Saturday, 31 December 2016

Why I No Longer Identify as a Feminist

By Helen Puckrose

I don’t remember ever not being a feminist. I toddled in marches of the 1970s with my mother. She became a second wave feminist in the 1960s after being denied a mortgage without a male guarantor and being told by her employer that she could not study for accountancy exams because “There’s no accounting for women.” Briefly flirting with radical feminism, she found their views extreme and unreasonable and was berated for her heterosexual relationships and love of feminine clothing (see her poem “Woman the Barricades“). She found her home in liberal feminism and from there was active in writing, marching and protesting for legal changes which would give her the same opportunities as men. By the late 1980s, she felt the main legal battles had been won, and largely retired from active campaigning though she continues to identify as a feminist and study women’s history.

Given this influence, of course I was a feminist, a liberal feminist. Growing up, I spoke angrily about the legality of rape within marriage (criminalized in 1990), and won a personal battle to take woodwork at school rather than cookery (I was terrible at it but not noticeably worse than I am at cooking). I criticized sexist attitudes at work, which were still quite unapologetic in the 90s, informing my boss that he was a “good boy” when he called me a “good girl” and refusing to say anything apart from “cheep” to any man who referred to me as a “bird.” Liberal feminism was aggressive then, but a quite different quality of aggression to the spiteful malevolence we see now. It was optimistic, almost playful. We were confident that we were winning. It was fun seeing how we could disconcert the perpetrators of sexist stereotypes and challenge casual sexism, often humorously. We did not think older men (or women) with sexist assumptions were terrible people or want them punished. We simply wanted them to realize the times had changed and catch up. Women are everywhere now. Get used to it.

At times, we needed to work with the radical feminists. Rape victims were still being dismissed or disbelieved. People still blamed victims for their clothing quite respectably. This needed to become routinely frowned upon. RadFems, who insisted that patriarchy was evident in everything, that the idea of gender needed to be destroyed and that men as a whole were dangerous and violent, were regarded as the biggest internal problem the movement had to contend with by liberal feminists. Mostly, their extreme input into feminist discussion was met with eye-rolling and “Perhaps we don’t need to go quite that far.” We were unprepared for the problem rising in our own liberal branch.
From the 1980s, some internal criticisms of liberal feminism began to be made. Liberal feminism as a whole was charged with not recognizing the additional problems faced by black and Asian women and lesbians, and being largely centered on middle-class problems. These were valid criticisms which needed addressing and prioritizing. All women must have equality. Many liberal feminists began to dedicate more time to LGBT rights and highlight the particular vulnerability of women living in communities which adhered to oppressive patriarchal religion, particularly Islam, and subjected women and girls to “honor” violence and genital mutilation. They did this within universal liberal feminism and some still do but in this decade, the academic shift in the humanities and social sciences towards postmodernism began, and gradually filtered through to feminism in praxis. Intersectionality was forming.

People are often confused about what postmodernism is and what it has to do with feminism. Very simplistically, it was an academic shift pioneered by Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard which denied that reliable knowledge could ever be attained and claimed that meaning and reality themselves had broken down. It rejected large, overarching explanations (meta-narratives) which included religion but also science, and replaced them with subjective, relative accounts (mini-narratives) of the experiences of an individual or sub-cultural group. These ideas gained great currency in the humanities and social sciences and so became both an artistic movement and a social “theory.” They rejected the values of universal liberalism, the methods of science and the use of reason and critical thinking as the way to determine truth and form ethics. Individuals could now have not only their own moral truths but their own epistemological ones. The expression “It’s true for me” encapsulates the ethos of postmodernism. To claim to know anything to be objectively true (no matter how well-evidenced) is to assert a meta-narrative and to “disrespect” the contrary views of others which is oppressive (even if those views are clearly nonsense.) The word “scientism” was created for the view that evidence and testing are the best way to establish truths.

At its height, postmodernism as an artistic movement produced non-chronological, plotless literature and presented urinals as art. In social theory, postmodernists “deconstructed” everything considered true and presented all as meaningless. However, having done this, there was nowhere else to go and nothing more to say. In the realm of social justice, nothing can be accomplished unless we accept that certain people in a certain place experience certain disadvantages. For this, a system of reality needs to exist, and so new theories of gender and race and sexuality began to emerge comprised of mini-narratives. These categories were held to be culturally constructed and constructed hierarchically to the detriment of women, people of color and LGBTs. Identity was paramount.

Liberal feminist aims gradually shifted from the position:

“Everyone deserves human rights and equality, and feminism focuses on achieving them for women.”


