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Verge 2017 – Chimera


The Courteous Interlocutor

Megan Blake

What you need to understand here, Rachel, is that you’ve missed the beautiful simplicity of feminism—of any egalitarian ideology, actually— because they’re all just about joy. Pure joy. So with these ridiculous claims you make about ‘objectification,’ it’s almost like the Second Wave didn’t happen: that it didn’t already liberate women from the moralising of other women. Or did I miss something, Rachel, and it’s still the 1950s? From what Casey has said in all her interviews about the cover shoot, she did not have issues exercising her personal agency. Ergo, this is about her freely choosing to pose naked, as a decisive stroke in her own emancipation. The whole point of Second Wave feminism, Rachel, is that it is up to each and every woman to determine for herself what being strong and self-assertive means. If to Casey that means a revealing photo, then that is what must be hailed as her feminist triumph! She’s a beautiful, successful woman. They’re not breasts: they’re symbols of proud, independent womanhood. And I don’t know what you’re attacking me for, when I am clearly on the side of women’s rights: I am not the problem here. May I recommend you save your disgust for people who actually are sexist, because that’s what we should be stamping out. The true misogynists—‘The sexiest bitch ever.’ I mean, really! These pricks are the problem. You know, I’ve always liked the title of that Anne Summers book, Damned Whores and God’s Police. Do you know what that title means, Rachel? It means that, before Second Wave, women could either be whores or moralistic nay-sayers: those were the two options given to them. They could not be sexually assertive without also being trash. That idea was confronted in the 70s and, to my mind, defeated—over forty years ago! But now here you are, judging another woman as trash. No, no—yes, you are. You said you didn’t care about her personal, individual freedom, and then you proceeded to judge her on the basis of her actions. Excuse me, Rachel, but—if I may say—criticising the actions a person chooses to perform is not different from criticising the person themselves; both leave the victim cowering under the spectre of judgment. And the argument that she gains some magical ‘social capital’ (that you have conveniently left unquantified) at the expense of others is disingenuous, because it pretends that social capital is a zero sum product—that any gained by one person must be at the cost of that held by others—and ignores the fact that the aim of the movement is, obviously, to advance the capital of all women simultaneously. So, really, it just tries (unsuccessfully, I might add) to obscure what is clearly your assumption: that it is your job to judge her for not being ‘feminist’ enough. She’s pursuing her own legitimate self-interest, and have you considered the fact that maybe she’s too busy to pay attention to your dictates regarding the modes of acceptable self-expression? Are you one of God’s Police now, Rachel? Forty years ago we reached a point, thanks to your Second Wave sisters, where we moved beyond the labels of ‘whore’ and ‘Madonna’—where women didn’t have to be either sluts or God’s Police, and they could be free to express their own sexuality without being subjected to your judgment. Every woman now has the right to choose whatever she wants for herself, without coercion from anyone, from any man, and no-one can stop her. What is so frustrating to me is that we finally get to a time and a place in history where every woman is free to choose her own destiny, her own happiness, her own definition of ‘power,’ how she personally wants to feel sexy and good about herself, and then you come along, dragging us back into the old days. And to think I was hoping to have an intelligent conversation on the topic! Instead, I got you. No, I never said it was meant to be an exhaustive summation of Second Wave feminism. No, no I didn’t. And I think if you were paying attention to what I said you would know that, or perhaps you’re just being wilfully ignorant. You might, I suppose, have simply misinterpreted what I said—and, for that, I apologise. It was obviously casual wording. But what I said was that Second Wave feminism was very much tied up with the liberation of women—especially the liberation of women from people like you—from the rules about what roles they were permitted to play in the complex discourse of sexual politics. So, you judging her behaviour as somehow ‘not feminist’ (as though that phrase has any meaning when the behaviour in question is something determined by her free choice) is casting her into the role you have defined for her as ‘whore.’ And you know what that makes you, Rachel? Now, I never said anything about being sexy to others—no, I didn’t. No, I didn’t, and please let me finish. I said, Rachel, that maybe she wants to feel sexy for herself, and maybe that’s what she thinks is sexy. What you need to understand is that some women feel sexy by being seen as sexy in other people’s eyes, and that’s what is empowering for them. Showing that you’re externally attractive doesn’t have to be about winning the approval of others; even if it is, it’s not your place to dictate to her the rules for what actions she feels for herself are self-affirming. As a man, I support Casey’s desire to do whatever the heck she wants. I support the right of every woman to choose for herself what her values are, her standards of behaviour, her identity, the choices she wants to make and what feminism means to her. That’s my version of feminism. Her version of feminism includes the right to pose for a risqué magazine cover without it being judged by anyone, man or woman. What I do not support is the regressive controls you’re attempting to institute under the feminist label, denying her right to define it in a way that is meaningful for her, and shutting down free expression and choice in a way that, may I say, is entirely un-feminist. Are you denying the validity of either of those positions, Rachel? I can’t imagine so. And, if not, what on earth are you here to argue for? The question I have for you is, are you not the least bit bothered by the intractable contradiction of your position, Rachel? Are you not