Saturday, October 11, 2008

Feminist Icons: Will The Real One Please Stand Up

Suffragettes, circa 1913.

Rosie O'Donnell photo David Shankbone.

Isadora Duncan, photo by Arnold Genthe, 1915-1918 tour.

Michelle Obama

Margeret Thatcher (on left side of photo) :)

Betty Freidan, 1966.

Betty Freidan, 1995.

Oprah middle American female.

Madonna as sexual initiator and dominatrix. And a woman with many seuxal partners: the favoured term for such a woman "promiscuous".

Madonna "girl on girl".

Andrea Dorkin, 1986. Anti-pornography activist.

Gov. Sarah Palin

Gloria Steinem undercover as a Playboy bunny, researching her expose.

Gloria Steinem

The other day I posted about some feminists and I probably should have said "feminists icons" so I wanted to amend this by posting these photos above. I don't think there is much of a difference between being an icon for women or being a feminist but I am willing to add the concept of such here. Although there were only a couple of comments in that blog post...I was surprised that they didn't seem to understand that we don't always have to "like" who is an icon...but rather going beyond our lies and dislikes is a great way to learn.

The massive unprofessional response in political or media coverage: mostly petty and superficial name-calling to Sarah Palin has been a source of feminist concern for me. I say...take any politicians down for their policies and ethics...but the media attention has rarely been critically savvy. When a journalist is writing that Palin is "an insult to women" I believe that is a pile of crap. It is a pile of crap because her leadership responsibilities are not dependant on whether some bloke,/li> working for Rupert Murdoch thinks she is an insult to women or not. I think Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone is much closer to the truth that she might be an insult to Americans. (via conspicuous consumption culture?)

The fact is, some women feel Palin represents them. Palin's greatest appeal is that she understands and can articulate the insults thrown at her...and many many women and men...know that attitude of superiority and entitlement as a practice of insult in their daily lives.

As a woman...Palin has heard the insults all before:

"Hick, backwards, uninformed, not right for the job, not equipped for the job, dumb, pagent queen, doesn't read, stupid, redneck, bad mother, bimbo, the list of petty attacks is legion and Plain has worked her way through them without losing a beat...often with good comebacks. Or at the very least directly calling the "entitled" person out, like Katie Couric."

My point was not to say she isn't stupid or annoying or even an extremeist. My point in my previous post was that like it or not...she is a feminist icon.

For me, feminism isn't in one package...and I think we are seeing such a revolving set of female images in the last hundred years as something that supports this changing perception.

If we posted pictures of suffragettes and then Betty Frieden and Gloria Steinem and Madonna and Palin and looked at them and said...these are all feminist might be confusing and interesting.

In the political struggle for womens rights we have many icons and images. What the suffragettes claimed as rights have been added to in following generations. The struggles of women in a previous generation to me are not the same as any struggles I have fought as a woman. I grew up with equal rights, with laws allowing for pro-choice, for voting, with equality in household matters, with rights for lesbians etc.

Where I experienced feminist struggles was not in these issues but in fighting to wear what I wanted without being called a slut. For dating and staying single for a much longer time period in my youth. For changing my name for myself spiritually, not for a man. For rejecting when men put their conversation and social powers before women. These aren't always "legal" struggles...what women are often dealing with in the last twenty years is subtle social status, defending our clothing, our sexual practices or lifestyle on a much more intimate level.

Prostitution is now "sex workers", for example.

Marriage includes same sex.

The most public struggle for many women has been that of the single mum...who has and often still is...the so-called bane of society. I don't mean those parents who are divorced and sharing custody or payments. That is not a single parent. I could probably write several posts about my experience as a single mum. It would not be an exageration to say that people despised my situation, often they never were afraid to say to my face what they thoght of my morals or lifestyle. Worse the children at school would bully a single mums child so I was often negotiating with other parents to teach their children tolerance.

Another sexist hot topic is any woman who has strong opinions. Our society often condemns women who speak out about their feelings or hold unusual or unpopular ideals, a good example is Sarah Palin's style and opinions for many liberals.

Another struggle has been the public discussion of whether women can work outside the home and adequately be "hands on parents" (this is now an ethical struggle for all genders including gay couples!)

Sarah Palin is a feminist icon in the same way Andrea Dorkin is: they exist politically at the extremes of womens issues. And they are both difficult to understand for conservative mainstream citizens.

Whether we "like" Palin is not the issue of the recognition that she is in a role of becoming a feminist icon. Madonna did it without us hardly realizing it. So did Oprah.

Madonna isn't just a feminist icon because she has good business savvy. (although that is a part of her persona and career history) She is an icon because she has stood the test of time of first being a "ditsy disco dance pop star" a major artist. She is an icon because she had continued to write music that touched people emotionally and politically, while she changed her image nd experimented with sexual personas in the public eye. Personas of women "roles" as sexual objects, as whores, as motherly, as career, as dominatrix, and especially a sexually demanding female.

These may not be landslide political or legal issues...but they are profound intimate personal issues of freedom for many women and gays. The history of political allegiance between womens rights and gays and lesbians is important to remember.

People have dismissed Oprah's audiences and programs as "soap operas" "sensationailism" and "materialistic" for years...but she has a huge following and dialogue with many women who do not feel they are represented in public, in society or in their own homes.

We can see in the past few weeks that the majority of media does not respect the "homemaker feminist" or "mother feminist" by the reaction...often melodramatic of Sarah Palin.

I think people have freaked out a little too much.

This is again, not to say, I "like" Palin as a politician or agree with her. But I think she has revealed a part of many female struggles by the backlash against her.

I think Palin is an extremist politically. I don't like that. In the same way I did not lie Margeret Thatcher in England in the 80's or agree with Andrea Dorkin's anti-pornography theories. I could not understand why people elected Thatcher...she was a dangerous force I think. But now that time has gone by, I have learned more and am older...I can see that despite my dislike of her...she was a powerful feminist icon. Despite my opposition of Dorkin's politics, I have also come to understand that the theories of Dorkin were valuable.

There isn't one package or political issue of feminism. It is a force of many costumes and flavours. The issues surrounding womens voices and politics are much vaster than we could have predicted in the 1970's.

Women need to understand that as a group we have vast issues that we may not share between us but we share as a gender and even beyond gender.

We need to listen to the various branches of womens issues rather than typecast a feminist as someone "who wants to make money, support abortion rights, walk alone at night safely, and have partners who do housework". We are much more diverse than those issues and until we accept the social challenges of our community we will always be stuck fighting over the superficial petty issues. Women bickering over who is a worthy feminist icon isn't a positive political or social action. Women embracing all peoples struggles and opening dialogue is much more survival oriented.

I believe the secret to our potentials lies in acknowledging there isn' t one face to feminist or human rights in general.

Accepting diversity and polarity is a future survival and spiritual principle for healthy community.


Gardenia said...

I'm not so sure this issue of criticism has much to do with the fact Palin is a woman, at least for me, other than that I mentioned in the previous post - being a woman and being chosen was a political move. That party NEEDS desperately the women's votes that were reserved for Hillary. I think criticisms are flowing because people see this through a political filter and feel she is not qualified rather than because she is female. I criticised Edward's hair during the convention eight years ago, because image is so cruicial (shouldn't be) in the race. It had nothing to do with his sex. Am I being naive?

Watch...she will be eaten by the political machine like a black widow eats its babies - did you see the headlines today? Its ALL politics.

Perhaps I can agree she will be a feminist icon because she will end up being sacrificed and being a woman will be turned against her.

I puzzle over why we as women have to even fight for equal rights, equal treatment - doesn't make sense - or or people of color, - or people who think differently?

Single Mum-hood - and generational influence in these issues...... definitely all intertwined, though I had not considered the
generational differences.

Current definition of motherhood is rather narrow and condemning to anyone outside the definition and often two sides, working and "non-working" mothers at war with one another. (This is not just a femaile issue though - men are really the masters of war.)

However, dragging young handicapped children around to campaign very late into the night, night after night, probably pushes the boundaries a bit - campaigns are incredibly exhausting even for adults who are healthy.

Rather than a scarlet letter single moms should be given Purple Hearts. My mother wasn't political (then) but her life was a statement of single mom martyrdom and struggle being a woman working in a man's world.

My youngest marches to her own tune as well - her dress, her outlook, and her bravery to not be "everyone else" and she too takes a few clips to the chin. Clips that knock her down - in fact she is getting up from one now.

I too wish more people had been brave enough to comment! But religion and politics are tw0 scary places to go and I do believe politics filters the acceptance of Palin by women OR by men.

Dunno though. I try to remain open, but again, I had such a horrible experience in a political race and being close enough to the Governor's office to watch a scenario that completely amazed me (in a non-positive way) that it was like a taser wake up call!

* (asterisk) said...

No, I totally get that icons can be people I don't like. But I don't think Palin has yet done anything to give her icon status. An icon must prove him- or herself in some way, surely, even if that way is merely being "pretty", such as Twiggy being a 60s style icon. Palin is known (so far, and let's hope it stays that way) as a figure of ridicule for a party that really needed to distance itself from figures of ridicule.

But this is probably a non-right-wing view. No doubt many Republicans -- and especially Republican females -- think she is great. And maybe even an icon.

Should she become VP, and ultimately POTUS, then I will grant her icon status. Right now, she's just another idiot* who doesn't deserve to be on my TV. And Lord knows we've already got plenty of those.

* In fact, on that point, I agree with you in the previous post that she knows the media are trying to stitch her up, but I still feel that if she really were smart, she would be able to mention a couple of news sources, and even say "Y'know, out there in Alaska we have the Internet, too, and I get a lot of opinion from foreign press websites, as well as from the US." But she didn't. Big fail.

Gardenia said...

Back again, I was fascinated with Andrea Dworkin on my first read, so had to click on your link to find out who she was, what her writings were and found a treasure trove I would like to dig through. Fascinating body of work I think she had - I have radical views of pornography too - but I won't go into them! I want to read what she has to say. Thanks for that link and introduction!!!

* (asterisk) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
* (asterisk) said...

Can I suggest a female icon?

Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Candy Minx said...

Hey guys!!!

Amazing comments...I don't have time to respond properly( you'll see why I am preoccupied...HA! in future post!!!)

I'll get back to this later this week....


Malcolm said...

I like your objectivity in this post. Although you may not agree with the politics of some of these women or like their personas, you are still open-minded enough to recognize them as feminist icons. Although I am not a huge fan of Madonna, she is perhaps the best when it comes to recording artists who can market themselves. Had Madonna not possessed this ability, she would likely be just another 80s pop singer.

* (asterisk) said...

I ought to mention my stupidity in posting a *female icon* above who is not a feminist icon -- but hey, who's to say that any influential woman can't be an icon for feminists?

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