Spice Girls Feminism: why the third wave needs more than a band-aid

First I read Purtek and followed her links. I pored over the article and comments on Tekanji’s blog. Then Purtek posted again, and led me to this glorious critique. I can’t add much to the criticisms they’ve leveled at the Yes Means Yes call for submissions, but there are a few things I want to say, if only to add my voice so that when people tell others “Sorry you feel that way, but you’re the only one” this post will stand as evidence that this isn’t true.

As a child in the 80’s, I called myself a feminist. Then, in the 90’s, after Rush Limbaugh called us all “femi-Nazis”, there arose a new public face of feminism: the young cute little white gal who’s feeling “empowered” to get a boob job and give blow jobs – in other words “I’m empowered to choose as long as I just happen to choose exactly what the status quo wants me to choose, and you can’t prove it’s not what I really want, so shut up.” Which left out in the cold women incapable of or not interested in “choosing” what the status quo wants: women of color who don’t want to play at being white-like, lesbians, celibate women, women who don’t fit feminine stereotypes and so on. In fact, those of us who didn’t agree weren’t even wanted in the movement. We were an embarrassment. We might make people think Rush was right about militant feminism, so they wanted to distance themselves from those of us who acknowledged it was still a pretty sick world we lived in.

I dumped the feminist label in disgust. Then I started Hathor because I felt like criticizing the portrayal of women in the media, with or without the label of feminism. Then, thank goodness, other writers joined me – many of them young third wave feminists from the same demographic as the Spice Girl feminists – and I realized the public face was hiding a lot of sensible voices that didn’t appeal to the media and didn’t get the coverage.

The Yes Means Yes book proposal is a case of Spice Girls feminism. The book itself is not a bad idea; it won’t help because humans don’t leap at an opportunity to raise the standard for their conduct. We need our society to redefine manhood as something that does not include the lack of empathy required to masturbate with someone else’s unwilling body and call it “sex”. Then, with that sort of pressure bearing down, a book like this could make a real difference. To some people.

I’m disturbed to see the term “rape culture” once again treat rape as something that happens to women (and, arguably, a narrow segment of women in the context this book proposal suggests). Rape is something that happens to people. It happens to women and children and men. It even happens to children who “enthusiastically consent” to being molested because they think they must please adults (then go on to consider themselves “whores” and live a life of mistakes based on a false self-identification, or go on to become rapists themselves). It can even happen to adults who “enthusiastically consent” because even though it’s not what they really want deep down, they think they’re supposed to and if they don’t people will point and laugh and call them “frigid” if they’re female, or “gay” or a “pussy” if they’re a man who turns down sex with a woman.

In fact, if you want to get to the basis of some of this behavior, our society pushes everyone toward a model of lifelong heterosexual monogamy that (I suspect) is wrong for at least half of us*. Years ago women were truly forced into sex they may or may not have wanted because it was the only way for them to earn a living. Men were forced into it via social pressure. Now women have better options but not every option, and there’s still enormous pressure to pair off in heterosexual marriage and claim you’re happy even though divorce rates are so high for a reason or twelve. A lot of people are engaging in sex that’s not really what they want and they don’t even realize it, and that, too, is part of the rape culture, and when you talk about ending the rape culture, these issues must be addressed. Along with all the other issues listed here.

To say you’re talking about the rape culture as a whole then fail to deal with any of these other issues is offensive. And it suggests a level of unawareness that just isn’t acceptable in feminism – not to me, not anymore. I’m all for promoting the idea that a lack of no doesn’t mean yes – I’ve mentioned it myself. But the topic here is date rape, not the whole rape culture.

The unawareness people talked about with 60’s – 80’s feminism has not improved. It’s time it did; it’s time we called each other on it – particularly those of us who are white middle class women and have the privilege to ignore what’s happening to others.

*ETA: someone on my LJ asked for clarification here. I’m saying that I suspect the reason so many marriages fail is that heterosexual marriage isn’t right for everyone. Obviously, it’s not right for gays and natural celibates; it’s also wrong for people who can’t find a truly good match but think they must settle for somebody; it’s wrong for people who are so into growth and personal development that they can’t find a partner who will grow with them; it’s wrong for people who had more than they could take of “giving” and “compromising” with abusive parents in childhood and in adulthood just really don’t care to get that close again; etc.


  1. Ide Cyan says

    “Our own history, where we have been able to find it and put it together, tells us again and again that women have generated explanations about the world — and about male power and how it is constructed and how it can be undermined — and again and again those explanations have been edited out, erased, so that women are initiated into a society which convinces them that nothing has gone before and that they must start from scratch.”

    — Dale Spender, in the introduction to There’s Always Been A Women’s Movement This Century, 1983, Pandora Press, page 7.

  2. says

    Thanks for this post – often times when topics like this come up I have a hard time articulating what is bothering me about them. Sometimes, in my ignorance (no, I don’t read enough blogs/media from people not like me – bad Mickle) I only have this vague feeling that it’s not the whole story. You and tekanji always do a great job of stating it all very clearly and understandably. And reminding me that I really need to add a lot of people to my blogroll/bookmarks.

    “I’m saying that I suspect the reason so many marriages fail is that heterosexual marriage isn’t right for everyone.”

    I’d also argue that they fail just because – well, they do. People change, they grow apart, some regress, they have different needs now than they did yesterday.

    Or rather, I have problems with calling such marriages failures. If they were right for the people at the time, then who says they have failed simply because they didn’t last until death do us part? Well – the religious vows of course :)

    It would be nice for there to be an intermediate option – a marriage that is a long term but not for certain a life term commitment. Which we do have informally and technically, through the ability to divorce and live together without getting married. I just think people would be able to make better choices if such options were not defined as being failures or shadows of the real thing.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s actually what I meant – I wasn’t very clear (because I could write a book on the topic and was having trouble condensing my view for the post). I think the ideal of a lifelong monogamous het pairing is wrong for more people than it’s right for. For those of us it doesn’t suit, you might be able to construct alternative forms of marriage – marriage with no intention to be lifelong, gay marriage, marriage among more than 2, open marriage, etc. But none of these are the current model we’re all supposed to aspire to, and that’s the one I meant isn’t right for most people, IMO.

  4. Patrick says

    I definitely agree that the idea that “heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage is what everyone should aspire to” pretty absurd. While obviously there are people that gravitate toward that standard (like myself), how bizarre is it to think that this is what all people (or even just all heterosexual people) should want?

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, exactly. It’s like saying there is one exact meal plan that’s best for every living human, without taking into account their size, how their body processes food, their activity level, and whether or not they need to avoid certain foods for health reasons or personal moral decisions.


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