Tag Archives: feminism

Feminism’s Flaws: We don’t want you to be a 50′s housewife

“Why is feminism still so afraid to focus on its flaws?”, I read on The Guardian’s website this week and my immediate reaction was: It is? Feminism isn’t flawless, just like any movement and ideological system isn’t, but it surprises me that it would get called out for being uncritical regarding these flaws. Moreover, the word “still” in the headline suggests that this has been an ongoing issue for quite a long time. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Among the social movements that I can think of right now, I believe feminism has been among the most self-reflexive, self-critical of them all, to the extent where it has almost eliminated itself. (Remember the postmodern debate regarding the validity of women as a category in the 80′s and 90’s?) Feminists have always tried to integrate new concepts within academia, such as postcolonialism, queer studies, men’s studies, intersectionality. It has been a struggle, and it has been divisive to a movement that had been split into separate camps from the beginning. That’s why it is hard to speak about one kind of feminism in the first place. Radical, liberal, socialist feminism and others; these strands still exist today, and they differ from generation to generation. This heterogeneity hurts feminism, as much as it would hurt any movement, any political idea, but it has also benefited from it, the most obvious advantage being that feminism is still alive and active today, because it has managed to remain or become relevant in all sorts of societies. Don’t believe me? Feminism has become superfluous in our societies of affluence and equality of opportunity? Just a glance further South at the aftermath of the Arab spring suggests that feminism is more relevant than ever. Reducing feminist influence to improving the comfortable lives of well-to-do European and American women doesn’t cut it anymore. Feminism has not been bypassed by globalization; in fact it has embraced transnational connections from the beginning. It now matters to all of us whether or not a woman is allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia or love a woman in Uganda. If you are unaware of feminism’s involvement in global affairs, it’s not the flaw of the movement but your own information shortcomings.

But I’m getting carried away. Deborah Orr, the author of the above mentioned article doesn’t criticize any of the things I have mentioned, even though I would have guessed these were the more legitimate concerns: feminism’s global relevance, its often contradictory and hard-to-reconcile stance between academia and political activism…

But Deborah Orr is on to something else. First of all she mentions feminism’s branding problem. There’s probably a lot of truth to that but then again, I believe this is a problem of the Left in general, not just feminism. The movement is divided, just like the Left is, so branding has to be a problem, if you cannot even adequately label yourself without offending someone. But what Orr really wants to point out is this:

“The fundamental and rather serious problem is the blunt and somewhat stubborn emphasis on “equality”, difficult enough in a society deeply divided by economic inequality generally, even without the added complication that it’s the people with care of children, whatever their sex, whose economic freedom is most compromised the world over.” [All quotes are taken from this article.]

Orr goes on to say that feminism has long seized to focus mainly on the rights of middle-class white Western women, and she certainly speaks the truth. Slutwalks and quotas are important issues right next to reproductive rights, migrant women’s rights, and female labor in the developing world, and all of them are heatedly debated within feminist circles as well. So while (in)equality, social or otherwise, certainly is an issue in our society, feminism cannot be blamed for inadequately addressing it. On the contrary, the Sex-and-the-City version of postmodern feminism has been surpassed; class and race issues are more relevant to feminism than ever. But once again, this is not what the author actually tries to criticize. She is only obsessing over one thing in particular:

“But equal opportunity in the workplace has not resulted in equal achievement, and not all of this is the fault of continuing chauvinism. Women bear the children and, far more often than not, they wish to be the primary carer for those children. At its most strident, feminism can be mistaken for an ideology designed to make women feel they are wrong to want that. Worse, feminism has accidentally promoted the idea that it’s pretty easy to work and have children, with the right support in place.”

Um, no. As one commentator has rightly pointed out, that is a capitalist idea. Feminism may promote that the right support will make it easier, not easy. But working, as the author correctly points out, has never been a choice but a means to survive for most women, and continues to be just that. And here is where it would actually make sense to interrupt with a good ol’ “But what about the menz?” Having both a family and a demanding job is never going to be easy for a woman, but I don’t see why it should be any different for a man? I’m sure we can all agree that sharing the responsibilities helps, and since most families develop out of heterosexual relationships, these or other partnerships are needed in order to sustain a happy family life. Women cannot do it all alone, so if they want that, then yes, I believe they’re wrong in thinking it will work out. A family doesn’t just consist of children and a mother. There can be fathers, life partners, grandparents, friends, a commune. Sadly, in our individualist society people often don’t even consider the necessity and power of communities and solidarity, and neither does Orr. She continues:

“On even an average income, it’s never easy, [...]. Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate. For many women, that’s a self-evident truth.”

