Friday, 14 October 2011
Feminism is not a club you join
Posted by Sebastienne
Recently, feminists on Twitter have been carrying out a #DiversityAudit on the representation of women in British TV and radio, with a particular focus on comedy panel shows.
It has, perhaps not unexpectedly, revealed that TV and radio panel shows have a rather strong bias towards the representation of one particular gender - and it's not women! Thefword have published an overview of the findings - with the most representative of shows just nudging 1 in 3 female guests, and Mock The Week just about managing 1 in 7. And lest you think these figures aren't too saddening, take note - they refer only to guests on the shows. When you take into account regulars, like hosts and team captains, no show manages more than 17% women. That's 1 in 6.
In response, whoever is tweeting as @MockTheWeek has given a pretty much textbook response - denying that representation is in their remit; insisting that they pick performers based on audience response; claiming that there are no women in stand-up. And certainly, men outnumber women on the stand-up circuit (although I'm not sure we can draw conclusions from that about whether more of them are any good at it - Bethany Black has a particularly relevant perspective on this) - but that doesn't explain why Mock The Week have so many fewer than any other show. Jo Brand gives a good explanation, which probably also covers reasons that I haven't found many feminists who actually watch the show, given its heavy dependence on the 'humour' of hate.
But anyway, this isn't about the #DiversityAudit, which has been well covered elsewhere. This isn't even about the Twitter-fight between angry feminists and @MockTheWeek - that's been covered pretty well also. No.
I want to talk about the man who waded into this twitter-fight to say, "I'm a feminist, and I think these women are going too far". Like his being a feminist gave him a position of power from which to silence us. For the first time, I understood the position of second-wavers who refuse to allow the concept of "male feminist". Personally, I still think that it can be a useful identification, but I see more than ever how it's open to abuse. Sadly, the Twitterer in question has deleted the tweet which sparked all this off, but here's some of his charming discourse with me and with @MockTheWeek.
In case there are people reading this who didn't know, feminism is not a club you join. You can't read a book that tells you "how to be feminist". There isn't an entrance test. And you certainly can't work it out from first principles, because guess what, your principles are mired in patriarchy. (And if that last sentence doesn't make sense to you, well. Have you seen the Matrix?)
And however you think you got to be in the feminist club, if you are using the self-identification to silence women, then you are not a feminist. Sure, there might be side cases here - you might be concerned at Female Friend A's use of a term that you know offends Female Friend B, and ask FFA to think twice about using it; but then that's a result of listening to women. I'm not interested in these side cases, because if you're really a feminist, you'll be too busy carefully navigating these subtle grey areas to waste time using them to "one-up" me.
Feminism is not a club you join. Saying you're a feminist doesn't make you a feminist. There is no one, right way to be a feminist - we are all trying to be better, and messing up, and trying again - but if you're privileging your own "objective logic" over the lived experience of women, then you aren't doing it very well. Feminism is an ongoing discourse about how to make the world better and more fair. You can't get involved without listening to women, and finding out what they want and need.
(Now, in my opinion, the best feminism is the widest discourse - it takes in the experiences of women across all races, all social classes, all romantic & sexual orientations, all gender experiences & expressions, all levels of ability & education; and works to make life better for all of them. But this breadth of discourse is not considered an essential part of feminism by everyone, and has its own name - intersectionality. I'm with Tiger Beatdown on this, though: my feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.)
Yes, a corollary of the fact that feminism is an ongoing discourse (intersectional or not) is that there are lots of feminisms. No, I'm not going to go into them here, Wikipedia exists. But as a discursive approach, "I'm a feminist, so you're wrong" doesn't really cut it. I am open to the possibility that we might disagree because you're a liberal feminist and I'm a radical feminist. Maybe there's even an interesting discussion to be had that could increase both of our understandings of complex issues. But maybe - and I think that "feminist" men need to pay particular attention to this possibility - maybe we disagree because you're talking out of your arse.