Lucy and Todd

Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Five of the Best (plus one more)

In Recent Articles on March 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Mimi was inspired by a lot of great feminist books – as was my heroine Mimi herself. One of the books she may have read was, nepotistically, my mother’s sparklingly witty Thinking About Women. But Mimi was probably more influenced by the biologically-oriented The Story of V, in which Catherine Blackledge explains that the penis is an organ geared towards satisfying the female, not the male. Mimi interprets this to mean that our porn-ridden, globally-warmed disaster area of a society has totally misconstrued human sexuality, by thinking of sex mainly in terms of what men want, which is such a bore. Mimi points out to her new love, Harrison Hanafan, as they drink coffee on the roof of his Manhattan penthouse, that in nature it’s female pleasure that really matters. Even female fruit flies insist on orgasms!

Elizabeth Gould Davis’s The First Sex, Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove’s The Wise Wound, Valerie Solanas’s superb (but also meandering and wacko) S.C.U.M. Manifesto, and the embarrassingly named The Great Cosmic Mother, by Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor, all contributed to Mimi’s understanding of matriarchal prehistory, as did Marija Gimbutas’s absorbing The Language of the Goddess. An archaeologist, Gimbutas examines the female-oriented arts and symbolism that flourished in European ‘goddess’ or mother-worshipping cultures for over a hundred thousand years. Patriarchal tribes upset this tranquility in favour of the type of society which now dominates, fixated on power, property, violence, misogyny, and catastrophic attitudes toward nature. Things went downhill fast after metallurgy was used to make weapons, and horses were tamed. (Poor horses – it wasn’t their fault.)

Without such books to read, Mimi would have had nothing to harangue Harrison about. He’s charmed.

Mimi is now out in paperback (Bloomsbury, £7.99). Join the Odalisque Revolution today!

LE

(A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, March 2, 2014)

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“Feminism and Family” (Edinburgh Book Festival Debate)

In Recent Articles on August 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm

(What follows is a slightly extended version of LE’s speech at the debate on Aug. 20, 2013, at which Alan Bissett also spoke. Chaired by Kate Mosse.)

‘Marriage,’ Stevenson wrote, ‘is an institution recognized by the police.’

The home was originally constructed to protect and perpetuate the species. Birds do it. Bees do it. Caring for offspring is considered by most creatures their most important task, often coming before self-preservation. Think of salmon painfully jumping up waterfalls, or mother bears risking all for their cubs. But in our society domesticity and motherhood have been downgraded to the lowliest of pursuits. We are all supposed to neglect our children now in favor of work, work, work. The kids are offloaded onto childminders, who are ill-trained and ill-paid. Or grandparents, who have to  give up their retirements to provide free childcare. Women get their little maternity leave, men even shorter paternity leave, and then you’re on your own.

In the patriarchal system, founded on war, domesticity is denigrated, while bombs and guns are revered: in other words, anything that can DESTROY a home is okay.

Women earn less but spend more, on clothes for work, and all the cosmetics, beauty treatments, gym membership and plastic surgery they’re supposed to buy into in order to appeal to men. But do men appeal to women? There used to be an understanding that men would pay for stuff, because women had less money. Men used to pay for the drinks at least. Sometimes with a string attached. Now women have to pretend they’re above needing men’s money. But the thing is, they do need it and they deserve it. Being a woman is so expensive. Men should pay for everything. They own the world, they made it the mess it is, they should pay!

How about Nigella Lawson, refusing to take any of Saatchi’s cash? What was all that about? Okay, she has her own money, but why not take his as well? What sort of example does that set? Saatchi owes her big-time, after all those years of alleged temper tantrums. After all those cupcakes, and picnics on planes!

Men are really very little help to women anymore. They don’t support them financially. Their contribution to pregnancy is ludicrous. Okay, fathers sometimes change nappies and handle the barbecue. Big deal. Women are forced to become single parents, because men are so lazy or unfeeling or violent or insolvent. Men seem to have NO responsibilities, while women have them all. And then single mothers get demonized by the government, and men form hooligan gangs called Fathers4Justice. There’s no ‘justice’ in any of it.

