New Year Revolutions: Feminism, by Charlotte Latimer
This year, resolutions should be revolutions. Let us start the year with hopeful predictions before we become any more jaded. As Nyx is not just night, she is also woman (the other, the unknown, but where things are unknown anything is possible) let us decide that this year Feminism will revolutionise itself and prove to the world how invigorating and dynamic it can be. Rather than getting caught up in simplistic or essentialist understandings of gender let’s use the plurality of feminist positions and perspectives as an opportunity and not a threat. ‘Feminism’ should not be viewed as knowledge to be captured and classified but a force for change and newness. Let’s use it to oppose capitalistic and neoliberal understandings of identity and the self and create new forms of resistance and liberation. It will be flexible and fluid; different problems need different solutions, there cannot be one universal-catch all feminist perspective (check out Mohanty’s Under Western Eyes (1984) if you want some post-colonial clarification). Let’s use it to fight against injustice and for equality.
The argument that women will be worse affected by the cuts has shone a light back onto feminism with people arguing for and against its value. Somehow it’s become difficult to talk about feminism without admitting that there are essential biological differences between men and women. Rather than making claims about a historical or universal ‘man’ or ‘woman’ we should be questioning the need for rigid categorisation. Instead we should be using the category as a performative tool to highlight that, for whatever reason you want to attribute it to, women have always been paid less than men and this has a lot to do with what kind of work and attitudes ‘society’ values. Women are not a separate category away from men and children, as Wollstonecraft argued in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) : the better things are for women the better things are for everyone. Feminist critiques aren’t just about helping women, they bleed into all kinds of other social, cultural and political issues. We need to fight not only against the cuts but beyond the cuts to the systemic problems that they are an accelerated extension of.
In 1981 Cynthia Cockburn asked “Will the intrinsic interdependency of keyboard and computer force a re-gendering of ‘typing’ so that it is no longer portrayed as female?”, and interestingly enough it has. How gender is configured has to be understood as relational and contextual and it must be acknowledged that those configurations are always producing new affects. Last year the Feminist Review published a special issue on communication and media and elsewhere feminist are critiquing our built environments (creativevents.com). Zoe Williams’ recent Feminism in the 21st Century (2011) cites Sylvia Walby’s work on how gender is produced today through neoliberalism. Regardless of gender, the neoliberal era is obsessed with body image; it’s a totally controlling and oppressive phenomenon where all our energies are driven into trying to produce our bodies in a certain way. The body is perhaps the only space of power most people have. (There are increasing quantities of literature being published on the politics of fat – a trend kick-started by Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist issue (1978)).
Feminism should push forward ideas and approaches that allow both men and women to feel out alternative ways of being and seeing. Williams’ article also suggested that female sexuality should play a role in female liberation. Prior to neoliberalism, Helene Cixous saw “imbecilic capitalist machinery” as a key factor in women’s oppression and argued that women should reclaim their bodies as their “libido will produce far more radical effects of political and social change than some might like to think.” Positioning sexuality as a force that shapes and affects the world opens up new theoretical challenges and possibilities. Thinking through the body and finding ways to articulate the things that we feel and can’t express is one of many steps towards a new kind of politics that smashes neoliberal capitalism and all its oppressions.
“And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it.” -Cixous