Feminism Meets Occupy Wall Street

Rachel Hills profiles feminist writer Laurie Penny, author of Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution:

[Penny] is skeptical of attempts to take the bite out of the gender equality movement. “I think the whole question [of rebranding feminism] is very indicative of how threatening a lot of people find feminism and gender liberation in general,” she says. “My first response to that is always that feminism is threatening to the status quo. It is a legitimately scary idea for people who are invested in things staying the way that they are. There’s only so far you can dress it up.”

But Penny seems unsettled by the increased acceptance of feminism by society at large:

Not for her is the “tepid and cowardly” mainstream feminism focused on getting more women into boardrooms, or stamping out sexy music videos. “Let others construct an unchallenging feminism that speaks only to the smallest common denominator,” she writes.

Tara Wanda Merrigan provides an overview of Penny’s arguments. A big one:

For her, Lean In and its “middle-class, aspirational” feminism isn’t enough, because “while a small number of extremely privileged women worry about the glass ceiling the cellar is filling up with water.” … [W]hile many mark feminist achievement based on how many female CEOs there are in the Fortune 500, those measures obscure the fact that women are still the majority of minimum-wage earners, which is unfortunate since economic success can be majorly empowering. Therefore, feminists ought to think about progress at the bottom rungs of the ladder as much as the top.

Kat Stoeffel interviews Penny, addressing the question of topics assigned to female writers:

[Q.] You write that women “are allowed to talk only about their gender” and men “are allowed to talk about absolutely anything except their gender.” As a woman writer, have you been nudged toward gender issues?

[A.] You would not believe the amount of times — still — various magazines ask me to write pubic hair. Do you shave or not? Should you shave or not? For a long time, my decision not to write about pubic hair was a feminist position in itself. It matters to me a bit. We can have an interesting conversation it. But this endless collapse of the political into the personal …

As somebody who cares about this issue but also cares about a lot of other things, too, it’s been a fight to carve out a position where gender and power are important and they stand in conversation with every other aspect of politics. My blog began as an attempt to position feminism in radical left politics. It’s an attempt to avoid feminism becoming an echo chamber, which I think some people would like it to become. I understand that pubes are a legitimate source of anxiety. But I don’t understand why I don’t get infinite requests to write about domestic work or the economic roots of sexual violence or the stuff that is not necessarily sexy in the same way but is still an intimate question about work and power.

Salon has an excerpt from Penny’s book. She certainly doesn’t pull punches:

The idea that there is any such thing as Everygirl, a ‘typical’ woman who can speak to and for every other person on the planet in possession of a vagina, is one of the major sexist fairy tales of our time. Patriarchy tends to see all women as alike; it would prefer that we were all interchangeable rich, pretty, white, baby-making straight girls whose problems revolve around how to give the best blow jobs and where to buy diet pills. No man would ever be expected to write a book speaking to and for all men everywhere just because he happens to have a cock. The original feminist statement that the personal is political has been undermined by the insistence, in every media industry still run and owned by powerful men, that all women’s politics be reduced to the purely personal.