We have all been persuaded that work will save us, that women must infiltrate the workforce. But doing two jobs, at home and at work, hasn’t helped women’s status one bit, it’s just made them more exhausted and more compliant. Why should women have to work so hard anyway? In prehistory, so-called because it predates the history of patriarchy, people worked a three to four-hour day, leaving plenty of leisure time. Prehistoric women had time to invent agriculture, astronomy, medicine, spirituality and the arts. Now we just slog for men in dead-end jobs and head home to do the washing-up.

Working-class women have always worked, that’s nothing new, and where did it get them? It’s slavery. Women don’t get to do anything the way they want, and have to look pleasant about it at the same time! Where are the advantages, where are the thrills, what’s in it for the woman as she hoovers and yells at the kids and sorts out the bills, while the man’s upstairs watching his requisite five hours of porn or football or curling and skittles?

We’ve tried doing everything the male way, and it’s brought life on earth to its knees. So I don’t think feminism’s dead. But I think it’s in its infancy. Young women act like the word ‘feminism’ is naughty, like ‘socialism’ or ‘asylum seeker’. Feminism Lite makes it all seem friendly and apolitical. But sexism really can’t be separated from every other kind of hideous injustice: racism, anti-semitism and homophobia, capitalism, sadism, the despoiling of the earth, the mistreatment of animals, genocide. They are all of a piece, the stuff of brutes. And we have to do something about it – urgently. We can’t just sit around on our plump little incomes, or not so plump, and let men wreck everything.

I’ve seen enough misogyny for a lifetime. I baulk when I hear about unequal pay and unfair housework rotas and twitter rudeness. I can’t take any more wife beating and family annihilations – when men kill their whole families, in the ultimate form of punishment within the domestic sphere.

I’m sick of porn, sick of page 3, and nit-picking about the different ‘types’ of rape. I’m sick of the obsession with looks and the self-mutilation that comes with it. I’m sick of watching women ruin their ankles in high heels on cobbled streets to please men who ignore, discard and undervalue them. I’m sick of children not being able to play outdoors. I’m sick of the way women are treated in the arts too, and in the literary world, where male writers are still considered the Real Thing.

I’ve simply had it with men’s disrespect for women. It’s obscene, it’s shameful, and it’s ruinous for human civilisation and the natural world. I’m no longer trying to understand it, I’ve had it! Judges saying little girls asked for it when exploited by 40-year-old men. Men throwing acid in women’s faces. The threats made against Criado-Perez, for getting Jane Austen’s head on a banknote. Or the way Marion Bartoli was treated, for daring to win Wimbledon.

While writing Mimi, I compiled scrapbooks. Cuttings from newspapers, just from one year, 2011, on rapes and murders of women. Another on family annihilation. Another on war. Torture. Gun rampages. One on all the non-violent forms of sexism. I needed two books to cover all the murders!

Let me describe a little utopia:

Living by a lake is a thriving and contented community. They base their family life on women and women’s sexual pleasure. All money and property are handed down the female line, and women never marry. At puberty, girls are given their own bedrooms and there they conduct their love lives. Sex is only consensual, and male partners arrive at night and leave by the morning. Men make no claims on women, and any offspring are brought up by the mother’s extended family.

The women are not ashamed of their sexuality, no big issue is made of virginity, and no one denigrates women for having several partners, or for having children by different men. The women in this community enjoy a rare freedom of action, being in complete control of their sexual and procreative lives. And … everybody’s happy.

The thing is, this isn’t made up. This utopia exists. It is the way things are run in the Mosuo culture, which was featured in the Guardian today (Aug. 20, 2013). 40 or 50,000 people still live this way. As an anthropologist points out on Wikipedia, the Mosuo traditions challenge a lot of handy assumptions we have in the West about family life:

1, that marriage is a universal institution
2, that marital harmony profoundly affects the stability of children
and 3, that parents who have multiple partners jeopardize their kids’ development.

Not so. Unmarried parents living in a misogynistic culture may well jeopardize their kids’ sense of stability and security, whatever they do – but Mosuo parents do not.

One of the last matrilineal societies in the world, the Mosuo system fits right in with the simple solution I offer in Mimi.

As I said before, it’s time men did something to help us. Women have done enough. We’re tired. We want to put our feet up. We don’t want to take out the trash, only to be treated like trash ourselves, like witches and bitches. Why can’t men do something? I’m sure there are a lot of men out there who are equally sick of women getting raped and murdered, men who don’t like sex slavery and don’t approve of the capitalist usurpation of every last resource. Men who would rather not have to worry about their lovers and sisters and mothers and daughters coming to harm through misogynistic acts. A lot of men want a happy home!