So it is a self-evident truth for women that their children become more important in their lives than work, but it isn’t for men? I wonder how Orr would substantiate that statement without getting into some fuzzy gender essentialism. Rejecting this kind of stereotyping is not a flaw of feminism, it is what modern feminism is all about. So, Ms. Orr, if you believe that women should always be the primary care-takers of children and should postpone or give up their careers in order to take care of the home and family, while for men in the same situation nothing ever changes, then yes, you’re right not to call yourself a feminist, but don’t worry, we’re not gonna make you.

"Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate."

The DSK Affair – An Angry Rant

I haven’t actually had time to write a full-blown article, but I can’t help but point to the disgusting media frenzy surrounding the rape accusations regarding the IMF boss and candidate for the French Socialist party Dominique Strauss-Kahn. What actually happened? No one knows, but everyone thinks it necessary to take sides and become the judge of the hour. The way this case is being talked about resembles a lot the Assange affair in Sweden and Great Britain and the Kachelmann trial in Germany. That is not a coincidence, it seems to me…
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Why is it easier for us to believe in elaborate conspiracies than in the likelihood of a women being sexually assaulted by a man, a rich man, an powerful man, by any man? What does that say about our culture? Does it mean we don’t believe in rape anymore (because it rarely happens, right…)? Surely not. It means that we have become grown so accustomed to seeing cases like this in the news; something fishy must be in the air…
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I tell you what it is: it is living, breathing proof of rape culture. And it has become so prevalent; it has made everyone hysterical. Everyone?
The alleged victims? Hardly. It takes a lot to make these accusations and for every woman who lies about it, there are hundreds who are not being taken seriously and thousands who never even dare to go to the police.
The feminists who are fighting it? Some of them, sure. That’s because rape has become such a loaded issue in the media, it often triggers misogyny and traumatizes victims, doing more damage than good. Another feature of rape culture.
But most of all these rape apologists who see just another unfortunate man captured by the misandrist system established by greedy lobbying feminists. That’s right. It’s feminism’s fault. Because we love rape culture so much, we secretly rejoice every time a woman is sexually assaulted, because at least it means we’re right…
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Guess what? The only reason why we keep on talking, arguing and screaming about rape culture, is because we want people to know it exists. It’s not a figment of our perverse imagination, it’s not a means for us to dwell upon our victimization. It’s real and it’s happening and when things like this scandal surface, it’s all out in the open only because it happened to someone famous.
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Dear public, rape is not a creation by powerful leaders in order to eliminate their enemies. Rape is real and it happens all the time.
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UPDATE: On Wednesday, Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as chief of the IMF.
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More links:
What the French press had to say. I can’t be bothered translating, but I assure you it’s disgusting. (via Feministe)
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Who’s Afraid Of Steven Pinker? – A Brief Analysis Of A Debate

