Buried Alive

Revolution as Collectivism, Not Tolerance of the Individual by pisaquaririse
December 31, 2009, 6:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I call this particular issue the “YUCK!/YAY!” feminist phenomenon.

Here’s how it looks:

Feminist A: “I think it’s feminist when I wear____/behave like _____/ my significant others do _____ to me”

Feminist B ” What you think is feminist really SQUICKS ME THE FUCK OUT but you like it so jolly good times.”

(Just look at those feminist Alphabet people tolerating each other)

Why doesn’t Feminist B like Feminist A’s “feminist” acts?  If they are discussing acts for their feminist value, isn’t Feminist B saying she, likely, doesn’t find Feminist A’s interests very feminist?  Oh no pisaquari, it’s just not her cup of tea. BUT WHY!

We won’t ever know because the conversation never gets that far. We are okay at stopping at tolerance.  That’s our endpoint or goal.  Tolerance.  Apparently, telling everyone everything they do is fine and dandy or vaguely suggesting one just has “different preferences” suffices. Feminist B would never divulge her reasons because that would likely cause a riff or something equally terrible like a debate.  There is no greater Cardinal-Rule-To-Break than:

thou shalt tolerate thy sister

But the missed truth in these passing’s of conversation is an unspoken difference of opinion on feminist values and definitions.  Pretty important stuff!  Likely kind of compelling and eye-opening, as well.  But we care more about not rocking the boat than digging in, than getting a little messy (this is all so AMERICAN the more I type it).  And by ignoring these signifiers of root-level mutual exclusions, we are creating a dishonest movement.  A false sense of sisterhood (and perhaps one of the reasons when shit hits the fan it REALLY HITS–we don’t have the means to fully express our disagreements b/c they go far too long unspoken and, so, we try to fit too much in in one breath).

What’s more, by valuing tolerance over dis-closure and upfront-ness, we further isolate ourselves.  By never feeling our feminist values can shake up the ooey-gooey feelings of tolerance, we alienate ourselves at a very psychic level.  This is a remarkably alone place to be in a movement that once promised so much more (I know, I’m sooo DoomsDay about this).

Were Feminist A and Feminist B talking, for instance, about the best ways to get their respective homes, the “YUCK!/YAY!” phenomenon might work.  You live at different houses so you take different streets.  But what happens when feminists stop showing up at the same house?  If we scatter ourselves at an ideologically molecular level, what do we do then?  Don’t we lose strength and purpose?  Don’t we lose revolution?

18 Comments so far
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Chewy food for thought. Being as vague or specific as you like, could you posit a hypothetical conversation that didn’t devolve?

Comment by sam

Wow. Just…wow.
Brilliant post.

Comment by Laurelin

Sam: “Being as…specific as you like…”

Fem A: ““I think it’s feminist when I wear high heels.”

Fem B: “High heels aren’t for me–but if you like them that’s okay.”

What Fem B has done is evade the initial point by making her dislike of heels personal-almost anecdotal-instead of addressing it in it’s original feminist context. For example, Fem B didn’t say “Well, I don’t find high heels *feminist*” b/c that would likely cause a big to do and Fem B would be accused of being judgmental/intolerant/sledding down a :::gasp::: slipper slope, etc.
My point is that, unbeknownst to most people (I would venture), feminist disagreement happens all the time but we’ve learned, as Fem B has, that our disagreement must only be *expressed* at an individual level. We cannot speak on behalf of an entire idealogy that extends past ourselves.

Comment by pisaquaririse

Another great example Sam-and one you can probably appreciate- would be the top liberal, sometimes-feminist-leaning bloggers responding to the act of sex work as “feminist” with: “It’s not for me–but I totally support you doing it!”

Comment by pisaquaririse

Some thoughts:

I’m starting to think that the reason Feminist B says ‘okay that’s fine’ is because she is afraid that she herself may be called to account for the feministness of her own behaviours. So Feminist A may say ‘but Feminist B, you do XYZ, which is not feminist’. This then would compel Feminist B to have to *think* about the consequences of her own actions. With this bullshit ‘tolerance’, both A and B get to carry on doing whatever the fuck they want knowing that they will not be criticised.

