Monica Dux, one of the co-authors of new book The Great Feminist Denial, has an opinion piece in the Age:
And it hits one of my oldest pet peeves: rejecting a large part of feminism’s history, rejecting a large group of current feminists, just because Dux doesn’t like the “image” they project.
While researching our book my co-author Zora Simic and I asked women what turned them off the feminist label. The most common answer was that it’s the man-hating, hairy-legged lesbian. In a way this wasn’t surprising. Since the 1980s most surveys of women on feminism have returned similar findings. What was surprising is that this hirsute cliche — now more than 30 years old — is still so prevalent in women’s minds.
We all know what she looks like. She’s unwaxed, unattractive and unfeminine (probably with saggy boobs, given her predilection for torching bras). But while most women can describe her characteristics, they can rarely name a woman who personifies the stereotype.
So, who is this woman that everyone is so eager to disassociate themselves from? “Hairy-legged lesbian” is, arguably, popular shorthand for the radical feminist. Radical feminism, which emerged from the diverse women’s movement of the 1960s, focused on patriarchy as the source of women’s oppression. It ranged from the extreme (lesbian separatism) to the moderate (a critique of pornography). Yet while the extreme end of radical feminism looms largest in the public imagination, its impact was marginal, more akin to that of an eccentric opposition backbencher than a minister making policy.
Ultimately, the real power of the radical feminist has been in providing fuel for conservative scaremongers, as she’s been morphed into a homophobic, simplistic, but enormously convenient stereotype on which to hang old-fashioned feminist bashing.
Here’s the thing, Monica Dux. I, a person your co-author Zora interviewed at some length for the book, have hairy legs. I have hairy ampits. I’m fat, which is generally considered “unattractive” in Western patriarchal culture. My breasts sag. Apart from the lesbianism, I am your scary negative cliche. And some of my friends are 100% your scary negative cliche. This person is not a myth. We’re out here. And we’re feminists.
Would you be aghast if we walked around wearing ‘THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE’ T-shirts?
I am a cliche, a negative stereotype, because I don’t pluck and shave and wax and diet and have a surgical breast lift. The only thing that “saves” me from being 100% your horrifying threat to feminism is the fact that I fuck men. Why is that a big deal to you? Why are you rejecting lesbians from your movement? Or do you not reject them – do you just want to hide them away in a closet and pretend that your feminism is all sexy women hot for men, just so homophobes don’t think any the worse of you?
Does your feminism also pander to racists, to ableists, to anti-trans bigots, or do you single out homophobes for the kid-glove treatment?
I am, according to you, the person turning young women off feminism. My body, according to you, is feminism’s marketing problem. I am, according to you, one of the feminists that the New Feminism needs to distance itself from. I need to be denounced in order for the movement to move on and attract new members. Instead of rejecting the sexist attitudes that lead to my body being denigrated, you pander to them and reinforce them, and you seek to distance yourself from me.
This is bigoted bullshit.
You are repeating and re-creating the shameful “lavender menace” history in this opinion piece. THAT is the history that needs to be rejected. That is the history that should not be re-embraced.
If your feminism demonises me, the problem is with your feminism, not with my body. If you need to reject me, if you need to use my body, this natural body I live in, as the spectre of everything that is wrong with feminism, your feminism has a problem.
And if your feminism rejects lesbians, your feminism is broken.
You go on to say this:
In the act of calling ourselves feminists we are expressing solidarity (not necessarily agreement) with others who share our core values. We’re also showing respect to the many women who’ve championed those values for more than 100 years. Being mindful of their legacy helps us avoid repeating mistakes, but it is also our best defence against feminism’s detractors propagating even more false assumptions, cliches and distortions.
And yet, you propagate the cliche in this opinion piece. You yourself consider hairy-legged lesbians an image problem. You reject radical feminists.
Next time you’re asked if you are a feminist, it might be more correct to reply: I am, but not an anachronistic cliche of a narrow version of second wave radical feminism.
Or perhaps I’ll say that I AM a hairy-legged makeup-hater, and anyone who has a problem with that can get the fuck over it. And that my white-woman beauty choices are not the most important thing about feminism. Feminism is about equal opportunity and healthcare and civil rights and reproductive justice and freedom from violence and oppression, and the ending of rigid sex roles and exploitation and objectification all over the world – all tenets of the massively influential second-wave feminist movement in which our mothers and grandmothers and sisters worked so hard and achieved so much, which you have overlooked in your haste to dismiss them.
I have no time for a feminism that thinks women should conform to patriarchal beauty standards and compulsory heterosexuality before they can be accepted. That thinks that hairy, saggy-breasted women drag down the image of the movement. And, above all, I reject homophobic “feminism”.
Update 21 Oct 2008:
Monica Dux: “My nameless, shameless adversary”, The Age, 18 Oct 2008
Lauredhel: “In Which the Strawfeminist Makes Yet Another Appearance“, Shakesville, 20 Oct 2008