A lot of people who have issues with some of the basic understandings of feminism are strong advocates of evolutionary psychology, because it aims to explain behavior patterns among men and women that they believe to be typical and innate. For those implicit or explicit anti-feminists, Stephen Pinker is somewhat of a hero who is referenced so often, he even made it onto the Evolutionary Psychology Bingo card, which feminists enjoy very much. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Pinker is for fans of evo psych what Judith Butler is for the LGBTQ community. Naturally, I’m intrigued, so I googled around for a bit and came across an interesting debate from 2005 between Pinker and his fellow psychologist Elizabeth Spelke regarding the “science of gender and science”. You can watch the video and read the transcript here.
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Full disclosure: I am no fan of evolutionary psychology, especially not the kind that focusses on sex differences. Which is not to say that I am anti-science or a denier of Darwinian evolution. However, it is not uncommon that different studies on the same subject produce different results, and that these results are often related to the convictions of the persons conducting the study and/or to the current ideology. Scientific evidence is not free from interpretation; therefore it does not hold the key to ultimate truths. It it wasn’t so, there wouldn’t be any scientific debates to begin with. Science can be skewed, too, so a little scepticism is always in order.
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The debate from 2005 that I am commenting on is not so much about whether or not there is scientific evidence for differences between men and women, but why there are so few women who are making careers in the sciences.
So what does Pinker actually say in this debate? First of all, he distinguishes between the extreme “nature” and the extreme “nurture” positions. He positions himself somewhere in between and his colleague Elizabeth Spelke as part of the extreme “nurture” team (which, as it turns out, is the first incorrect statement he makes during the debate). He then goes on to claim to be a feminist, briefly accrediting 1st and 2nd wave feminism and the “effort to increase the representation of women in the sciences”. So far, so acceptable.
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His next step is to prove his point, namely that there are innate differences between men and women that influence the abilities and behavior of the sexes in such a way, that men are naturally more likely to succeed in the sciences than women. However, some of the differences he points out, such as priorities in life, career choices and the likelihood to take risks, can easily be explained by nurture. In fact, Pinker doesn’t even find it necessary to give biological evidence for these claims, only statistics that say nothing about the nature-nurture debate.
The other factors – differences in three-dimensional mental transformation, mathematical reasoning, relation towards objects vs. people – may well be justified, at least according to the scientific evidence that Pinker provides. However, as Elizabeth Spelke will show during her speech, all of this “evidence” can just as well be reinterpreted and debunked. Cordelia Fine has done so as well more recently. I am also confused by Pinker’s refusal to acknowledge any sort of bias from parents and teachers. If he doesn’t even recognize the basic assumptions of the nurture position, why bother with this debate?
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nature or nurture? photos by jeong mee yoon

Needless to say, I find his part of the debate very unconvincing and was quite relieved but also a bit disappointed by Spelke’s comeback. She concentrates on the actual issue, the under-representation of women in science, saying: “Notice that I am not saying the genders are indistinguishable, that men and women are alike in every way, or even that men and women have identical cognitive profiles. I’m saying that when you add up all the things that men are good at, and all the things that women are good at, there is no overall advantage for men that would put them at the top of the fields of math and science.
Differences, yes. Advantages, no. Or, to quote Diane Halpern, as Spelke does: “Differences are not deficiencies.”
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So let’s try and answer the initial question: Why are there so few women making careers in science? Answer: We don’t know. Neither do Pinker and Spelke, apparently. They both have their suspicions, based on their respective findings, but neither of them can give surefire proof. Based on my own views, I am siding more with Spelke’s theory, which blames socialization and discrimination over biological factors, but here is where I disagree with her: “Scientists find things out. The much more difficult questions of how to use that information, live our lives, and structure our societies are not questions that science can answer. Those are questions that everybody must consider.”
The problem I have with this statement is that it seems to absolve scientists from any responsibility. Of course, we have to ask ourselves what conclusions we want to draw from new findings, but scientists have to ask themselves not only what they are trying to find out but also why.
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When Pinker states that there is scientific evidence for the assumption that women are biologically slightly less inclined or capable to be math professors, what does this mean politically? The implication would be that girls should be even less encouraged to get into sciences, because overall they’re less likely to succeed. I do not mean to say that this is Pinker’s intention, but that these are the consequences that can easily be drawn from such claims. Which is why I find studies like The Bell Curve morally reprehensible. By no means do I endorse the censorship of scientists; I’d just like to encourage the questioning of motivations. And I have to point out that Pinker is either negligent or incredibly naive when he states that  “none of this provides grounds for ignoring the biases and barriers that do keep women out of science”, because – unfortunately – for many it does.

Since When Did It Become “en vogue” To Be Politically Incorrect?

The titles of the increasing amount of blogs, online communities and forums that call themselves “politically incorrect”, or “heretic”, or “against the mainstream” seem to suggest that they are somehow more bad-ass and controversial than what else can generally be found in the media. A closer look, however, usually reveals that they are just trying really hard to denounce everything left-wing progressive thought has been fighting for for the last forty years.

Political correctness were the buzzwords of the New Left rhetoric during the 1970’s. Politically correct language meant talking about topics in a way that took into consideration the sensibilities of particular groups of people that were often ignored, marginalized, belittled or degraded in the political discourse. Examples of politically correct speech include gender neutral speech, not using the N-word, not referring to people as retarded, and all other means necessary to minimize people taking offense.

