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Reading May 8, 2007

Posted by Winter in feminist theory, pornography, rape, sex industry.
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Chameleon at Redemption Blues has posted an interview with Professor Liz Kelly of London Metropolitan University, one of Britain’s foremost experts on violence against women. It’s long and there’s lots of food for thought, so you might want to get some tea and biscuits before sitting down to it. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I do agree with a lot of it and I particularly like her rejection of feminist defeatism. An extract:

Chameleon: If people read the Daily Mail and they start getting lulled into complacency by its constant barrage of claims that we’ve achieved equality, how can we then overcome such complacency and the denial of inequality that’s implicit in the articles?

LK: I think we should take the fact there is such a consistent and deliberate engagement as evidence of success. I don’t agree that we should just talk the language of backlash and undermining. It’s not necessary to do that if you don’t think that something is changing and you’re trying to resist change. We should see this as part of the process of change and transformation – our gender order, our patriarchy or whatever we want to call it, is changing and this change is contested. It is contested at all sorts of levels. It’s contested at the level of individual relationships, it’s contested in classrooms and it’s contested in the media. We have to be smarter about how we engage with that. The response of some women is to be really frustrated and angry that it’s happening rather than to engage with it and to make sure that there’s not just one voice. For example, can we find a journalist in the Daily Mail to whom one could feed some different information and who might develop a slightly different voice in the newspaper? You’re not going to absolutely change the political tone of a newspaper, but you can affect some of the content. I don’t do enough of this, I know I don’t, but I do think we have to find smart ways of engaging with these contested areas and we have to do more. Robin Morgan once said that if every feminist wrote a letter a day to the newspapers, or to their political representatives we would be a serious force to be reckoned with and it’s still true. If every day each of us did a small piece of activism about what moved us the most we would see different voices. Not every letter gets published, not every response or little campaign has an impact, but the more there are the more there is a sense that yes, there are these voices of resistance, but they’re not going uncontested. There is still a women’s movement. That’s how you sense that there’s a women’s movement because you sense women engaging in disputation in the public sphere. I think we got pulled into establishing organisations working at more strategic and policy levels and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have done that, we should have done it and we need to continue doing it, but we also need to do the things that seem smaller, not so significant, that actually make those who are not feminists feel that there is a feminist voice. Because otherwise they don’t hear or see it.

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1. Winter - May 15, 2007

There’s so much there, I think I’ll have to print it out and read it slowly.

I liked her way of thinking about feminism, or perhaps I should say women’s rights activism, as a process of transformation which will obviously be strongly contested. I think she’s right that the gender order is changing in many places around the world and a lot of people are going to be hugely resistant to that and contest it. But the contestation is proof that things are changing. The Daily Mail wouldn’t need to rant on about feminism if feminism wasn’t a threat after all.


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