30 Sep 2009, Comments (14)

Times On Line Journalist First Woman to Speak Up about Sexism

Author: Helen

Janice Turner writes about everyday sexism – you know, the ordinary stuff which we soak in – and invites readers to submit their own stories. (H/T: The F Word.) Which is a great idea, no? Except:

When The Times published my article last month on how feminism’s silence over the past decade has ushered in a grim, sexualised culture, I was astonished by the response. Hundreds of women — and some men — commented on the website, many more e-mailed me directly. The message overwhelmingly was: thank God, someone is saying this — I thought I was alone.

Get that? Don’t Blame the Patriarchy; it’s feminism’s silence which is responsible for the grim, sexualised culture. Leave the patriarchy out of it; what did feminism expect, going out dressed like that? It didn’t scream or try to run away!

It’s just that I’ve had it up to here with the “feminists have been silent about…” trope that springs up everywhere in the media both on line and off.

As far as daily life goes, in her anecdote about the newspaper editor, she illustrates beautifully the “not ruining the entire afternoon” and “not wanting to be the strident joy-killer” pressures that weigh on women and girls who are already conditioned to be nice and nonconfrontational. As well as the forces of “get over it” and “sense of humour” and “overreacting”, there’s the Concern Troll which sometimes appears when we do bring the topic of everyday sexism: Why are you blogging/writing talking about this trivia which is only the concern of rich, western white women? Why are you Silent about [insert preferred topic here]. As many of us don’t want to be entitled whingers, that shuts us up, too. It would be nice if Turner could have paid some attention to the pressures that silence us.

Turning to the writing thing, for one, most of us – unlike Turner – don’t have a platform in the mainstream media. Indeed, you don’t go out and force yourself into the mainstream media as an opinion writer; you get invited in, so how she could judge us as silent or not in the days before blogging is a mystery. It’s also a mystery why she should blame feminist “silence” instead of the much more likely assumption that the mainstream doesn’t like us and that a male dominated media company and editorial staff are likely to reflect that dislike. Most importantly, she demonstrates a lack of knowledge or disregard of just what has been going on in the online world for the last decade.

Turner could educate herself a little as to just how silent feminists have been by going through the archives at Feministe, Shakesville and its predecessor Shakespeare’s Sister, Pandagon, Feministing, The F word, I Blame the Patriarchy, Hoyden about Town and of course I could go on (and on and on), but you get the idea.

Ad for Times on Line LUXX magazine featuring woman in crazee Couture with headgear like black bunny ears, described as Power Dressing.

This is described as Power Dressing.

I notice that Turner herself is silent about the fact that (1) the editors have relegated her article about a gender issue to the Life and Style section, again, and (2) her job of convincing any sceptical reader is massively reduced by having pictures like the one above on advertising links in the sidebar. (Power dressing? You have to be joking. Isn’t it hard enough for women to be taken seriously in positions of power without dressing up in ridiculous space outfits with little black bunny ears? Fuck off.)

But fear not, because, having discovered sexism in late 2009, she will now Save Feminism:

Feminism — or whatever you want to call it — is back, and we’re not going to take it any more.

Corr! Powerful stuff, Janice. Thing is, it hadn’t gone away. She just wasn’t paying attention. And that’s not a crime, but it makes her look silly when she plays the “Silence of the Feminists” card.

Comments (14)

  • Bernice says:

    By way of example of the mainstream and its attitudes, I listened to Fran Kelly interview a biographer of Polanski this morning. And listened in utter total f*cking disbelief as he spoke of Polanski’s 13 year old rape victim as somewhat complicit. Polanski drugged her. Remember? Which he directly stated, but I cannot do justice to the efforts he went to imply some degree of consent. Never mind that she was 5 years under the age of consent at the time.
    And I kinda waited for Kelly to slap him on it; yes the Samoan tsunami disaster was just unfolding, but still…

    And I sat there and thought what the f*ck is wrong with us when a child, a girl, is expected to bear some of the blame for an adult’s violent predatory sexual behaviour?

    It isn’t that feminists are silent; they’re not f8cking listening; not interested; don’t rock the boat; get with the program. And make sure you pack a pair of those Heffner tribute ears.

  • […] See also: Women have not been silent and blogging IS activism. Filed under: Uncategorized   |  Leave a Comment […]

  • […] Just in case there were any concern that feminists just don’t talk about important issues enough … […]

  • Ariel says:

    Nice one Helen.

    And god yes, Bernice, the Polanski issue is one that has shocked me in the media treatment of it. Unbelievable. It’s a pretty f**king simple moral issue. Rape of a child who said ‘no’ the whole way through – not to mention the gross power gap issues and the fact that, as you point out, she’s 5 years below the age of consent. It worries me, that the ‘right’ of a man to make great art is considered more important than the fact that he raped a child. And then ran away from sentencing. Okay, I’ll stop now …

  • armagny says:

    She writes for the Times. She’s part of the problem. Enough said.

  • tor says:

    The world has been incredibly hostile towards feminism for the last decade at least (more so than usual). We’ve been talking, but no ones been listening.

    I do wonder though if sex pos feminism (in its watered down, mass media form) has contributed to the mainstream’s idea that feminism has not been challenging the increasingly sexualised culture we live in.

