Limits of Feminism

Feminism is a huge label incorporating women of many different perspectives. Usually diversity is a positive thing. But how do you react when members of your own group are effectively fighting for the other side?

Elsa posted a comment on my last post. I posted a reply that became far too long for the comments section. Also, I believe these arguments need to see the light of day whenever they appear. They’re old, they’re tiresome, but they have to be addressed rather than left to stand unchallenged, so I’m posting my reply here instead.

Exploiting women (or anyone) ticks me off too:

Then I’m shocked you wrote about the Vegan Vixens in a positive manner.

At a harp seal benefit

For the record, I grew up in the feminist movement, literally, marching in the front row of demonstrations and attending NOW conventions around the country as a toddler, teenager, and young adult. I’ve never shied from labeling myself with the “F” word.

Great. But being feminist means standing up against all oppression of women, not just when it’s convenient, and not indulging in it yourself.

I agree with many of the things that you discuss (great post on the tortuga ads) but also believe that there should be room for all viewpoints as well as all body types and species to coexist.

If you liked the post on the tortuga ads, how can you object to this post? I’m making the same point in both posts!

Viewpoints that support exploiting women are not welcom. As far as body types go, I didn’t mention anything about body types. Granted, there is one specific body type that’s exploited in this particular manner, but that wasn’t my point.

Yes, women’s bodies are used to sell all sorts of things. But it’s our individual choice to be upset by that, to give it more power than it deserves.

Sigh, I’m working hard to be polite, because that statement really angers me. You’re saying it’s ok for women to be exploited, and we just need to take a happy pill so we’re not bothered by it. Just close your eyes and it will go away? No, you see WE NEED TO BE ENRAGED AT THE EXPLOITATION OF WOMEN, not shrug it off as being “not my problem”.

And I’d argue that the Vegan Vixens don’t cater to misogynists but to people who in some way worship women, albeit in a shallow, lightheartedly lustful way. Want misogyny? Turn on any prime time detective show where the victims are ususally young women being horrifically sliced and diced.

First of all, men who need to see women in a submissive, sexbot way are “real” misogynists. They do not worship women. If they did, women would be running countries, making top dollar, and enjoy full human rights. Those innocent men would be the ones in a subservient postition. After all, one is subservient to the object being worshipped.

Misogyny exists everywhere, and we should be fighting it everywhere. Selective attention to oppression does not work. The Vegan Vixens feed right into misogyny: we’re here for male enjoyment, so go right ahead and use us.

If some women want to prance around and get their male meathead counterparts to think a different way about what they eat, who cares? Let those people carry on with their silly antics.

I care. Lots of feminists care. Exploiting women for a noble cause is wrong. Those “silly” antics have consequences for women. This is exactly the same point I made in my post on turtle eggs and sexism. You can’t be selective in its application.

If you don’t like that the Vegan Vixens may look like the usual thin, stereotypical pop culture “hot” women, then work to create your own alternative. Not all people even like those body types anyway.

You’ve missed the point by a mile. My objection isn’t over the Vegan Vixens’ body type. I don’t want to spread the exploitation to women of all body types. I want to END the exploitation. Why are you fixated on body type when I never mentioned it?

There’s no stopping a different group of women from starting their own low-budget cable channel to give a different twist on the same subject.

Again, let’s spread the exploitation! After all, why should fat women miss out? Golly, sounds like fun!

In fact, I’d rather see more people prance around freely feeling as sexy as they want. Maybe there’d be more room for all types of people to feel comfortable in their own skin and for Americans to better respect nature, starting with our own bodies.

The Vegan Vixens aren’t just prancing around feeling sexy. They’re using their sexiness as a tool to get men’s attention in order to promote veganism. That isn’t self-expression, it’s exploiting women’s traditional role (sex object for men) to achieve another goal. That exploitation limits women.

I’ll say it again: exploiting women of all body types for any purpose is wrong. Period.

