On feminism (again)

Every year, TIME magazine launches a poll in order to determine what their readers thought was the most worthy of being banned. This year, the list of candidates featured phrases like ‘om nom nom nom’ and ‘said no-one ever’. You know, shit we’re now bored of.

Also included was the word ‘feminism’, with this commentary appended:

You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.

TIME readers agreed, and the word quickly sailed to 45% of the total vote, with its closest competitor languishing at around 10%. Wow, I guess people agree with what you wrote, TIME magazine. Which is why you had to remove the word from the poll.

Yes, the fact that this word was included in the poll was enough to prompt a severe backlash in the same vein that prompted Matt Taylor into a grovelling apology over a bowling shirt. TIME’s editor, Nancy Gibbs, weighed in with a grovelling apology of her own:

TIME apologizes for the execution of this poll; the word ‘feminist’ should not have been included in a list of words to ban. While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.

I can see why this apology was warranted, after all. “Let’s stick to the issues” is the sort of radical woman-hating rhetoric I would expect from Dapper Laughs. I disagree, Nancy; I suspect the distraction was provided by the word itself, which is why everyone is so sick of hearing it.

I’m not really in favour of banning words – and neither, I suspect, is TIME. This exercise was conducted with a tongue placed firmly in-cheek. The backlash, however, was not. Could there have been a more emphatic proof of the merit of the original complaint? That a word is now actually banned from being involved in a list of things that aren’t really going to be banned?

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of what constitutes a feminist:

A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.

Now, I consider it perishingly unlikely that 45% of the people who responded to this poll disagree with feminism of that sort. The word ‘feminism’ clearly has broader, more annoying connotations – which is why people roll their eyes whenever it is mentioned.

“Oh god, here we go again,” say men, women, children, dogs and cats alike; “another hectoring rant about something inconsequential”. Now it’s associated with obsessive whining about the most trivial shit imaginable – shirts, banknotes and Bayonetta’s arse.

Feminism, as a movement, has a huge PR problem. It is blighted by dogmatism, a lack of self-criticism and an unwillingness to engage with contrary viewpoints – preferring instead a sort of sneering contempt at the idea that it should even have to.

In this sense, it has much in common with religion. It has reasonable proponents, and it has its extremist sects; it has its heresies, and it has its sacred cows. Indeed, Feminism has more sacred cows than India. Assumptions which, when challenged, result in a spasmolytic fit of outraged shit-flinging. I don’t have to listen to that, because you’re a sexist/misogynist/feministophobe/blasphemer.

Anyway, since we’re banned from banning feminism, I thought I’d go through a few other words and phrases which I don’t much care for – though that doesn’t mean I’d like to ban them. I just don’t swing that way, baby.

If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem

Though the saying preceded him, I think this line of reasoning was made famous by George Bush Jr. It is enjoying a resurgence, in a variety of forms, among feminists. I can think of only a single sane riposte to this sort of thing: A problem can have more than one solution – yours is a shit one. Now fuck off.

Mansplaining

As far as I can tell, this when a man explains something. If you’re doing a degree in physics or something, and you have to study the laws of motion, you can explain that Newton was simply mansplaining about the conservation of energy and whatever. His sneering condescension dribbles from every page of Principia.

Or maybe it’s when a man explains something which only a woman is allowed to have an opinion on, like rape or maternity rights or feminism. The word provides a means of ignoring an unwelcome fact or opinion. Indeed, I probably shouldn’t even be writing this blog, as I don’t have a womb.

Problematic

Now, I don’t consider the word ‘problematic’ to be problematic; I simply think it has acquired a euphemistic usage. Declaring something to be ‘problematic’ cunningly avoids explaining exactly what the problem is. Indeed, the fact of the problem is often taken to be self-evident.

I’m pretty convinced there’s a linguistic cause behind this; someone more studied in this sort of thing may be able to shed some light on it. “I have a problem with cheese” is a statement of personal viewpoint, about which you can either care or not care. “Cheese is problematic” presents a whiff of broader, more serious connotation. What the hell is wrong with the cheese? Does this problem affect us all? Perhaps I’m about to suggest you all become vegans. Whatever.

Lewis’s Law

Popular writer at the New Statesman, Helen Lewis, noticed that lots of the people commenting beneath articles on feminism were not feminists. In many cases, she considered their input most unwelcome. She posited a law to describe the problem.

Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism

As you might have noticed, Lewis’s law is not really a law, as it’s not testable. But leave that to one side, she’s obviously noticed that there are lots of total wankers on the internet. Well, on this much we agree.

But whether something is ‘justified’ a matter of opinion. You have to justify something to someone; you can’t justify something to thin air. So this is all subjective. You can substitute pretty much any position you like, with much the same outcome:

The comments underneath an article about ethnic cleansing justify ethnic cleansing.

The comments underneath an article about the hokey kokey justify the hokey kokey.

The comments underneath an article about moderating the comments section justify moderating the comments section.

Now, you may already be inclined toward genocide, over-gregarious communal dance and censorship, and the ire of your detractors may reaffirm that inclination. That does not say anything about the justness of the cause, in and of itself. Declaring it that it does, because of some immutable ‘law’ of the universe, is, shall we say, problematic.

I did notice, while researching the exact phrasing of Lewis’ Law, that she has attracted the ire of the wiki where it was listed, on the grounds that she is an ‘intersectional’ feminist. What the fuck this word means, I have no idea. Another schism within the church of Feminism.

Anyway, that’s it. I’m done. In conclusion: Feminism, this was not a good week for you.

Until next week.

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