Concrete example: pro-prostitution ‘feminists’ often seem to be into BDSM, and seem to be afraid that if they oppose prostitution their own sex lives will be criticised. This seems to matter more to them than social justice, which is what feminism is about. Now my response is: I don’t give a shit about your sex life, do whatever the hell you want, but *don’t* expect me to say I approve or use it as an excuse for inaction. It’s not about you, or what I think about you. It is about ending rape.

I don’t understand why Fem A needs to have her actions validated by Fem B. If she’s happy and comfortable with whatever she is doing, why does she need B’s approval? If it is just a matter of taste, then who cares? Example: I like marmite, I know people who hate it. I don’t require people who hate marmite to say ‘but Laurelin, I support *your* marmite consumption’. This is not about taste, evidently, but about feminist qualms.

With the high-heel example, I would say ‘I don’t think wearing high-heels is a good idea because they damage your feet, make you more physically vulnerable, are a legacy from pornography etc and are therefore not feminist.’ That does not stop Fem A from wearing high-heels, although it might make her think. Why should she need my approval? They’re her feet after all. What scary reality have I inadvertantly revealed with my innocuous and non-coercive view? If she’s going to join me in the fight against pornstitution, I don’t give a damn what’s on her feet. But I’m not going to say it is feminist to wear high-heels either.

This eggshell-walking attitude of feminism noncomital is what leads to
a) feminism becoming about ‘choice’ and ‘nuance’ rather than about the liberation of women
b) feminism splitting into ‘feminims’ so we don’t have to hurt anyone’s precious feelings.

Comment by Laurelin

“With this bullshit ‘tolerance’, both A and B get to carry on doing whatever the fuck they want knowing that they will not be criticised.”

Ah, the unholy bargain, yes.

It never seems to occur to anyone that it’s perfectly possible to respond to someone saying, “Doing X is not feminist,” with a simple “Why, you’re absolutely right.”

Comment by Amy

“It never seems to occur to anyone that it’s perfectly possible to respond to someone saying, “Doing X is not feminist,” with a simple “Why, you’re absolutely right.””

Exactly. I eat marmite, I pluck stray dark hairs on my face. Neither act is feminist.
(full list of non-feminist acts Laurelin performs available at….)

Comment by Laurelin

The plucking is more detrimental to feminism than marmite eating, of course! The former is neutral; the latter is not.

Comment by Laurelin

What’s antifeminist about marmite? Isn’t it yeast or something?

/dumb yank question

Comment by Amy

Yeah, it’s yeast extract, what the Australians call ‘vegemite’. Nothing antifeminist about it- it was meant as my ‘neutral’ example!

Mmm, now I’m hungry…

Comment by Laurelin

I have NO idea what marmite even is!

Is it super yanky-fied?

Comment by pisaquaririse

Laurelin, your “I’m starting to think that the reason Feminist B…they will not be criticised.” is fabulously put.
This self-referential behavior-and I have to say it- is something I feel my generation/GenME! is increasingly responsible for.

I do, though, have a perhaps slightly different version of the following: “Now my response is: I don’t give a shit about your sex life, do whatever the hell you want, but *don’t* expect me to say I approve or use it as an excuse for inaction. It’s not about you, or what I think about you. It is about ending rape.”

Because-if it’s about social justice, as you say (agreed!)-I think you have to give a shit. But that sounds weird, doesn’t it? “I give a shit about your sex life.” I mean, I’d love to not give a shit about what other people do sexually, but ultimately, I feel like I’m given no choice–the way people are sexually is constantly boiling over into the way they treat other people in non-sexual ways (or what’s *supposed* to be non-sexual). And I don’t think it can be otherwise b/c I simply don’t believe in that amount of compartmentalization.
I think radical feminists have been bullied into a corner of responding with “I don’t care what you do” b/c there is, in a patriarchy especially, something creepy about saying one care’s about another’s sex life . But I don’t know how we get around not caring and, at the same time, addressing these issues at the level we’d like to. You know?
Help me out…

Comment by pisaquaririse

Hmmm, perhaps ‘I don’t give a shit’ was too strong. I suppose I do. I also get to the point though, where I want to say, ‘look, play your silly tie-up games all you want, but *don’t* then refuse to make a judgement on pimps and johns’. Does that make sense? I suppose its because of the state of emergency in which prostituted and abused women are in, and I feel that I want to pressure Feminist A to *do* something about that instead of focussing on having her sex life validated by the likes of me. (Does that make sense?) But maybe I am, as you say, ‘compartmentalising’, and perhaps there is a better way to deal with this.