My “yech” about Howard Stern refers to his pandering to the lowest common denominator and his consistent degradation of women (and therefore men too) that has no redeeming value.

Well, that’s a good start.

Playboy, on the other hand, seems pretty benign when you compare it to other magazines and websites out there–and unlike Stern’s show, Playboy over the years at least offers solid writers and journalism. Yeah, the old thing about the articles.

As I said before, I’m opposed to picking and choosing which types of oppression matter, because they all matter! I don’t care if Playboy offers Nobel quality literature. It still puts women in the category of existing for men’s pleasure. Please spend some time thinking about the consequences of that.

As for my own eating a salami sandwich, I do that maybe twice a year. Nobody’s eco perfect. The world’s a big place. Some of the kindest people I know, who devote their lives to helping people, are meat eaters. And some of the least pleasant people I’ve met are vegans. And vice versa, as it takes all types, right?

Elsa, did you read my post? Really? Because your frequent mention of body types, and now this, make me really wonder.

I didn’t say anything about you eating salami. Brace yourself: I’m an omnivore. I rarely eat meat, but I do eat it. My objections to your post were centered on your endorsement of the Vegan Vixens as a positive thing for the environmental movement. It’s unacceptable to exploit women to further any cause.


10 responses to “Limits of Feminism

  1. Madame DeBarge

    I remember your post on the Tortuga ad, and my comments on it. They are going to be remarkably like the one I’m leaving today.

    I understand why the “Vegan Vixens” are doing that. It’s pandering to the lowest common denominator. And while I fucking hate the LCD, it exists, and to be honest, that’s sometimes the only way that someone out there will get the message-if it’s wrapped up in tits and ass.

    Personally, I don’t pander, and hopefully never would. Even though I dislike it, I do understand what they’re doing, and why. I really wish they didn’t feel the need to do that, disguise their message with their bodies. It IS insulting, to everyone.

  2. No matter how many intellectual debates or otherwise happen with this stuff, the first message I always get with this crapola is “Women’s Rights…but AFTER Animals!”

    I’m with you, SE.

  3. Kaka said exactly what I was going to say!

    But she didn’t say it makes me angry – and it does.

    If the only way that some people will get the message is if it’s wrapped up in tits and ass then what kind of message are they getting about tits and ass – i.e. women?

    SE your (counter)post is a supreme example of joined up thinking. Bravo!

  4. neuralgourmet

    Isn’t the point that the VeganVixens are functioning in the role of currency in order to sell the idea of veganism? Correct me if I’m way off base here (I so often am) but the Vegan Vixens are the price being paid in order to get people to sit still and absorb the idea of veganism. In still other words, it’s the social construction, stupid.

  5. Justjuliefornow

    And in what way does this differ from an obnoxious, objectionable, asinine, exploitative beer commercial? Uh, not at all, except in their minds it’s for a “righteous” cause and not just to make money so that’s o.k. I don’t want to get down on any activists as I appreciate their willingness to “act” but, please recognize the hypocrisy, admit it and revel in it (if that is the choice one wants to make), but don’t deny it and wrap it up in nobility. Ack!

  6. I completely fail to see how they are even promoting veganism, outside of the frame of “if your girlfriend stops eating meat, she might be hot like me.”

    Well written.

  7. But how do you react when members of your own group are effectively fighting for the other side?

    To be honest, that is one of the hardest questions for me to deal with — I’ve started my blog partly out of a desire to critique other women, as much as I want, whether they’re feminists or not because it’s unwise, I think, to say that just because women are victimized as women that they can’t go around and victimize OTHER women. I’m not saying this how I want to, but basically, yeah, feminists who have the exact opposite views as me are working against me and I feel like it’s only right to treat them as my enemy, if only on the issues in which we disagree.

    It sounds very adversarial, and there’s always some woman who will come along and say that she doesn’t agree with positioning ANY woman as her “enemy.” But just like how I don’t think that all individual men are the enemy, I don’t think all individual women are my allies.

    This woman, for one, is clearly not my ally. Maybe in some circumstances she is, but in this one, hell no.

