Feminism – an ethic or a subculture?

This post is text yanked from the previous post, because the beginning and the end of the post were just a really, really bad match, and I think the feminist material deserved its own post. So if you’ve already read the previous post, this is the same stuff, OK? If you haven’t read it yet, please read on:

As I write this, An article I marked for sharing in my feed-reader is from Mind the Gap!, in which Zenobia muses on the human habit of labelling ourselves and the problems which can be created if self-labelling takes over one’s identity to the point where a subculture is created rather than an ethical stance, say, in the instance of the label “feminist” .

The idea of a subculture is that it offers a haven for people who feel different (often inferior / superior to most people) to shelter from “the drones” or “the randoms” and partake in an alternative lifestyle, dressing in a certain way and doing certain things, and more importantly maybe, deciding against doing certain other things.

The trouble with treating feminism that way is that it deals with something fairly universal: the idea that there is a feminine (socially imposed or otherwise) which negatively impacts on the lives of women, and that we don’t think it should. If you treat that as a subculture the effects are disastrous: what applies to those who don’t belong doesn’t apply to those within the circle, and vice-versa. It also causes feminists to adopt with pride the stereotypes that are applied to them, leading to endless discussions of haircuts, clothes and leg-shavery.

This ties into Lauredhel’s recent post on fluffy feminism: on one side the “fluffy” individualist feminists are defending an attachment to fashion and raunch culture as refusing to be confined within a sidelined feminist subculture, and on the other side the liberal and radical feminists and womanists are defending a cynicism towards fashion and raunch culture as central to a feminist ethical stance.

I can certainly see Zenobia’s point that if all feminists allowed feminism to define every choice to the point of adopting the label of feminist as subculture stereotyping, then feminism would definitely be in danger of being sidelined (and note that this is exactly how socially conservative anti-feminists try to position feminism in their diatribes – as a simultaneously dangerously powerful and an impotently ineffectual subculture).

But I can also see that within the spectrum of feminist activism and practise, that certain feminist subcultures do exist and perform exactly the function Zenobia describes – as havens for people who feel different and excluded. I don’t think that having those feminist subcultures that people can dip into and out of as they feel the need is a negative that needs to be barricaded against, particularly as such barricading would only encourage the various flavours of feminist subculture to start barricading themselves against the other flavours.

Getting back to web-wibbling, I personally find great value in being able to visit and participate in a wide range of feminist blog commentariats, being exposed to different perspectives on coping with the fundamental feminist ethic that constructed femininity imposes constraints on women that are unfair. I have a wide range of feminist blogs in my feed-reader that I’m always reading, and I tend to go through cycles in my actual clicking over to those blogs and leaving comments. Sometimes I’m hanging with the radfems, sometimes with the thirdwavers, sometimes with the libfems, sometimes with the womanists – it’s all good, really.

Still, the negatives outlined by Zenobia on becoming subculturally attached to a label are worth heeding. It’s a fine line between community support and self-ghettoising. Note the general habit of circling the subculture wagons in other online discussions – endless culture-wars link-circles amongst liberals, progressives, libertarians, evangelists, atheists, creationists, neocons, etc etc etc. It’s not something that feminists have to be especially ashamed of, but given the pervasiveness of sexist stereotypes in all the groups mentioned above, it is perhaps something that feminists do need to be especially aware of.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, social justice

Tags: ,

2 replies

  1. Bravo. A well written post with indeed much to think about. Thank you for putting that sentiment into words. I couldn’t do it.

  2. Thanks, Burrow. All credit to Zenobia for writing a great post that I could push on a slightly different tack.

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