Who You Calling A Bad Feminist?
May 17, 2009 9:02 AM   Subscribe

If you had to pinpoint today's problem that had no name, what would it be? In answer to that question, Linda Hirshman launches an attack on tabloid feminism prompted by last summer's spirited appearance on Lizz Winstead's show, Thinking and Drinking by Jezebel contributors Tracie Egan, a.k.a. Slut Machine (second link possibly NSFW) and Moe Tkacik. Jezebel's Megan Carpentier responds. Is this the future of feminism?
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth (38 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is this the future of feminism?

Maybe, maybe not. But it is the future of people yelling at one another to get attention.
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:11 AM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

The future of feminism is DIY capitalism. Everyone is a freelancer! Time value of money dictates not reporting date rape now dictates that the present value of not reporting date rape is future value over (1+i)^n where i is the number of blog posts a day and n is the number of fiscal quarters until you exploit it for more page views.
posted by geoff. at 9:19 AM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Which camp claims "Sex in the City" so I can spot the posers?
posted by Brian B. at 9:19 AM on May 17, 2009

I've had a problem with Sex-and-the-City Feminism for some time now, largely for the same reasons that I dislike the conspicuous consumption of country-club Republicans. They both work so hard and shout so loudly for freedom, only to let it atrophy in insularity and selfishness. Rahm Emmanuel just spoke at my alma, and he said "there is a greater good beyond the walls of your own ambition... Apathy is not an option." The difference between Jezebel's feminism and Hirshman's brand is that Egan and Tkacik's ideology stops once you reach the outer layers of their clothing.
posted by The White Hat at 9:24 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

"possibly NSFW"? "POSSIBLY" NSFW???? Where the hell do you people work, anyway -- in a BDSM gift shop?
posted by Mike D at 9:29 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is this the future of feminism?

It looks more like the future of alcoholism.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:30 AM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mike D.

What? Where do you work? Cleavage and knives? Jeez.
posted by sfts2 at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2009

Is this the future of feminism?

no, it's the present of self-exploitation for cheap thrills and cheap bucks
posted by pyramid termite at 9:37 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, Double X. I've given you a shot and I've read 2 FPPs about you in as many days. So far, the only thing it's made me question is the need for "women's news" in my life. I think I'll stick to a healthy dose of regular old news.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2009

Should I get drunk before I comment on this? It's eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning, for Chrissake.
posted by box at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is an ongoing fight between Hirshman and Jezebel that goes back a couple of years now, and it keeps revealing the same fairly predictable fault lines among folks who call themselves feminists. They're interesting fault lines, but I'm not sure watching these two fight it out is going to be your most enlightening option.

How can writers who justify not reporting rape criticize the military for not controlling…rape?

Wow, that's a ridiculous stretch. Any legit critique Hirshman has - and there are plenty - is undercut seriously by that absurd attack.

Last year, Denton tied part of the Jezebels’ pay to their page views. Anyone who raised her page views above a certain number got a bonus. According to one media analyst, traffic at Jezebel increased that year by 83 percent. Seeing his workers’ compensation go up as a result of their efforts, Denton did the obvious strongman thing and terminated the bonus system.

God I never tire of reading stuff like that about Denton.

posted by mediareport at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

This whole thing is a mess and I think it's a case where everyone involved is basically wrong. Or at the very least, "not right." (The Guardian piece is sensible and great, though.)

I have my issues with Jezebel. I liked it reading it at first but I began to be turned off by the tone. Yeah, it's a little snarky and shrill, but I began to get the impression they have as narrow of a definition of women as the "traditional" role -- it just turns it on its head.

I have no problem with women wanting to go out drinking and sleeping around. I also have no problem with women wanting to stay home and have babies. Jezebel seems to say if you pick the latter over the former, you're not a feminist (for a site that often talks about "girl on girl crime," they seem to perpetrate a lot of it).

But I don't think Linda Hirshman is really helping matters here either. I think she has a point in there somewhere, but her tone just feels kind of ... well, "hateful" is too strong of a word. There's definitely some "kids these days" disapproval in there, but there is also some, perhaps, jealousy. In that way, I think she's just as bad as some of what's on Jezebel.

To me, though, I just don't think there's any one singular definition of what a woman is or should be. Other than a human being, of course. There are plenty of issues about men, women and gender issues to discuss, but I don't think either side here is really doing a good job of it.
posted by darksong at 9:46 AM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Non-Jezebel feminists respond (with open recognition of Jezebel writers' occasional screwups):

Sady at Tiger Beatdown

Jill at Feministe

In short: Hirshman is staking out the position that feminism is only ok if women do it her way. Otherwise, they're slutty slut stupid sluts. But, the links say these things more coherently and calmly.

