There seems to have been a resurgence of interest in feminism in Australia (and elsewhere). At the same time, debate on the subject has often been divisive and alienating. I’ve heard many people express the view that they are reluctant to participate in feminist activism or debate for fear of being shouted down or derided. Others have said that they did not feel sufficiently qualified to participate – that they were not familiar enough with feminist theory or history.
I think feminism is important. Vigorous debate on the meaning, values and goals of feminism is also important. But this debate must be respectful and constructive or it risks damaging the movement and deterring the participation of many people. A strong feminist movement can withstand critique, but it ought to also provide a sense of community and inclusion to its members. People should feel safe to participate in feminist activism and debate. They should feel respected even when people disagree with them.
Karen Pickering wrote a great article on this issue yesterday in the Guardian, where she argued:
That the censure from Razer and others is equally scathing whether you’re a “leisure feminist” or a “professional feminist” is representative of the fact that feminism will always be dismissed on some grounds, by someone, in particularly vituperative ways. Whether it’s internalised contempt for women’s voices, personal insecurity or something else, feminists are often attacked just for being feminists.
She focused, particularly, on the attacks of those ‘people on the broad left who feel it’s their job to police progressive action within feminism,’ and on ‘the vitriolic personal attacks,’ arguing that the first ‘are … intended to shut down debate, not initiate it’ while the second ‘petty namecalling and spiteful innuendo … is … the mark of a mediocre intellect and a boring writer.’
Her final point then reflected a concern that I have been thinking about a lot lately. Pickering argues that these personal attacks are ‘doing the work of patriarchy, and nobody is happier to see it than anti-feminist gatekeepers of the status quo.’ I can’t be the only person who has noted with growing discomfort the number of men that are merrily jumping on the anti-Destroy the Joint bandwagon or retweeting/clapping along to reductive criticism of the feminist activism of others. This toxic culture isn’t helping feminism at all, but it sure seems to be providing a great sideshow for those who were never on our side to begin with.
All this had led me to believe that we need to do more to foster a stronger culture of support within Australian feminism. But I don’t mean to confuse support with a lack of reflection. While our lived experiences are valid perspectives from which to understand feminism, inclusive feminism needs to go beyond what we know in order to encompass the experiences and insights of others. There is also little point in reinventing the wheel or rehashing old debates without the benefit of the thinking that has already been done.
And so… yesterday on Twitter I proposed starting an online feminist reading/discussion group and quite a lot of people indicated that they were interested in joining in. The aim of the group is simple:
To educate ourselves about feminist history and theory, and to promote a culture of vigorous, respectful and informed debate.
At the request of several people it is going to be a private group, but everyone is welcome to join. Just email afeministbookclub at gmail dot com and I’ll send you an invite to be a reader of the blog.
Of course, since the whole idea is that this will be a safe and supportive space, there will be a zero tolerance policy towards abusive behaviour.
First step for this project will be to compile a reading list. We’ve agreed to start with history and to leave more contentious issues like sex work and pornography for later down the track. So far the following theorists/theories have been recommended:
First Wave Feminism
Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Women)
Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex – bit late, but not really Second Wave either)
Second Wave Feminism
Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique)
Gloria Steinem (Maybe to read about her activism and critique of academic feminism)
Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch or a later book/article?)
Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution)
Anne Summers (Damned Whores and God’s Police or Her Rights At Work)
Miriam Dixson (The Real Matilda)
Pornography/Sex Work Debates
Sheila Jeffreys (or not bother, because kind of frustrating?)
Melissa Gira Grant (Post Whore America)
Laura Maria Agustin (Sex at the Margins)
bell hooks/Gloria Jean Watkins (Feminism is for everybody/Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism/Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center)
Alice Walker (Fiction, Poetry or Nonfiction?)
Third Wave Feminism
Rebecca Walker (To Be Real or Becoming the Third Wave – on the politics of adapting feminism to a new generation)
Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth)
Susan Faludi (Backlash)
Emily Macguire (Your Skirt’s Too Short)
– A discussion of the politics of Slut Walk –
Feminism and International Relations
Feminism and motherhood
Andie Fox (Blue Milk)
Bunny Banyai (Sh*t on my hands)
Does anyone have any suggestions for more theorists who are not US-focused?
Suggestions needed! Anyone read Julia Serano (Whipping Girl)?
Not sure about category, but were suggested:
Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Path
What woud you add (or remove) from the list?