I completely agree with your statement that BDSMers’ behaviour spills over into non-sexual encounters. Some of the most vociferous defenders of BDSM on the ‘net treat their interactions with dissenters like some BDSM game. They bombard them with abuse, and then get pissy when their targets refuse to retaliate or capitulate. It really does become a game in which refusing to participate (by which I mean bow down to bullying) is not allowed, and is interpreted as a fundamental denial of the BDSMer’s human rights. It does not occur to them that we did not consent.

This is certainly something that needs thinking through. I’m going to ponder it…. 🙂

Comment by Laurelin

I just noticed that I put ‘Does that make sense?’ in that paragraph twice. It is one of my most over-used phrases irl, up there with cheap innuendoes and requests of cups of tea. Duh.

Comment by Laurelin

This a great conversation. I would just like to say, though, that many events over the past year have convinced me that there is no one ideology whose proponents have the corner on fucked-up patriarchal power games spilling into all areas of life. I do agree with you, Laurelin, that advocating for the most vulnerable when they are in a state of crisis makes a lot of sense. I also know that we won’t get to the bottom of this until we decide to be done falling into all sorts of traps.

In Joanna Russ’ Introduction to her book Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts she addresses this specifically WRT the porn problem:

If pornography is bad because it tells lies about women, is it any worse–or even any different–from the rest of the culture? Patriarchal ideology and culture are nothing but lies about women. I think we often forget this simply because it’s so absolutely pervasive in everything from clothing to the design of houses to the structure of cities (anti-children and anti-women). And if pornography could be re-designed by main force so that it did tell some anatomical and emotional truths, would that make it acceptable?

If we object only to personal victimization and exploitation, or only to violence and humiliation, we won’t always find them–and what then? Do we withdraw our objections? I hope not!

To lose the connection to fundamental theory and to evaluate discrete bits of personal behavior as feminist or non-feminist (whether they’re male or female), is self-destructive and dreadfully confusing. Feminism isn’t a grab bag of all the good and nice things in the world (as some, albeit a very few, feminists sometimes seem to think) and patriarchy isn’t a collection of personally nasty behavior and all the bad things in the world. Nor is feminism a set of rules for virtuous living. To believe the former leads to helplessness in the face of institutionalized patriarchy and believing the latter leads to otherwise intelligent women boggling about absurdities…

I think the piece of theory that you’re reaching for here is that feminism, at least in the sense I knew it, meant creating a world based on different values — rejecting the violence, the hierarchies, the divide-and-conquer tactics wholesale, wherever we find them, even if only intellectually, because sometimes that’s the best we can do as individuals. Some of us still see it that way, some don’t. And so sometimes we think we’re talking about the same thing when we use the word “feminist”, but we really aren’t, at all.

And pisaquari, sad to say, but no, it isn’t (just) your generation that is sickeningly self-referential and prone to “I won’t criticize you if you don’t criticize me.” I know lots and lots of Boomers who play those games; and I’m sure it started before them and will persist even after all current 20-somethings have crumbled into dust.

But, yanno, I’ve been depressed for six months, so maybe don’t listen to me. 🙂

Comment by Amy

This was much needed, thank you P!

Logically, “but you do X too!” in response to feminist criticism is a justification, not an actual rebuttal. Really, I suspect that MRA expectation which dictates feminists be perfect lest they magically lose ALL credibility has gotten a little too internalized.

And I seriously don’t think being pro-rape and pro-torture is anywhere near on par with gender-conformity…

Comment by m Andrea

I went beyond A & B in the post below on I cant help it feminism. We shall see what a good idea being honest really is when someone out of your usual group challenges your assumptions about what is feminist.

Comment by Greenconsciousness

Yes, by toleration, we simply avoid a true feminist discussion. I don’t know why women label getting married and changing their last name to HIS name is feminist? They say they are feminists, because they have full time jobs, whereas their grandmothers might not have. So a full time job and a career make a woman an automatic feminist, but once they get home they go along with patriarchy. Try getting through to a 30-something straight woman on this point.

Toleration is simply intellectual laziness, and I find a lot of women unwilling to confront or debate. Unless of course it is their job to do this — CNN commentator, women’s studies professor etc. But IRL, women just go along to get along most of the time, and they think everything they do is feminist.

Comment by SheilaG

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