Most uncool part: Hirshman gets on a Jezebel writer who was too scared to report a rape she experienced at age 17 in a foreign country, uses that as a reason it's wrong for the same writer to call out the US military on not reporting rapes within its organization.
posted by emjaybee at 9:47 AM on May 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

From Salon:

Double X's managing editor was plucked straight from Jezebel...

That's so fucking funny. I know Double X is trying to make a big splash (and their ad department certainly sees the angry attention as a plus), but running stuff like Hirshman's dumb piece to do it is a huge turnoff. It just makes the site look petty and small.
posted by mediareport at 10:01 AM on May 17, 2009

> There's definitely some "kids these days" disapproval in there

posted by Decimask at 10:03 AM on May 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

The thing that bugs me here is that in the original interview we're not getting: "At 17 I was just too scared to report this rape." from the Jezebel writer, we're not even getting: "In retrospect? I wish I'd reported him, he could have gone out and done the same thing to other women." No, we're getting: "I had better things to do, like getting drunk."

This represents a lifestyle which does say that insignificant thrills are more important to this woman than either even attempting to get justice, or protecting others from something she's been through. There's nothing wrong with a teenage girl being too afraid to report a rape, but when that girl goes on to become an icon for other young women, calls herself a feminist, and continues to propagate that kind of message? Yeah, she is setting a bad example, and to me? That certainly isn't feminism.

The problem here isn't with how much sex women may or may not be having, or what personal lifestyles they choose to live, it's about responsibility to one another and to the next generation of women who will grow up in the world that we're building now. It's about (if you'll forgive falling back on a cliche), sisterhood.
posted by emperor.seamus at 10:07 AM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

From the Granuiad: ""Feminism is about women choosing how to behave and having the same rights and freedoms to behave badly as men do, so in order to make these choices we need to be able to read about women who have made all kinds of choices.""

First off, I am a guy. So that colors my response. However, that seems like a philosophy of nihilism and stupidity. The answer to men behaving badly—and I don't think promiscuity is necessarily behaving badly, though I think it's blinkered to not realize that it has higher risks both social and physical for women—is not equally bad behavior from women. That's tu quoque reasoning—You also. It's the reasoning of a younger sibling, not an equal.

Part of the problem with this debate is the power of legitimacy that comes from "feminism" framing. By now, and this is just from the outside, "feminism" is a frame as a whole that doesn't allow criticism, at least from anyone who's half-way intelligent. So the only way to criticize the actions of a "feminist" as "feminism" is from within "feminism." That impervious shielding means that "feminism" is an attractive aegis for narcissists, assholes, attention-seekers and drama addicts to embrace by dint of their gender (men get that power largely by not having to seriously engage with feminism if they don't want to). And every movement or ideology will have narcissists, assholes, attention-seekers and drama addicts as part of it; the internet gives them a bigger voice—it's "empowering."

But it's empowering them to do stupid shit, like, say, declare that a woman was raped and if she doesn't dump her boyfriend she's an idiot (which happened in MeFi's last cross-site spat with the Jez), it is doing harm under the aegis of feminism, and that should rightly draw critique. Unfortunately, a fair number of moneyed, savvy women essentially reply with a childish, "Nuh-uh, I do what I want. I'm feminist."
posted by klangklangston at 10:12 AM on May 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

I've watched a friend support/coach another friend through a prosecution of rape.
It was ugly, and disheartening, and more than once bared the ugly core of some of our friends (witnesses).
Without my friend's pushing the matter, the case would never have made it to court. (Victim didn't want to think about it; police losing some statement records; aforementioned friends preferring to NOT give testimony (they had better things to do, like drink, and they were sort of friends with the assailant), etc.)

In the end the guy was held accountable and copped a plea where the incident was on his record in case he offended again. He paid the victim a settlement and moved away.

I cannot really imagine what it'd be like in that situation, but I DO believe that 'getting away with it' is a really horrible reinforcement for the perp. Gods forbid they develop a taste for it, but they've 'learned' there's no consequences aside from potential conscience.

As it happens, my friend is no longer in contact with the victim, and a number of other friendships were destroyed in the long prosecutorial process and its fallout. You know what? FUCK those 'friends'.