“Individuals and groups of all sexes, races, religions and sexualities have their own truths, norms and values. All truths, cultural norms and moral values are equal. Those of white, Western, heterosexual men have unfairly dominated in the past so now they and all their ideas must be set aside for marginalized groups.”

Liberal feminism had shifted from the universality of equal human rights to identity politics. No longer were ideas valued on their merit but on the identity of the speaker and this was multifaceted, incorporating sex, gender identity, race, religion, sexuality and physical ability. The value of an identity in social justice terms is dependent on its degree of marginalization, and these stack up and vie for primacy. This is where liberal feminism went so badly wrong. When postcolonial guilt fought with feminism, feminism lost. When it fought with LGBT rights, they lost too.

So aware of Western imperialism having trampled on other cultures historically, Western liberal feminism now embraced their most patriarchal aspects. A Western liberal feminist can, on the same day, take part in a slut walk to protest Western women being judged by their clothing and accuse anyone criticizing the niqab of Islamophobia. She can demand the prosecution of a Christian baker for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same sex-couple, and condemn the planning of a Gay Pride march through a heavily Muslim area as racist. Many intersectional feminists do not limit themselves to the criticism of other white, Western feminists but pour vitriolic, racist abuse on liberal Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists and LGBT activists. The misogyny and homophobia of Christianity may be criticized by all (quite rightly) but the misogyny and homophobia of Islam by none, not even Muslims. The right to criticize one’s own culture and religion is seemingly restricted to white westerners (The best analysis of “The Racism of Some Anti-racists” is by Tom Owolade).

Universal liberal feminists were horrified by this development. Our old adversaries, the radical feminists, looked positively rational in comparison. They might tell us we are culturally conditioned into internalized misogyny, and they certainly had a pessimistic and paranoid worldview but at least it was coherent. The intersectional feminists were not even internally consistent. In addition to the cultural relativity, the rules change day by day as new sins against social justice are invented. We opposed the radical feminists for their extreme antipathy towards men but at least they shared a bond of sisterhood with each other. The intersectional feminists not only exhibit great prejudice against men but also turn on each other at the slightest imagined infraction of the rules. Having not the slightest regard for reason or evidence, they vilify and harass those imagined to have transgressed.

In addition to their failure to support the most vulnerable women in society, intersectional feminism cultivated a culture of victimhood, negatively impacting all women in society but particularly young women. Women are oppressed, we are told, by men explaining anything, spreading their legs on a train and committing vague sins like “expecting unequal amounts of emotional labour.” If they call out to us or proposition us, we should be terrified. If obnoxious men attempt to grope us or succeed, we have experienced an appalling sexual assault from which we may never recover. Not only are we oppressed by seemingly all men but by anyone expressing anti-feminist ideas or feminist ones we don’t like. More than this, we are rendered “unsafe” by them, particularly those women who are trans and may have to hear that a trans exclusionary radical feminist has said something in a place they don’t have to go to. It is hard to imagine how women manage to survive leaving the house at all.

Even in the house, we cannot be entirely sure of “safety.” Men might say mean things to us on the internet, and we couldn’t possibly cope with that. In reality, I find the opposite problem more concerning. Recently, in a disagreement with an intersectional feminist man, he began to change his mind! Much encouraged, I continued the discussion. After some time, I checked his bio and spotted that he was carrying on a parallel conversation with another man in which he was expressing exactly the same views he had since changed in our conversation. Challenging him on this, I was informed that he did not feel he should disrespect my lived experience as a woman by contradicting it with his own views as a man. However, he still disagreed with me and felt able to say so to another man. I could not get him to see that all this had achieved was excluding me from the conversation and wasting my time. I might as well have been made to withdraw to the drawing room to let the men talk.

Perhaps men might criticize our academic writing or blogs? Richard Dawkins was accused of misogyny for mocking a postmodernist sociology essay that happened to have been written by a woman (He’d mocked one written by a man a few days earlier). He was asked, by numerous people, why he hated intelligent women or why he had to criticize women’s writing? Surely, it should be clear to everyone that not doing so excludes women from academic discussion? If we want to be taken seriously as academics (or as bloggers), we need people to be able to criticize our work.

Like many universal liberal feminists of my generation and above, I decided to hang on and try to tackle, from the inside, the problems of cultural relativity, science denial, raging incivility and the disempowerment of women by feminists. This resulted in my being blocked by feminists, told I am not a feminist, called an “anti-feminist,” a “MRA,” a “misogynist” and even a “rape apologist” (I had suggested that the men who invented date-rape drug detecting nail polish were well-intentioned). I have been told to fuck myself with a rusty chainsaw, and that I am a confused middle-aged woman who does not understand society. Following one encounter with a feminist in which I said I did not get death and rape threats from men, a new account with a male name was suddenly set up which began sending me some.

