Class & Arse

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We began our evening with the start of what we hope will be an ongoing discussion about the touchstone of contemporary (4th/3rd wave) Feminism – Intersectionality. This term, created by the Feminist scholar, activist and writer Kimberlé Crenshaw, (who’s TED talk you can see here) highlights the differences and overlapping factors such as class, race, gender identity, sexual preference and socio-economic disparity make on people’s experiences within society and culture as well as their experiences of systems of oppression, discrimination and dominance.  Modern 3rd  (us) and 4th (the younger generation and our kids) wave Feminists argue that if it isn’t intersectional it isn’t Feminism, that we need to recognise the vast range of perspectives and hierarchal privileges that come within and fight against the patriarchal system that we live in. If you don’t fight for all women, you fight for no women.

Contemporary Feminism focuses more on ideas of individualistic identity, with an aim to dismantle interlocking hierarchies than it’s 2nd wave predecessors. Whilst the Feminist movements of the 60’s, 70’s and even early 80’s fought against the ongoing issues of the gender pay gap, systematic misogyny and health/reproductive rights, there was also a large focus on the growing objectification of women. Pornography, prostitution, rape law and marriage rights were all catalysts for the women’s movement of the time. It is the exploration of sexual identity as a spectrum, queer theory and the abolishing of gender stereotypes that embodies the 3rd wavers and separates them from the women who went before.

Women’s Liberation Movement of the 60’s and 70’s was led by writers and activists giving voice to women’s issues previously ignored in pubic discourse. Betty Friedan’s 1963 book The Feminine Mystique was an exploration of the middle class white women’s return to domestic home life after the Second World War; Gloria Steinem, the journalist and activist who is a spearhead of the movement still today, published her journalistic piece in 1963 documenting her experiences working undercover at the Playboy Club. Steinem fought particularly hard for the legalisation of abortion and federally funded daycares to be the leading objectives of the Feminist movement. (You may have heard the term “Roe v. Wade” – referring to the landmark US Supreme Court case essentially legalising abortion, which happened in 1973). Germaine Greer, who in 1970 published her first book The Female Eunuch, deconstructing traditional ideas of femininity and womanhood and arguing that women are forced into submissive roles in society to fulfil male fantasies of what those concepts are. The movement of the time worked with a focus on political change and broader women’s rights issues. Whilst these concerns still reign today there is also a renewed discourse and often discord surrounding gender politics within a more contemporary Feminism that wishes to open up the movement to be as inclusive as possible.

So with a little further shared knowledge on the concept of Intersectionality we began to discuss the overlap of class and privilege with our own Feminist values, perspectives and daily experiences. Using as a jumping off point a viral post from over the summer in which a U.S. scientist moved some NASA branded kids T.shirts from the boys section of a store to the girls section in an attempt to shed some light on the disparity in the messages gendered clothing can create. The post was met with a lot of criticism over this “white feminist” position not taking into account the consequences an act like that can have on the minimum wage workers most likely to be clearing up after, or even reprimanded for, the act.

A third of all single women in the UK live in low income households and constitute two-thirds of the UK’s workforce. Many working class and poverty stricken women don’t identify as feminists highlighting a disconnect between the needs and voices of those women with the upper middle class or well educated women more active within the Feminist narrative. The rise in the publishing of Feminist theory and subsequent public debate (Books as Bombs) whilst helping propel the movement forward also created a barrier to those who don’t have the means to read expensive books let alone the time or potentially the confidence in their abilities to fully consume the material. There is evidence to support the fact that a higher degree of education was the single biggest factor in coming to learn about or be a part of the Feminist movement. Well-educated women were found to have more confidence in the validity of their ideas, language and voices and with 48% of female school leavers (2009) not going on to further education Feminism inadvertently tailored itself to certain social and economic groups reflecting those active within it. These barriers to learning and inclusion within Feminism are not conducive to creating the Intersectional  movement we hope can effect positive change on our society. We went on to discuss further what we can do to recognise our place and subsequent privileges within our everyday experiences. Recognition of the labour and potential economical disadvantages surrounding the women who assist us in our jobs, homes and daily interactions is only the starting point to a dismantling of oppressive constructs.