Such assaults cause mental damage that doesn't go away. It burrows deep, and eventually, you will, most likely, have to face it. It's a personal choice to report it. Better to choose to face it than suffer a breakdown when reminded of it.

Hirschman's editor failed her here. I wish I'd seen more about estimates that police give for how many rapes occur for every reported one.
You'd think someone with women's issues in mind would have a (larger) reserve of concern for Moe. I mostly got contempt for the stupidity she saw.
posted by Busithoth at 10:17 AM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

"feminism" is a frame as a whole that doesn't allow criticism, at least from anyone who's half-way intelligent.

Seriously? So are you saying "feminism as an idea is not something anyone is allowed to argue against" or "feminists don't allow criticism of anything they say or do"?

Because the first one: As the only central argument of feminism is "women have the right to full personhood and agency that is granted to men" I will admit having a hard time believing in any convincing argument against this. And it is true, most Westerners, at least, think that women's progress in terms of rights is a good thing.

For the second one: you're not reading very many feminists.
posted by emjaybee at 10:42 AM on May 17, 2009

Describing feminism as "women have the right to full personhood and agency that is granted to men" and then ignoring the rest of the package (its history, works, and personages) is naive at best, bordering on disingenuous. It's a tad like describing Christianity as "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and then forgetting about the rest of it.

Hardly anyone could take issue with the stated central tenets, but the conclusions which are drawn from them in the aforementioned package might not be entirely perfect for everyone, and pretending that you do not know the difference is not exactly fair play.

In fact, you're doing precisely what he has mentioned. Any criticism can be interpreted as "surely you're not against full personhood for women, are you?" rather than taking it as an invitation to the dialogue, "Well, what bits of it are you concerned about, then?"
posted by adipocere at 10:54 AM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Pretty much the first one—though I think that the definition you give is both kind of a sloppy one and one that contains a lot of subjective claims. Feminism is both an ideology and a political program, and encompasses both social and personal concerns, all under "feminism." Which means that I think that since everyone (well, my social group is pretty much college-educated and liberal, so everyone within that) pretty much agrees that feminism is a good thing, that there's a rhetorical advantage to arguing as a woman that whatever a woman wants to do is feminism, regardless of whether or not what that woman wants to do is stupid.

The corollary is that then the only critiques of feminism that are valid have to come from within feminism, which leads to these internecine disputes (allowing the fairly fringe anti-feminists to cherry-pick anti-feminist arguments). But because this is bound with feminism (as a political program) standing in opposition to social determination and judgment toward women's choices, it's a handy way to justify a broad swath of bad behavior.

I tend to see the pop-fem as leading toward a lose-lose proposition, where both men and women behave badly, rather than win-win, where both men and women behave to the good.

But then, I used to work in porn and had to hear feminist arguments advanced in the stupidest ways; I think the contrast between "individualist" and "feminist" drawn by some of the folks in the Guardian is apt.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on May 17, 2009

To be glib, I much prefer Bitch over Bust, and certainly Bitch over Jezebel.
posted by klangklangston at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Feminism is both an ideology and a political program

It's also a methodology, especially when it comes to theorizing and philosophy. And the political program, the ideology, and the methodology all have a very strange and not perfectly happy relationship to one another.

It's so complicated.
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:09 AM on May 17, 2009

It's an ersatz methodology—Deconstruction+Marxism.
posted by klangklangston at 11:16 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have so little respect for Jezebel already that I don't even want to click on the links. I just can't take another example of their so-called "feminist" narrative, which usually reads to me like "Screwed up women who don't take responsibility for childish and destructive behavior, and then criticize anyone who disagrees with them."
posted by misha at 11:46 AM on May 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think snarkyness is just the future of everything, to a certain extent. On the internet, there is no natural monopoly and therefore anyone can come in and take anyone's lunch. "Tabloid Feminism" is popular because that's what people want to read. You see the same thing with politics, there are lots of snarky blogs out there and blogs that mix snarkyness with outrage are the most popular.

If you go back in time, you'll see that most newspapers were very sensationalist and biased. You just have this weird anomaly where newspapers became prominent in society and didn't want to upset the social order that things got boring.

