Sunday, September 28, 2008

Feminism Down Under (no pun intended)

By Chloe Angyal

Today in Australia's major daily paper, The Sydney Morning Herald, founding editor of lip magazine Rachel Funari has a column about feminism and the "hairy-legged lesbian" stereotype.

Responding to a new book The Great Feminist Denial, by Monica Dux and Zora Simic, both Australians, Funari argues that the "radical" side of the movement, which so many women shun these days ("oh, I'm not that kind of feminist!") is essential to the movement's success.
The "great feminist denial", in Dux and Simic's eyes, is the movement's reluctance toward and sometimes rejection of motherhood, despite women's biological urges and imperatives to have children. Dux and Simic's book, according to it's promotional material, grapples with feminism's radical, childless past, as well as its less "attractive" parts (hairy legs and lesbianism) and declares them irrelevant, and a hindrance to the success of the movement:

"Dux and Simic argue that, ultimately, feminism is still necessary for everyday life. Even the most cursory glimpse at the social and cultural landscape suggests an urgent need for a politics that identifies inequalities, differences and strengths specific to women as a sex [i.e. popping out babies]...
...The Great Feminist Denial puts an ailing feminist past to rest, and proposes a way forward that offers young women of today a new way of calling themselves feminists [by...not calling themselves feminist?]."

That way forward apparently doesn't sit well with Funari, who sees it as creating a kind of "mummy track" feminism, which removes from the movement all the allegedly "unattractive" (but effective) parts, watering it down to make it more palatable for mainstream men and women. She counters:

"Feminists should fight the hairy-legged lesbian stereotype because it alienates the young ones, says The Great Feminist Denial. I say the problem with Australian feminism* is not hairy lesbians, but the movement's penchant for replacing them with suburban mums...

...Ditching the hairy-legged lesbian not only capitulates to a culture that requires the traditional family unit to uphold the inequalities of contemporary capitalism, but it also ditches a core message of feminism, that a woman's value should not be in her beauty, proscribed femininity or heterosexual availability."
Firstly, I'm pleasantly surprised to find that a book on feminism has hit mainstream shelves at all, and I'm delighted to see a public dialogue about it in the pages of a well-circulated paper. Secondly, I would encourage you to pass no judgment on what Dux and Simic have to say until you've read the book yourself in its entirety- I'm certainly not going to try to (OK, I will a little bit, only because the whole argument that feminists eschew motherhood really annoy me). But their brand of feminism might just be the brand that works for you. Remember, it's a big tent.
And finally, because I lean a little further to the radical side than Dux and Simic seem to, I leave you with Funari's closing argument:

"Mothers Monica Dux, Catherine Deveney and Anne Manne recently appeared together for a bookshop seminar. They drew about a hundred people.
Witty, loud, unmarried, childless and now elderly, Germaine Greer packs out 2000-seat theatres. Perhaps the radical feminists still have it."

*I would argue that this statement also applies to North American feminism, which has come to embrace anything that women "choose" as "feminism". Did you "choose" to stay home after your kids were born, or are you paid less for your work, making it illogical for your husband to stay at home? Did you "choose" to put on makeup this morning, or have you been told your whole life that women are less acceptable and attractive without makeup?


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