Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Great Wall of Mainstream Feminism

There are few things in the world I hate more than when the words "prominent," "feminist," "icon," and "won" are jumbled together in a feminist context.

I don't know why I do this to myself. I have long sworn off mainstream feminism and yet, like a moth to a flame where I know I shall burn myself to death, still, I am drawn to read articles that ponder whether Angelina Jolie is "the next feminist icon."

According to "prominent feminist," Naomi Wolf, Jolie "is hot" and "has it all."

Let's skip the whole song and Hollywood dance of her celebrity and take a closer look at what Naomi Wolf says of her,

"Against every Western convention, she has managed to draw together all of these kinds of female liberation and empowerment. And her gestures determinedly transgress social boundaries — boundaries of convention, race, class, and gender — giving many of us a vicarious thrill."

Um, pardon me, but am I the only one that nearly puked up colonialism when I saw her adopt children all over the world, bringing more wind to the Oprah theory that we, those with money and in industrialized countries, should feel free to "save" these other children from the violence and poverty they would be otherwise subject to?

It's not as if I expect Bazaar or Forbes to take that kind of approach to celebrity analysis. Far from it, I expect mainstream media to further confuse the notions of liberation with colonialist domination. But from writers, thinkers, and philosophers teaching from the walls of feminisms (yes, read it, again my friends - it's plural) -- in what orbit are you circling where you think Ange-freaking-lina Jolie is the "next feminist icon?" What kind of sound minded, socially-just conscience gets a "vicarious thrill" through ethnocentric, heteronormative practices and then sings ignorant praises and files it under Liberation, Best Practices?

From the same brand that said Sex and the City was a cultural phenomenon that further liberated US women, that also denounced Obama during the primaries because Hillary Clinton was the first women to potentially clinch the White House, which also says NOTHING in celebration of or in defense of Sotomayer -- comes the newest installation of mainstream feminism: the (slightly) nuanced message that tells women that, YES, we CAN have it all. By golly, if a big boobed and heavy lipped white actress who makes millions off of her sex appeal can fly a plane, snag a handsome and doting beau, and have her pick of the world's poorest children, well, shit! I CAN HAVE IT ALL TOO!

Ah, mainstream many times must I say this? The demise of our efforts will not be neoconservative right-wing bats who look an awful like Dick Cheney. It won't even be the machismo. I'll even go as far to say the collapse won't come from a thousand reincarnations of Ann Coulter.

The damning crack in the great wall of feminisms is caused by the mainstream feminists, the "prominent" writers and thinkers who jump and down on the wall, throwing praise to other White women who have money, small waists, and heterosexual sex. They continuously and knowingly break the backs of the women and daughters who need more advocacy than they need to hear about a wealthy, country-jetting actress. This wall will certainly cave from the Utah-sized egos that ignore race and colonial theories and teachings, who offer their souls to Hillary Clinton and nothing to Sonia Sotomayer. And when this wall crumbles, the dust will settle and reveal two things that mainstream feminism has caused: the majority of women are trapped under the wall and are dead while the women who walked the the top and caused the crack are still alive.


  1. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Come down off of your high walls of Fort Feminist and realize that the world is far more vulgar and money grubbing than you cite, Jolie being a profitable storyline for media mongers. If some girl from Ft. Wayne, Indiana reads about countries in Africa and that bisexual, man stealing, millionaire, septo-mom, Jolie and her UN advocacy is making some difference somewhere else, then maybe said girl will think there is more than just Ft. Wayne and it's limited sexist trappings, but ya she's no Steinam. Your Hillary v. Sotomayor support is a good note. Sotomayor lacks a husband, children and marriage, and housewife imagery/whiteness that old white ladies are most comfortable rallying around. I went to see Nancy Pelosi speak last night in Houston, and it brought home the point that women have reached new heights in politics and power, but have still further to go. So be careful about presenting yourself as one of the prescient few soldiers of feminism and class struggle when there are many more who out rank you and Jolie.

  2. fredMS12:10 PM

    roffle at sex and city being liberating

  3. granted, i wouldn't say Angelina Jolie is a feminist icon, but the death of feminism? really?

    there is def. something sketch about her child collecting, and I dont think that kind of celebrity 'sex in the city feminism' is doing much. But lets call out the double standards of WHY pretty white girl executive / jet setter types make it, and question them as our only supposed role models, vs vilifying the women themselves, who often do actually work very hard, and pay high prices for their success.

    besides, its hard to deny the pleasure of seeing such a powerful public figure as the head of her family, esp when her beau happens to be such a hollywood macho.

  4. How ridiculous. She's a white woman from a wealthy celebrity family whose success is AT LEAST halway based on her appearance alone.

    I really don't think twice about Jolie, as far as I know she could be an admirable woman, but, c'mon, this is just ridiculous.

  5. You are not the only one. The state of "international adoption" disgusts me, no matter who's doing it. I do wonder why there's currently much disapproval of Madonna's purchase of a second Malawian while Jolie's child buying gets a pass from the media.

    The idea of Jolie as a feminist icon makes me weep for today's young girls.

  6. Haikunick,

    Hello and welcome to my blog.

    My analogy about the great wall of feminism is about the self-built stratification within mainstream feminism which, it sounds like, you buy. That's probably the heart of my disagreement with you. So instead of jabbing at each of your points to argue, here's my reply:

    My view of the wall is definitely not from the top of the mainstream one. Although extremely general, the basic precept of feminism is that all are equal, so your rhetoric about rank, coming down from Fort Feminist, and the notion I'm branding myself as some precious feminist prophet by simply writing my perceptions is annoyingly irrelevant to the conversation around radical WOC feminism which centralizes on liberation, marginalization, and Othering.

    Creating and using my voice for distinction is not about rank, but about dissent.

    The new heights of politics and power are noted, but from what I've seen of the world, young girls need role models within their own communities, who understand THEIR lives and individual strengths. Real grrls need real womyn.

    Mainstream feminism is quite good at pointing OUTWARD, but rarely help teach us to love the local heroes within family, community, and civic engagement.

  7. Anonymous6:00 PM

    But the problem of overrepresentation of affluent white people/celebrities is much bigger than feminism. I would say the problem is that these mainstream feminists, as you call them, are coopting a movement that should include all women's perspectives and homogenizing it with their own perspectives. This isn't a new phenomenon in the world nor in feminism and it hasn't cracked the wall yet. We just need to keep fighting against it, working to keep feminism plural and create spaces and role models for all women and girls.

  8. Nice piece. I disagree, though, that mainstream feminism, and not the patriarchy or kyriarchy (loved your article on that) has caused the trapping of women under the wall.

    The Jolie example and the Wolf and Alternet pieces don't establish that. For one thing, they were commenting on a ranking done by... drumbeat... Forbes magazine. The guys who wrote about how career women make bad marriage prospects. The mag owned by Malcolm and Steve Forbest. Neither of whom, last I checked, was part of mainstream feminism.

    Yes, people like Wolf (whom almost nobody, either within or outside of the feminist movement, takes seriously ever since her disastrous post-Beauty-Myth slide and other writers cover kyriarchy-generated news. Why? Because that kind of article will sell.

    I'm not saying this is great feminist work. It's not. It's making a paycheck. But the root of why this is how it's done is not mainstream feminism.

  9. Hey Lisa,

    This is a great post. And also a great response to that woman who replied to you initially. I recently came across some similar missing-the-entire-point-while-playing-into-the-issue-I-just-wrote-about commentators on my blog, and it took me considerably longer to bounce back. But keep it coming, and I look forward to seeing some building while dismantling.


  10. I agree a bajillion skillion zillion percent with this post except for the last paragraph. Naomi Wolf is NOT "mainstream" feminist. Not in the slightest. The greatest crack in the feminist wall comes from the mainstream media's portrayal of what THEY consider to be "mainstream" feminism.

  11. I think there's the huge problem with the concept of "feminist icon" for a start, because the icon is a completely anti-feminist concept, not least because it's very objectifying, to call someone an icon, which basically means "image". Angelina Jolie's position isn't "empowered" at all, she's a signifier.

    In fact I think it's important to have sympathy for female celebrities, because they're in quite a powerless position: though materially comfortable, often none of the money is theirs, and well, if they were born into it then they never had any choice but to be living mascots for whatever entertainment companies they represent. So, if we have feminists writing pages and pages about how we need a feminist icon somehow, and Angelina Jolie is it, then I think, yes, we're in trouble.

    And in fact the main reason people care about Angelina Jolie is because lifestyle columnists write about how much of a fantastic feminist icon she is. She's not conventionally attractive in the least (well, not that you could tell either way from photos of her anyway), she's just got the signifiers and a billion columnists writing about how "women want to be her and men want to fuck her". She's a symbol of money and power and, yes, colonialism, that's all it really takes. She's currency, basically, she doesn't even get to be a person.

    If that's what feminism is about, well, too much AAAAAAAUUUUGH! to list.

    And what's all that about "rebranding single motherhood"? Oh yes, ignore completely that most single mothers have no material means but Jolie kind of does somewhat, we need Jolie to rebrand single motherhood because we can't be arsed to treat single mothers like humans to start with. Just... aaargh, it's making me (even more) incoherent with frustration. And just the suggestion that all women want to be Angelina Jolie. How patronising!

    But it's not like Naomi Wolf doesn't know that, she just writes this stuff for her career - another feminist icon there, Yale-educated but has to debase herself writing this kind of bullshit.

    I'm kind of drawn to this stuff too actually, I always read it when I see it, even though it's everything I don't believe in, and it makes my forehead veins bulge. Well, correction - I usually get drawn to it after I've read ten reactions by white middle-class feminists going "hmmm, yes, she is a feminist icon, she's smiles upon children in Africa and she kicks arse and makes choices and supports progressive causes", and I'm sick all over someone's comment thread.

    But if we (and especially a Yale-educated eminent feminist writer like Wolf, I mean come on, did she get a degree in having costly hair or what? Surely she knows better than this bullshit) can start discussing celebrities and media personalities as collections of signifiers and symbols rather than wonderful godlike people who make choices and mean everything they say, maybe we'll make some progress.


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