The daily experiences of women at the top and bottom ends of the social hierarchy couldn’t be more different, however we rarely see real depictions of the Feminist fight that women at the low end of the scale are experiencing. In picturing the fight again misogyny in the boardroom we rarely see that happening on the supermarket checkout or factory line. Whilst there is plenty of discourse on the damaging effects of early gender stereotyping for children, girls in poverty are often taught not to aspire to anything much beyond a domestic labour let alone how to code.

But this all poses a good question. Can you afford to live by your morals? If you need to put aside you principals and ideologies to put food on the table would you? Held earlier in the year the A Day Without Women campaign called for all women to strike work for a day in order to highlight just how much girls run the world  (go on click that one)! but this of course was virtually if not literally impossible for a very large portion of women. The campaign ran in to criticism for not acknowledging the experiences and realities of the majority of women’s lives illuminating further the need to make all aspects of Feminism as intersectional as possible.

As the conversation moved on I shared my experiences of the Feminist collective Scarlet Ladies, who’s mission is to facilitate women’s exploration of feminism, self love and sexuality without fear or shame. The group host talks with guest speakers and events all over London with a weekly meet up at the “Ethical House of Striptease” 23 Paul St near Old Street. These meet ups are a really interesting and diverse event and the atmosphere is open and enjoyable. Whilst there is an obvious juxtaposition to a Feminist Collective convening in a strip club that is at times difficult to balance, the fourth wave ideals of inclusiveness and intersectionality are alive and well with the women there. Their celebration of the complexities of female sexuality, health and happiness and the importance of pleasure in a safe an non-judgemental atmosphere create a really positive experience, valuable discourse and action. There was interest in further Meet-Up discussions on sex work and toxic masculinity as these concepts seemed to really spark debate.

This subject of stripping and strip clubs brought us round to the next conversation which centred around Hugh Hefner and the brand power of Playboy and the Raunch Culture it spearheaded in the mid 90’s and early 2000s.

Raunch Culture is deconstructed in the fab book “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” by the author and journalist Ariel Levy. Examining the broader cultural parallels and symbiosis of the rise of a “ladette” culture: read: men’s magazines, Girls Gone Wild style shows filming drunk girls flashing, masturbating and engaging in sex acts (with the enticing combo of merchandise like hats or T.shirts and mass peer pressure as a motivation), page 3, the mainstreaming of music videos, pole dancing clubs and exercise classes on the high street, the depictions of women having sex “like men” in shows such as Sex and the City as well as the huge trickle down effect of the commercialisation and mainstreaming of Playboy as a concept and brand and crucially the changing face of porn with the advent of free internet access.  This cultural shift in the expectations of behaviour and attitudes pushed on to women created a normalising of women self-objectifying. A kind of beat-them-at-their-own-game way of thinking Raunch Culture emboldened a generation of women to seek autonomy using their bodies, quite literally – to take ownership of your body by deciding to show and objectify yourself on your own terms. The sexy equals empowered archetype of Feminism is arguably seen by men as non-threatening, maintaining constraints on women’s bodies as well as their minds. Representing a kind of Feminism that doesn’t interrupt male fantasies and does nothing to challenge men’s visions of women as beautiful creatures to be consumed or owned. In fact, now we have the pill women have no excuse left to say ‘No’. Whilst this form of 90’s Girl Power has it’s roots in basic right for a woman to have agency over her life and body, it was commodified and exploited by a powerful patriarchal industry that told us we had reached a kind of ‘peak Feminism’ with women finally reaching the lofty heights of equal status with men. We can have jobs ‘like men’ and sex ‘like men,’ we are free to wax all our body hair and watch porn or have plastic surgery so what more could we want?  And what does that even mean? ‘Like men’? It implies a sexual life free from emotion or connection, reducing men to loveless fuckboys (that’s a thing) constantly up for no-strings sex with everyone and anyone. To have sex ‘like a man’ short changes both genders alike.