At the same time, non-feminists were telling me that I was not what they understood by “feminist” or even asserting that I was not a feminist. I assured them I was because I was concerned about female genital mutilation, “honor” violence and forced marriage affecting British women today and rarely prosecuted. I am opposed to the disempowerment of young women who are being told that they cannot cope with different ideas and that criticism is abusive by feminists in universities and schools. Are these not pressing issues affecting women? My friend, Kath, a recovering RadFem, helped clarify my thoughts on this.

This is true. I agree with Ayaan Hirsi Ali that western feminism needs to stop focusing on “trivial bullshit.” I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for women who feel traumatized and excluded by scientists’ shirts or video games. When it comes to the little things, the playing field becomes much more even. We all have gendered expectations we’d rather not comply with. I suggest not doing it. There is very little point in complaining about gender expectations whilst perpetuating them. The idea that women cannot defy such expectations because of fear of disapproval seems contrary to the entire ethos of feminist activism and those who have gone before us.

I think it’s time I accepted that “feminism” no longer means “the aim for equal rights for women” but is understood to refer to the current feminist movement which encompasses so much more and very little that I want to be associated with. I posted this on Twitter recently:

The serious issues faced by British women that I want to be involved in are encompassed by human rights activism, and the disempowerment of young women can only be opposed, sadly, by opposing feminism itself.

I used to be pleased when people told me that I had made them think more positively about feminism, but now I fear that this may simply have prevented that person from criticizing a movement that really needs to be criticized. Feminism has lost its way and should not have public respectability until it remedies this. It seems that more and more people are realizing this. A recent study showed that only 7% of Brits identify as feminist although over two thirds support gender equality. My sadness at abandoning the identity bequeathed to me by my mother is mixed with anger when I consider that she too, a woman who was instrumental in getting banking qualifications opened to women, would now be regarded as deeply problematic.

Helen Pluckrose is a researcher in the humanities who focuses on late medieval/early modern religious writing for and about women. She is critical of postmodernism and cultural constructivism which she sees as currently dominating the humanities. You can connect with her on Twitter@HPluckrose


Sunday, 27 November 2016

Feminism: in conversation with Camille Paglia

Internationally renowned American social critic Camille Paglia has been called ‘the anti-feminist feminist’. Describing contemporary feminism as a ‘gross betrayal of the radical principles of 1960s counterculture’, she stands firmly on the side of free speech and against political correctness.

Camille Paglia sits down with Institute of Ideas director Claire Fox and a full house, to discuss the past, present and future of feminism and the themes in her forthcoming (and seventh) book, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism. In the riveting discussion which ensues, filmed at the Battle of Ideas, Camille describes her thinking as “street smart Amazon feminism”.

Asked about consent classes, she says of those who run them “they are vampires, young people must rebel and say get out of our sex lives.” Feminism as Claire Fox tells us, certainly gets a good intellectual kicking. A must to watch and share.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia: The full interview

My two favourite feminists break down gamergate, intersectional feminism, the "male gaze", and lots more. I always say, if even 30% of modern feminists were capable of thinking like Based Mom and Based Goddess, I'd still be one.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Parade (1986)

Purple Rain sold the most, and Sign ‘O’ The Times is widely considered his greatest artistic achievement but for my money, Parade is Prince’s most perfect album.

After the hard rock of Purple Rain and the 60s psychedelica of Around The World In A Day, Parade returned to the robotic funk of his roots but with a palette of exotic orchestrations and a new skinny, honking horn sound on tracks like ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘New Position’ that seemed to hark back to the 1930s as much as the black and white movie he directed, Under The Cherry Moon, which these songs were ostensibly a ‘soundtrack’ to. Like Hemingway, Prince’s great secret was his discovery that taking things out made what you left in all the more powerful, and tracks like ‘I Wonder U’ are barely there at all, and all the better for it.

It’s easy to forget but Parade is essentially Prince’s only great ‘concept’ album, in that it begins with a parade for ‘Christopher Tracy’ - his character in the movie - and ends with a song mourning that fictional character's death. And every song along the way is perfectly formed and seamlessly slides into the one beside it like threads in a Persian tapestry, most triumphantly at the point ‘Life Can Be So Nice’ kicks in. The great songs for me are, obviously, Kiss, but equally Girls & Boys, the soaring, immortal ‘Mountains’ and his most paradoxically heartfelt ballad, ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’. But, probably more than any other of his albums, this one needs to be heard in its entirety every time.