troubled by the irony? That, in order to fight for freedom, women must not be free? Your deflection away from her as a vital, unique individual and onto the ‘class’ is a transparent strategy, and I’ll let you know it won’t fly with me. You’ve no right to shame and silence her by invoking mythical ‘others’ she has no responsibility for… especially when I’ve established that the point is not the choice: it’s the ability to make that choice, ANY choice, free from all judgment. And that’s the part you seem stubbornly to be missing. Nobody forced Casey to do it: no-one was holding a gun to her head, nothing was against her will. She chose to do it. And I’m reliably informed she had the largest amount of creative input into the shoot, too! As she says in the interview that I read, for her, at that moment, doing that photo shoot made her happy. And if that’s not what feminism is all about, then I don’t know what is! But if people like you choose to objectify her rather than to appreciate the beauty of her choice—well, let’s focus on that problem, and get about fixing it. Please. If I may say so, Rachel, and still keep this conversation within the bounds of courtesy (because it may surprise you to learn that courtesy is not just a political strategy or cause: it’s just being polite), that argument is nothing more than a load of judgmental, ignorant horseshit. You say they can choose to do whatever they want while you’re sitting there disapproving of them, but why should they have to put up with your criticism when they do it? The only thing you’re establishing here is that it’s the job of women to scold other women for not being feminist enough … Yes, yes you are. You have the right to criticise another woman’s personal choices for self-expression? I mean, have you read Anne Summers? You clearly seem not to have—or you’ve missed the entire central theme of the text. I think perhaps you need to reflect on your own behaviour. You see, it’s not even your ‘take’ on feminism that bothers me, it’s your act of exclusion. You have effectively barred Casey from any participation in feminist activism because she doesn’t conform to your arbitrary standards. You’re also trying to do it to me, and accusing me of occluding you, despite me trying to courteously engage with you on this very important topic while you resort to profanity and insults (gendered insults, I might add). Frankly, I’m very close to being done with you. This was a conversation I started, you inserted yourself into it, and you’ve been nothing but rude while I’ve been unfailingly polite and respectful. No, I do support you, Rachel; I support you in making any choices you like for your life. Just like I support all women. But you are now trying to make choices for my life and you do not get to do that. You have the right to make any comment you like of your own somewhere else; and, then, if I want to engage with you, I have the right to choose to respond. That’s the freedom you have, and that’s the freedom I have. But you don’t want to do that: you want to police everyone else’s discussion and opinions, and I’m simply not going to stand back and let you do that. Please, just be quiet. You are not going to achieve anything further, and any more of these attempts at brow-beating will deny you the dignity of leaving while courtesy is still possible. But I mustn’t allow myself to sink down to your level, so I’m going to make one last attempt at bringing this back into the realm of rational debate. See if you can simmer down enough to participate in a civil manner, Rachel. Emma Goldman’s writings are quite instructive here, and I think you could learn a lot from them. One particular part leaps to mind … it’s here on my phone: ‘At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.’ You see, she could not believe, Rachel, that he thought it was his right, his privilege, to throw her ideology back in her face like it was a weapon with which to strike her. Feminism, just like anarchism, is not one-size-fits-all—that kind of prescriptivism belongs to fascism and the kind of dictatorial trolls you should really be spending your time on, if you ask me. ‘Flagellation by rule’ is not the domain of egalitarian ideals that only want to champion individual freedom and choice. And no, no—excuse me, Rachel, but that is socialism. Not feminism. And your dogmatic insistence that Casey posing for a risqué photo somehow damages the cause of womankind clearly demonstrates that you’ve missed the point. Goldman finishes with the following condemnation, and I think it is instructive for you. Pay attention, Rachel: ‘I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it.’ You are failing to allow people to just be themselves, whatever that entails, and you are turning this movement into Goldman’s cloister. This is what she has to say about your brand of feminism, Rachel, and this is what I have to say, too. If there is to be no dancing, I want none of your revolution! No, you can’t seem to let me have the last word, can you? I have repeatedly stated that my idea of liberation means personal freedom for everyone, regardless of the level of privilege they may or may not experience. You say I fail to account for disenfranchised women when, in fact, my definition includes enfranchising all those women and giving them exactly the same choice that Casey has here. I would have thought that part of it was self-evident. Every woman should be allowed to pursue activities that make her happy, regardless of whether she’s poor, coloured, young, old, anything—and that includes choosing whether to pose alluringly for a magazine cover if that’s what she has decided is the way she wants to express herself and is what brings her joy. Because that’s obviously what I meant by, ‘If there is to be no dancing.’ I meant, ‘If there is to be no joy.’ Which I’m pretty sure you understood, and you just chose to misinterpret me instead. My world is a world of personal freedom for all women—that’s what you should be fighting for. And every time you judge and pick on the way women exercise that freedom, according to some subjective assessment of whether you think their behaviour advances the cause of womankind or not, we lose the very thing for which we are fighting, Rachel: we lose the joy.

Verge 2017 – Chimera

   by Bonnie Reid, Aisling Smith and Gavin Yates