North American feminism has drowned in triviality. It produces nothing but strings of passive-voice phrases and collections of silly anecdotes about hurt feelings. My blogroll today brought me a sampling of what feminist writing is all about these days:
The “Somebody Was Not Nice at a Cocktail Party” Genre: “She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books, and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West.The man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.”
The “Let’s Passive Voice Women to Death” Genre: “Femininity is so often conflated with powerlessness, so often painted as inferior, so often the target of street harassment.”
The genre is enormously popular, so there are always scores of articles in it: “““Some of the very qualities that make for great top-level editors, such as firm decision-making ability and willingness to stand up for your point of view against competing interests — are qualities that are often lauded in men and seen as overly abrasive in women,” said Ann Friedman, former deputy editor of The American Prospect.”
And some more: “Women face a classic double bind: if they confirm female stereotypes of gentleness, communality, and physical attractiveness, they are liked more but presumed less competent. If they disconfirm female stereotypes and act confident and assertive, they are liked less and presumed to have poor social skills. Both being liked and being considered competent is vital for getting hired, retained, and promoted.”
I’ve read hundreds of posts in this genre and let me tell you, the people who do all this presuming, seeing and considering are NEVER named. I have arrived at a conclusion that not naming them has a purpose. If you identify the culprit, you’ll have to do something about the situation. Vague, passive speechifying, on the other hand, is something one can enjoy in perpetuity.
The “Words Can Kill” Genre: “As I walk through the camp to the makeshift kitchen to drop off my baked goods (a donation, as I can’t be there myself), I say to some older women camped out there how wonderful it is to see so many people stepping up. They look at me and smile. ‘We’re doing it for your children, love.’ I reply. ‘Well, maybe not for my children, but for those of my sisters, definitely.’ They gaze back at me, as if they know something about me that I don’t. ‘Oh, you’ll want children one day. Everyone does.’ Again, I reply, slightly more firm this time, slightly more on edge. ‘I don’t want children.’ One of them points to the t-shirt I am wearing: a large tree with leaves made of music notes and roots stretching into the ground. ‘But your shirt has the tree of life on it. It’s the natural way of things.’ I shake my head and leave. Suddenly, the place has become menacing.”
In my search I also encountered a new genre, which is the People’s Clothes Hurt Me: “The shirt was offensive through and through, and it rankled. It hurt. It made me feel lesser and unwelcome. It felt as though that shirt was trying to single-handedly put me in my place—a distinctly inferior and foreign place.” Mind you, the shirt discussed in the anecdote is offensive. But it’s the language that describes the encounter that is so disturbing to me.
It took me all of 15 minutes to cull these and I could have easily found many more if I had the patience. Each of the quotes on its own is not a big deal. But when you keep seeing dozens of them every day and when there is nothing else, you’ve got to start wondering what the hell is going on.
In the meanwhile, do you know when was the last time I saw in my enormous blogroll that I read daily any articles on the subject of, say, paternal leave or preschool childcare, which, I am deeply convinced, are the central real issues North American feminism faces today?
The answer is: never.