25 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Feminism Failed according to AGE op-ed page (again)

Feminism Failed according to AGE op-ed page (again)

Author: Helen

What a steaming pile of dingoes’ kidneys we found on the opinion page of the AGE today. “Ja’mie [of We can be Heroes and Summer Heights High] is an unintended consequence of feminism.” Because, like, my go-ad, no WAY could she, or any of the other characters in these series, be an overblown caricature!

Image from I can haz cheezburger, of course

Furthermore, there were never any selfish, egotistical, controlling alpha-bitches before twentieth-century feminism. (By now, you can hear the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Thackeray rolling in tears of laughter on their cloud.) Jennifer Sinclair is billed as a lecturer in sociology but she doesn’t offer any hard evidence to back up her thesis that selfish, overprivileged youngsters are worse behaved when they are brought up feminist. That’s probably because she hasn’t got any. Evidence, that is, not youngsters.

She also shows a depresssing (given her academic status) lack of understanding of what feminism is about.

The problem of Ja’mie is not because the wealthier classes and private schools have somehow been shielded from or stubbornly resisted feminist ideals and principles. On the contrary, many private girls schools, in particular, have taken up feminist principles with gusto. Girls are encouraged and trained to be independent, assertive leaders and have instilled in them a conviction that they are able to do and be whatever they want. Ja’mie certainly demonstrates this aspect of feminism — the “I can do whatever I want” aspect — albeit in a mutant form, which makes one wonder if Ja’mie isn’t feminism’s Frankenstein.
Feminism has challenged the idea that women should be quiet, docile and nice.
On that score, Ja’mie could be feminism’s poster girl. The gung-ho “you go girl” kind of feminism that swells the chests of principals of private girls schools when their students outgun the boys at whatever endeavour is on the go is just what the feminist doctor ordered.
The idea that girls should ever take a moment to consider other people in their quest to be and do whatever they want is simply not on the radar.

In her appeal for a “nicer”, more feminine feminism, Sinclair falls right into the trap of saying that the same faults – thoughtless egotism, controlling behaviour, and the rest of the Ja’mie trainwreck – are somehow less acceptable in girls than in their male peers. I’m all for niceness and nurturing qualities, but as second-wave feminism has taught us, it’s a crock to put all the responsibility for nice behaviour on our daughters and to raise them as a civilising influence on the barbaric boys. I’d also point out that schoolchildren (gasp!) are often immature! (It’s true!)

I don’t quite know where Sinclair got the idea that feminism is about riding roughshod over everyone in your path. Feminism is about the idea that women are are fully realised human beings, exactly as men are. That means we are going to get some wonderful, well-behaved specimens, and we are going to get some mediocrities, but the rules of good behaviour apply to men and women equally.

Rather than self-assured, Ja’mie is egotistical and insensitive but in a nastier way than that other famous egotistical and insensitive TV character, David Brent from The Office. Perhaps it has something to do with my age, but for an image of women behaving badly I’m much more attracted to Eddie and Pats of Absolutely Fabulous fame — at least there’s some sign of vulnerability and humanity underneath their self-indulgence and irresponsibility.

And with Brent you’re in no doubt that those around him recognise him for the total loser he is, despite the fact that he is (inexplicably) the manager.

It’s a common practice in tabloids and womens’ glossies to make out that feminism is about women having to be perfect superbeings, either professionally or morally. Actually, that has nothing to do with it, and we would expect better from an academic. Sinclair thinks that Ja’mie is “nastier” than David Brent (another overblown caricature); but she really can’t give a convincing explanation as to why that should be so. Is Ja’mie’s cynical faux-adoption of an African girl, for instance, worse than David’s sadistic game-playing with Dawn, when he tells her as a prank that she’s been sacked for stealing? Is there an Insensitivometer by which we can calibrate their badness, and is Sinclair giving extra weight to Ja’mie’s insensitivity? Who, out of these two fictional characters, has more power over others?

And this:

For the likes of Ja’mie, however, it’s a no-brainer. Along with sugar and spice, a soul seems to have been deleted from the new, improved girl formula.

(Bangs head on desk)- maybe because she’s a cartoon character?…

As a sociologist, refusing to look at any other cultural developments to explain why a privileged white western teenager might have internalised an ideal of ruthless competition and self-actualisation, well… I don’t think Sinclair’s really doing her job.

Ja’mie is only one idiot – and she’s a fictional idiot. I really think this is a flimsy scaffolding to hang your moral panic on. The question I leave you with is: why must the AGE trot out these pieces of strawfeminist bashing every week or two? Was the editor once frightened by a feminist in his pram, or something?

Comments (0)

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    It is, as you so eloquently remark, a steaming pile. And as you say, it’s peculiarly depressing for an academic — partly because it’s based on a very simple bit of faulty logic that the standard introductory Logic lecture in Philosophy 1 would have prevented her from making.

