Resident feminist HeatherN tackles the first round of questions in our new series, Ask the Feminist.
Editor’s note: This is the first set of answers from a new series called Ask the Feminist, headed up by our friendly feminist friend, HeatherN. To learn more about this series, see the original post here.
This first series of questions for Ask the Feminist have been really great. Since I can’t really answer everything in one article, I’ve chosen a few questions I think would be good to start. And, let me tell you, I had a hard time narrowing it down. So, if I didn’t answer your question, feel free to ask it again. And, of course, if you have a new question, don’t hesitate to ask it. You can write it in the comments below or you can e-mail me at email@example.com. So, now for the answers:
Random_Stranger and KC Krupp both asked a few questions about the definition of feminism, so I figured that’s where I’d start. According to Professor Cheris Kramarae, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” It’s a bit of a snarky answer, but it fits. Feminism is the idea that men and women should be treated equally, and that society doesn’t currently do this. That’s really all there is to it. What that equality will look like and ideas about how society is currently preventing it, is where you get divisions between feminists. Here’s a handy little list of some different types of feminism, which I recommend glancing at. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can scroll through a very long list of different kinds of feminisms, here, though even that doesn’t cover everything.
Part of the reason there are so many different kinds of feminism is because there are so many different kinds of women. A Muslim lesbian in India is going to have a different perspective on women and equality to a heterosexual atheist in the United Kingdom, for example. My feminism doesn’t neatly fit into any of the categories listed in the two links I mentioned above. It’s mostly academic, because I learned about feminism at university. But mostly I just tend to take bits and pieces from whatever branches seem to be working toward the most inclusive equality.
Speaking of my feminism, Alastair asked me to list five books, five feminist thinkers, and five feminist blogs that I find particularly insightful. My top books are Understanding Patriarchy (which is really an article) by bell hooks, Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You by Agustin Fuentes, Gender Trouble by Judy Butler (which is available for free online), Feminism Is for Everybody by bell hooks, and finally Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. Of all of those, Gender Trouble is probably the most difficult to get through; Butler is known for her inaccessible writing style. Speaking of which, one of my top feminist thinkers is Judy Butler, and if you have a hard time getting into Gender Trouble, try the Routledge Critical Thinkers book which explains a lot of her ideas. My other top feminist thinkers are bell hooks (no surprise there), Spivak (a post-colonialist), Anne Fausto-Sterling (who writes a lot about the category of intersex), and Michel Foucault (who wasn’t exactly a feminist, but had a lot of ideas that have contributed to feminism). The thing about that list, though, is that if you ask me again in a month it’ll probably change a bit.
As for my top five feminist bloggers: There’s Julie Gillis, whose writing always touches on the emotional heart of an issue. I quite like Jamie Utt’s blog, in which he discusses feminism from the perspective of a white man. There’s Danielle Paradis’ blog, in which she writes a long of things I wish I had written. Ozy Franz’s blog is awesome, as anyone who is familiar with zir’s No Seriously What About Teh Menz, might expect. And then last, but not least…is my blog. No, I’m kidding. Actually, I’d recommend Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, for anyone looking for some introductory info on feminism. Also, I’m cheating and adding a sixth to this list. I really like Busty Girl Comics, on Tumblr. It is 300 very funny comics all about women and their breasts. It might not explicitly discuss what feminism is, but underlying every comic are feminist ideas.
Glen asked about the different ways society reacts to violence against men, versus violence against women, in movies. I’ll answer this one with some feminist ideas about gendered violence in movies. Often violence against women in movies is all about showing how helpless the woman is. In some of the old comedies, a man might slap a hysterical woman across the face to calm her down. The idea there being that the woman is so overcome by her emotions she needs to be slapped out of it to return to sanity. In a horror or suspense movie, a female victim is there to look pretty and scream and then die. They are often there only to ratchet up the body count, and make the situation seem more frightening for the audience and the protagonist. The other thing feminists might point out is that violence committed by men against women is a statistically larger issue than violence committed by women against men.
Violence against men in films is also sometimes used to highlight how serious a situation is; the beginning of Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. In comedies, a woman hitting a man is generally used to highlight how nonthreatening the woman is. Often the laugh is generated by how much the slap didn’t hurt the man. Or the laugh is generated by turning this on its head, and it is the surprise at the pain of the slap (or in this case, punch) that is supposed to be funny. No one expects a woman to be able to hurt a man, so when she does, that’s supposed to be funny.
Of course, using violence against anyone in a comedy is simply playing off of ridiculous stereotypes. Whether it’s about how women are inept or about how men are strong and unfeeling, violence isn’t funny. Feminism is just starting to convince larger society that the old stereotypes that made violence against women in movies acceptable aren’t okay. It’ll take a whole lot of work to convince society that all the old stereotypes that suggest violence against men in movies could be funny aren’t okay either.