(We can deal with the less amenable ones later. And Fathers4Justice.)

Here’s what I think we should do. Men have run the world with money. So give women the money. If each man gave his money to one or more women, wealth would eventually lie in female hands. I think this is the only way for women to get both the respect and the down-time they deserve. I call it the Odalisque Revolution, because it will allow women to relax, to become centers, beacons even, of pleasure-seeking. And once women own all the land, all the houses, all the schools and hospitals and offices, it will become unthinkable to violate them.

Wouldn’t it be a great joke on the male death wish if we could accomplish this peaceful revolution behind the scenes, merely by moving money around?

Well, I said I believe there are men who’d like to do something to change the sexist culture we’re all stuck in. Yet not one has written to me since the book came out in February, asking for his Mea Culpa Declaration to be stamped, which would allow him to join the Odalisque Revolution. This surprises me somewhat. Where are the men who truly want to help women, and humanity? Where are the heroic men who will save us? All they have to do is sign this:

THE MEA CULPA DECLARATION

I, the undersigned, confess to having, consciously or not, overtly or not, been part of a worldwide terrorist conspiracy that has constrained women’s lives through centuries of violence, repression, distress, and discouragement.

I recognize that this treatment of women has been a ploy in a power game, the result of male cowardice, stupidity, perversity, and corruption; and that the status of men has been artificially exalted by it.

I acknowledge that vast numbers of women have been unfairly treated throughout the period of male rule. I therefore apologize for any tyrannical behavior of my own, and that of other men, and pledge to do my utmost to prevent such injuries, insults, and injustices from occurring ever again.

I apologize for stubborn male resistance over the centuries to women’s ideas, thoughts, decisions, and remarks—in the home, at work, in business, in the arts, in education, and in government. In light of this loss of female input over centuries, I now agree to abide by the decisions women make, without resorting to mindless criticisms, meaningless reflex contradictions, and senseless derision, no matter how wacko or whimsical the ideas expressed by women may seem to me to be.

I renounce male power and privilege, on the grounds that they were unsportingly won. I wish to relinquish all remaining economic, social, and political advantages I may have obtained either as a mere consequence of being male, or because of my active participation (now regretted) in misogynist acts of terror.

In aid of this, I have transferred and/or will transfer, and will continue to transfer, my financial resources to a woman or women, with no strings attached.

By such means, I hope to foster a more humane environment, in which women are less likely to be mistreated and maligned.

It is my hope that the hand-over of power and property to women will ultimately lead to a transformation of society, benefiting people, animals, and the natural world, as well as insuring a future for human culture, and the preservation and continuation of artistic endeavors.

I believe in the pleasure principle, and therefore renounce the male work ethic, an indecency imposed by men who wished to profit from subjugation. I hereby attest the inalienable right of all creatures to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Name:

Date:

***

Enough tweaking of the sexist hierarchy here and there, enough promises of equality. Equality just won’t do it anymore. It doesn’t work. What we need is female supremacy. The only answer to male domination is ZERO TOLERANCE.

(copyright: LE)

VAGINA — Naomi Wolf

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on December 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm

As anyone who’s seen that dispiriting film, Hope Springs, will have gathered, the world is full of sexually frustrated women. According to Naomi Wolf, there’s an ‘epidemic’ of female sexual unhappiness in the West. The Victorians were bad enough, dishonouring both male and female sexuality by persuading people that women don’t want or need sex. But things are worse now – porn and its addicts have reduced female pleasure to a caricature of irrelevance, and made female ejaculation the new G-spot! You may have mastered both the vaginal and clitoral orgasm, girls, but if you can’t ejaculate a bit as well, you’re nobody.

A woman’s work is never done.

In her earlier book, The Beauty Myth, Wolf argued that the invention of photography had an adverse effect on women’s self-confidence: just when they were starting to campaign for a little equality, women were bombarded with so many images of themselves they were never the same again. Instead of rising up and demanding their rights, they became slaves to beautifying and corseted themselves into fainting fits and uterine prolapses. Out of this came the beauty ‘myth’, as she rather peculiarly put it, a ‘collective reactionary hallucination resulting in the diet industry, cosmetics industry, cosmetic surgery industry and porn industry’.