Feminism in particular has taken a special interest in political correctness since the theories of Derrida and Lacan revealed the importance and all-encompassing relevance of language as a crucial determinant of all of our lives. Post-structuralist feminists found that language cannot be thought outside of the power structures that generate it, and thus it is inherently a male construct that determines which things we consider male or female, normal or deviant, and which in turn we connote positively or negatively. Gender-neutral speech was a way of lessening the problem, as well as increasing the visibility of minorities that were previously ignored or subsumed under the default person: a white, heterosexual, able-bodied man.

Naturally, political correctness is not without its discontents. To use it appropriately can be complicated and long-winded. In fact, there are no distinct rules for the perfect use of politically correct speech. These are guidelines that are in constant flux and dispute, making it an easy target for anyone who is traditional-minded and reactionary.

Needless to say, the backlash was quick to follow. In the 1990’s the political right used political correctness as an insult for all ideas that they rejected. It was decried as censorship and cultural Marxism, two concepts that they equalized with intolerance when, in fact, political correctness was supposed to achieve the opposite. The Angry Black Woman writes:

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that people who rail against Politically Correct speech are those who do not want to have to be polite or civil to folks different from them. They see nothing wrong with using the language they grew up with or that they’ve come to use. They do not care if the language they use is hurtful to others because, after all, the most important thing is that they get to do what they want when they want. This is the prevailing attitude of people with privilege.

Political correctness and what it stands for are often misunderstood, not just as being in line with the leading ideology, but as being in line with the ideology that one doesn’t like. That’s why Sarah Palin finds nothing contradictory with getting upset about the “lamestream media” trying to “shut her up”, while at the same time complaining at length about a politician’s use of the word “retarded”.

Europe, too, has its own heroes of political incorrectness: Nicolas Sarkozy thinks women’s rights are not that important (except when it’s about protecting women from the burqa, of course), David Willetts blames feminism for widening the poverty gap, and Marine Le Pen, Thilo Sarrazin and the likes blame Muslim immigrants for, well, pretty much everything. These individuals pose as provocateurs and are being praised for their seemingly controversial statements by their sizeable following, online and off. Finally someone says it how it really is! Finally a slap in the face of the establishment! Or is it? Alfie Kohn writes in the Huffington Post:

To classify something as PC isn’t just to say that one would prefer not to deal with it. It implies that what might be called a liberal sensibility represents the conventional wisdom (of which the challenger is attempting to remind us). I’d argue that exactly the opposite is true: Our political system and the norms of our culture are largely built on an edifice of conservative beliefs regarding power, tradition, religion, and nationalism, many of them invisible to us precisely because they’re so widely and uncritically unaccepted.

Being politically incorrect is nothing but a way to ensure self-confirmation, to feel special and extraordinarily brave, when really all they do is repeat the same polemic bullshit that’s already well-established in mainstream opinion. I wish the “lamestream media” would shut them up already, but sadly their voices are being heard loud and clear. And any attempt at criticism is being denounced as limiting our freedom of speech.

No one is trying to take away your freedom of speech! Political correctness is not censorship. There are hardly any laws that prevent you from saying whatever is on your mind. I just don’t see the positive effect of getting into everyone’s faces just because you can. But when you think you have to call out “p.c. lies” and claim to call things what they really are, be sure to apply this to yourself as well. When you state that Muslims are stupid, you’re not being politically incorrect. You’re being a racist.

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What It Means To Be A Feminist Activist Today

I have written a short article for the Young Feminist Wire. You can read it here.

Many thanks to Ani for publishing it and to the French and Spanish translators.

Happy 100th International Women’s Day!

Here is why we celebrate:

The feminist revolution has come to the Middle East.

Feminist academia embraces diversity.

Feminism goes global.

Women’s reproductive rights improve in Nepal. In the United States not so much.

And here is why we need to keep on fighting:

The war on women’s reproductive rights is a war on all women’s rights.

Marine Le Pen may win the presidential election in 2012. A woman at the top doesn’t necessarily make for a more just society.

Circa 80 percent of the world’s refugees are women and children.