As an afterword, I really have to add a youtube video isn’t the best way to hear any of these records, and should be used only as an low-res sampler for you to get a hard copy of the real thing, ideally on vinyl, at least until a decent remaster comes along.

Around The World In A Day (1985)

This was the strangest of Prince’s imperial phase of 80s records, a swirling psychedelic extravagance completely out of step with everything else going on that decade, and as the follow-up to the phenomenally successful Purple Rain album, its indulgences confounded most listeners who judged it a failure and so it sold far less, even though it contains the immortal ‘Raspberry Beret’ and the lesser known but equally perfect ‘Pop Life’.

But its inability to be categorized is precisely why this album is so great: What ‘kind’ of music is ‘Around The World in a Day’? What ‘kind’ of music is ‘The Ladder’? or ‘Temptation’? Or ‘Condition Of The Heart’?

That last song is the one I always used to sit people down with and ask, with all the surging orchestra of sounds, all speeding up and slowing down, coming in and going out - and all played by him (with the exception of the finger cymbals, if I remember correctly)…  which instrument did he play first? I finally figured out years later by process of deduction it had to have been the piano, but that doesn’t make it any less inexplicable or extraordinary.

I saw a nice video today where black writer Marc Bernardin made the insightful statement that growing up in the 80s Prince was to black kids what Bowie in the 70s was to white kids, and that’s so true: At a time when being a black man on MTV meant you were either Luther Vandross or Run DMC - both very narrow and confining models of masculinity - Prince was as much The Beatles and Liberace and Joni Mitchell as he was James Brown and Funkadelic. Prince alone demonstrated you didn’t have to be anyone but yourself, that you could dream up the life you wanted to live and the person you wanted to be and make it real.

Sign 'O' The Times (1987)

Not ideal sound quality but good enough for the genius to shine through.

For the uninitiated saplings wondering what all the fuss is about, my recommended cuts are first of all Sign O The Times itself and then the run of If I Was Your Girlfriend, Strange Relationship and I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, which no-one ever talks about but for my money has his best ever guitar work  - yes Purple Rain is a better solo but the strange, winding odyssey he goes on before coming back to the hook at the end is so detailed and sublime, and even more extraordinary when you remember that’s him sat behind the drum kit, that’s him playing bass, that’s him singing backup, that all of this was dreamt up and brought forth in real time by a solitary human being without a computer.

Unlike the other great pop stars of the 80s, Michael Jackson and Madonna, who never played a note on their records - or even Springsteen, who played guitar and wrote the songs but was at the mercy of his band as to how they ended up - every instrument, every note, every harmony, every brush stroke along the way was all played by one man, a painter at his easel, alone in a room with his boundless imagination, 30 years ago. Nothing ever sounded like this before. Or, let's be honest, since.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Sometimes It Snows In April

All my heroes seem to be dead or dying.

This is nothing new or profound, of course - we're all dying - but there's just been so god-damned much of it lately. It's just left me kind of numb, but still wanting to offer up some words to the universe of what this man meant to me, to bear witness to what he made of worth in the time he was here. Today. On the day he died.

So here goes. Here's what Prince Rogers Nelson meant to me.

Between 1980 to 1987, Prince was simply a god, a mysterious, divine being creating impossible and unfathomably great music that I've only ever been able to describe as "a spaceship coming into land atop the great pyramid in ancient Egypt carrying James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Bootsy Collins jamming away on alien technology while everyone below peaks on Ayahuasca". I'll stand by that.

And, of course, it goes without saying, he did almost all of it completely by himself. He played almost every instrument, sang almost every harmony, produced arranged composed and performed the lot. This is long before laptops and ProTools: no other rock star was doing this in the 1980s. No other rock star ever did that before.

Prince in later years would fitfully make some very nice pop songs here and there but he was never truly great like that ever again. And I've spent a lot of hours over the years trying to figure out why that was, at what precise point he lost hold of the holy grail. I once even begun writing a short story about it, about that moment, which I placed sometime in 1988, when walking around his mansion looking out at the snow falling around his perimeter fence he just said 'fuck it, I've done enough'. I doubt very much I'll ever finish it now. It was going to be called 'Winter In Minneapolis'.

Part of me wishes he'd just walked away at that point, and lived a silent recluse like Garbo. It's too much to ask, of course, but it would have been so perfect, and left so little explaining to do. Life is perfect only in brief moments, it seems. Never lifetimes.

