Feminism. It’s a tricky one. The problem with feminism is that in the struggle to define itself and free women from the bondage of institutionalised inequality, it has become an institution in itself. Unfortunately by forming a group and further isolating themselves the militant feminists of the early 20th century have become stereotyped and images of suffragettes, women camped at Greenham common and women burning their bra’s have become encapsulated in history.
Thankfully feminist theory has moved on through second and now to third wave feminism. The current wave of thinking defines feminism more as valuing difference within difference. In other words, the right for women to be free to do as they please without hindrance from oppression in any of its guises. Ironically, this now suggests that the woman who chooses, without implicit oppression, to take time off work outside the home and decides to have children, learn to cook and clean and enjoy it is as much a feminist as a woman who shuns any kind of stereotypical ‘feminine’ activity.
So theory has moved on and thousands of academics all over the world are writing about how we are now emancipated and how we are free. However, writers are in the business of observation and recording what is really going on, here, in the world. Additionally, writers (as well as everyone else) are affected by institutionalised feminism telling us we must fight to be equal (to what? Surely not men, as this implies that they are better by default?) and academic feminism telling us we are already equal as well as the misogynistic oppression machine rolling along unabated. Those are a lot of different implicit concepts competing for a place in our literary identity.
The publishing industry is genre driven and seems to thrive on marking difference. For example, the genre’s women’s fiction and chick lit are writing by women, for women. If academics and institutionalised feminist are to be believed, our sisters are doing it for themselves and are strong women writing strong women who are fair and value loyalty and independence. If we, as writers for women, claim to be feminists, should we not be writing about women who do exactly as they please because they can, in every area of their lives? Where’s the drama in that? Where’s the conflict in respecting difference within difference?
We are urged to write sympathetic main characters and upbeat love stories. To write grumpy, middle aged women who are struggling with deep concepts and ‘issues’ somehow goes against the glamorised ideals of fertile, young women falling in romantic love. Additionally the media industry is market driven and a group of people who are interested in making money are driving, as decision making gatekeepers, the more lucrative genre’s which mirror the media’s invalidation of older women. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we admit it and we choose to do it and are not oppressed into writing this way. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that the feminist viewpoint must be implicit in it’s intention. In a more modern example of this, there is no point a woman breaking through the glass ceiling and gaining financial and status independence if she goes directly to Schue and crams her feet into six inch stiletto heels in the name of male directed fashion fads (don’t get me started on cultural mutilation of the feet through binding). All round implicit intention is required for authentic feminism.
So, from academic theory to institutionalised praxis, feminism is on it’s knees, the very meaning of the word twisted cruelly from its semantic origin. In the microcosm that is publishing, I wonder how often the well intentioned author’s buck stops at what the market demands? Again this brings the question round to validation, the stiletto heeled neediness that begs publication at any cost.
Is the need for validation a certain kind of complex oppression? That’s another blog for another day….