Levy writes: “Women objectifying themselves isn’t a triumph, it’s depressing. Sexuality in inherently and fundamentally part of being human and much more complicated than we’d admit sometimes.” She laments the idea that sexiness needs to be something detached from your own everyday emotional experiences and identity. She cites that a female chauvinist (someone who objectifies both themselves and other women) is often a woman compromised by a male chauvinist.

And speaking of, this brings us to Hugh Hefner, who at the ripe old age of 91 wore his creepy silk pyjamas until the end passing away last week and as expected there was a huge amount of debate surrounding his life and legacy. Many hold him up as a leader of the sexual revolution of the time and a champion for both Civil and Women’s Rights.  Hefner claimed to be a “Feminist before Feminism was a thing.” despite the bad treatment and abuse ‘the Bunnies’ received being well documented. The content of Playboy was such that whilst it was socially and political liberal it’s motivations for supporting such cultural advances were also always advantageous to Hefner’s brand and lifestyle.

Supporting gay rights arguably opened the door for content involving more sexual partners and the normalisation of girl on girl sex. Playboy published the first black playmate in 1965 and held many racially integrated parties, whilst some might argue that of course money and readership numbers are also colour blind. Playboy was congratulated on it’s extensive coverage of the AIDS epidemic but many have cited the need for the brand to promote healthy sex to maintain a position non-responsibility more broadly, with it supporting research into the successful treatments of STD’s also. Interviews with icons such as Malcolm X, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Miles Davis giving the magazine some journalistic integrity and elevating the brand identity. Playboy also supported the work of the Kinsey Institute of Sex with an obvious advantage being made with the normalising of previously stigmatised behaviours. Critically to the Feminist perspective Playboy and Hugh Hefner supported and defended the Equal Rights Amendment and the fight for Women’s Reproductive Rights. This was fundamental to the legacy Playboy was building; in order to have a scenario where you are having lots of sex with multiple partners, without monogamy or marriage, you needed women to not only have socio-economic independence but you also needed them to have access to safe and legal abortion.  Playboy Feminism was never one of equality. It is a sexual liberation created by men and for their benefit only, in contrast it is the infancy of Rape Culture for women.

Interestingly Playboy has many women at its helm and takes a firm stance on the position that women read and enjoy its content and find it empowering, fuelling the Raunch Culture fire. This fails however to acknowledge the difference between “I was paid to” and “I’m taking control of my sexuality”. Playboy creates a skewed kind of inclusiveness that sells a concept of equal opportunity objectification where all women are fair game and the more of them reduced to sexual stereotypes the more inclusive they are being. Painting themselves as Feminists or allies who are so kind as to engage in the objectification of all women equally. Oh aren’t we lucky. And what’s more the only alternative offered to this one dimensional subservient view of female sexuality is to be labelled a  frigid prude. As Ariel Levy writes: “Raunch Culture then, isn’t an entertainment option, it’s a litmus test of female uptightness.”

Hefner was clear in his parameters for what a Playboy girl should be like and the kind of Feminists that he didn’t like. When interviewed in 1967 he described the Playboy Girl as “never sophisticated, a girl you cannot really have. She is a young simple girl, the girl next door.  We are not interested in the mysterious , difficult woman, the femme fatale. The Playboy Girl has no lace, no underwear, she is naked, well washed with soap and water, and she is happy.” Arguably, she is not, but there you go.

We ended the evening with a brief discussion on the lack of an equivalent for women. It has been argued over the years that the demand for male strippers and erotic spreads in magazines is considerably less than the demand for content aimed at straight heterosexual men. The consensus appeared to be that women just wouldn’t pay for it, that it’s done in a way that is cheesy and cringe inducing and not at all genuinely erotic. There is the old myth that women aren’t visually stimulated or aroused but the ever growing trend in women watching gay porn, attending ladies and couples nights at sex clubs and frankly the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, would beg to differ. It would be interesting to consider this conversation further and explore the more nuanced elements of female desire and reverse objectification, not least because we definitely brought up Ryan Gosling more than once!  (for Feminist Ryan Gosling click here – you know you want to)

As always check out The Minefield Booklist on Instagram for other great recommended reads for all ages as well as or our usual Instagram for visual treats and Feminist fun.

xx

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