After a long dark night of the soul, never explained, between 'The Black Album' and 'Lovesexy' he lost the dark, chilling obsession that drove his greatest work. He could never do confessional - too vain and calculating - and the lyrics of his songs were seldom as profound as he wanted to think they were, but in songs like 'Something In The Water', 'Automatic', 'If I Was Your Girlfriend', 'Darling Nikki' and 'The Beautiful Ones', he went so deep into the physical, into lust, into the maniacal excesses of our secret hearts, that he reached something shocking in its purity and truth and eternal in its revelation. And it's those glimpses of something beyond ordinary human articulation the people who truly know are talking about when they call him a genius. Because that's exactly what he was. Back then, anyway. Not an entertainer. Not a pop star. A genius.

But Prince was also the greatest pop star of the 1980s - what Bowie was to the 70s and, I would say, Bjork was to the 90s: a genius at the peak of their powers making their very best work while the world was paying most attention. His greatest artistic achievement was 'Sign O The Times', and 'Purple Rain' sold the most, but his most perfect album in my estimation was 'Parade' - the breathtaking audacity of that non-stop stream of glorious songs woven together like the finest tapestry constructed out of light and sound. It hasn't aged a day. Like the best of his work, it still sounds as rapturous and intoxicating and indefinable as the day it first appeared.

My first thought when beginning writing this was simply to add a big stack of youtube clips of his greatest works and let them speak for him instead, but this sadly proved impossible: Prince is practically unique amongst pop stars in that there is just about none of his music anywhere on youtube or elsewhere on the internet. It's another one of those maddening control-freak parts of his later years, him setting his lawyers on any fan who uploaded his music to the net.

But here's what I would have played you, if I could have - my one-stop best-of Prince & The Revolution:

Sign 'O' The Times
Around The World In A Day
Condition Of The Heart
Raspberry Beret
Kiss (single version)
I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man
If I Was Your Girlfriend
Strange Relationship
The Beautiful Ones
When Doves Cry
Girls & Boys/ Life Could Be So Nice
Purple Rain

But then that leaves out so much, I know, and I pity anyone who could make it to the grave without ever hearing 17 Days, Love or Money, When You Were Mine, Erotic City, La La La Hee Hee Hee, When We're Dancing Close and Slow, Feel U Up, Take Me With U, Adore, Automatic, Something In The Water (Does Not Compute), Let's Pretend We're Married, Controversy, Dirty Mind, I Wanna Be Your Lover, Little Red Corvette, Do Me Baby, Temptation, 1999, Alphabet Street, When 2R In Love, and Sometimes It Snows In April.

Then there are the lovely lesser songs like Cream, Sexy MF, It, The Other Side Of The Pillow, Willing and Able, Don't Play Me, The Truth, Can't Stop This Feeling I've Got, Still Would Stand All Time, Pussy Control, I Wanna Melt With U, Letitgo, The Holy River...

And all the songs he gave to others, like Nothing Compares 2U, The Screams of Passion, Manic Monday, everything by The Time and Sheila E. So many songs, in so short a time. It suddenly seems so obvious now how impossible it is to imagine him old. He was never meant to grow old, to wither and wrinkle and fade away.

But I'm glad I lived in his age and alone out of everyone I knew growing up, had that secret knowledge of a world of fantasy and imagination and bottomless desire. This has been me saying thank you for that. Thank you Prince.

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last.

Prince Rogers Nelson,
June 7, 1958 –  April 21, 2016

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

#Gamergate Explained In 60 Seconds

Kotaku Writer Paid $800 To Dev He Was Sleeping With, Without Disclosure

GamerGate at Society of Professional Journalists (BOMB THREATS INCLUDED)

The Zoe Post

Collection of "Gamers are Dead" Articles, Archived

Proof of Nathan Grayson's Lack of Disclosure
His name is in the credits of Depression Quest:

Reddit Mods Admit To Censoring #GamerGate, Hiding Corruption

Kotaku & RPS "Articles" (Plugging Your Friend's Game)

Exposed: The Secret Mailing List of the Gaming Journalism Elite

Proof #GamerGate is not a hate group or a harassment campaign

Christina Sommers Political Stance

Proof #NotYourShield was made by a game developer, not 4chan

#NotYourShield Video

Monday, 21 March 2016

Karen Straughan Vs The Young Turks

Karen Straughan on the endless pandering to women and girls by… well, pretty much everyone, but in this specific instance, The Young Turks idiots. Great stuff, well worth a look if you don't mind getting angry.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Ideological Lens

Great explanation by Sargon of Akkad of what an ideological lens is and how it distorts one's perception of the world:

“..To announce the adoption of an ideological ‘lens’ is to declare openly that the author is going to provide you with a one-sided, incomplete, dysfunctional piece of work that will serve to propagandize the audience, instead of inform them, by deliberate omission of otherwise relevant facts“

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Feminists Deplatform Richard Dawkins From Science Conference

This is terribly depressing but a vital reminder of how toxic and totalitarian feminism actually is, and what it in reality is achieving in this world: not 'equality' but the hunting down and silencing of great men and anyone else who dares to point out their hatred and insanity.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Feminism vs Egalitarianism

“Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes."

“Egalitarianism: The doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”

The two quotes above are sourced from the Oxford Dictionary. On the face of it, feminism and egalitarianism appear to converge. Indeed, it is not unusual to hear feminists appeal to this dictionary definition whenever they are challenged. I will call this the “reasonable person” defence, e.g., What reasonable person could possibly disagree? The point being, they can't. Not if they want to remain reasonable in the eyes of others,

But similarly, what reasonable person could disagree with egalitarianism? Both premises are highly reasonable.  But as numerous studies and surveys have demonstrated, a majority of people support egalitarian values but do not identify as feminists.[1] [2] [3] [4] What's going on? Are these people confused, ignorant, or both?!


It seems the non-feminist (not anti-feminist) egalitarian majority either know or intuitively suspect a crucial difference between the goals of egalitarianism and feminism. Unfortunately, looking to dictionary definitions does not help us articulate what these differences are.

A visit to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives us a more detailed description of both concepts. The opening preamble to the egalitarian chapter[5] dovetails nicely with the dictionary definition above. The feminist chapter, however, quickly diverges from the dictionary definition, running off into various strands where the key theme is internal disagreement within feminism about what feminism is.  It takes just over 3,000 words before the term patriarchy first appears but when it does, it is neither problematic nor contested.

“Feminism, as liberation struggle, must exist apart from and as a part of the larger struggle to eradicate domination in all its forms. We must understand that patriarchal domination shares an ideological foundation with racism and other forms of group oppression, and that there is no hope that it can be eradicated while these systems remain intact. This knowledge should consistently inform the direction of feminist theory and practice. (hooks 1989, 22)”[6]

Here is the first hint of what differentiates feminism from egalitarianism. You will note there is no mention of equality by hooks; the goal is “liberation” from “patriarchal domination.”

Ask a feminist what feminism means and you are likely to get one of two responses. The "reasonable person" defence is one, while the other, is what I will call the "atomistic dodge." This entails the feminist stating that feminism is not a monolithic movement, its aims being too complex to pin down[7]. This position personifies intersectional feminism. Note how the descriptions contradict one another. It is easy to get lost in this equivocal maze.
So, rather than trying to discern the differences between feminist factions, I asked what they had in common. The results help us see the difference between egalitarianism and feminism.

In 1963, the liberal feminist Betty Friedan published a book about a “problem with no name.” Seven years later, radical feminists named it “patriarchy." Patriarchy was conceived of as the underlying structure which facilitated men's oppression of women; “a system characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy and competition, a system that [could not] be reformed but only ripped out root and branch.”[8]

This moment marked a fundamental change in strategy as feminists shifted from a liberal policy of achieving equality through reform, to a radical strategy of trying to dismantle patriarchy. Around this time, Friedan was unceremoniously kicked out of the organisation she had founded because she wasn't radical enough[9].  Since this time, patriarchy has remained central to all subsequent waves of feminism. While it is true that the different factions of feminisms have slightly different conceptions of patriarchy, they all agree on the following:

Patriarchy is a socially constructed phenomenon which enforces notions of sex and gender that equate to male supremacy and female inferiority[10] [11].

Patriarchy is the mechanism by which all men institutionally oppress all women[12].
All feminisms are united in the fight against patriarchy (if little else)[13].

But what is patriarchy? Does it even exist? There is a dearth of research on feminist premises which values critical thinking over critical theory, though this is starting to change.[14] Both the existence and origin of patriarchy are assumed by feminists rather than explored, yet the flawed, circular logic of the three premises above represent the ideological bedrock of all feminisms—from radical to intersectional—and social 'justice' activism today.

The feminist concept of patriarchy is embellished from the anthropological observation that in many cultures men appear to hold more social, economic and political 'power' compared to females.  Feminists assume men grasp for power and resources to dominate women because they hate them (misogyny). My research suggests patriarchy is vastly more complex than feminists have ever imagined and that women have just as much influence in its structure and maintenance as men.  As Mary Wollstonecraft noted:

“Ladies are not afraid to drive in their own carriages to the doors of cunning men."[15]

Patriarchy is a system which can both oppress and liberate, both male and female. It is the human fitness landscape.

