On October 7th, CounterPunch published an article by journalist Ruth Fowler titled “Regressive Feminism: Of Sinead, Miley and Amanda.” Some of the language in the essay was crude and found to be offensive by many readers. Even CounterPunch staffers recoiled at the use of the word “cunt” and the phrase “should probably be kicked in the vagina.” Ms. O’Connor contacted me to express her genuine outrage at the essay and the fact she felt the language was an incitement to sexual violence. Of course, we find sexual violence of any kind abhorrent. These kinds of phrases are often especially traumatic to those who have experienced sexual abuse. At her request, I have removed the offensive sentences. We apologize to Sinead O’Connor, a musician we have long admired and a known victim of sexual violence and to other victims of sexual violence. We hereby pledge to refrain from publishing any future articles containing such offensive and distressing language.
Jeffrey St. Clair
There are so many things wrong with Sinead O’Connor’s unpleasant, condescending ‘Open Letter’ to Miley that it’s hard to know where to begin. Sent with “motherliness and love”, Sinead claims disingenuously, ignoring the plain fact that a mother’s love would have picked up the phone and had a private conversation, not denigrated and shamed a young female artist extremely publicly. I hate Open Letters as a rule. There seems to be a fad for them at the moment, as if people in the 21st century aren’t quite confident enough to be a douchebag without framing it in a faux epistolary form which feigns a dialogue. People who write Open Letters don’t want a dialogue. They don’t want a conversation. They don’t want a response.
They want an audience.
People who write Open Letters want to ejaculate what they think about a particular human being all over the public domain, whilst maintaining the appearance of propriety and concern by pretending that they’re actually writing to the addressed human being. While I’m a fan of the epistolary form, if another passive aggressive, attention-seeking, earnest, celebrity obsessed idiot writes another fucking letter to another fucking star and posts it all over their fucking blog, I think I might have to stab myself in the uterus with a virtual envelope cutter.
Amanda Palmer makes some great points in her own Open Letter, but loses kudos by unimaginatively using the epistolary form and a fawning tone to Sinead who, quite frankly, comes across as patriarchal, paternalistic, and ragingly conservative.
I, too, am fed up of Miley’s ass and Miley’s tits and Miley’s tongue slithering across my daily internet life. I don’t like Miley’s ignorant and offensive appropriation of black culture and find her twerking rather pitiful and banal. However, I find most female music artists and celebrities pretty goddamn ridiculous, whether they’re dressing themselves like human popsicles in candy pink hair like Katy Perry, wearing conical bras and sensationalizing their contempt for the Catholic Church, or walking around like inflated, airbrushed Kardashian dolls™. It’s not my thing, but I support all women who make informed choices about their lives, from those who choose to wear the hijab or niqab and cover their bodies, to those who want to flaunt their bodies in an overtly sexual manner. I don’t, like Sinead, see the word ‘prostitute’ as an offensive slur, having met many female sex workers who freely choose to participate in the sex industry and have found this industry has given them a greater sense of freedom and agency than any other employment.
I’ve written before about my despair with feminism in the 21st century, and I’ve clashed with so called ‘feminists’ such as Julie Bindel who have made a career from conflating violence against women with those women who freely choose to work in the sex industry. I’m still shocked that supposed ‘progressive’ media outlets like The Guardian publish such astoundingly misguided views, which infantilize and patronize sex workers and women who unashamedly express their sexuality. Only last year The Guardian, amongst other newspapers, expressed its support for a campaign to remove ‘Page 3 girls’ from Britain’s tabloid newspaper, The Sun. Page 3 girls are usually heavy breasted glamor models with their tits out on the page of a newspaper whose predominant audience is working class British men. The arguments against Page 3 suggested that the women were being exploited, that The Sun was a newspaper and should report news, that children could see these images and be permanently damaged by the sight of bare women’s breasts, and that such images are responsible for sexism, and by extension, violence against women.
The campaign gained a tremendous amount of momentum – from middle class educated people who did not read The Sun and were not glamor models, and would probably never read The Sun or wish to become glamor models. The paternalism, combined with the aggressive classism at work, went unnoticed, and the left wing eagerly took up the fight against Page 3 girls, as if they were single handedly responsible for every single rape, every single airbrushed anorexic model, and every single issue of sexism in the United Kingdom. It didn’t surprise me. Britain is still stuck in the era of Andrea Dworkin, disgusted and ashamed by porn, sex and female bodies. I’ve been called, disparagingly, a “happy hooker” by “left-wing” “feminist” Laurie Penny, who offered a similar opinion to Sinead’s when she wrote about my time as a stripper:
“This is all we’re good for’ – that’s the only subtext, every time a well-heeled young woman decides to rent her ‘pert little academic arse at a hundred for hire. Johns everywhere must be rubbing their hands with glee: even the clever ones, the posh bitches who think they’re better than you, will turn into the willing nymphettes of your stickiest wet dreams at the flash of a fiver, is the implication. We’ll let them into our elite universities, but under their scholar’s gowns they’ll always be slappers.”
The problem is that Sinead’s attitude is simply regressive. There is no room in feminism for the judgment of other women based upon their attitudes towards sex and how they relate to sex sartorially, and with their bodies. Every woman has a different standard of what is acceptable. Shaming and trolling women for their choices, assuming those choices are dictated by men, is not only vicious, it perpetuates the divisions within feminism which lead young women to feel alienated from its ideals. For many young women, Miley is their feminist role model. She’s young, fun, rich, successful, outspoken, fiercely progressive and confident. She’s sexual, and she’s sexy. She works hard. She’s never, to my knowledge, been photographed fucked up. Even if she had been, this new era of feminism doesn’t allow us to make disparaging comments or judgments about another woman because of what she imbibed. This new era of feminism is heading into shaky ground though, if it allows Sinead O’Connor to posit herself as a role model for female empowerment (which she does by suggesting others view her as such), dictating to another woman how to empower other women, and thus making herself the gatekeeper of who is or isn’t a suitable candidate to be a feminist.
