Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jezebel v XX, Whose Fooming who?

It's not my word, but over tea one day a friend of mine accused me of "fooming." I asked what she meant and she said "you know, being more feminist than thou." Point taken, I get like that. And that's exactly how I feel about the so called feud between and Double First it is so so called, a desperate cat fight for attention that it isn't funny. Second, while each blog has been staking out a more feminist than though, neither really is. Double X is embedded in Slate, which publishes more misogyny disguised as art crticism than any other major publication on the internet. Over and over again I've seen factual errors and bombastic privilege fobbed off as some kind of insight into art. Andy Goodwin was the worst he doesn't even know his own subject, which is the male ejaculatory seminal fuck rock band. Third, there is a real fight, and it is between an establishment feminism and a lifestyle feminism, and the establishment variety does not as unequivocal a position of moral superiority as it displays.

The XX complaint with Jezebel gets even thinner when you read the blog itself. I can think of many important things in feminism: praising anti-choice zealots isn't any of them. Then you get to their own sense of what needs to be done:

Double X columnist Linda Hirshman, also a contributor to the New York Times and the Washington Post, referred to an hour-long television appearance by Tracie Egan, a Jezebel blogger who goes by the moniker "Slut Machine", and Maureen "Moe" Tkacik, in which the two young women refused to engage with a serious discussion about sexual politics and culture. Shrugging off a question about rape and sexual responsibility, Tkacik casually explained why she didn't report her own date rape to the police. "I had better things to do," she said. "Like drinking more."

After the programme, presenter Lizz Winstead explained how shocked she had been by the behaviour of the young women. Writing on her Huffington Post blog, Winstead said: "They do not understand the influence they have over the women who read them, nor do they accept any responsibility as role models for young women who are coming of age searching for lifestyles to emulate."

This is really taking thing way to far. The scolds, and I include Naomi Wolf here for telling us that what young women really need to do is organize so that older women can get fatter paychecks, are simply not living in our world. They aren't feminists, they are careerists who think they have a captive base of support. What angers them is that Jezebel is taking away their ad revenue by presenting the other side of the coin.

The reason the careerists bore me is that over and over again when I see women breaking through the glass ceiling, it is in the service of men, and a men's view. Look at Carly Fiorini. Glass ceiling broken! She's a Republican Party anti-choice shill, willing to trade the rights of poor women, so she can get some tax breaks. Hello? Let's add Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, and Condoleeza Rice as Bush functionary. I want to get organized so that Whitman can be Governor of California, and block equal marriage and starve education. The XX scolds go after what readers want to do with their freedom, but at least it isn't engaging in active evil. The role models that XX presents to us are women who whore their minds, characters, and careers in the service of repression of women.

The more brute reality is that the Gen XXers are deliberately misreading, in both a literal and theoretical sense, what is going on, and why is at least as feminist, if not more so, than they are.

The reality is that the XXers are obsessed with the climb upwards on the ladder of success, and they want to suck the free labor of those who are not there yet to get it, or as Naomi Wolf lectures:

"as many older feminists justly point out, the world isn't going to change because a lot of young women feel confident and personally empowered, if they don't have grassroots groups or lobbies to advance woman-friendly policies, help break through the glass ceiling, develop decent work-family support structures or solidify real political clout."

I remember how many women oriented organizations backed Joe Lieberman in 2006. How they have backed Republicans who are bad on almost every issue, in order to protect their "politically neutral" cachet, and advance their own interests. As I've already pointed out, much of their glass ceiling breaking, means installing a newer, thicker, glass floor. The realities of the establishment feminist is that she is establishment first, and feminist second. They live in a man's world, and they simply want their share of the man's world.

That's one reason that has become a feminist touchstone because it takes a very different tack. There's no point in empowering organizations, because organizations sell you out. Instead, personal empowerment is the only kind, because that is the kind that you have, and not say, Whitman, has. This personal empowerment comes in two parts. The first part is negotiating our place in the mass consumer culture. Importantly that culture is far more invasive of us than it is of men. We put it's products in our bodies, and are poked, prodded, poisoned, pilled, and plowed by it. The negotiation of thisis runs a foul of "family" standards and PGism all the time. Second Life's search list will ban many women's campaigns, just as Youtube banned this PSA spot. Women's reality is pornographic content almost by definition. We have to examine our breasts, get pap smears, primp ourselves, deal with "hygienic" issues. You can't talk about it with out talking about breasts, vaginas, and assorted other private parts. For men the consumer society is beer and cars. For us it is pregnancy.

Jezebel's campaign to get out of the airbrush is very real. Their bete noir is "Girl's Life" magazine, which should really be called Anorexia Today. Far from being instgrat porn, Jezebel is taking to task the so called beauty industry. If you want to be thinny thin thin, do what I did: take 5 ballet classes a week and develop an eating disorder. The whole beauty industry lives on peddling some kind of self abuse, interspersed with highly expensive aromatherapy.

But this is the surface issue, in that almost everyone who has been confronted with a magazine spread has realized the impossibility for almost all women to be both thin enough, and lugging around D cup melons. Abs of Kansas, Breasts of Everest is not a geography that is natural to us. The deeper issue is on the nature of personal empowerment that the GenXXers are taking on, and which Jezebel is talking about. And that empowerment is in negotiating male power. This is the essence of any real feminist debate: an admission of male powers and privileges, and debate about how we are going to come to some modus vivendi with them in the outside world, and in ourselves.

For the GenXXers, it is about the right to sell out to the system in a formal way. It is about organizations and laws. But those organizations fail us, those laws don't protect us, and the existence of a few women at the top does not change the fact that it's a locker room up there. Jezebel speaks to a different reality, and that is that bending individual men is as effective a way to getting what you want, as taking on the system. Jezebel speaks to a reality that each one of us whose ever logged on to a personals site like Yahoo or True has understood: it's about the hope for hot babes. Look at their ads. True runs local singles, meaning model quality women.

To compete for male attention in that environment, and power with male circles, is to negotiate the prostitute paradox. It isn't that Jezebel's more outre personalities are role models, it is that they are flash points: showing exactly how far we have to go to achieve fascination status, and what the cost is. Because one such woman in a group places pressure on all the others to move in that direction. Men, of almost any educational or economic status, are drawn to the woman who seems ready to give right here, right now, and then men pressure other women to make that normative. If one woman is a slut, then we all should be.

Reality check here: which is more likely, that as a 20 something woman you will one day compete for the top of a Fortune 500 company? Or that you will be in a room having to compete for the attention of men? All the laws in the world will not help you if you don't have the confidence to both display, and deny, your own sexuality, and understand the limits and leverage of what you are displaying. Personal confidence is the essential, you can't buy it at any cosmetics counter in the world, must have accessory in our lives. Having it, without having to crush ourselves in the male driven expectations of face, figure, and personality.

To have that sense, without being airbrushed, liposuctioned, or propped up, is not a product of any number of empowerment meetings. Instead it comes from within, and from experience in using the most important power that we have over men, their need and desire for us, and using it to create in our relationship with a male dominated world a space for ourselves. The GenXXers would say that we are whore are selves, but then, as I've already pointed out, so are they, and they want us to whore ourselves for their benefit, which they promise will be ours some day.

The line is dangerous to draw. This is because the outrageous line will, in fact, collapse down into anti-feminism. Every woman who plays the line too far convinces a dozen men that if they just keep to plan of treating every woman like a slut, then they will both get sex, and pressure more women to give into that model of sexuality. And it is a moving line, the woman who plays it successfully, will always have women who are just short of it angry and jealous. I have gone a long way playing the line, but there are many circumstances where there are others willing to go just that much farther, leaving mean to sneer and tell me that I will always be alone. The normative power of men is that if he hits it once in a thousand, that's what normal should be. Just as I've evoked jealousy and rage in other women, that howcouldyoudothat moment, so too have others left me far behind, three men in tow.

Jezebel draws an outer circle of that line, how to play it at it's extreme forms, and still maintain an inner core of self that is maintained. It is a lot farther than many of us are prepared, or want, to go. However, by being extreme, it shows the way to maintain a sense of self at much lower pressure. No I'm not going to, irl, get drunk and do three guys in a night. But I am going to dress in ways that invite intense male attention. No I am not going to give a blow job to someone who I don't know their phone number, but I am willing to trade knowing stories. The same pressure, to devolve down into a male's chattel, is still there, in either case.

So to close my own circle. First, this conflict is so obvious driven to create circulation, that it is difficult not to be cynical about Double X. It's not about feminism, it is about the careers of the people writing the blog. It's not about empowerment, it is about their personal enrichment. So let's stop with the fooming on that score. The second problem is that it is not an accurate reading of most of the material on Jezebel, which is relatively standard liberated woman's fare: pregnancy, consumerism, media, relationships. Many of the articles on Jezebel could be moved to DoubleX without much, if any modification. Let's also stop with the identity politics attack. Double X allows people to engage in anti-feminist behavior, just because they are women, and it is much more destructive than anything I've read in Jezebel in a good stretch of being a regular reader.

But deeper is the conflict between establishment feminism, which preaches that institutions, laws, outliers, and groups are the backbone of feminism. They are not, they have let us down. In a generation of establishment feminism, we've gone backwards. Roe is more imperiled now than before. A supposedly left President dumped us out of his stimulus bill. Institutions must prostitute themselves. It is the nature of institutions, to trade the lives of little people, for the comfort of the people running those institutions. Individualist feminism says that you can't take NARAL to a job interview, or to a party. That there are women as Fortune 500 CEOs doesn't do you personally any good on your singles personals page, or during a date.

The limits of both are the same: both are really negotiations with male power. It is not a real fight, but there is a real fight going on underneath it, and old establishment feminism has proven time and again, that when it comes time to fight, they take a check and go home. Maybe lipstick lifestyle feminism won't save the world, but then, establishment feminism hasn't.

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