    The single interesting moment in that piece is Sinclair’s mention of the ‘monstrous feminine’, which is potentially an interesting way of thinking about that character. Unfortunately she doesn’t make the leap to mentioning that Ja’mie, like so many other incarnations of the Monstrous Feminine in culture (Dame Edna Everage, say), is the creation of a male artist.

    Much less that she is intended to be satirical. It’s incredibly scary to me that Sinclair doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of Summer Heights High at all. She appears to think it’s one of those other bastions of truth about conetmporary Australian society, Home and Away or New Idea.

  • Embarrassed says:

    A lot of what passes for sociology in this country really is also a pile.

  • Helen says:

    Unfortunately she doesn’t make the leap to mentioning that Ja’mie, like so many other incarnations of the Monstrous Feminine in culture (Dame Edna Everage, say), is the creation of a male artist.

    Yes, I didn’t even get onto that aspect of it – there was so much wrong with that article, it was a case of “where to start…”

  • Helen says:

    Embarassed, if you are who I think you are, I find your sociological writings perfectly sensible (and often accompanied by evidence!)

  • kate says:

    Jam’ie reminds me of the hideous private school girls in the Anne of Green Gables series, when Anne is a teacher organising the school production. They were monstrous, they were full of themselves, they were cruel. They were not influenced by feminism, and neither is Jam’ie in any meaningful way. Jam’ie is no worse than the (real) private school boys who went on a rampage a few years ago setting fire to hedges.

  • Bernice says:

    What is Jennifer Sinclair taking? I feel as if 20 years of sociological & cultural theory has bypassed her. Nay, make that 40. Goffman springs to mind for starters.
    Oh for heaven’s sake, I’m still trying to think my way through the episode where Jam’ie dates a Year 7 boy…man plays teenage girl who dates child…male child….
    Feminist? Jam’ie? yedda yedda yedda

  • The standard in the AGE these days sometimes makes me want to ring up Harry Clarke for a coffee on Saturday mornings while we read Quad-rant. At first it was just the inconsistent nonsense in films and tv from Schembri, then Sharon Gray went wobbly although she had excuses and a decent past record. I can’t make up my mind on Hardy on tv yet but at least she has potential if she can stop trying being too hip and Brunswick. Deveney is a sloppy kneejerk Boltonian horror.

  • Brad B says:

    Great article.

    I saw the headline to The Age article on their website, but didn’t think I’d click on it just in case the idiot author somehow profited half a cent per page view.

    (Oh, but the author of this article is welcome to my two cents.)

  • george says:

    I was also very puzzled by the Age article in that it addresses the Ja’mie character as if she were a participant in a “reality” show or a realistic drama, rather than a comic and satirical creation with a personality and moral framework that’s constructed entirely for, well, comic and satirical effect. Having watched all episodes (with much pleasure) it never occurred to me that she represented some by-product or outcome of feminism, monstrous or otherwise. Creative fictions of all sorts have been riddled with the Ja’mie type of egotistical and insensitive caricature for eons.

  • marymary says:

    I’m so glad crikey had a link to this blog today. That article really annoyed me, then I come here and someone has typed what I was thinking (my thoughts were much less coherent though…) and as a bonus, there’s a I can has cheezburger picture! It’s all good!

  • Helen says:

    Thanks folks, sorry you languished so long in the spamulator (except for FX, the spamulator knows him and just burps him out.) I was looking for the O RLY? owl, but I fell in love with the little… er… walrus, I think he is. Or she.

  • blue milk says:

    That was a long, long bow she drew in her thesis. Good on you for casting a critical eye on it.

  • Tony T. says:

    “I can’t make up my mind on Hardy on tv yet but at least she has potential if she can stop trying being too hip and Brunswick.”

    She could start by taking herself out of her reviews. Surely, SURELY!, not everything she writes needs to be prefaced with “Last week I found myself necking Cuervos and shots of Turkey on a scarlet ottoman with a too-cool-for-school (oooo, I’m such a dag) young drummer as we listened to Les Savy Fav when I turned on [insert shit show].

  • Helen says:


  • matilda says:

    Another titbit from the website of The Age, that great bastion of feminism, which continues to uphold the dignity of women to be more than their physical parts: A video of the world’s best bottoms! And this a day after a truly great opinion piece on ‘Media’s ugly obsession with women’s looks’ by Kate Seear. Nothing like promoting diversity of views.

    The Age website has long featured soft-porn, it used to be preoccupied with Kylie’s bum. All in the cause of bumping up their page hits, no doubt. It’s time for female Age journalists to stand up and say ‘enough is enough! Andrew Jaspan, throw out the degrading images – i don’t want to get all preachy, but really, raunch culture has been glorified for long enough. It’s only teaching our kids that a woman is only as good as her sexy body.

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