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Isolation and Action

Dear Said It,

I really appreciated Rebecca Whisnant's incisive essay (March/April, 2001) on rad feminism as pertains to the university. It clarified things for me. Thank you so much! I do believe that rad fem can lead to ending of most oppressions we have today. I often feel isolated and freaky for being this way. The truth is very ugly, as she says.

I am spreading the word wherever I can!

Personally, I am very concerned about the overturning of Roe v Wade in the next four years. Very scary stuff that can happen. There's a march in NYC in two months that I may attend as an emergency measure.

Alicia, 32,
GenXer


Disagreeing Feminism(s) at the University

Dear Editors,

I was disappointed by Rebecca Whisnant's article on teaching Radical Feminism at the university. I expected an analysis of the difficulties of teaching from a feminist standpoint within the current cultural climate of neo-conservatism and feminist backlash. Instead, I believe Whisnant's article contributes to that trying environment. Whisnant makes a straw horse of all feminisms but her own, lumping together groups as diverse as performativity theorists and liberal feminists, who have defined themselves in part in distinction from one another, and linking both/all with precisely the appropriative corporate tactics they criticize. In so doing she not only violates political groups' right to self-definition, but contributes to the alienation young women feel from organized movements for gender (and other) equality(ies).

She claims to seek to empower her students by offering them an alternative, but offers instead a dualistic choice between "facing reality" via a didactic critique of the pornography industry and everything else, which she dismisses as irresponsible and selfish. The reality is that there exist already a wide variety of contemporary feminisms, all far more complex than her straw horse "other," many of which have formed a variety of critiques of pornography and/or the industry that produces it and none of which simplistically equates empowerment with feeling good. On the other hand, the straw horse she describes DOES bear a strong resemblance to a fictive feminism much evoked of late by two camps: self-proclaimed "post-feminists" like Camille Paglia, who I believe Dr. Whisnant intends to critique, and neo-conservative "family values" theorists such as Barbara DaFoe Whitehead, David Blankenhorne and others who seek to reverse most of the gains of feminist and civil rights movements over the last several decades by discrediting these movements as "individualistic" (read selfish) and blaming them for an alleged crisis of social disorder evidenced by rising crime, poverty and urban strife. Though she intends to recover a feminist voice and movement within her university, by reproducing this dualism she actually feeds these civil-rights-retrogressive movements.

Now more than ever it is important for those of us who identify as feminists and anti racists to treat one another with respect and, while acknowledging — even foregrounding — our different and even opposing philosophies, work to portray them as accurately (that is, as close to our own self-definitions) as possible, as a basis for productive critique.

Sincerely,

Corinne Adler
Seattle, WA

Rebecca Whisnant responds: Corinne Adler's charge is that in "lumping together" certain schools of feminist thought under a common critique of their individualism, I both do those schools an injustice (violating their "right to self-definition") and contribute to a conservative and anti-feminist environment.

I am aware that there are important differences both within and among the strands of feminist thought that I criticize. I think it is nonetheless legitimate to point out their similarities. I also realize that theorists of any "camp" (including my own) vary greatly in their sophistication, intelligence, and complexity. For instance, there are brilliant liberal feminist philosophers from whom I have learned much; I would not make the same criticisms of them that I made of Bust. Alas, Bust-style feminism is way more influential than these theorists are, and increasingly pervades even university women's studies settings. To that extent, I believe my criticism is both appropriate and necessary.

I, too, value respect as expressed in the effort to portray people's political theories and visions accurately. However, I question Adler's assumption that "accurately" means "as close to [their] own self-definitions as possible." Unfortunately, people's understandings of the implications of their own views can sometimes stray rather far afield from reality, and when they do, others have the right — even the responsibility — to step in and say so. Whether this is true of many liberal feminists, gender theorists, "pro-sex" feminists, and the like is precisely what's at issue here. I think it is, and so that's what I said.

I find Adler's portrayal of my own position a bit ironic in light of her advocacy of respect and accuracy. For one thing, it should be obvious that the meaning and motivation of my critique of "individualism" are very different from the distorted and cynical feminist-bashing engaged in by neo-conservatives. Furthermore, Adler has no basis for calling my critique of pornography "didactic," nor for her contention that I view "everything else" besides that critique as "irresponsible and selfish."

Finally, although this is no fault of Adler's, I can't resist pointing out that the sins of which she accuses me are routinely perpetrated against radical feminists with nary a peep of protest from many of our women's studies friends and colleagues (indeed, too often they are perpetrated by those very people). We are derided as ditto-head "MacDworkinites," our political perspectives distorted beyond recognition, "lumped together" with politics that are anathema to us (i.e. the right wing), and summarily trashed. While my brief portrayal of certain trends in recent feminist theory is surely imperfect, I did and do try to remain accountable to the facts, as well as to the values of dignity and justice that animate us all in our feminist work.