Now it’s the vagina that’s under attack, in the latest backlash against feminism: Vagina focuses on the debilitating effect sexual repression has had on female creativity, well-being and power. Despite the availability of vibrators and Chippendales, women aren’t getting what they need. Wolf identifies our culture’s determined disservice to female sexuality, and – rightly, I think – links it to disdain for the environment, and for life itself: ‘five thousand years of shaming [female sexuality], stigmatizing it, controlling it, subduing it, splitting it off from women, from men, compartmental-izing it, insulting it and selling it. Great dislocations and alienations in civilization… have followed…and the results are everywhere around us.’

The fanny, vagina, front bottom, or mapotazi (map of Tasmania) is not often spoken of. It’s such a well-kept secret, most girls don’t even know what they’ve got and think there’s something wrong with them when they take a look. Women can’t think, don’t think, feel forbidden to think about the vagina – this is taking modesty to a severely inhibiting level. Far from being a source of pride and pleasure, the vagina is an embarrassment, an inadequacy and a mystery, a forbidding no-man’s land. Possession of one is widely considered something of a disaster. Proof of this ranges from female infanticide to the recent raping of 400,000 women in Congo, as well as the everyday ridiculing of the vagina that we are all expected to pass off as banter. When working in Hollywood, Roseanne Barr dreaded joining male colleagues at the writers’ house ‘because there would be a “stinky-pussy” joke within three minutes.’ The BBC seems to extend the same warm embrace of institutionalized sexism to its female employees. These are signs of an unfortunate lack of respect – when what vaginas really respond to is veneration.

We would all be a lot happier if we would only learn to love the vagina. To help us in this task, Wolf offers hyperbole, and a lot of cherry-picked statistics and scientific studies. Rats did their bit here – she’s overly enchanted with animal experiments, most of which seem to involve ruining the orgasms of female rats. But there’s also a human pheromone study she cites, in which men had to gather sweat from their armpits during various stages of sexual excitement. Then ‘nineteen women smelled the men’s “aroused” and “unaroused” sweat pads while they themselves underwent brain scans.’ Some party! Wolf enthusiastically offers herself as guinea pig too, basing a good half or so of the book on her own life or, as she cloyingly puts it, her ‘journey’.

The whole enterprise started as the result of having a back problem that was impairing the intensity of her orgasms. In despair, Wolf goofily vowed to write a book about it all if she was ever cured – which she was, so here it is. Her major finding? That all women are ‘wired’ differently, and therefore respond differently to sexual stimuli. (Is this news?) Wolf also ‘discovered’ that the vagina is connected to the brain. From this she deduces that all attacks on the vagina are also attacks on the female psyche. ‘If your goal is to break a woman psychologically, it is efficient to do violence to her vagina…Rape, properly understood, is more like an injury to the brain than a violent variation on sex.’
Rape has certainly been used by oppressors, colonists, controlling husbands, TV presenters and millions of bog-standard misogynists as a means of deflating and dis-empowering women. Wolf argues that the trauma of rape has lasting physical repercussions: curious problems can show up years later, including dizziness, high blood pressure, and gait and balance irregularities (you can literally push a rape victim over more easily than a woman who’s never been raped). Rape ‘switches off the light’ in women, often permanently – it subdues, silences and restrains them, making it a handy tool in war.

When, instead, we could be gazing, admiring, melting, opening, going into trances and feeling ‘oceanic’! Women are ‘designed to receive pleasure, and experience triggers to orgasm, from skillful caressing and rhythmic pressure…over many, many parts of their bodies. The pornographic model of intercourse…goal oriented…and focused on stimulation of maybe one or two areas of a woman’s body…is just not going to do it for many women, or at least not in a very profound way.’ Maybe there should be a sequel to Hope Springs (Victoria Falls?), in which Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones go see a Tantric specialist, and Jones learns to bring flowers home from work, look deeply into Streep’s eyes, stroke her during arguments, and spend at least fifteen minutes on foreplay.

