So I’ll take as my text today a contribution from Helen Razer to the discussion about the impact, effectiveness and value of Destroy the Joint. It’s provoked a lot of debate on Twitter and in the femosphere.
But before I do that, let me just quote Shakira Hussein:
Many women (myself included) watching Gillard’s famous “misogyny speech” in Parliament saw in Tony Abbott every patriarchal male who had ever engaged in sexist domineering behaviour towards them. But when many women outside the supposed “mainstream” look at Julia Gillard, they see every woman who has ever undermined them through acts of micro (or macro) aggression of racism and socio-economic privilege (see policies from the Return of the Pacific Solution to the entrenchment of the Howard era Intervention to the sweeping up of “grandfathered’” single parents into the shift to Newstart).
Now, I really don’t want to get into to and fro on the Prime Minister. Take that to the Overflow Thread, should you so desire. For the record, good for her for saying what she said. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t rather see someone else as Prime Minister just now, though (not Mr Rabbit, thanks, and therein lies part of the rub).
Shakira has a point which goes beyond personalities, the circumstances of Ms Gillard’s elevation to the top job, the Labor Leadership Wars, and so on. We should be able to discuss the point without seeing it through those prisms.
It’s structure, folks. Something core to feminist analysis.
Structure enables agency, but we can’t effectively act agentially unless we get our analysis of structures right, and where we stand in them (or hop, as I like to do when I can’t be bothered with the prosthetic leg).
Razer’s piece speaks to frustration. (Hence the, you know, metaphor of the M word. It’s clever writing.)
Feminism is the struggle against masculinised violence and feminised poverty. Or, the acknowledgement that physical violence is enacted disproportionately by men and poverty is experienced disproportionately by women. That’s it, really.
So, for Razer:
Women are not gifted, either socially or biologically, of anything special. If we believe that they are, then we must also accept the possibility that the gender could be marked with unpleasant characteristics.
This is the crux:
I find any work that even considers the idea that privileged white women do things in any way that is markedly superior or different to the things done by privileged white men so ineffably deluded…
Now, to illustrate her point, Razer trains her guns on Jenna Price, who published a piece in New Matilda about the inequality of representation of women in the top ranks of journalism and the media. Price is understandably not happy, and she replies here.
But I want to take the personalities out of it, as I said (I don’t know whether any are at issue, I suspect not, as Razer makes much of not having heard of Price, but the conflict has – unfortunately – manifested itself that way).
Let’s forget also, for the sake of isolating the key issue, whether or not Razer has all her facts right. Price may well be right and Razer wrong, but I don’t want to adjudicate on that.
Razer is also annoyed at Cultural Studies:
So. Yes. Bad cultural studies practice is the first problem. The second problem is that DTJ and her associates actually believe they are healing the faithless.
Don’t worry, I’m going to start analysing soon!
Tell your constituency it is the struggle against masculinised violence and feminised poverty. They are bright and brave enough to hear it. It is arrogant and unhelpful and even alienating to suppose that they are not.
If you want to politicise someone, here’s a thought: talk to them about politics.
I think all this boils down to a protest against essentialism and privilege. It’s probably unfair to suggest that Destroy The Joint (taken as a collective actor) is consciously attached to the mindset that characterises these terms.
But here, mindset, or a set of unexamined dispositions, modes of thought and assumptions, is precisely what is at issue.
One of the *many* fracture lines, absolutely around or at least parallel to “Cultural Studies”, in 90s and 2000s US feminism was/is a distancing of activism from the lived experience of women outside the academy of/or bohemia. In part, through convoluted language. And in part, through that sort of cultural studies assumption that change follows perception. Naming. It’s nominalism in the poststructuralist or postmodernist gaze. Eyes glazing over?
But this is the sort of thing Camille Paglia might have said to Judith Butler. Butler would have replied (with a lot of Hegelianisms) that Paglia was an “essentialist” or, if not being personal, was “essentialising”. Well that’s our cue to remember all this stuff is Not So Clearcut.
These wars have a tendency to Distract Attention and to be fought to a standstill, as is the way of things. Whether out of exhaustion with Theory, or whether out of sheer horror at the state of things, a lot of American feminists are back in the game of grass roots action and consciousness raising (a lot never folded their hand). The Jessica Valentis of the world, of course, Destroy a Joint or two.
What’s the message here? Yes, representations are important. Culture shapes life. But material life is reflected in Culture too. Social location is important. It’s very easy, perhaps too easy, to sit in one’s hot desk at a Co-Working Space tweeting anti-Alan Jones messages. Lo, how the Old White Men have fallen! Yep, contest their ground. But don’t forget – they won’t go away so easily. Because the real injustice is the permanent suppression, the permanent inequality, the permanent oppression that so many women not on Twitter live as their daily existence. The key is to think that, think outside your own circle, talk as well as decry.
I know I risk sounding like this is an exhortation, but hey, I told you it was a Homily.
Women of the World, remember not all your sisters are on Twitter. Many are on Newstart.
Here endeth the Lesson. If I were forced to choose, I’d go with Helen Razer on this one. But the Point surely is, what is this Joint we’re all talking about?