To be continued…

 

Don’t Practice What You Preach, or: What The Republican Party Can Teach Us

Recently I posted a blog entry about the women’s quota. During the process of writing I marvelled at myself for taking such a clear position in the debate. Naturally, I had familiarized myself with the pros and cons and developed my own opinion, but not without wondering: How does someone with rather socialist leanings such as myself end up defending the rights of the top (female) capitalists in Western Europe’s neoliberal society? The answer is fairly simple: what seems like a paradox at first sight is really a strategy.
But it doesn’t end there. Contradictions run through my blog like a red thread:

How can I justify promoting women’s liberation all over the world, even though I strongly reject the burqa ban?
Why do I bother fighting for the rights of mothers and families, when I’m trying to deconstruct the deification and euphemization of motherhood at the same time?
After reading and endorsing post-feminist theory, how can I still refer to men and women as biological and cultural categories?
How can I be pro-choice but anti-abortion?
How can I criticize commodity fetishism, while enjoying watching Sex and the City?
Why do I want to see more non-white models in Vogue etc., when I am critical of sexism and ageism in our society in general, and decry the objectification of women in advertisement?

a walking contradiction?

Everyone with strong convictions will come across similar difficulties at some point, be they personal or professional, or else their convictions are not very convincing to begin with or have never been challenged. So how do you negotiate this predicament? The answer: Don’t practice what you preach. The world can’t do it, and neither can you.

The Republican Party is a good example (no, seriously). Their entire program is highly paradoxical, culminating in their recent “pro-life” activities, which are really more adequately described as pro-death. How do they live with themselves, you might wonder? Well, I cannot answer that question for you but I do suspect how they make sense of it all: Behind all the seemingly contradictory aspects on their agenda lies one major goal that holds them all together. In the Republicans’ case this goal is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and with this in mind all of their recent activities make perfect sense all of a sudden: bust unions, fight health care, defund crucial women’s health institutions. The math is easy: The rich will always be able to pay a doctor – for a nose job, an STI screening or even a (secret) abortion. The poor will be left to their own devices, and especially poor women will be forced to once again give up control over their bodies. Occasionally the Republicans drift into hypocrisy, when they claim to act out the “will of the American people”, but generally their actions are rather consistent with their ultimate goal.  While this strategy may seem cruel, for the Republican Party it has proven very successful.

Back to my strategy: Just like the Republicans I, too, have an ultimate goal. Mine is, and I am not ashamed to say it, to make the world a slightly better place. All my convictions are based on that premise, as paradoxical as they may seem separately. The reason for that is that I had to learn to distinguish between theory and practice, between ideal and reality, between utopia and feasibility.

As I wrote in the aforementioned blog post, in theory a government may have implemented all the laws necessary to protect every minority from discrimination, in practice, however, some of the same structures are still in place that prevent us from truly living in equality. Some of those structures are systemic, some are cultural, with the two reinforcing each other constantly. In a post-gender, post-race society (I’m referring to the elimination of gender and race clichés, not the elimination of those categories) discrimination should be radically diminished or even non-existent; a quota system would become obsolete. However, it should be clear to everyone that this is by no means an adequate description of our reality.
As German grunge band Tocotronic put it back in 1995: Die Idee ist gut, doch die Welt noch nicht bereit. (The idea is good, but the world isn’t ready for it yet.) To put it in familiar feminist terms: “I’ll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy”.

I have to face the fact that I can’t eliminate discrimination (a quota can only do so much), but I can support measures that would improve the situation. Likewise, I cannot change the fact that our labor market is highly hierarchized, with some positions enjoying all the benefits and others hardly making a living, but I can try to give a greater variety of people access to these positions and to improve the way society views them.

I may not live up to all of my standards. I may have to make tough calls under certain circumstances,  but in the end I hope that small victories will make it all worthwhile.

In everything I do and promote I try to keep the greater picture in mind, but sometimes it is the small steps that count. Even if they seem to be sidetracked for a while, at least they are moving forward.

And The Oscar Goes To…

First of all, I must admit that I stopped watching the Oscars a while ago, as I lost interest in mainstream cinema and most of the nominations left me cold. However, while the Oscars may not represent the best movies of the year, they do give an account of what popular directors and producers are creating these days, which audience they reach and what gets talked about.
The nominations for February 2011 surprise with a comparably high number of movies that feature female leading roles. This is a good-enough reason for me to have a closer look at some of the nominations and to determine the winner of my own personal feminist Academy Award. Perhaps not surprising,  a film’s quality often (not always) corresponds to its feminist message for me. The following ratings of one to three stars refer to the film’s feminist qualities only.

Warning, spoilers ahead!

1. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)

This is a tricky one for me, since I loved Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and I’ve been a fan of Natalie Portman ever since Léon: The Professional. In theory, Black Swan has everything I could possibly ask for: great actors, drama, horror, beautiful costumes and dance! But somehow the message this movie conveys seems to go little further than this: in order to become a genius you must sacrifice your sanity. Not that there is anything wrong with that and I appreciate the attempt to depict a female genius for once; there can never be enough. And in fact, many feminist critics have read the film as going beyond the classical stereotype of beautiful young girls whose perfection, artistic or otherwise, lies in their virginal innocence, for Portman’s character has to get in touch with her darker, more sexual self to be able to dance both swan characters. However, it feels a little odd that she needs to be made aware of this by her manipulative and quite predatory ballet teacher (Vincent Cassel has had more appreciative roles) instead of developing this desire herself. This is partly the reason for why her (imaginary) lesbian encounter doesn’t quite feel like genuine homosexual desire or curiosity, but more like a not so original attempt at attracting a young male audience as well. Black Swan could have been an amazing portrait of a tormented artist; unfortunately the actual dancing scenes lack the brilliance they are trying to convey. For a truly surprising or shocking horror drama, the narrative lacks the originality and depth, hence my hesitation to read a more progressive message into it.

Rating: *

2. The Social Network (David Fincher)

This is the boy version of Black Swan. No, seriously. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is presented as the tormented genius of our generation, and even though it didn’t drive him insane (yet), it did turn him into an asshole, according to this film. David Fincher is known for dealing with rather ‘masculine’ subjects and The Social Network is no different. Technology, formulas, hot groupies, what could be more masculine than that? Sounds like a cliché? Well, it’s not a cliché if it’s true, the makers of this movie claim.
The Social Network has been criticized for presenting a world that’s made up entirely of white priviliged men, where women are only allowed to be beautiful, intoxicated and sexually available accessories. But is this a true representation of the actual circumstances? I don’t know but I can imagine it to be a slightly exaggerated version, just like the cinematic interpretation of Zuckerberg’s initial motives for inventing the first social network: taking revenge for his ex-girlfriend’s rejection. Now I can take away from this movie that Harvard tech geeks who want to join a fraternity are all misogynistic assholes, or I can accept that this environment breeds sexism just as much as any other male-dominated society. In that regard, the film may be very accurate even though it doesn’t exactly inspire resistance.
In the end, Zuckerberg has achieved everything he wanted, but the only thing he ever really craved for was the recognition of this particular ex-girlfriend. Do I honestly believe this is how the real Zuckerberg feels? Not really, but it’s nice to think that he might.

Rating: *

3. True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen)

I want to start off by saying that I love neo-Westerns. I really do. I enjoyed The Assassination of Jesse James immensely, even though I would not consider it a great film, and There Will Be Blood is among my absolute favorites of all times. So when I discovered that the Coen brothers made one and that it was considered Oscar-worthy, I was very excited. The disenchantment followed quickly when I read that the directors were aiming at a larger audience and therefore a softer rating. Is that why they decided for a teenage heroine instead of tough cops and outlaws? Not to give a false idea; the movie is still fairly brutal, but the use of violence feels forced  and the ending is almost anticlimactic and rather tame. Moreover, I personally dislike films that present children and teens as snotty-nosed know-it-alls, but I was willing to give it a try. Huge mistake. Hailee Steinfeld’s character Mattie Ross is even more annoying than expected. I didn’t believe Juno’s depiction of teenagers either, but at least they were witty and didn’t go around showing off their legislative expert knowledge and negotiation skills, at a time when women were barely allowed to learn how to read. I guess I’m supposed to get excited about young female characters that are presented as super-smart and tough, but to me it just seems so contrived. Perhaps Mattie has grit, but it doesn’t feel true.

Then again, i feel like a very harsh critic in this case. I should be thankful to the Coens for injecting some girl power into the male-dominated genre. So I’m willing to hand out an extra star for viewers who don’t have to cringe every time Mattie opens her mouth.

