Tuesday, April 29, 2008

No More Card-Carrying Commies

I promised myself I would just log in, check things out and then leave to save my eyes from the glare of the computer screen.
Of course, I break promises to myself all the time.

While trolling through the blogs on my links list I ran into this article, (a commentary on some issues raised by this article) on BitchPhD.

In brief, the author of the post, Sybil Vane, discusses the antipathy many students feel towards identifying themselves as 'feminists'. She touches briefly on this point, and the weak arguments people make against Feminists, but then broadens the scope to examine another factor in the equation.

"When these young women (and men) say, 'I don't need to identify as a feminist, I already believe X, Y, and Z,' they are saying that they see no value in collective identification. It does not mobilize them or expand their perceptions or confer strength or bolster confidence. It merely reduces them to a member of an 'ism', one whose tenants can be nominally severed from the ideology itself. In part, this is individualism run amuck, but it is also a real poverty of imagination, one that can only see collective identification as hegemonic."

This made me think about those whom I've known who join groups to take collective action for a cause, but who would not place a label on themselves. Now people say "I believe X" rather than "I am X". I wonder, blindly, whether this could be the result of some trickle-down effect after Communism/Marxism proved such a losing strategy. 

People of more recent generations have born the brunt of the repeated failures of collective political and social groups - that is, the radical ones. Many of those groups had clear political ambitions, visible (if ultimately unattainable) goals. Their failures taught us that such group actions, however committed, simply do not work (at least not in a Western political context).

In the case of Feminism, many women simply do not see the point anymore. Young women in the West will have had little or no exposure to blatant sexism - and identity issues are perhaps too subtle (though desperately important) for many young women to understand.

That is not to say collective action does not take place, but those that march outside the White House, World Bank, et al, seem more ad hoc and temporary. I do not agree that radical action is unfashionable (as some commentators on BitchPhD argue), in fact I think it has been reduced to mere fashion. People can join groups at random, perform only those actions they wish to perform. It absolves them of responsibility to others in a group and allows them to commit only as far as is convenient.

As for feminism, it is fair to say that the students are reacting to the fear of how they might be judged, rather than basing decisions on their own judgement of Feminists. Furthermore, I am dismayed at how the same old cliches are being trotted out to put down Feminism, by people who have had no exposure to Feminists such as Julia Kristeva or Luce Irigaray. They do not seem to be reacting to students on their own campus who want to spell 'woman' as 'womyn' but are perpetuating the meme.

One more point, I used to be skeptical about some of the language and image issues that crop up in feminist discussions, though I always identified myself as a feminist. In the end, it is important for people, women especially, to realize that feminism is not always about sexism. To me, the most striking and important aspect of feminism has to do with identity. 

I will save that discussion for another time.