While Sinead snickers at Miley’s choices (disparagingly calling her a “young lady”) and tells her she’s being exploited by men (as Miley looks like she’s having the time of her life and completely in control), as Bindel dictates to muslim women that their desire to wear the niqab “is a clear, physical representation of a patriarchal culture of a fundamentalist minority that treats women as second-class citizens.”, as Penny dismisses any sex worker with agency as a “hooker”…. women out there, in the big wide world, are being raped, beaten, attacked, humiliated and exploited. These are women who were not born with Miley’s silver spoon in their mouth. These are women who do not have the privilege of choosing whether to wear the niqab or the bikini. These are women who cannot go from Oxbridge, to the stripper pole, to Hollywood, and end up on the pages of CounterPunch writing about feminism. These are women who are not wasting their lives judging other women, but probably waiting for a chance to escape, hoping that their feminist “sisters” might pay them a bit of attention, show them some solidarity, instead of squabbling over Miley Cyrus and her tongue. These women will probably consider feminism as the realm of women who are white and privileged, like all the women mentioned in this article, women who still don’t get that feminism is not about them, it’s not about what they think, it’s not about what they don’t like, it’s not about blame, or judgment, or someone making the wrong or right choice. Feminism is about us.
Ruth Fowler is a journalist and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. She’s the author of Girl Undressed. She can be followed on Twitter at @fowlerruth or through her website.
A Response to Ruth Fowler
It is No Measure of Health to be Well Adjusted to a Profoundly Sick Society
By SINEAD O’CONNOR
There are no media which block mockery of those perceived to be (whether mistakenly diagnosed by media, or otherwise ) mentally ill. They do not care to recognise how dangerous it is to do so.
It isn’t for me that I have been willing to keep putting my head above the parapet, and willing to keep getting the fucking shit kicked out of me.. as I do on the issues of mental health or child abuse. It’s because PEOPLE GET BULLIED WHEN MEDIA DON’T EDIT RESPONSIBLY AND PEOPLE DIE BECAUSE OF THAT BULLYING. (See Miley letter 4 on my site for suicide statistics.)
When editors do not act responsibly on the issue of mental health their readers kill themselves.
That’s the bottom line. Media create everyone’s reality. They create the world as we see it. The music. Who’s a lunatic. Who is sane. Who exactly are media to be allowed define what is sane?
Is having the close up HD slow fuckin motion face of Gaddafi being shot off on the front page in massive technicolor on all the bottom shelves of news stores so that every child in the universe can see it, sane?
Is that a sane practice? No. Did Britney Spears ever do anything like that? No. She fuckin’ didn’t.
Because she is a lady, not a whore for blood. She got made crazy by the media when there was fuck all wrong with her BUT the media. She got Kafka’d.
That’s what happens to her fans then. Those that love her won’t be inspired by her to be their beautiful selves. It doesn’t suit media’s idea of the future that young people grow up to make the world a loving place. So media fuck up the young people’s heroes. Then the young people are afraid.
And what’s the worst thing to be called? What is it everyone’s so afraid of? Being either considered ” crazy” or actually being “crazy”. And why is that such a terrifying thing to be considered? Because “Crazy” people get treated like shit. Not with love, which is what one’s grandmother would expect of one, in the presence of a person afflicted with a disability of any kind.
But as Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”. If people like Fowler and the other irresponsibly murderous-tongued media are sane, then I really wanna be crazy thanks. Because you know what? It’s not me going round killing people it’s media.
I recommend all readers to my website wherein you will find a link to a British information pack on mental health advocacy and human rights.
When the afflicted are mocked they die. When their heroes are mocked by their perceived mental afflictions, they die. Not the heroes, they never die, that’s the sad part. It’s the afflicted.
They have to hide. It’s like trying to walk up the street with two broken legs and make sure you walk like normal because if you don’t, people will come and smash up your legs and laugh about it when you scream. And no one will defend you.
That is why I consider I myself the defender of the mentally ill. I myself am not in fact mentally ill.
I have been the subject of a mis-diagnoses, which came about by a doctor who never met me, who on the phone to a general practitioner who was meeting me for the first time, said “from what I read about her in the papers I’d say she is bipolar”.
It suited me to believe it. The fact was I had a baby 5 months previously and his father didn’t want to know him. I was severely distressed by this and had taken myself to the doctor to say I was feeling depressed and not feeling like myself.
I have over the last three years, had three ‘second opinions’ in consultation with three hospitals.
The last results were in the last 6 weeks. All have confirmed that I never did have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed by media. Because I’m the type of woman that media wouldn’t want being a hero. Because it doesn’t suit them to have women feel strong. And so they’ll use other women. Who’ll write venom about women. Kafka again.
Any woman who might inspire others to be themselves at any cost and to believe that there is a God despite religion, who can be called upon to immediately intervene, when people recognise that religion has them talking to the wall, has to be ‘crazied’. It’s been that way from creation.
I’m honoured to be one in an ancient historic line. Of female spiritual soldiers. Soldiers, not ladies, so don’t gimme any of the “If you’re not a fucking saint and perfect you can’t be a spiritual soldier” shit. Google Jesus mashing up the fucking temple.
I’m willing to fight on behalf of those who are not able to defend themselves, using all I have learned from being treated as the mentally ill are treated. My relentlessness in seeking human rights laws be APPLIED to the mentally is not going to cease. The mentally ill are amongst the most extremely vulnerable of this earth.
When can crazy stop being a term of abuse?
Sinead O’Connor is a musician and activist.