Rating: **

4. The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)

Finally, a comedy, I thought to myself. Except that this movie is actually not very funny. It is awkward. The situations, the characters, the dialogue, it all feels quite uncomfortable. But then again, life is awkward. And surely, when two overbearing, lesbian mothers meet their sperm donor for the first time, it must be even more awkward. So far, so good. One of the mothers feels neglected and ends up having an affair with the sperm donor, which is soon discovered. Perhaps the strongest scene of the movie is when Julianne Moore stands in front of the TV and lets her family know – lets us all know – that her mistake did not change her feelings, that you hurt the people you love the most and that marriage is hard. None of this is new, none of it is controversial but perhaps therein lies the strength of this movie. Why should this gay family be any different from any other white middle-class American family? The set-up may vary but the problems are the same. If only the director hadn’t gotten cold feet when it came to the sex scenes. Okay, married sex may generally be more boring and awkward, but this film seems to suggest that in order to have truly satisfying sex you need a penis. A bit more courage would have been great. If the viewers can accept homosexual parents, they sure as hell can deal with a passionate love scene between two adult women, no?

Rating: **

5. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Clearly the dark horse in this competition, Winter’s Bone offers unknown actors and an insight into the other America, the America that Hollywood would like to make us believe doesn’t exist. This downbeat version of the American heartland is inhabited by people who would never vote for the Tea Party, because they have long ceased to believe in political agency, and they don’t care about the 2nd Amendment, because for them owning a gun is not a constitutional right but a means for survival. Have you ever wondered why so many young Americans join the army and the National guard? This movie gives you the answer: they often don’t do it out of national pride or because they like to shoot people, but out of mere desperation.
The 17-year-old female protagonist of Winter’s Bone has no desire to become an admired artist (Black Swan) or go on a revenge spree (True Grit). She merely wants to find her father, so that she can keep her house and provide for her two siblings and her catatonic mother. But doing so becomes an ordeal, as she is met by her neighbors with suspicion, antagonism and brutality. Poverty has driven these people into crime and violence; hidden in the woods of  Missouri they have set up their own Wild West for America’s “White Trash”. Needless to say, this hopelessness has generated a vacuum for humanity, which makes both men and women susceptible to preserving the little power they have left through brute force. While the men are still running the show, the movie reveals how easily women become complicit when they have no one else to rely on. In all this moral corruption, the main character Ree feels like a breath of fresh air, and thank God, she doesn’t talk like a fifty-year-old script writer but like a courageous young woman, who goes to great lengths to preserve that little bit of happiness she has left.

Rating: ***

And the winner is... Winter’s Bone, for its authenticity and its believable heroine. Runner-up is The Kids Are All Right for a mainstream take on a controversial subject matter. True Grit could have been a good movie with a better screenplay. The Social Network is really good in many respects, but it certainly doesn’t further a more positive representation of women in mainstream Hollywood. Black Swan is a beautiful package with little content.

See you next year!

The Discrediting of Feminism as Collateral Damage of the WikiLeaks Affair

I am not going to start hypothesizing about the ongoing justice drama around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Too much of that has been done already, perhaps too much to adequately assess the situation. They’ve all had their share in the discussion: Naomi Wolf, Jessica Valenti and Michael Moore. They all get a lot of things right – and a lot of things wrong. The left-wing progressives in favor of Julian Assange tend to misquote the actual rape allegations because it just makes so much more sense to disqualify a law that supposedly condemns consensual unprotected sex. Which it doesn’t. The feminist blogosphere likes to ignore all the shady details that have led to the Interpol search warrant, for example the fact that Assange was willing to remain in Sweden to testify and shed some more light onto the case, but was ignored and granted the right to leave the country. Before I get more caught up in the confusing amount of details – right or wrong, who knows? – there’s only one more thing to say: No matter how this case turns out, the feminist community can only lose.

Why is the feminist community at stake, you might wonder? Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that Julian Assange was accused of rape in a country that is well-known for being one of the most progressive nations in the world concerning gender equality, and that at least one of the alleged victims is known to be a radical feminist in her home country. Of course, in that case, the allegations must be false and the woman a liar…

Needless to say, feminism will be blamed, no matter what the outcome may be. I see only two possible scenarios:

  1. Assange is proven guilty and jailed, which sooner or later will most likely result in his extradition to the United States, a worst-case scenario for Assange and a threat to future whistle-blowers and truth activists. In that case, the feminist community will be blamed forever for being so ‘petty-minded’ about something so seemingly ‘irrelevant’ compared to the relevance of Assange’s global image as protector of the right to information and government transparency.
  2. Assange is declared innocent and freed, and feminism will be blamed for creating a culture that encourages women to lie about rape and sexual assault to have it their way, thus disqualifying rape survivors and feminist activists against sexual exploitation all over the world.