    ‘Cause while sex pos feminism has good intentions, I do think that in championing things like burlesque as a feminist practice, it has allowed the mainstream to simply miss the point behind sex positivity and just be blinded by the boobies: “Whooyeah! Stripping is feminist now!”

  • Boganette says:

    Great post. Feminism has never been silent. The voices of those who attack feminists and women in general have just been so damn loud that the ‘voice’ of feminism is often blocked out.

    I am also kind of sick of commentators insisting feminism has to be fashionable and simple. Feminism isn’t about slogans. I feel it gets so dumbed down in order to get mainstream appeal. All this girl power bullshit instead of having real dialogue about important issues.

    Shit like “Feminism — or whatever you want to call it — is back, and we’re not going to take it any more.” just makes me want to barf. How about some respect for women who have been fighting the whole time these same commentators crapped on about how feminism wasn’t fashionable but apparently now is.

    And Tor I completely agree with you re: sex pos feminism.

  • Lizzie says:

    I guess this is just part of feminism reinventing itself with each generation. It hurts to feel outmoded, especially when the new model lacks the features of the old model.

    Still, this new “i’m not an oldfashioned feminist so don’t be frightened” attitude is letting her write about how sick we all are of the porno at eye level in newsagencies – the stuff we edit out of our daily rant quota because we’ve tried and failed. Silver lining.

    Re Polanski. I just don’t get it. She was a child, poor thing. He drugged her and raped her. It’s not possible for a child to consent. Much less a child who has been drugged. Much less a child who has been drugged and is trying to run away and repeating “no”. The media commentators who contend that she somehow contributed to the rape are contemptable.

    Miranda Divine pointed out the other day “If he were a Catholic priest arrested for child sex abuse 30 years ago there would be no pleas for leniency, nor should there be.”

  • M-H says:

    Excellent post. Thanks Helen. I’ve been here all along, soaking in it and writing and talking about it. As you point out, lots of much more articulate people have been too. And they have been routinely denigrated by mainstream newspapers. Now that the moral panic over the sexualisation of our culture has become a fashionable cause, suddenly the very forces that have ridiculed and silenced and ignored the women who have been talking about this as it developed have to find a woman to make it all nice and comfortable again.

    Spare me.

    And right on about the silencing that is occurring on some feminist blogs. It’s sad how often a different angle on the subject under discussion, especially one that comes from an older woman with a different life experience, is not welcome. Yes, I’m bitter.

  • Helen says:

    Many apologies to Boganette and Lizzie, stuck in moderation (first comment) all that time – I’ve got a new blog admin upgrade and visually the new moderation system doesn’t suit me as well as the old one IMO. I totally missed the fact that your comments hadn’t been approved. Sorry about that!

  • derrida derider says:

    Gee, silence is not a fault I would ever accuse feminists of. NTTAWTT of course.

    On the rapist Polanski, apart from his morally bankrupt Hollywood friends and parts of the French goverment (who as a matter of principle refuse to accept that non-French laws should ever apply to Frenchmen) he has found very few supporters. Neither should he.

  • belledame222 says:

    Wait. “Grim” -and- “sexualized?” Is feminists’ fault? Ok, that’s a slightly new one.

  • […] Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony argues it isn’t a case of feminists being silent, although she acknowledges those voices are rarely heard in the mainstream. She also criticises Turner for showing “a lack of knowledge or disregard of just what has been going on in the online world for the last decade” and picks up on the fact that feminists are often criticised for being silent on a variety of issues: “I’ve had it up to here with the “feminists have been silent about…” trope that springs up everywhere in the media both on line and off”. […]

  • Jan says:

    This is a thought-provoking thread; thank you.

    Rhetorical questions: Is it wrong to wonder whether — similarly to covert domestic ops like Cointelpro that infiltrated Vietnam-era anti-war movements from within — the white radical feminist movement may have been infiltrated with turncoats in the nature of domestic double-agents charged to divide and conquer feminism as a viable political force for change? How better to derail the liberation of women than from the inside?

    We as women are inherently very powerful, so much so that covert tactics may have been the only thing that would derail second-wave feminism. Before, there was witch-torture to destroy non-patriarchal women, continuing there is rape and murder, along with modern sex-torture porn freely available to anybody online (including power tools to destroy permanently the tender tissues of the female cervical/anal platform, for example). If so, what is our best strategy now? Certainly pole-dancing as sex-pozzie “liberation” cannot be considered authentic feminism by any woman in control of her own mind, the body notwithstanding.

    Small wonder that sisterhood so far is not so powerful with global patriarchy aligned against us. Maybe we must each claim our own true power as a start and refuse to let anybody (female, male, other animal) exploit us no matter what their stated or unstated politics. We can learn to discount the rhetoric of women whose loyalty is questionable much as we intelligently ignore men when they are talking. We can focus on behavior instead of rhetoric, no matter who is doing the behaving.

    Harriet Tubman is my hero. Women remain today’s virtual slaves of gender caste, because even prominent women only reach their status in step with the society men have made. To paraphrase Tubman: “I freed 1,000 slaves; I’d have freed more if they’d known they were slaves.”

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