Look out, girly feminists: You’re doing it wrong

By Johanna Qualmann

Oh the wonderful things you find in the Sydney Morning Herald!

So-called feminist Elizabeth Farrelly was shocked when someone accused her of misogyny a while ago. Just to prove how not-a-misogynist she is (besides, we all know women can’t be misogynists themselves!), she writes an article accusing all us feminists of doing it wrong. (Comments are bile – read at your own risk.) Because “what passes for feminism these days” just “legitimises girliness.” And as we all know, acting girly is something horrible which one must never, ever do.

Because this piece is just filled with so many wonderfully false and ridiculous arguments, I’ll take it apart bit by bit. Let the shaming begin!

Not only are many of my best and closest of the female persuasion but I despise men every bit as much as I despise women. Especially when they behave like girls.

OK. Joke!

Classy. Start of with a sexist joke which buys into the idea that male friends are just so superior, prefaced by the argument that “clearly, poking fun [at women] is considered misogynistic.”

I don’t usually read women authors but not because they’re women. Because they’re boring… I tell you, if I never read another intelligent female devoting her first page to how she felt when her husband left her it’ll be too soon.Not that it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. I just don’t want to read about it. In part this is an aesthetic thing. I like writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage: tougher, edgier, stringier.

Wow, generalising much? Of course Farrelly doesn’t like women’s writing. The whole canon of literature tells us that women’s writing is not worth reading, because it’s trivial, because it’s boring. Female voices in literature are still marginalised, considered lesser, and Farrelly is complicit in this.

Way to go on pointing out that women could obviously never achieve the same standard of writing that male writers can. What she’s saying here is that women as a whole aren’t intelligent enough to write tough, edgy literature. I can only assume they’re far to caught up in their girly, meaningless personal lives to actually be clever. I don’t really know what the deal with the pH comment is, but I’m guessing that women’s writing is just too wishy washy for her. Again, stereotyping much? Maybe she wasn’t a misogynist before, but she definitely is after sprouting that “fact.”

I have nothing against girls, which is lucky considering I have two of my own. Up to a point, girls are entitled to girliness. But it’s still – barring drunken love affairs perhaps – a thing to grow out of.

I’m lost – she has nothing against girls, and yet she has written this whole article about how being girly is despicable? And the bit about girliness being a thing to grow out of – well, we can’t have Proper Women ™ acting young and feminine, can we? No, if we want to be taken seriously we must abandon our girly ways and aspire to becoming like men, which we will never actually achieve because we could never be as intelligent and rational as men, but if we don’t try then we’re not worth a thing.

 Just as suddenly the Women’s Weekly, which for me growing up symbolised everything frilled, dumb and domestic – everything I did not want my life to become – is a cultural icon, with its own TV drama and a National Library project to digitise it as “nationally significant material”. Now you can catch up on all those stain-removal tips and sponge-making recipes online, secure in the knowledge that you’re engaged in something of national significance. Super. Anyone would think those synthetic oestrogens in beef were finally having their way with us.

If everything domestic is dumb, then obviously women are dumb. Because women still do the majority of housework, without it being paid or classed as “actual work.” Funnily enough though, it’s not actually most women’s choice. And the jibe about stain removal tips? The stench of classism is enough to make me want to vomit. Maybe Farrelly doesn’t have to remove stains herself, but there are plenty of women who don’t have the money to hire people to do their domestic work.

And let’s not forget to add in a snide comment about how domestic labour is essentially, biologically female work. Oestrogen is what makes us all frivolous, cleaning-obsessed loonies! I mean, what else could it possibly be: the pervasive idea that women don’t belong anywhere but the unpaid domestic sphere even though they would much rather be out there doing something intelligent and fulfilling? Never. It’s all biology!

Everywhere you look there’s women’s stuff. Websites, blogs, zines and e-groups. The explosion of social networking, and not just the ability but the expectation that you indulge, is a symbolic victory for the X chromosome. But how feminist is it, actually? It’s not only sexist. Instead of Wendy Harmer’s site The Hoopla, imagine a website called, say, The Stoush, featuring articles only by, about and for men, touting men’s insights and wisdom, focusing on What Men Want. Instead of the site ”Parlour: women, equity, architecture” (Parlour? Really, girls?) imagine one called The Boardroom; men, success, architecture.

I know, you’ll say those things already exist, they’re everywhere. This is affirmative action. But are they, actually? Is it? Do two sexisms make a decency? I’m unconvinced. But it’s more than that. The sub-heads of the Parlour blog, for example, go unconscious bias, leadership, mentoring, pay equity, career paths, work/life, and so on.) It’s run by writers and academics but none of it – not a word – deals with architecture the stuff, the content, the juice.

I don’t get the point Farrelly is trying to make here. Those things do already exist. They are everywhere. Maybe there’s a decently-sized female social networking and internet presence, but that does not translate into real life. In real life, the spheres of boardrooms and success are still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Bias, pay equity, work/life balance – what are these crazy women on about? What could possibly be important about pay equity? Or having to balance work with family (where the burden of parenting still pervasively falls on the mother)? Obviously those things are not worth thinking about, as they are not men’s interests. Obviously they’re simply trivial and unimportant, proving that women don’t actually have a right to be academics and writers, or create spaces for themselves in a world where the default position is still MAN.

It makes me want to scream. Stop self-obsessing, girls. Leave the sewing circle. You want respect as architects, get on and bloody do it. Build something brilliant, funny, sweet, enchanting, weird, crazy – I don’t care. Do it, and they’ll come.

But geez, stop with the idea that sewing can be important too! Obviously, you will only be respected if you have a Real Career and Real Interests ™.

I believe Greer is right (she too is labelled misogynist, as is Paglia, so I’m in good company). There is a level at which men hate women, for a very simple reason. They’re jealous. Women are core, men are luxuries. But this very core-ness can turn us into ruminants, and saying so is not misogynistic. Quite the contrary. It’s recognising that it’s bigger than us. The world needs heroic females more than ever; it needs us out there, muscular, mindful, purposeful and strong. That’s funny.

Ok, I’m lost again. Men are jealous of women? After this whole article has been one long rant on how women are never concerned with anything of value, are fickle and trivial and whiny?

There are some seriously false assumptions going on through this whole article, and the last sentence really hammers it home. The whole thing assumes that masculinity is better than femininity – after all, why else would women writers be boring and shallow? So for women to be taken seriously, to be Proper Feminists, they need to adopt all these traditionally male characteristics: muscularity, purpose, strength. Because only then will they be worth something.

I wonder if Farrelly has ever heard of the idea that masculine and feminine are social constructs which inherently privilege one over the other? (Here’s a hint, it’s not femininity that’s privileged.) Maybe if she were to open her eyes, she would realise that there are women who are strong and successful and purposeful. And that there are women who are feminine and concerned with families and sewing circles who are ALSO strong and purposeful.

Farrelly needs to recognise that actual feminism involves not shaming other women for their interests and choices, and recognising that society often forces them into conditions and stereotypes that they don’t actually want to be in and don’t agree with. That feminism involves criticising the notion of masculine as strong and feminine as weak. And that, if we want equality, we need to stop with the assumption that “women’s issues” are trivial and worthless and recognise that the feminine is powerful as well.

And if she wants women to stop being girly, why is she wearing lipstick in her author photo? It’s a wonder anyone takes her seriously.

~ Johanna Qualmann
Cross-posted to A Life Unexamined

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