Now blogs are out there, giving people what they want. Which could be the mental equivalent of a snickers bar, I guess. I'm not arguing here that's a good thing, although I kind of think it is.
posted by delmoi at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2009

As a side note—That Objective model of newspapers was really the brainchild of Ochs, who ran the NY Times, and was explicitly set up to explain The Way Things Are from the perspective of the Upper Class Establishment to young men on the rise. That was why they didn't need sensationalism nearly as much—enough people wanted to be New York Times readers that it was a mark of class itself, and thus they could focus on being the irrefutable voice of Objective life. Things were the way they were because the NYT said they were. That grew into a broader commitment to objective journalism, but a lot of the NYT peculiarities make more sense through that historical lens.
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

I've got a friend who's part of the Lolita fashion scene in New York and was in some pictures in (if I recall) the Times. Jezebel posted those pictures and hosted a long discussion about how terrible these women were for liking fashions which, according to the Jezebel posters, eliminated their personhood and made them into pedophile bait. Even when some of the individuals from the story showed up to defend themselves, many posters continued to insist that they, without any firsthand knowledge of it, knew better than the people who actually knew about and enjoyed the fashion, and my friend and her friends should shut up.

So uh, fuck Jezebel.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2009

Jezebel has always seemed pretty gross to me, like someone throwing up all over their tuxedo T-shirt at a party. After that kerfluffle back in March, my opinion has gone even further downhill.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:39 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's hoping that the future of anything doesn't depend on a blog about it (or supposedly about it) trying to establish their cred by attacking their most likely competitors. Unless it's something that I want to fail, in which case, go at each other, you mofos.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:46 PM on May 17, 2009

fyi, moe tkacik is blogging at TPM now, although she's not on the masthead. i'm assuming it's something similar to Kos diaries. her stuff has made the front page of TPM a bunch lately, though.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:53 PM on May 17, 2009

There's more than one branch of feminism, and thinkers from different feminisms often disagree with each other vociferously. It's worth remembering that "feminism" is not a monolithic ideology, and therefore, "Feminism is the belief whereby women have the right to full personhood and agency that is granted to men," is pretty much the shared tenet between them all. It's not disingenuous to keep the definition that simple - it's the only truthful way.
posted by bettafish at 3:09 PM on May 17, 2009

The future of feminism? No way, this is just the same old bitchfest dressed up for the 2000s.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:19 PM on May 17, 2009



posted by Space Kitty at 3:57 PM on May 17, 2009

> Here's hoping that the future of anything doesn't depend on a blog about it (or supposedly about it) trying to establish their cred by attacking their most likely competitors.

I've often thought about that myself, with my blog (and well, just in life). I came to the conclusion that just because someone reads my blog doesn't mean they won't read someone else's. Or if they read someone else's, that doesn't mean they won't read mine, too. It's not that I think "yay, everyone needs to be the best of friends!" but just that I think there is room for a lot of voices without trying to silence ones that might be in conflict with yours. And I think there is completely room to be supportive of your so-called competitors.

I think Jezebel wants to be this sort of one-stop "this is the only 'lady' blog you need" kind of thing. And I think that's silly. I think DoubleX has bought into that too. I know there's ad dollars and such at stake, but this doesn't feel like a discussion, or even a debate. It sounds like people talking over each other and refusing to listen to the other side. It gets attention for a little while, but ultimately, I think it alienates people would would otherwise be interested.
posted by darksong at 3:58 PM on May 17, 2009

nor do they accept any responsibility as role models for young women

This is what bothered me in Winstead's piece. The problem is that they're not responsible for themselves, not some some teenagers they've never met. "Keeping up appearances" was used for long enough to control female behavior.

They don't owe anything to kids, and they do not have any responsibility to be role models for young women. Raise your own damn kids.
posted by spaltavian at 6:11 PM on May 17, 2009

"There's more than one branch of feminism, and thinkers from different feminisms often disagree with each other vociferously. It's worth remembering that "feminism" is not a monolithic ideology, and therefore, "Feminism is the belief whereby women have the right to full personhood and agency that is granted to men," is pretty much the shared tenet between them all. It's not disingenuous to keep the definition that simple - it's the only truthful way."

Yeah, thanks, but I've been through Feminism 101. I know that feminists disagree with each other—that's kind of inherent in the statement that effectively all of the criticism of feminism comes through feminism. And no one said that it was disingenuous to keep the definition simple.

Sorry if I'm coming across as pissy, but I feel like both you and emjaybee missed the point of what I was saying entirely and are coming across as rather condescending.
posted by klangklangston at 6:20 PM on May 17, 2009

If there's one thing Metafilter has taught me about feminism it's that everything is the fault of science fiction, so I blame the new Star Trek movie.
posted by Artw at 7:36 PM on May 17, 2009

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