The feminist campaigns that get media attention are the ones which need that attention least. Yes, banknotes and creating a database of women experts are good ideas. But these projects’ impacts on women’s lives are minimal. The most vulnerable or stigmatised women (migrants, abuse victims, women of colour, queer women, disabled women and sex workers) are unlikely to benefit.
The Women’s Room started out with the idea that paper qualifications don’t define what makes an expert but now it seems more focused on middle class women with degrees proving that, er, they’ve got degrees. Putting a woman’s face on a banknote will not help a black woman not lose out on a promotion because she wears her natural hair to work instead of breaking it off with relaxers that burn her scalp. Not shaving will not help a schoolgirl concentrate on her studies without being bullied and slut shamed by classmates and the media just because she has a child. Boycotting The Sun doesn’t help a trans woman go to a job interview not worrying that she’ll be discriminated on sight. And a database of female experts doesn’t benefit working class women.
No attention is being drawn to the issues faced by the most vulnerable and stigmatised. Instead most popular feminist campaigns are vehicles for cis straight white middle class women to get attention while doing a symbolic activism that won’t really change anything. As for Lose the lads’ mags and No more page 3, they will not prevent violence and abuse. These campaigns only succeed in problematising models and sex workers, effectively blaming them and the modelling and adult industries for rape.
The projects which deserve media attention the most are those which help save lives: campaigns that deal with abuse, LGBTQ rights and sex workers’ rights (because homophobia-and racism- result in murder and laws dealing with sex work often endanger sex workers and make them easier targets for murderers and abusers). But bar equal marriage – and of course marriage is socially acceptable so that perhaps explains it – these issues never get the kind of attention from the mainstream media that mainstream feminists’ projects do. Which is odd because some sex worker activists and LGBTQ activists identify as feminists. Some allies even regard their position as stemming from or required by their feminism. So why the media silence?
Could it be because whores and lesbos aren’t as accepted as educated middle class women? The kind of women who remind you of your mum. The kind of women you want your daughter to emulate. These famous feminists are sometimes transphobic or whorephobic and very anti pornography and anti sex work (Burchill, Bindel, Moran and Banyard to name a few UK ones.) It’s conservative. It’s acceptable.
As for Lose the lads’ mags and No more page 3 – well. Yep, the patriarchy likes its pornography. But patriarchal ideas (‘the patriarchy’ is a bit of a useless concept here) rely on women being sexually repressed and passive. That’s the foundation that the sexual double standard, slut shaming, victim blaming, whorephobia and rape apologism are built on. These two campaigns soothe the anxieties of conservative men and bolster patriarchal, sexist and religion based ideas about women. Good Women Against Porn is socially acceptable to ‘the patriarchy’ (and to women). Queer Women Want Rights or Women Who Have Jobs In Sex Industry Want Not To Be Discriminated Or Endangered Just For Working In Said Jobs? Not so much.
The fact that the campaigns for civil partnerships and equal marriage got lots of media attention probably owe something to marriage being acceptable. Gay people had been seen as hypersexual and promiscuous and the seeking of marriage ‘tamed’ LGBTQ people.
I’m not trying to dismiss the LGBTQ community’s organization and decades of activism here. And I’m aware of the fact that feminists vastly outnumber trans and sex worker activists. The amount of media attention cannot solely be explained by how socially acceptable something is – hey, the SlutWalks got lots of attention though probably because young girls reclaiming ‘slut’ was seen by editors as clickbait because of its shock factor. I’m just saying that, even accounting for the difference in numbers, the success of largely symbolic feminist campaigns over ones which try to effect real legal change is a result of social acceptability. Feminists sometimes criticise the Slut Walks for not achieving change or not doing so in the ‘right’ way. But the Slut Walks do address victim blaming and slut shaming – issues which affect all women, even cis middle class white ones. Compared to the change that will be effected by banknotes, databases and wrapping up porn mags, I think the Slut Walks come out on top.
Even the media’s ‘discovery’ of social media bullying was in relation to one of the popular feminist campaigns. Social media bullying causes teens to commit suicide and has existed for years. Lots of activists get bullied on social media. Trans and sex worker activists get bullied by feminists on social media. They get threatened with death and rape. But apparently rape threats and social media bullying were only discovered after an activist who fit the mainstream-acceptable good woman ideal started getting them.
Able bodied cis straight middle class non migrant white women in acceptable jobs aren’t the most oppressed. They are oppressors, second only to same-status men in terms of power.Mainstream popular feminism has an annoying tendency to assume that men are oppressors in any given situation. But a middle class cis white woman can oppress more than a disabled, coloured or trans man can. The same mainstream media that promotes ‘acceptable’ feminist campaigns by ‘good’ women outs sex workers and promotes transphobia.
I support The Women’s Room and I wish half the banknotes had women on them. (Are there any disabled or coloured people on banknotes? Just wondering). And I do question why I shave and why hairlessness is a beauty ideal – is it related to prepubescence or sexual ignorance (virginity)? Should I take my husband’s name or swear off PIV sex because it’s unfeminist? These are all legitimate feminist concerns. They’re first world and largely middle class Western concerns for women who don’t have any real problems like discrimination and poverty – but that doesn’t stop them being feminist issues. I’m glad that they’re getting media attention. I just wish that disabled, trans, coloured or sex working women could be allowed the media spotlight once. Just for one day. If mainstream feminism continues to support and publicise symbolic campaigns over those which seek legal changes that will save lives, feminism has little reason to exist and no future.