More on the Despicable Eminem

In response to "Silence! Let Eminem Rage" (March/April, 2001), I was disturbed to read such views on an up and coming feminist web page. Controversial lyrical content, tight beats, skillful delivery and big buck promotions has been a successful strategy for several of artists with record companies like Dr Dre, Interscope, Aftermath etc. With a sell out tours, 2 Grammy awards, teen centerfolds, multi-platinum album (the Marshall Mathers LP), Eminem is no exception.

In a recent hit song, Eminem details the murder and disposal of his wife, Kim, and features his daughter, Haley, singing with an infantile voice over the litany of abuse as her father explains how he is about to throw out his mother's body…

In every city where Eminem plays there's been protests and desperate attempts in vain to boycott him. Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty unsuccessfully tried to stop his recent tour in Canada on the grounds that the lyrical content was hateful to women. He was surprised to learn that like most countries, Canada does not have a law to stop hate crimes on women. It's a crime to issue hate on people of colour now thanks to hard won fights, but women have yet to win that same 'privilege.'

Boycotting Eminem, much as I would like to, is impossible and a waste of time. Eminem is fiercely defended by his promoters, fans and the media. He gets away with it by abusing the rights to free speech. When I raise the subject at the lunch table in my corporate office (my microcosm reflection of society, I was faced with varying responses. Some think he's a talented artist and buy his stuff, others reveal his sexism but say it's ok. Some just ignored me and continued their conversation about stocks. It's a similar reaction we get from the criminal justice system. Often judges let men that kill their wives get away with suspended sentences. Cops fail to respond to women's statements when they report violence. Instead they say something like, 'Why not get the dinner ready on time so your husband is less angry.' They are thinking women instigate the violence and men have the freedom to perpetrate it. Fifty four percent of women living with men will be struck at some time during the relationships with their partners (Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers, 1981). Eminem is not responsible for all of this damage. Female inequality and objectification are complex issues entrenched in layers of history. Eminem is not the problem, and we know that but he is an overpaid symptom!

Last week I was eating dinner with a 10-year-old boy and his mother in the transition house where I work for battered and raped women. The kid was humming along to Eminem's "Smack my Bitch up" as he waited for his mum to feed him. One of his mum's eyes is black from where his dad punched her two days ago. Her hand wobbles as she tries to focus on the plate she's serving up with chicken casserole. At first I panicked, I had visions of whole schoolyards echoing with copycat rhymes to these tunes. A whole new generation playing in breeding grounds of misogynist criminals. I wanted to tell him to shut up and never breathe those words around his mum or me again. Instead I tried to raise his consciousness a little asking him if he thought Eminem really is a 'rebel' when he purports wife battering as cool? I don't think he really got it, but the point that I was trying to make was Eminem is reinforcing the dominant and ultraconservative values of the establishment when he raps about hating women. After that I dropped it. The fact that we were even eating dinner together in a transition house told me he has already learnt from a variety of other places how to hate women.

Worldwide, wife battering causes more deaths of women aged 15 - 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. The problem runs much deeper than Eminem and will still be here when he either grows up or fades away like Marlyn Manson, LiveCrew. Focusing on one rapper is not the answer and only adds to Eminem's publicity. We will not stop violence against women by boycotting Eminem's concerts or refusing to buy his CD's. We need to focus instead on the enduring power structure that produced him and lets him get away with it. It's the same system that didn't arrest his dad after he beat his mum.

Louisa Russell
for the collective at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter

Louisa, thanks for your letter. The article is actually a satire of Eminem's supporters. This becomes apparent by the third paragraph, so it sounds like you just read the opening. Rest assured, Said It would never, ever publish a defense of a misogynist. Thanks for carrying on the fight.

— the editors


Don't forget your vulva

Hello,

I was recently visiting Said It and I wanted to let you know about our site for the Vulvar Health Awareness Campaign at http://www.vulvarhealth.org — I hope you will use it as a resource to expand your patients' knowledge about vulvar health. Many are left in the dark about what a vulva is or where it's located, let alone how to recognize problems related to the vulva.

With the recent increase in vulvar cancer among younger women, last year's NIH funding of vulvodynia research and a gradual awakening to the sexual health needs of women, I believe that a push for vulvar health awareness couldn't be more timely. I also feel that with the current cultural climate that's beginning to embrace The Vagina Monologues (I've been involved in V-Day for 2 years), that hopefully we can use words like "vagina" and "vulva" with more frequency.

Please do visit our site and feel free to pass this information along to your members and your contacts.

Kind regards,

Debby Herbenick
VulvarHealth.Org



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