Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A likely feminist

I don't think Tulisa Contostavlos is a household name in New Zealand.  Certainly the only reason that I'd heard of her is because I spent last winter developing a my knowledge of British comedians, discovered the awesomeness that is Simon Amstell and watched a lot of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.  For those who don't know she was part of a British group called N-Dubz, she judged British X-factor, and she's about to release a solo album.

And it turns out that she's awesome. Recently, a scum-bag ex-boyfriend of hers released a sex-tape.  Horrifically, this is an occupational hazard for women like Tulisa.  And if they have a scumbag ex-boyfriend prepared to release a sex-tape, young female celebrities are trapped in a web of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, judgement.  Women in her position have had their careers threatened, and been forced to offer ridiculous 'apologies' to keep their job.  It is very difficult for the young women caught in this web of judgement to respond to it without reinforcing some of the ideas they're being attacked with.

Tulisa didn't respond with a press statement forced by her management or employers, but with another video - where she is straight up, direct and refuses to be shamed by toxic ideas about women's sexuality:


Just go watch the whole thing.


My appreciation for this awesome video was slightly marred because I learned about it in this article from the guardian website.  Because the author is not content in celebrating Tulisa's response.  She also emphasises how 'unlikely' it is that Tulisa would provide a feminist response.

Tulisa  has talked really explicitly about being in an abusive relationship as a teenager and the effect that had on her well-being.  I'm just looking at interviews linked on wikipedia and she is very explicit about misogyny and the effect that it has had on her life.  And yet the article doesn't even feel the need to explain or justify why she thinks Tulisa is an 'unlikely' feminist.

Because when a commissioning editor at the Observer describes Tulisa as an 'unlikely' feminist - the subtext is pretty close to being text. It would be uncouth to be explicit about the class-differences which underly the author's supposed surprise.  After all this is Britain and you can hear Tulisa's voice - and on the guardian website no more explanation than that is needed.

I think it's really important to make the subterranean explicit.  That's the only way to recognise these off hand lines  as an effort to claim feminism as the exclusive property of middle-class women. This is both an assumption of what feminism is, an expression of what the author wants it to be, and act of maintaining those borders; for the author feminism is a movement that only recognises middle-class women's expression of their experiences, and allows people to be shocked when working-class women express themselves at all.

The best response of course, is to watch Tulisa's video again and say that there's nothing unlikely or surprising about it.

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