    Excellent post, by the way. Excellent, excellent post. Women are NOT TOOLS FOR OTHERS TO USE TO “PANDER” TO MEN. Fuck that.

  8. But being feminist means standing up against all oppression of women, not just when it’s convenient, and not indulging in it yourself.

    true true. we had something like this at my school a while back. two women where in front of the main lunch building wearing just bras on top to raise awareness for alleged animal rights abuses on campus labs. it got attention alright, but like you say it comes at a cost.

    i see a lot of this “whenever its convient for me” thing in anti-racist work. people will sit there and be all diversity/multiculturalism hooha and then turn around and say “i just dont date [insert ethnicity] [gender] i’m more attracted to [x]”

  9. spotted elephant

    I’m getting a headache from nodding my head yes at all of your comments.

    There’s a post brewing on the whole assumption of ally vs. enemy, because that is one tricky subject.

  10. Sorry, people, but I think some are taking this way too seriously.

    SE, branding me as the enemy is exactly what has sabotaged aspects of the women’s movement, caused infighting, and made some people lose focus of the original goals. I think some people are painting with too broad a brush about what oppression really can be.

    I’ve heard these arguments before. So much of it smacks of American Puritanism. I care more about violence against women than about someone exercising their freedom of expression that might be irritating to my tastes. And some of you will probably respond that I’m missing that those two are linked, which of course at some levels they are, but at other levels they are not necessarily.

    Pandering to the lowest common denominator = a porn actress offering her mouth as a spittoon on Howard Stern. The lowest common denominator, to me, is not women intentionally embracing pinup style “cheesecake” poses for their own ends. Look at how fascinated feminists are with Bettie Page. Does the appropriation of her images, taken decades ago when she could barely make ends meet, outrage you too? Is it different when other women and not men are the voyeurs?

    The Vixens would tick me off more if there were not already other choices for women to make a living than to sell their bodies.

    Would you be outraged thousands of years ago over goddess figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf? Gathering around the fertile female figure has ancient roots and is partly biologically driven–whether selling veganism, beer, or getting early hunter-gatherers to circle around the community fire. There’s even the archetype of the “sacred prostitute” within most cultures.

    You’re not going to make it go away. We all live in a body and not from the neck up in these theoretical discussions.

    What do you expect the Vegan Vixens to do? If people like that are inclined to be flirtatious in support of a cause they care about, would you really want to stop them? What would you say to them to make them change their mind? Do you think it would work?

    These women are performers, and all performers exploit themselves. That may be exploitation lite, but it’s not oppression in my book.

    It sucks that American women aren’t paid as much as men, that we have no assistance with health care or raising a family, etc., but the Vixens and their ilk are not the culprit. Their show is their own creation, not some hierarchical corporate invention (like the tortuga ads) or frat-boy pranksterism or “Girls Gone Wild” exploitation.

    And I wouldn’t suggest that “fat” women make a similar show. I just said that anyone can do their own take on that issue, which is open-ended and could mean sitting in a business suit around a table talking, or showing a cartoon, or whatever you imagine.

    Which will lead some to think I’m missing the point.

    But you want oppression? Try places in the world where women are *really* struggling for a voice and survival, for example, where there’s not even the choice to show your face in public. It makes me angrier that Barbara Walters couldn’t even sit in a Starbucks in Saudi Arabia and then showed that footage on national TV without a peep about how obscene that is.

    Why is there barely any public outcry about gender apartheid around the world, yet a free cable access show made by a bunch of L.A. women smacks of oppression to so many people?

    I know we don’t all agree, but please don’t label me as the enemy. That “you’re with us or you’re against us” rhetoric is just plain counterproductive. Thanks for the forum.


    p.s. SE: for the record, I read your post. When you say my comment brought up issues that you didn’t mention, (particularly about body types and veganism) that’s because my original comment (like this one) was not just responding only to your comment, but also to those comments that others left. Sorry for the confusion.

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