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Bangles and Beads

As a child I was taught that when Captain Cook travelled the globe he carried a variety of shiny objects to win favour with the locals wherever he met some undiscovered tribe of Eden like natives. It was undoubtedly a racist presentation of his interactions, and quite unusual as we usually only learnt about the lives of great Catholics. Being northern must have given him a pass into acceptability. The nuns told us that a mirror, bangle or shiny bead was such an object of wonder that it would bedazzle the primitive folk who of course had never heard of such things as jewellery or body decorations.

Why this wander down memory lane, fun as it is to have a go at people who taught impressionable minds how to be racist neo- colonialists? Today we are being treated to a cabinet reshuffle and apparently it is a feminist reshuffle as there are now more women sitting around the table. As we have written before the ConDems have waged a war against women, and especially working class women, since they came to power. From the Bedroom Tax to zero hours contracts women have consistently bourne the brunt of the austerity policies of this government.

Why then does Cameron believe that promoting a few women to be the face of the these policies will make people believe that somehow magically he cares about women? I think we should rather be asking how could he not believe it given the state of mainstream feminism. Recently Dr Brooke Magnanti wrote about the issues with ethical consumerism, a huge issue that she was not the first to address. The complexities of supply lines, production techniques, pay and conditions for workers in the global South should be considered by anyone who wants to consider themselves an ethical shopper. However her nuanced piece pointing out the issues with “feminist knickers” was attacked by mainstream feminism, she is apparently not a nice person for thinking we need to dig more deeply than a good tagline.

This is a universal feature of mainstream feminism. No more page three doesn’t attack the misogyny of the Sun, it attacks a woman with bare breasts on page three. It seems common to attack other women rather than the patriarchal structures or those with power within them. As women suffered with low pay and rising prices what was the feminist story of 2013? Jane Austen on a banknote, not how many banknotes working class women have but a demand that a dead middle class woman be put on one of those banknotes.  Then there is the marriage petition, the ultimate in token feminist gestures where nice middle class white Christian women from two parent heterosexual families campaign not to have their fathers name on the marriage certificate.

When the constant message from mainstream feminism is that making the lives of women better matters less token gestures I think we can call this a feminist cabinet, the problem is that isnt a compliment.  Even as I write I am aware the usual suspects will attack this piece, so wedded are they to the idea that all feminism is about is tokenism. They will claim more women is the cabinet is a victory, regardless of the polices those women enforce. Then again those polices will not harm them, so perhaps they are simply being honest.


10 comments on “Bangles and Beads

  1. lozette
    July 15, 2014

    Great post, I especially love this quote:

    “No more page three doesn’t attack the misogyny of the Sun, it attacks a woman with bare breasts on page three.”


    • jemima2013
      July 15, 2014

      thank you 🙂


  2. Brooke Magnanti
    July 15, 2014

    This is a kind gesture, Jem, thank you.

    The backlash against that particular piece caught me by surprise. I write a lot of things, some more controversial than others, all my honest opinion. What will and will not rub people up the wrong way is still no clearer to me than it was when I started writing. I guess the matter of provenanced underwear is far more important than I imagined to some people, and the matter of global solidarity far less.

    I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of world they must have grown up in. My online presence has greatly influenced, but is not, my world. My offline circle of acquaintance consists almost exclusively of militant vegans and physical chemists, ex-squatters and scientists; a motley crew among whom discussions of what it truly means to be an ethical consumer – and whether such a thing is even possible – are not only uncontroversial, they’re old hat.

    When someone writes that they read Tatler because there is no working class press, we have to wonder, where are on earth are they looking if the ad-heavy bible of society babes is their supposed alternative? When I was the age the Vagenda girls are now I was a devotee of Utne Reader, The Baffler, Adbusters and Might – all of which, apart from Might, still exist. (Arguably McSweeney’s and The Believer are evolutions of Might.) While these are mainly US-based, Britain too has a thriving alternative press that is not hard to find in any city, and the internet has made these things more accessible than ever.

