Thursday, February 23, 2006


The latest Carnival of Feminists from Mind the Gap is amazing, and has heaps of stuff that I want to respond to. I thought I'd start with a question about women and patriarchy from Den of the Biting Bever.

I was reading some comments last night and a thoughtful commenter made a post that really struck a chord in me. In it she asked how I feel about those women who work in the sex industry, and, more generally, how I feel about women who seem to propagate everything that the Patriarchy stands for. The women on "Girls gone wild" jumped immediately to mind. As I was reading the comment the confusion of the poster came through. She noted having some frustration at these women, as well as sadness. She asked if I had any ideas why it is that many women who were abused become advocates of children and women while others seem to try to mold themselves to men's desires.

The comment was thoughtful and, for me anyway, thought provoking. The first part that got to me was the feelings of frustration at these women who seem so bent on helping with their own demise. I know exactly what she means. And it brings into sharp focus for me a question that I've often mulled over but still have a hard time trying to answer.

Should we be blaming women too? At what point do women stop being innocent victims and start being held responsible for the role they play? Do they ever? Are they ever responsible for their actions under a repressive society?

These questions were in my head all day yesterday and I've decided to write about it, even if I don’t' have the answers. Maybe it will set someone else's mind to wandering and they can provide an answer.
I have an answer that works for me, I don't know if it'll work for others. I don't think the examples she gives are particularly difficult, since she focuses on sex workers, and women without power. I don't understand why anyone would hold sex workers responsible for the objectification of women. The blame for that lies quite squarely with men.

But then I long ago developed a simple answer to the question of blaming women for the oppression we face, and that comes from looking at feminist history

A lot of the most important feminist ideas and theory now have their origins in the women's liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s an American feminist group released rats at a bridal show (I think it was W.I.T.C.H - Women's International Terorist Conspiracy from Hell, but it could have been another group on the East Coast). They had perfectly good reasons for doing so - at the time rape within marriage was legal, and they . The problem was the women at the bridal show

So they looked at what they did and realised that it wasn't OK to attack women for their survival strategies. This became known as the pro-woman line, and it's a really important part of my feminism.

I do make an important amendment - I have no problem judging women with power and the way they use that power. I used to have a T-shirt saying Jenny Shipley is Not My Sister, and I wore it with pride, by cutting benefits she attacked the livelihoods of huge numbers of women.

Now this isn't a particularly easy position to maintain. A whole lot of women's survival strategies drive me absolutely insane, and others simply have to be challenged. I was at my little sister's 18th birthday party and the girls there were policing each other's dress and sexuality full-on (and I learned a new disturbing term 'asian skirt' - I didn't need to know that existed). I do try and talk about this with my sister, but I don't hold her and her friends responsible for society's policing of women's bodies, that would be ridiculous.

There's a different between judging and arguing though. It's the difference between saying 'you're insane' and 'we live in an insane world, here's why'. But unless women have actual real power over other women's lives (and the 'power' of being a porn star doesn't count) then they are our sisters and


  1. I realise the issues are very complicated but I don't think a woman (at least a heterosexual woman) appearing to mold herself to mens desires is always about oppression or a survival strategy. Sometimes it might be about expressing her own sexuality or a desire to attract a mate or even to feel attractive to men. It isn't necessarily bad or about power. It might also be about love and sex and basic human nature and need.

  2. But one has to wquestion if that would really be your sexuality if it hadn't been beaten into you from birth.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I deleted Rick's post because I don't think there's useful place in this discussion for anti-feminists (and because it was low-level abusive). In the future I'll mark posts where this is the case.

    MTNW - in the post I was talking specifically about objectification. I don't think that's an expression of sexuality.

    But then I think most of those things you list are survival strategies in the way that I meant the term, which is wider than just conscious choices.

    I think there are a whole lot of things (starting with the body and sexuality) which almost all women are going to need survival strategies around, to live in this world. It doesn't mean the way we feel isn't real, but we need to analyse what's goin on

  5. What's this!? I've been censored!?

    Understandable. But I hope you wont take it amiss if I comment elsewhere.

  6. Anonymous4:11 pm

    There is a job available. The work is unpleasent, but it pays well. If a woman decides to do the job, how is she being oppressed?

  7. Anonymous9:32 pm

    I tried to leave this on the blog of the censored guy. Couldn't quite cope with the technology, so he can read it here.
    ( if the moderator chooses to leave it. Which I don't care one way or the other as there are 1,000 more pressing issues out there even at my front gate.)