According to Wolf, most of the names we’ve got for the vagina produce ‘bad stress’ in the female mind, shutting down optimism and imagination. She notes the negativity of Shakespeare’s ‘nothing’, the dismissiveness of gash, slit, snatch and twat, the offensiveness of fish (tuna bap, bearded oyster, hairy fish pie), animal (beaver, pussy, panty hamster), and junk food references (vertical taco, sausage wallet, badly packed kebab). But I don’t think cunt is such a bad word. As Wolf admits, it has fine origins in ‘ken’, ‘kin’, and ‘cunnilingus’. It’s become an insult simply because most words for the vagina do, in the West. No ‘jade curtains’ here, no ‘golden lotus’ – all we’ve got are Velcro triangles and squish mittens.

There’s stuff of real value in this book, but it’s wedged between idiocies. Wolf resents it when a friend organises a party in her honour, at which he deliberately mocks her new vagina project by serving vulva-shaped pasta he calls ‘cuntini’, with sausages: Wolf felt her own creativity blighted for six months as a result of his tactlessness. But the drama of this noodle episode wilts under its own insignificance. At another point, she’s down in the dumps, in the cabin of a sailboat, silently crying about flippant remarks about rape made on deck. ‘I excused myself to go down into the hold. I lay down on one of the bunks…I took deep breaths…I felt the grief of it.’ Why didn’t she just say something, throw the men overboard, issue a Mayday call?

In a way, women are lying on bunks all over the world, silently crying about sexual harassment. As Frank O’Hara told Lana Turner: get up.

She has no sense of humour. Things that other people might find only slightly irritating or even amusing, are for Wolf tiny emblems of something much bigger and ghastlier, which gives them their weird glimmer of importance. Yes, the cuntini, the rape jokes, Dick Cavett’s rudeness, Har-old Bloom’s candle-lit pawing of her thigh, etc., ARE connected to misogyny in some way. But there are so many worse examples in the world, these forays into Wolf’s past seem absurd. The woman’s just not using her noodle.

Autobiography marred The Beauty Myth, and Misconceptions is heavy with details of Wolf’s two deliveries (one bad, one better). She uses First Person testimony as a way of emphasizing things, tying threads, or moving the argument along. Annoyingly, her only hold on common feeling is through her own experiences, often smugly played out in ‘a little cottage upstate’. It’s padding. There’s far too much about her ailment and op in Vagina, and her ‘journey’. To write, ‘I learned on my journey…’, is both putrid and self-aggrandising – who does she think she is, Moses? Lady Godiva? Maybe if she spent a little less time on the ‘journey’ and a little more time writing it up…

The personal is not always political – sometimes it’s just dull. Do we really need to know Wolf’s romantic status, to understand how orgasms work? It’s like getting trapped in a corner at a cocktail party with the Ancient Mariner. Extract the solipsism, the statistics, the confusions and conflations, the repetitions, the epiphanic boy-oh-boy wonderment, the WOWs, the WHATs and the incredibles – along with all talk of the amygdala or the vagina’s soul and its ‘gorgeous’, transcendental, Goddess Array (a favourite term of Wolf’s) – and Vagina could have been half the length and twice as good. But maybe there’s been enough shaving of vaginas already.

The book is also much less radical than it could be: Wolf has mellowed worryingly since writing The Beauty Myth, and she doesn’t write terrifically well. For someone concerned about the way we’ve all been bullied by Beauty, Wolf’s oddly compliant with that convention of American nonfiction of describing the appearance of everyone you consult: ‘a statuesque woman in her early forties’, ‘a youthful-looking scientist with an energetic demeanor’, ‘a surreally juicy-looking, witty blond woman…her hair curled in wild tendrils…her toes…painted shell pink.’ She even describes Montreal for us, ‘the relaxed and intellectually curious city’. Where’s all the vehemence that formerly carried her prose along, even if never elegantly? And how about those multiple adverbs, often two at a time. Once I found five:

‘The [available] models of female sexuality are simply extremely physically, emotionally, and existentially unsatisfying.’

But it’s when she dwells on oxytocin that I really lose interest. Romantic love, Wolf tells us, has ‘three different chemical components: lust, composed of androgens and estrogens; attraction, driven by high dopamine and norepinephrine levels and low serotonin (this accounts for mood swings in early courtship); and finally, attachment, made up of oxytocin and vasopressin.’ Okay, so every emotion can be reduced to chemicals – but must it be?

LE

Scottish Review of Books, Vol. 8, Issue 4, 2012