    But they’re clearly not seeking any of it out. The backlash came the same day as the MM case decision, where a court upheld the Home Office’s insistence that British people married to non-EU partners or with non-EU parents are categorically not entitled to a family life. This and many other migrant/refugee issues NEVER trouble the mainstream feminist radar. Probably because there isn’t a popular petition to sign, a slogan T-shirt to be photographed wearing, or whatever. There is only the hard work of supporting endless court appeals and contributing to consultations in the hope of being heard.

    So about being on social media. It has its uses. I am and remain a staunch defender of the right to free speech, but no one is obliged to listen to abuse. I spent much of the two days after the pants piece came out filing abuse reports on “egg” accounts. I see many have been banned or deleted now. How they roll.

    Anyway my twitter account is not entirely productive to being a writer, and almost all of the people I interact with there have never bought any book I’ve written. Apart from a (fool)hardy few, my offline friends don’t interact with me there to save the possibility of press intrusion.

    I’m lucky enough to be one of the minority of writers in this country who get paid for their work, and increasingly I feel no need to provide any of it for free. It devalues what others do, for one thing, but it also takes time away from my paid job.

    Twitter is of course not the only unproductive space. Recently I wound down posting to Facebook because, as someone who runs a fan page and not an individual profile, I could see the numbers of people who were reading and clicking through on posts, and it was pathetic. As pointed out an excellent Veritasium video on YouTube, you can’t get like on Facebook anymore unless you buy them, and even when you do, a lot of the likes are fake. (Searching “veritasium youtube facebook” beings up the relevant video.)

    Maybe we should all keep that in mind next time certain opinion pieces taking off in FB feeds, hey?

    What did Vagenda and Glosswitch and their friends achieve? You’d have to ask them. I have no plans to change the subjects I write about or how I write about them. I have no plans to change who I write for, because hello, everyone needs to earn a living and I am no different.

    Nor are they – Holly Baxter has written for Telegraph Wonder Women, Helen Lewis writes for the magazine regularly, Zoe Williams is the restaurant reviewer, etc. I’d write for the Guardian if they paid me, but as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, their feminist writers signed a letter threatening to walk out if I was given a column back in 2003. (They have since ocmmissioned some CiF pieces though.) Telegraph has its faults but they have always given me a fair shake, and as an aside, I hope anyone reading this knows you can pitch to our editor Emma Barnett anytime, please do it. It’s £70 per column for freelancers iirc.

    What I can say is I can now confidently place Twitter, and the kind of mainstream feminists who use it, in the bin of people who think if they bully me enough I’ll go away.

    Not that this surprises me of course, it’s been going on ages, but this pile on from them was the last straw.

    What they never seem to realise is I’ve outlasted the people who have been doing this for over a decade. The ones who always think “scars” or “prostitute” are trump cards. The ones who came before them spouting the identical bile and the ones who no doubt will come after to line up and tell me I am ugly, disgusting, evil, immoral – whatever. And I will continue to outlast them, because I am a writer and I write. Just not for the pleasure of Twitter any more.


    • jemima2013
      July 15, 2014

      And I will continue to outlast them, because I am a writer and I write.

      What a wonderful battle cry, and all that really matters when it comes down to it. I cannot explain the reaction to your piece either, these are old issues, when I used to go to glasto by working for the workers beer company or discussed the intricacies of Baby Milk action and Nestle Boycotts (if you think GW and that lot are bad, imagine them with a babe in arms after finding a jar of Nescafe at a parent and child event, then times it by 1000) they were part of the general conversation, and expected concerns. I think this was about you, some percived power you have, and of course the fact you will not fit into the box they want. It may sound over simplistic but being an unrepentant whore when they want Fantine does seem to be the biggest crime.


      • Brooke Magnanti
        July 15, 2014

        “(if you think GW and that lot are bad, imagine them with a babe in arms after finding a jar of Nescafe at a parent and child event, then times it by 1000)”

        Haha, yes, exactly that! They seem determined to style themselves as pioneers on issues that have long since been argued to death… until we were all fighting over a greasy spot in the ground where the argument used to be… back around the time Vagenda were in nappies.

        It’s a disservice to issues like ethics, like feminism, that these are the people who float to the top. They are in many ways very disposable – and on realising such will tweak their copy to suit whatever keeps them in work. (Such at that dreadful Tatler piece.) It is a real problem at this level of media, and while I’m not one to leap on internet exceptionalism, I do think it’s getting worse because of the fully available neverending supply of writers out there.