Paula Wright
And here lies the rub for feminisms today. Heterosexual men and women are attracted to one another precisely because of their stereotypical sexual traits. In fact, they are not stereotypical, they are archetypical. Humans are a sexually reproducing species. Men and women have shaped one another physically and psychologically over millions of years via the process of sexual selection. In turn, we create culture as our fitness landscape. There is a simple dynamic to this: Men want power and resources because women want men who have power and resources.

This isn't because women are selfish gold diggers or men shallow aesthetes. Sexual dimorphism and the sexual division of labour are not patriarchically imposed tyrannies. They are an elegant and pragmatic solution for a species who have uniquely helpless infants with unprecedentedly long childhoods. This dynamic between the sexes, of team work and strong pair bonds, is one of the foundations of our success as a species. The survival of offspring is at the centre of this—whether we choose to have children or not. The sexes simply cannot be understood except in light of one another and the reason we evolved to cooperate; offspring. It will continue to be so for as long as we remain human.

The feminist legacy of social constructionism and patriarchy theory has taken the capricious, delightful and, yes, sometimes cruel battle of the sexes and turned it into a war of attrition. The circular logic also has feminism devouring itself from within.

This past year, one of the the most iconic women of the 20th century, the radical feminist and intellectual, Germaine Greer, was denied a platform to speak at a UK university.[16] Her crime? Greer does not reject biology wholesale and, while she respects the egalitarian rights of men who want to transition and live and love as a woman, she insists this doesn't actually make them biologically women; they remain trans-women. For this she was stripped of the right to speak, verbally abused and labelled a bigot. The middle class, socialist feminist Laurie Penny went so far as to cast Greer in the same light as people who want to murder homosexuals.

Why should women mind? In 2014 a trans-woman in the US was awarded “working mother of the year” despite neither giving birth or being primary carer to her children.[17]  This year, in 2016, Caitlyn Jenner, who has been living as a woman for a few months, will be awarded “woman of the year” ahead of countless women of substance who have made extraordinary accomplishments while facing actual selection pressures unique to their biological sex. Trans-activists are lobbying for a change of language by midwives to refer to people giving birth as “pregnant persons” not women.[18] At a time when people debate whether a woman drinking the odd glass of wine in pregnancy is child abuse, a trans-women took powerful (not socially constructed) hormones to stimulate lactation[19]. A discussion of the nutritional value of the milk extends to the trans-mother reporting the milk is thick and creamy, which seems to identify it as something other than human breast milk, which is highly dilute and low in fat.

Feminists frequently claim that we live in a rape culture, even though rape and all violent crime in the West is in steady decline and rape prosecution statistics are on a par with other crimes at over 50%.[20] [21] In the US there is a feminist movement on college campuses to lower the threshold of proof in rape prosecution trials. It is staggering to think these educated people have forgotten terrible lessons within living memory; the bitter crop of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

To balk at this is not hatred or phobia but healthy scepticism. We are all equal before the law under egalitarianism. This is not the case with feminism. It places ideology before people.  Individual rights and choices are “problematic”.[22] Women like myself who point out the logical inconsistencies and totalitarian mission creep of feminism are labelled anti-feminist and anti-woman; as if “feminist” and “woman” were synonyms. They aren't. Feminists are identified by their politics, not their sex or gender. They do not speak for women or the majority of egalitarians in society; they speak only for themselves. The dictionary definition of feminism is in serious need of a rewrite.

The egalitarian quest for equality is tangential to feminism. So...which are you?


[1] (link is external)
[2] (link is external)
[4] (link is external)
[5] (link is external)
[6] (link is external)
[7] (link is external)
[8] Tong, R. (1989). Feminist thought: A more comprehensive introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
[9] (link is external)
[10] de Beauvoir, S. (1949/1986). The second sex. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
[11]Cudd, A., & Holstrom, N. (2011). Capitalism, for against: A feminist debate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
[12] Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001
[13]Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001
[14] (link is external)
[15] Mary Wollstonecraft. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 1792.
[16] (link is external)
[17] (link is external)
[18] (link is external)
[19] (link is external)
[20] (link is external)
[21] (link is external)
[22] (link is external)


Monday, 11 January 2016

The Death of David Bowie

I just found out and I’m somewhat in shock, as I didn’t see that coming at all. Lemmy yes, but then I knew he was ill, and had looked like death on legs for years. Bowie, I thought, would live another 15 years at least. Or possibly forever, the way gods are supposed to.