Can anyone please think of a third option with a better outcome?

Two more things:

  1. No matter what happens, WikiLeaks will continue, and so will OpenLeaks, and that is a good thing.
  2. Anyone remember Bradley Manning?

Book Review: Donna Haraway “Simians, Cyborgs, And Women. The Reinvention Of Nature” (1991)

Haraway’s collection of essays is almost twenty years old, but her views on science and technology and the role of gender within these categories are still valuable and fascinating. The most famous essay, A Cyborg Manifesto, has become a seminal work in postfeminist theory and studies on cyberculture.

Most of her work deals with the critique of nature as a universal category and the totalizing power of natural science. As a biologist and historian of science, Haraway is aware of the importance and significance of scientific research, but also of its shortcomings and abuse. She claims that science cannot be assumed as separate from ideology by default. Research and studies are almost always based on presuppositions which often reflect the dominant ideology, for example:

Theories of animal and human society based on sex and reproduction have been powerful in legitimating beliefs in the natural necessity of aggression, competition, and hierarchy. (p. 21)

Important tools such as renaming and reinterpretation can lead to entirely different results. Everyone can tell the difference between the connotation of “female receptivity” vs. “female choice” (p. 41), a simple change of words which may have a huge impact of how we explain human behavior biologically. Haraway’s example of the reinterpretation of the tool-using adaptation in chimpanzees questions the evolutionary legitimization of (alpha-)male aggressivity and domination while at the same time allowing for more options for development:

[...] evolutionary reconstructions condition understanding of contemporary events and future possibilities. [...] The open future rests on a new past. (p.41)

Haraway warns us “to pretend that science is either only discovery, which erects a fetish of objectivity, or only invention, which rests on crass idealism” (p. 42), and urges feminists to resist expecting final theories for complex and ambiguous issues, such as reproduction and production, which are always affected by the current dominant ideology, politically as well as scientifically.

However, according to Haraway it is not only science that needs to be reviewed, but our general concept of nature as well. That the universality and holism of nature is also a construction, has been largely ignored by feminists (of the second wave) and the mainstream alike. Consequently, Haraway praises Judith Butler’s move to “‘disqualify’ the  analytic categories, like sex or nature, that lead to univocity” and to “expose the illusion of an interior organizing gender core and produce a field of race and gender difference open to resignification” (p. 135). Like many postmodern feminists, Haraway and Butler have been accused of splitting the feminist movement by doing away with its basis for women’s agency. Haraway answered to this criticism with her vision of  cyberfeminism.

In A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century Haraway presents her version of a Marxist feminism in our late capitalist society, which argues for “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction” (p. 150). To illustrate this vision, she uses the image of the cyborg, “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (p. 149). According to Haraway, we are all cyborgs in today’s society, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails.

The cyborg transcends the boundaries of biology, thereby rejecting universalism and totalizing theory, the foundations of patriarchy. As an animal-human-machine hybrid the cyborg negates organic holism and the Western myth of an origin story. Its most subversive quality is its ambiguity:

Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism.

Furthermore, Haraway’s cyborg fits in the anti-essentialist tradition in postmodern feminism. As a post-gender creature it cannot be said to have any specific universal qualities, be they male or female. Escaping these universal categories, of women or other, the cyborg manages to escape patriarchal oppression and creates its own identity. Because the cyborg is as much machine as it is human, technology becomes the determining factor which makes this kind of feminism possible. As the dualisms disappear, they leave room for multiplicity, contradiction and self-development.

As I have mentioned before, Haraway had to face some criticism from certain feminist movements, for aligning women with technology, the tool of patriarchal capitalism, and for eliminating women’s common identity and experience. Haraway challenges those allegations by claiming that feminists should create solidarity and find common ground not based on their mutual identity (as women) but rather on their mutual affinity, affinity being a relation not by blood (race, gender etc.) but by choice. Bearing in my mind how much the internet already influences our everyday lives (not just in the Western world but also progressively in developing nations), I believe this claim to be very much based in our lived reality, the internet being a fantastic source to create and find groups based on affinity.

Finally, as a feminist who has been confronted too often with the allegation that all feminists believe in the superiority of women, I cannot help but close with Haraway’s most famous line:

I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess. (p. 181)

[Donna J. Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature, New York 1991.]

Cyborg love for the 21st century: