Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Feminism Makes Another Curtain Call?

If one reads the New York Times and other popular journals, you will find the occasional feature discussing the end of feminism.  Depending on the editorial stance and intended audience of the journal, this article will either decry or celebrate the “return” of feminine sexuality and sexiness.  No matter what the slant, this faux return, along with other indicators pulled out of the empty air that denotes much of popular culture, will be portrayed as proof that feminism is dead and may have even failed.  The truth of the matter, however, is that there was no return because feminine sexuality and sexiness never left.  Neither did sexism.

It is this last point that the authors of Reclaiming the F Word use as a beginning point for their recently published book.  Furthermore, write authors Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, neither has feminism.  Indeed, as long as the issues denigrating women and forcing them to accept less than what they are capable of exist, then feminism will exist.  Today’s feminism does not look like the mass movement of the 1970s, but is arguably more integrated into women’s daily lives.  It also does not always call itself feminism.

It was that movement of the 1970s–a movement known historically as second-wave feminism–that made the phrase “the personal is the political” popular.  The essence of this statement is that what we do in our private daily lives is as political as the overtly political actions we take on the public stage.  One effects the other and to pretend otherwise is not only hypocrisy but dishonest.  Overall, the entrance of this concept into the leftist and countercultural movements of the time did create a greater consciousness regarding the relationship between the private and the public personas we all have.  Simultaneously, it also created a dynamic where a personal mistake could often become a greater issue than one’s positive political acts, consequently destroying whatever potential those political acts may have had.  Perhaps the most obvious example of this for many liberals in the United States was the Clinton-Lewinsky affair.  Those liberals who truly appreciated Clinton’s political acts and policies were forced to watch the man’s personal mistakes being used as a justification by those who hated the man and his policies to discredit both.  The irony is that Clinton’s destroyers had absolutely no use for feminism, but were able to manipulate “the personal is political” dictum into one more element of a hypocritical puritanical attack on everything he stood for.

Second wave feminism–or women’s liberation as it was called back then–assumed that the liberation of women would occur within the wave of universal liberation that many believed was near in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  As we know, that struggle for universal liberation ultimately slipped into the particularities and occasional pettiness of identity politics.  Identity politics is a politics that, among other things, removes the question of class struggle from the equation and replaces it with a combination of victimhood and special privilege designed to “make up” for previous wrongs.  Of course, many of these wrongs cannot be compensated for because they are based on one’s economic relationship to the masters of capital, not to the relationships between different elements of those subordinate to the masters.   Reclaiming the F Word walks a fine line between these two opposing understandings.  While generally understanding that women’s rights can only be obtained through the struggle for universal human rights, the authors tend to work within the framework of identity politics when it comes to specifics.  Consequently their failure to discuss the world’s greatest violator of human rights–imperial war.–weakens the book.  This is especially the case in a time when Washington and London have both used women’s rights to justify their wars against Muslim nations.

Redfern and Aune are British and therefore write mostly about Britain.  They discuss current efforts to end violence against women, for equal pay and for sexual and reproductive freedom and choice.  While doing this, they comment on the nature of British society in the 2000s.  It is a society that is considerably more ethnically and religiously diverse, with a large population of Muslim and other non-Christian women.  This fact creates a new way of looking at conventional women’s issues.  The need for cultural sensitivity is a challenge to conventional western feminists who may not understand the reasons a woman might wear a burqa or chador or accept the roles proscribed by non-Western cultures.  Yet, oftentimes women working with these women find that the common bond of womanhood is enough and it is from that point that they begin their work.

A discussion in the book that I found particularly intriguing revolved around the relationship between feminism and  religion.  No religion is held out for special scorn or praise and all of the monotheistic ones (which form the bulk of believers in the West) are looked at honestly.  Attempts by feminists who consider themselves believers to transform their churches are discussed as are those women who want nothing to do with religion, considering such attempts to be pointless in the face of those religions’ fundamental patriarchal belief systems.

The overriding theme of Reclaiming the F Word  is that women’s rights are human rights.  From the right to control one’s own body to the right to an education and healthcare, Redfern and Aune do a good job of elucidating the current approach modern-day feminists are taking in the struggles for these things.  If one wants to read an honest discussion of where modern day western feminism stands, this book is a good place to begin.  Accessible and informative, it is a brief survey of many of the  issues faced by women in the early part of the 21st century and the attempts by many to address them.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What is Truth?
Michael Doliner
Were the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a Mistake?
Victor Grossman
Cassandra Calls
Ralph E. Shaffer
Could Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearing Ended Differently?
Vanessa Cid
Our Everyday Family Separations
Walaa Al Ghussein
The Risks of Being a Journalist in Gaza
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal and Treachery—The Extremism of Moderates
James Munson
Identity Politics and the Ruling Class
P. Sainath
The Floods of Kerala: the Bank That Went Under…Almost
Ariel Dorfman
How We Roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s Agent of Imperialism
Joe Emersberger
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s Assault on Human Rights and Judicial Independence
Ed Meek
White Victimhood: Brett Kavanaugh and the New GOP Brand
Andrew McLean, MD
A Call for “Open Space”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail