Slippery Little Devil: Feminism

March 14, 2007 at 4:05 pm (politics)

Feminism is funny

When I first discovered my mother’s stash of Doris Lessing books, I was delighted. My mom – dedicated warrior against all things genre (unless the genre was nouvelle vague or Russian realism) – had forayed into science fiction? Also, female sf writer? Has to be feminist. And if she’s a feminist, she must agree with me on gender equality issues, and I can safely expect her books to offer me the warm fuzzy smugness of agreeing on politics. Little did I know that Lessing was but a few years away from denouncing her status as a “feminist icon” (having already denied writing “science fiction”), or that feminism was mighty different back in the day (1970s). I trudged part way through her Canopus in Argos series, and wasn’t quite sure whether to laugh or cry when I got to what can only be described as the sf precursor to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – part two of the series, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five (1980, admittedly).

The novel basically describes the forced marriage between a queen from a planet of low hierarchy, happiness, and small furry animals, and a king from a war-like planet with military discipline, killing, and no emotions. From the book jacket:

“The ideal countries invented by women are always kindly, hedonistic, indulgent. Such is Zone Three, and in it is nothing harsh. And the archetypal male country is hierarchic, disciplined, inflexible, dutiful. Perhaps this difficult marriage, unwanted by both, can be seen as an analogy for the balances between impulse and reason, between the instinctive and logical modes of the mind.”

The queen teaches her king about empathy, while he directs her to no longer have sex with her sons in her perverse, yet happy-hippy-oh-look-a-unicorn kind of way.

(Side note on why anyone would include incest in a description of happy-land: I think this is because

1) the mother-child bond is so emotionally and physically symbiotic that without society’s bonds mothers would welcome and even pursue any and all forms of intimacy with their children, and

2) monogamy is a male creation to control women and reproduction, and artificially creates sexual shame, and

3) sex for women is intimacy, love & cuddles, while for men it is a fierce, aggressive conquest/fight for power. This means mother-son incest can be okay in happy-unicorn world, while father-daughter incest would be rape. Oh, and

3b) Women have huge untapped subconscious worlds with visions of embodiment, sexuality and communication undreamt of by poor, semi-autistic men, and feared by them, and subsequently by our culture. And still probably

4) The point of the novel that both men and women (PROFOUNDLY different as they are from DIFFERENT PLANETS no less) need each other to flourish and grow – a world dominated by women would be as unhealthy as one dominated solely by men, because women=mothers, while men=killers, and both have much to learn from one another in happy yin-yang heteronormativity.)

I, of course, disagree with at least 90% of this. And it was a little traumatic to find that as a feminist, I’m bundled together with people who think that it is a profound truth of human nature that (all) women give birth (actually and figuratively) and (all) men destroy, and such is the way of the world. I knew this, but somehow reading an entire novel was like entering into a conversation with the author, and as such really drove this point home.

I think I’ve been on the receiving end of this reaction myself, most often in conversations that start with a variation of “Don’t we feminists all just hate porn?” It seems surprisingly many Scandinavian feminist groups centre their political agenda around anti-porn and anti-prostitution arguments. A small minority disagrees, but is often tragically misunderstood by the media (“So, professor, are there any, uh, pictures in your dissertation?”). The saddest thing is that in extreme forms this can mean that there is little show of solidarity for sex workers among feminists for fear of seeming pro-prostitution. Seeing as liberal reforms reduce class awareness and postpone the inevitable revolution.

Do I get to be a feminist even though I disagree with almost everything ever written by one of the (sadly) late greats of feminism, Andrea Dworkin? Is the third wave really just a way of turning feminists into a marketing focus group? Is capitalism unreconcilable with feminism? How far should feminists grin and bear massive disagreements with each other in order to present a unified front to the REALLY stupid people?

On a side note, ladiesagainstfeminism?? wtf?

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