places get to make those calls and as always, it’s fucking rude for anyone to declare that those policies must be changed because all feminist conversation must follow a, b, c rules. Which is why I’m a lot less cussy elsewhere and anyone trying to rehash fucking over-cooked topics is getting no linguistic mercy.
****Also true story.
Things this post is not actually about:
- Maia’s “tone” or “the way she brought this up”
- Deep meaningful conversations about “what constitutes feminism”
- Hating your freedoms
… which is not to rule out any of those things as automatically unimportant or “off the table” or taboo.
This is about:
- A group which calls itself “feminist” is formed
- A post is made to said group about a shop catering to a non-standard body type
- A feminist blogger says such posts should not be made because they’re unfeminist, or that such posts have to be phrased in a way she likes, or that the moderators of the page have to justify why it’s feminist because being posted to a feminist group means it must be relevant to feminism
And I think point 3 is a bit shit, for a lot of reasons, and none of them are those bog-standard derailments about “refusing to take criticism” or “taking things personally” or “misrepresenting what Maia said”.
Because I think point 3 sums up what she said pretty well, given that what she said was:
things which I would normally just be ‘eh’ about really agitate me when they’re done in the name of feminism …
posting anything to a feed of a feminist group is to promote that post as a feminist act …
promoting any particular sized or shaped [body/clothing fitting] is problematic from a feminist perspective …
the way clothes are produced in [NZ] is absolutely the opposite of everything I think feminism stands for…
I object to … promoting clothes shopping (particularly at a specific shop) as something that is going to appeal to a group of women who have nothing in common other than they’re young feminists …
To me a core part of that responsibility [as a contributor in a feminist space] is to never suggest that liking the things I happen to like is part of being feminist …
material presented on the feed should be explicitly feminist…
I think this is a real danger … that women can feel that they can’t be a feminist because they don’t look a certain way and aren’t interested in certain things. And I think the easiest way to avoid that is to make aesthetic/lifestyle/survival choices off the table for feminist discussion. In order to create an environment where anyone feels like they can be feminist it needs to be as unacceptable to promote a particular way of say dressing as to diss a particular way of dressing…
I’m anti feminism being linked with a single aesthetic…
I think I’ve articulated in quite some detail why I think having material which isn’t explicitly feminist in feminist spaces is alienating. Particularly in feminist spaces that present themselves as generally as “The [not even ‘a’] Wellington Feminist Collective.”…
I think feminists should orient themselves critically towards those businesses for the reasons I listed…
I think it’s inappropriate for Coley to post it without explicitly making clear why because she is promoting one particular, inaccessible, aesthetic/lifestyle/Survival strategy as feminist, which I think is alienating…
And while I don’t think I did make a demand of the WYFC – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me doing so. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making demands with institutions/organisations that you’re supposed to be allied with. In fact, I think it’s an important part of building a social movement.
As to who I am? I’m a feminist who has thought about feminism and is prepared to defend her opinions. I think that gives me a right to talk about what feminism is and isn’t. I think that’s all any of us needs. And I think talking about what feminism is and isn’t is really important…
Issue: “promoting a single aesthetic”
As I said at THM, one post about one shop on a page covered in posts about abortion and misogynist radio contests and debunking stereotypes about Muslim feminists does not “promotion of a single aesthetic” make. I get body issues. I get being fat. I get that sinking sense of disappointment when even stores which are advertised as catering to different body shapes invariably do not carry anything near my size. And I saw the post about Emma’s on WYFC and thought “bet she doesn’t go to a size 18”.
But that hardly fucking invalidates the fact that being a fattie who can’t shop at Glassons is hardly the only form of body-policing or body-discrimination in the world and sometimes the size 12 girls with the E cups might like to know where to find dresses that fucking fit. And those girls are going to totally get feminist critiques of fashion and narrow beauty standards. And until every second post on the page is “oh hai here’s another resource explicitly aimed only at straight-sized busty girls” it’s fucking ludicrous to act like this one post represents the WYFC endorsing a single acceptable body shape.
Issue: “get a Marxist analysis or go home”
I think a lot of Marxist feminist analysis is fucking awesome. I’ve been pretty clear about that. But anyone who’s literally going to say that women can’t plug local businesses [at least without a laboured disclaimer about the evils of capitalism] because all business is capitalist and therefore evil can fuck right off.
We live in a capitalist society, we need fucking clothes, and as a fattie who herself and whose many non-standard-body-type friends have a lot of fucking difficulty finding clothes that fit I am actually not willing to self-flagellate because finally being able to buy cute dresses for only-slightly-above-“straight”-size-prices is Buying Into Corporate Doom.
Also? When you’re having a go at something for not explicitly nailing down what “feminism” is defined as, and you’re also saying “it has to be this and this and this and phrased like this and tick all these boxes”, don’t get fucking precious when people tell you you’ve appointed yourself Lady High Mistress of Feminist Lines in The Sand, because you just really did.
Issue: “well this affected me so your argument is invalid”
Do I have a problem with people raising issues that have affected them? No. Do I think there’s a big fucking difference between “this affected me and here’s why and let’s discuss that” and “this affected me so it should never ever happen against because you’re not real feminists”? Yes. See above.
Issue: “but THE! And R18 VENUES!”
Do I have a problem with disagreement and debate? No. Do I think there’s a big fucking difference between “let’s look at why this post is here and what I find problematic about it” and “let’s look at this post and also I want to explicitly say I’m not a member of this group I’m critiquing and also your name is a lie and also your choice of launch venue is discriminatory*”? Just a tiny bit.
Time for a high school analogy, because I feel pretty safe assuming we’ve all been there.
“Regina, I think that thing you said was mean because you reduced Lindsay Lohan’s character down to her country of origin.”
Is “raising something you found problematic”.
“Regina, I think that thing you said, while wearing those totally out-of-style trainers, was mean, and while I’m pointing that out can we also remember that you stole my trike in kindergarten you bitch?”
Is being vindictive and petty and nasty and refusing to just engage with the topic at hand … which hilariously is what Maia keeps accusing her detractors of.
Issue: “everything posted to the Collective page MUST be explicitly feminist!”
This is a biggie for me. For now? Let’s look at those above points where it’s pretty obvious that “feminist” here means “MY kind of feminism which can only discuss things I am comfortable with and MUST involve analysis from THIS point of view”.
That’s not discussion, it’s not a conversation. It’s an ultimatum from a person who doesn’t even go here,** about how a group she isn’t even involved in*** has to be operated to pass her magical test of feministness or she won’t let them call themselves feminist.
As the sweet old lady said to the Mormons, well in that case you can fuck right off.
But there’s a lot more that’s problematic with that statement and that’s going to have to wait for another post.
And finally some comments on the comments to hopefully avoid the same wank-circle that has devoured the THM post on this.
Issue: “waaaa why can’t feminists all be cuddly hug-buddies waaaaa”
Because obviously feminists do disagree. And that’s fine. But as already established, this isn’t about disagreeing and discussing things, this is about one person declaring that feminism has to be done a specific way or she’ll take away our feminist badges and let everyone know we love Sarah Palin. (No, seriously, that’s the “logical” conclusion drawn.)
Issue: “you just hate Maia and think everything she says is wrong”
Nope. I just think it’s fucking horrible to attack an entire group because one post is Doing Feminism Wrong and You Get To Decide That. Like I just said.
*From the Facebook thread
**For some reason this issue is hitting ALL the Mean Girls buttons.
***Oh but she’s seriously excited, honest, she thinks you guys are just the best even if you are wrong and alienating and evil and kicked her dog.