I was talking to a girl at my school about I-forget-what but eventually it gravitated toward the Vagina Monologues and Eve Ensler. She asked me if I had read I Am An Emotional Creature. Before I could think about it, I blurted out “yeah, it was terrible.” We were both surprised (I usually try to be more polite, and I don’t think she had ever seen me be that curt) and I clarified my answer by describing the things I found objectionable - mostly the fact that none of the characters had any real depth and all the stories come off as inauthentic (example - would a Chinese factory worker really care about the body image problems barbies cause in the US to the point that that’s their entire monologue?). And I won’t even get into the stereotypes of the Latina girl.
She agreed with the points I made but responded with something to the effect of, “But Eve Ensler got me into feminism. People need to read works that are basic and accessible before they tackle the hard stuff.” Which I agreed with. I wouldn’t send my best friend, who is intimidated by academic jargon and has no background knowledge of poststructuralism, to read Judith Butler to learn about feminism, for example. Feminism SHOULD be accessible and relate-able or else we risk being stuck in the ivory tower without creating change “on the ground.”
But why are writers like Eve Ensler and Jessica Valenti considered accessible? And for whom?
I was also introduced to feminism* through the Vagina Monologues. I saw it when I was 13. It was a fun show but it didn’t particularly resonate with me. It felt like it was trying so hard to be shocking and in-your-face. It reminded me of the kids in elementary school who yelled “vagina” and ran away giggling because they said a naughty word - I wasn’t sure how it was helping women. I liked the fact that it had many different stories written by different kinds of women, but I learned later that Eve Ensler wrote all of them. Now my critiques of the VagMons are different but the fact remains that it does not speak to me.
When I was in high school, I read The Feminist Mystique because my history book said it started a movement and the idea of starting a movement with a book was fascinating to me - much more interesting than fill-in-the-blank history worksheets. Yet again, it didn’t resonate with me because it was obviously dated (and I got the impression Friedan didn’t like gays, which, lo and behold, she didn’t. Which was a huge turn-off for me because I was out in high school). I had much the same response to the essays I read by Gloria Steinem my first year of college - I understood why they were inspiring to some, but they weren’t personal. Last year I read The Purity Myth, which I enjoyed but a white straight woman talking about a largely white straight phenomenon did not personally resonate with me (understandably). I didn’t have much of an emotional response to any of these books - the books that are supposed to be primers and introductions to feminism. And accessible.
On the other hand, when I read The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, when I was 15, I cried because of how it touched me. As silly as it may sound, I did not know it was possible to be a woman of color and a lesbian at the same time. It was after reading that that I came out as a lesbian - I was too afraid of “becoming white” previously. (That feeling did not entirely go away for many many years afterward). Last year, after reading Audre Lorde and Angela Davis, I finally decided that feminism was relevant to me and I proudly took up the label of feminist for myself.
In other words, the “inaccessible” “challenging” black feminist writers were the ones who influenced me the most, even when I didn’t know much about feminism, even though Jill Filipovic of Feministe claimed that “Angela Davis… bell hooks… are [not] particularly good starting points.” Really? Because they were for me.
So when I talk about accessibility in feminism, I’m not just talking about conversational tone or lack of jargon - I’m talking about experiences. When we say that white, straight, implicitly middle class feminist experiences are the most “accessible” and everything else is “not a good starting point,” that makes a statement about who should be accessing feminism.
*By “feminism” I mean feminism-that-explicitly-calls-itself-feminism, which doesn’t include the implicitly feminist egalitarian and anti-oppression exposure I got from my mom, Tamora Pierce books, zines, punk rock, etc.
Love this of course. This is first and foremost for my v-mons comrades.
I am so driven lately to unpack the idea of “relating to” or “accessing” works. In my public memory class, it’s a question that doesn’t go away. It’s a topic that my white classmates won’t stop picking at. I don’t relate to this, as a white American. I am thinking about my own emotional responses to this, as a white American. I think that her drawing on American pop culture made this more relevant to my life.
Of course there are big, important ideas: we want to see ourselves in literature. We especially want to see ourselves in literature if we are to spend any time and effort on/with that literature. Reading, for me especially if for anyone, is often so narcissistic. And white people kind of expect to be able to have this relationship to literature. We demand to see ourselves in it. As feminists, this started out kind of radical: fuck the Hemingways because they refuse to engage in a reciprocal relationship with us! But when the mens rebutted: but your lady literatures! Alienates me! Because it’s special interest! it became something else entirely. As white women, we have every reason to not “relate” to/give a fuck about the white male narrative, but that is totally different from refusing to allow ourselves to “relate” to (read: have feelings for/care about/pay attention to) the narratives of women of color, or colonized men, et cetera.
Because “I relate to Gangster of Love because it touches on political/cultural moments that also impacted me, and because it is great, and because I am/was a girl” is maybe different from “I validate/like/am interested in Gangster of Love because it is great and a fucking book doesn’t have to be about a white lady for me to care about it Jesus Christ” which is different from “I don’t relate to Gangster of Love because I am white, or maybe just because I don’t know stuff about rock n roll and xanax” which is still entirely different from “I have no emotional response to this story about Filipino-Americans because I am white,” which, what? Why? Why would you think that? Why would that happen? What is wrong with you? Why is that your theoretical standpoint?
And here, then, is the reverse: we privilege Valenti over Butler (which, maybe, okay, whatever) because of “accessibility” but Valenti really only privileges access in certain ways (and Valenti, ahem, doesn’t credit the other women that she is creating access “to”). We also privilege Valenti over Bornstein, which doesn’t make any goddamn sense. We privilege Valenti over Audre Lorde, even, sometimes. (In my lit class, a dude said that bell hooks was “alienating.”)
The concept of “accessibility” often drives me nuts. Because it contains so many assumptions. It assumes Valenti is better than Butler because she is accessible to people who don’t have theory degrees (which, let me say: I heard this argument most often from white women’s studies majors, which, uh, SHUT UP AND DO YR HOMEWORK NO ONE LIKES YOU STOP). It assumes that Valenti is accessible. Because this concept of “accessibility” isn’t actually about providing access to outlets/languages/bodies of thinking to people who don’t have that access. It’s not about translating, it’s not about fighting ableism, it’s not about letting people talk about how Ariel Levy* is a transphobic pig, it’s not about pooling resources to help poor women access media, it’s not about promoting Feminism FOR REAL**. Because “accessibility” is so often not about access as much as it’s about mainstreaming a voice. Ultimately, this promotion of Valenti-style stuff amounts not to making stuff less alienating to the ~uneducated feminists/marginalized people. It amounts more to streamlining the Valenti-voice into a cohesive, white, tv-friendly brand of “feminism.”
That Feministe piece you linked to maybe proves my point entirely:
Do I want people to be reading Angela Davis and Catherine MacKinnon and Helene Cixous and bell hooks and Judith Butler? Absolutely. But none of the previously mentioned are particularly good starting points.
Are those really poor starting points for the same reasons? What is it that is “inaccessible” about Helene Cixous (admittedly, generally very inaccessible) that is also inaccessible about Angela Davis? Most importantly, what the fuck is your fucking problem Jill Filipovic I can’t even.
Also fuck Eve Ensler.
*often called “accessible”
**one of the most “readable” things I’ve ever read, but it’s not about white people therefore it’s not “accessible” to them
Any time a podcast involves straight dudes talking about women for more than a few minutes, I almost always turn it off, which I’m pretty sure makes me at least a vague kind of gay separatist, but only in the way that people talking about ex-wives makes me genuinely exhausted.
For a popular podcast, it’s kind of amazing how much WTF with Marc Maron sucks.
I’d say that’d be okay to add or like “I hope you feel better” like as in, in the future. Either way.
Thanks, I’m going with that. Didn’t want to sound too informal because this guy has a fancy Doctorate and is helping me out with research.
How do I respond when someone prefaces an email with “I’m sorry it took so long to respond to your note but I had a surgical procedure a few weeks ago and it’s taking me much longer to recover than I thought it would”?
All I have to say is thanks for your help. Should I add “I hope you’re feeling better” or something?
I’d like to see a Venn diagram of
- People Who Don’t Like the Rush to Judge George Zimmerman
- People Who Wanted Casey Anthony to Hang
jazzieblues reblogged your photo: Clarence Clemons kissing Bruce Springsteen in Los…
They were the definition of love having no bounds. Period.
Look at this beautiful comment I got on that photo of the Big Man kissing the Boss onstage. I’m serious.
INSTEAD OF THINKING ABOUT OUR LIVES SPENT ON THE INTERNET AS
LESS THAN REAL
HOW ABOUT WE BEGIN TO CONCEIVE OF THEM AS
MORE THAN REAL