Feminism, Left — a Movement not a bachelor party
My thoughts precisely — Radio host and producer, feminisms dot org editor Meghan Murphy: “Building a progressive feminist movement in neo-liberal times”
Edited by Carolyn Bennett
“An ‘everyone for self’ ethic has never been our vision of freedom and yet when it comes to women we have been manipulated into believing this means liberation,” Meghan Murphy writes.
Some of our hardest-fought rights and freedoms are under threat, unions are under attack, American privatization is leaning heavily on our doorstep, safe housing is treated as a privilege, not a right. We are told that concepts like universal daycare and decent social assistance programs are inconceivable. In the face of this regression, mainstream feminism seems to be hacking away at its own knees.
It is as though we are so afraid of losing everything that we fight for nothing.
“Desperation, coupled with the growing influence of neo-liberal discourse, has led us to look for empowerment where there is none — twisting deeply sexist imagery and industries into a frighteningly ironic version of female liberation.
“In the age of ‘Slutwalks,’ the neo-burlesque ‘movement,’ the mainstreaming of pornography, and of a ‘sex-positive’ feminism that acts as an assault on decades of feminist discourse — how must we work to revitalize a feminist movement that does not kowtow to American neo-liberalism? An ideology that wants all of us to believe that freedom lies in positive thinking and that we can rise above institutionalized oppression by pretending it is not there.”
Describing the problem of individualism, Murphy quotes feminism author and researcher Denise Thompson.
‘If relations of domination and subordination are interpreted as nothing but properties of individuals, they cannot be seen as relations of ruling at all. They become simply a matter of preferences and choices engaged in by discrete individuals who have no responsibilities beyond their own immediate pleasures and satisfactions.’ (Radical Feminism Today, 2001)
“This critique of individualism,” Murphy continues, “demands that feminism be a progressive movement and makes problematic arguments, for example, for individual autonomy in sex work.”
We who should consider ourselves progressive have bought into “an ideology that erases systems of domination and subordination and tells us that our empowerment depends only on how we have framed our supposed oppression.
“It tells us that wealth is at our fingertips if only we would just work at it a little harder (and that freedom is based on our ability to make money in whatever way possible), focus our energy within, and forget about the plight of our neighbors.
“It tells us to work with what we have because, hey, we’ve been struggling long enough and still we suffer so why not just make the best of it?
“Feminism has not escaped this mindset — far from it. It appears that much of mainstream feminism has embraced this ideology with open arms.…
“Visible examples of the way in which parts of the feminist movement have adopted individualism as part of their discourse and action include the phenomenon of Slutwalks and efforts to decriminalize prostitution.
“…While there are women who are privileged enough to consider their choice to do sex work an empowered choice, the nature of the industry is one that exploits the most marginalized. The gap growing between rich and poor ensures that women will continue to be forced to ‘choose’ prostitution, as a means of survival.
“Keeping women safe from violence and abuse means providing women with real options: with safe and affordable housing, with social safety nets. It does not mean framing exploitation as a viable career path.… If The Left truly desires an equitable society, we must be working to end prostitution. Work toward freedom within the context of humanity rather than simply toward a lack of restrictions.”
“While many view Slutwalks as feminist, this ‘movement’ is disappointing from a progressive perspective. Missing an opportunity to present a radical challenge to the roots of oppression, they remain deeply focused on clothing and the ‘freedom’ to identify as ‘sluts,’ making this ‘movement’ one that places individual freedom above social change.
“In a culture that has successfully mainstreamed pornography, sexualized rape and dominance, presented women’s bodies consistently as things cut up into pieces for consumption — it is troubling that these issues have been visibly left off the table in a march against rape culture. Not only that; but the marches continue to play to a male gaze, featuring women on stripper poles and plenty of camera ops for the men watching from the sidelines.
“If our genuine goal, as The Left, is equality for all — feminism can only be, at its core, a progressive movement.
Neo-liberal ideology that values individual ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ over emancipation will not liberate the poor and the marginalized.
Selling sex has never provided women with independence, safety, and long-lasting empowerment, but rather has further reinforced male power and privilege.
“If we do not care about one another, if we do not look toward building a world where women’s options for survival do not involve selling their bodies to men with power, then this cannot be called a progressive movement. It cannot be called a movement at all.
We must stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated into believing that individualism means liberation. This idea needs to be absorbed not only by the feminist movement but also by The Left as a whole. Murphy concludes, “This is a movement, progressives, not a bachelor party.”
Sources and notes
“A progressive dialogue: Building a progressive feminist movement in neo-liberal times” (Meghan Murphy), October 28, 2011, http://rabble.ca/news/2011/10/progressive-dialogue-building-progressive-...
Vancouver, Canada-native Meghan Murphy is host and producer of “The F Word” radio show (where she “marries feminism and sarcasm without alienating absolutely everyone”) and editor of www.feminisms.org. Murphy is a master’s student in Simon Fraser University’s Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. She is also completing a graduate degree at the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism. Her radio and blog work can be found at www.feminisms.org and at rabble.ca, http://rabble.ca/taxonomy/term/15553
Dr Denise Thompson [BA, Ph.D.] is on the Arts and Social Sciences Faculty, Social Policy Research Center (and has worked at SPRC and been research associate since 1996), The University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia
Dr. Thompson has been an independent scholar for many years reading, writing and publishing feminist theory. She has written many journal articles and has published three books, among them her doctoral thesis at UNSW Against the Dismantling of Feminism: A Study in the Politics of Meaning later published by Sage under the titleRadical Feminism Today (2001). http://www.sprc.unsw.edu.au/staff/denise-thompson-504.html
9780868408231: The F Word: How We Learned to Swear by Feminism
Women propose feminist cinema http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=84649
Reclaiming feminism, http://blogs.abc.net.au/nsw/2011/08/reclaiming-feminism-.html
Bennett's books are available in New York State independent bookstores: Lift Bridge Bookshop: www.liftbridgebooks.com [Brockport, NY]; Sundance Books: http://www.sundancebooks.com/main.html [Geneseo, NY]; Mood Makers Books: www.moodmakersbooks.com [City of Rochester, NY]; Dog Ears Bookstore and Literary Arts Center: www.enlightenthedog.org/ [Buffalo, NY]; Burlingham Books – ‘Your Local Chapter’: http://burlinghambooks.com/ [Perry, NY 14530]; The Bookworm: http://www.eabookworm.com/ [East Aurora, NY] • See also: World Pulse: Global Issues through the eyes of Women: http://www.worldpulse.com/ http://www.worldpulse.com/pulsewire
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