    "I read the bit of your stuff that wasn't hidden behind the graphic and wasn't moved I have to say. Had a look around the rest of your patch and tripped over that tired tired old non issue about smoking.Why don't you shrill little birds stop pulling yourselves mightlily over easy target non problems? If you want to you can smoke. Even if they ban it, makes it more fun that way. I got my 22 year addiction in the Hutt Valley High School boilerooms, Dark Holandia in a big pipe. Big deal, big issue. Across the globe people are squashed out of a glass of half way ok drinking water by capitalist corporates and you little sad fuckers whine about the right to fuck up your own lungs. Timewasting tosser."

  8. Rich you haven't been censored. You can still say what you like, I just won't publish it. There's a difference.

    If you want to discuss censorship there is a thread for it - I was actually enjoying hte on-topic discussion here:

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Anonymous1:44 am

    There seems to be a focus on power in the post.

    Surely empowerment, the freedom for individuals to express themselves as they see fit is more virtuous?

  11. Graham I said that I didn't want anti-feminists posting in this thread. I'd appreciate it if you respected guidelines about comments. If you don't you won't be welcome in the comments of my blog.

    But I'll write a post on why I hate the word empowerment one day soon.

  12. I've moved all the comments about censorship to the censorship thread - if anyone has anything they'd like to say about the post of this topic that'd be cool.

  13. I've been thinking a lot about this post and I have to say I disagree. Whatever the motive, treating one sex as different to the other is still a form of sexism. I think that women are dehumanised by not being held as accountable as men and somewhat diminished by having their flaws relegated as 'less important' than men's flaws. Let's not forget it is patriachal thinking that holds women up as 'angels'. Self-policing is ultimately a good thing IMHO, though it must be handled with care because a lot of women really resent it.

    And self-policing must start at home- I'm sorry I called you ignorant the other day on my blog. My response to your comment was over-harsh, and yes, probably abusive.

  14. I have struggled with this issue as well. I think what it comes down to, is the patriarchal system creates a lose-lose situation for women facing certain choices. Many women who opt for the sex industry do so because they are between a rock and a hard place. In other words, when faced with two bad choices (poverty versus money made in the sex industry) , are such women truly "empowered"? I don't think so. Clearly, there are far too many examples of exploitation in the sex industry (bangbus, suicide girls, and those are the tamer examples) to suggest that this is a risk-free way for a woman to make a living.

    Some women argue that they love sex, or make equivalent statements, and therefore go on to say they enjoy being a sex worker (for example, a porn star) . This may be true. However, I don't believe that personal gratification at the expense of the betterment of women the world over furthers feminist goals, either. There's a difference between personal gratification and altruism, and sometimes the twain don't meet, much as you'd like to believe that they do. Sometimes we have to make huge personal sacrifices for the larger picture if our ethics truly demands it of us. Otherwise, we are compromised and confused individuals.

    Finally, there are some women who argue that they are working to take the "male gaze" out, and are creating films , etc, of a sexual nature that are meant to be pro-women erotica. For me, the jury's still out on this, but I do appreciate the sentiment that says female sexuality needs to be addressed in a different way than the old virgin/whore complex.

  15. Funny how lil Rick has had no commenters. But, he definitely has that "It was your fault you were raped! You were wearing a coat, jeans and normal looking sweater and still, you sent out the vibes 'Rape Me!'"

    Thanks for deleting his comments as I'm sure it would have gotten nasty soon thereafter. It's tiring having to defend yourself over and over again.

    On to the main point of the post: I don't have a lot to contribute bc it's mostly been said. I am being honest when I say I'm even doubly crushed when a woman feeds me the same patriarchal baloney guys do mostly because it's sad that they've bought it hook line and sinker.

    That said, I don't think we can blame all women in the sex industry for their plight as many may have gotten there purely as an accident or were lied to. There are also some women who grew to like it, which is an odd statement I know, but it's true. For the most part, I don't think sex workers view themselves as perpetuating any cycle but the one in which s/he survives until the next day so I don't feel it's entirely fair or worthwhile to blame them. (The Jenna Jameson's of the world are a different story however.)

    I 2nd that judging women with power statement as Hillary Clinton and Condolezza Rice have immense powers, the former having ultimate power until Congress shut her down for being un-First Lady like.

  16. Anonymous2:51 pm

    umm your post ended abruptly ("...then they are our sisters and-"). is there supposed to be a follow-up?

    and sorry for asking, but what does 'asian skirt' mean?