How do we mourn today? How do we mark the passing of a great, illuminating soul? We change our facebook profile picture. We post a one-sentence tweet. Then we go back to our glowing screens. There is so much war and disaster and novelty and death these days there’s no time for anything more. And besides, we all know another one will be coming along any moment now.

As I get older I’m beginning to glimpse what it’s like to be old, with a funeral every week of someone you once laughed with and loved. But it’s not the people I slept with yet, it’s the heroes I grew up with, the figures of beauty and genius I looked to as beacons of wonder and a higher plain of existence, signposts to a richer, deeper world beyond the narrow mundanity of family life and small town stagnation.

I grew up before the internet, when there was no portal to the group mind of the western world a finger motion away. To be an outsider finding another human being sharing ANY of the same passions and ideas as yourself was the rarest and most treasurable thing in the world, and you could go your whole life without meeting one. Books were your safest bet, if you were lucky enough to find one which told the truth. So for someone to break through the carefully maintained inanity of the TV and the Radio and use those mediums to bridge the gap between millions with something challenging, alien, pure, heartfelt, dangerous and dissident was an extraordinary and seemingly impossible act. I sometimes wonder if it’s actually possible for people younger than me to appreciate just how hard it was to make that happen, and what it therefore meant to those who were touched by it.

In the age of reality TV and YouTube sensations, ‘fame’ doesn’t really mean any of what it once did. We really should have another word for karaoke contestants and celebrity chefs leaking their own sex tapes to eke out one more week of recognition. You’re not truly famous in my book unless people know your name a hundred years later. You’re certainly not Great.

David Bowie was famous because David Bowie was truly great: like The Beatles and The Stones before him, Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, his songs are just as loved and played and celebrated today as they ever were, almost 50 years on, and changed pretty much everything that followed, both in music and popular culture. I won’t even try to name all the lesser cul-de-sac acts that sprang up in his wake, all the New Romantics and Goths, the Art-Rockers and Gender Benders: none of them achieved anything comparable to their idol either in breadth or popularity, and none of them would have - or could have - existed without him.

What was his gift? What made him special? What did he do first, before anyone else?

Bowie was the first magpie of rock n roll, the first to take on whole styles of music as nothing more than colours for him to paint his own unique creations with, and he did that all the way through his life, touring whatever excited him in the moment from folk and rock and plastic soul all the way through krautrock and ambient and jazz and drum&bass, but turning all of them into simply ‘Bowie’. The songs Space Oddity, Ashes To Ashes and Hallo Spaceboy are all thematically linked, all directly referring to the same character, though each is more than a decade away from the one next to it, and in a different genre of music. And every one of them a hit.

David Bowie was the first rocker to explicitly make his life’s work the wearing of a series of masks and personas - starting with Ziggy Stardust, he forced the audience to step back from the ecstasy of the moment and see an artificial creation - an ‘Actor’ before them playing a part the man behind the mask was writing. In doing so he deepened and expanded the vocabulary and possibilities of popular music, adding a knowing detachment and artificiality that would have been unimaginable in rock n roll before he came along. At a time when Showaddywaddy, The Carpenters and The Bay City Rollers were his competition in the charts, he was introducing high-art ideas from experimental theatre and other mediums into rock music, such as utilizing William S Burroughs’ “cut-up” method of writing novels for writing lyrics.

If that wasn’t enough, he was also the first openly gay pop star (even though he wasn’t really, perhaps just a little bi from time to time, though no-one knew that then). In his unprecedented androgyny, and still shocking antics onstage like simulating oral sex every night with his guitarist Mick Ronson back in the Ziggy days, he kicked open the door for all the Boy George’s, Antony Hegarty’s and Marilyn Manson’s to saunter through years later, though of course it goes without saying none of them have created anything like the enormously varied yet immediately recognizable body of work he put together, and never will.

I don’t see my family all that often but my mother often rings me up to tell me of the death of some person from the past she swears I once knew, some distant aunt or uncle, some old family friend whose house I once stayed at, long, long ago. And I have to tell her over and over again I don’t remember who they are, I don’t know who she’s talking about. They mean nothing to me.

If I was writing all this for a man I’d never met just because he was someone I once saw on Top Of The Pops and on the cover of some magazines, someone who made a few nice songs I hummed along with, that would be a sad thing to confess. But if that person was a creature of flesh and blood who somehow came to symbolize, for millions of people, boundless experimentation, intelligence and curiosity in the dumbest of all art-forms, constant movement and change, agelessness, uncompromising artistic vision and endless possibilities, a land of pure thought above the mire we can visit every time we put on one of his records... well then that would be the most natural thing in the world.

And that was David Bowie.