Monday, March 19, 2007

Lament Of A Fallen Feminist

I was raised in a feminist household. I read Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales and most of my mother's feminist classics – The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir, A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, and The Women's Room by Marilyn French – mostly before I hit puberty. By age 11 or 12, I had moved on to American contemporary women's erotica. Most of it was published in the the late '60s and early '70s and hailed as revolutionary but the only one anyone vaguely remembers now is the almost unreadable Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. Jong's notion of the zipless fuck seemed a bit brutal to me even then but I gathered from the book that women were supposed to be strong, independent, sexually predatory and - perhaps because any hint of raw feeling might be regarded by men as a weakness - emotionally remote.
By my late teens, I was totally confused by feminism's contradictory messages. What was acceptable and 'correct' when it came to female sexuality? The graphic depiction of sex (in words and pictures) was exploitative if it was created by men but not when it was created by women. If it also featured unshaven legs, armpits and pubis, it was even liberating. It was ok to study Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party – a lurid set of ceramic vaginas offered as dinner plates – but not to watch male-produced porno' featuring depilatoried, surgically enhanced women.
Over the last few years, I've discarded most of the values I grew up with. I have gone from satirising aspects of the objectification of male-oriented female stereotypes in advertising and entertainment to delving into the rawer, more visceral entanglements of my own sexuality, especially in those shadowy areas where it intersects with the evolution of my adult identity. Without revealing too much of the intensely personal, an unexpected sexual awakening caused me to become more intrigued by how and why we respond to sexual provocation and why it is that, after nearly half a century of feminist revolution and more than a decade since the deep penetration (excuse the pun) of individualised, uncensored media-on-demand into our everyday lives, it still manages to be unsettling and subversive to so many people.
Then again, as Michel Houllebecq observes in his novel, Platform, "Men live alongside one another like cattle; it is a miracle if once in a while they manage to share a bottle of booze."


Anonymous said...

Haha, yeah when I was in grade 12 I did an assignment on literature and I chose Erica Jong's 'Fear of Flying' and a young adolescents novel called 'Eagles of the North' by Rosemary Sutcliffe (very innocent). I was a quiet girl and I remember being dreadfully embarrassed when the teacher pointed out in humour to the whole class how I was such a quiet girl yet was reading pornography.

Jennie said...

Funnily enough I had similar issues growing up reading Heinlein books and Poppy Z Brite... Gender and sexuality are such interesting subjects, never tiring.

Anonymous said...

You are just BRILLIANT! You, of course, should leave the teachings feminists of your youth in the you, I am certain, have so much more to say!
Marilyn French? Andrea Dworkin? Naomi Wolf? Misguided confused underlings to your amazement to be certain!
Unshaved armpits? Lord have mercy!
Avert my virgin eyes from the atrocity!!!
YOu are sooooooooooo Evolved!!!!

Hazel Dooney said...

Dear Anonymous,

Amongst other things, I actually live out many of the ideals of feminism and I am not a coward (which you are in making an impotent, anonymous comment).

I sign my name to my opinions and hold myself accountable for my own actions. You should try it some time.