        Arguably I am not only part of that process but also part of the vanguard who made the current trend what it is today. But self-critique is sometimes the most valuable of all. On the one hand we have to square ourselves with the fact that the current systems being what they are, people do what they can to survive. But at the same time when people like me find ourselves able to contribute to change – we should.

        Instead we see the media and history already writing eg. CCP as a feminist campaigner for the ages, and Jane Austen on a tenner as the most noteworthy (no pun intended) advance of our time. I can’t even give a shit whose names are on a marriage certificate when UK courts said it’s OK for 3,000+ families to be separated this week.

        It’s also interesting to note the demise of Feminist Times coming at the same time. While there was a lot I disagreed with there, I have had various interactions with the editors and they always seemed to be engaging their critics honestly. Now I feel I should have donated. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that jazz.


        • jemima2013
          July 15, 2014

          I think you make some valuable points, but no one makes anyone campaign for knickers or a tweak to marriage certificates, the flip side of so much free copy being available is that if you have a name, which people like CCP do, you get to chose how to use it. No one can convince me either that the Guardian commissioned the Tatler piece, they just wanted x number of words, it could have been on the immigration decision, or even Malala’s birthday, a choice to be vacuous was made.

          As for the FT, I find it hard to mourn, they seemed to desire controversy as the new way to get hits, it might work for the Mail, but it did not endear them to me. Either that or they were so illinformed as to not see why they were being controversial…which may be even worse.


          • Brooke Magnanti
            July 15, 2014

            I do think there was a certain naivete with the FT editors in terms of the kickback they got on particular topics. To their credit, they seemed to take lessons on board (there was rather a lot of behind the scenes wrangling on particular issues, and Sarah and Charlotte were suprisingly receptive when I asked them to adjust an op-ed so as not to single out individual sex workers).

            I’ll be watching what the editors and writers there do next. Inevitably on other projects, but I think we can expect better from them going forward than from others who have courted controversy such as the NS bloggers. My optimism will probably be the end of me 😉

            And yes, when you do a piece for a mainstream outlet it’s not carved in stone what you’ll write – but it does have to pass editors. I’d say about half of what I write on TWW is suggested by me, about half by my editor, and that’s been my (albeit limited) experience of CiF too. Definitely the choice to explicitly defend Tatler rather than condemn would have been down to the writer though, going back through her tweets she’s been on that mag’s side before.

            And it gets us to the problem of unexamined classism. I despised Ariel Levy in the 00’s for her interpretation of US culture in which nothing sexist enjoyed by the upper classes was ever put under the microscope. But it’s a tradition that goes back through each gen, Friedan, the suffragettes, they were all up to it. Vagenda have a history of doing exactly the same thing.

            It’s the be-all-end-all-ness of the MSM vision that depresses me. You’re with them on everything or you’re marked for abuse by them forever. Gatekeeping who is acceptable enough to have rights is only part of it. Mix it up with a decidedly anti-intellectual streak we see at the moment, and it’s a recipe for diaster.


            • The only thing I can say, cos I agree with every point, is that it may not be a disaster,as you say it seems bound up with the feminism of every generation, all that happens is it changes very little and produces a new generation of tenured academics who disappear up their own fundements


  3. Chloe
    July 19, 2014

    Excellent post and comments. When I first got into feminist twitter I was ‘friends’ with CCP and that crowd but in the last couple of years they’ve shown their true colours, I can take disagreements over things but smearing and attacking women, usually marginalised women. Me and a friend got attacked on twitter the other week by some random mainstream fem supporter because we said we ignored as a disabled woman by mainstream feminism and that ‘ethical pants’ mean nothing to us. It felt like an encapsulation of everything that is wrong with mainstream feminism. Thankfully good old ‘nasty twitter’ stepped in and supported us. I’ve realised I’m not moving away from more mainstream feminism but it’s pushing me away and refusing to let me in. Not that I want to join in but it’s the principle isn’t it?


    • jemima2013
      July 20, 2014

      I had a very simular experience, when i was their token sex worker. I also have to say you are not the only disabled woman who has been very badly treated by mainstream feminism


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