sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘breast cancer’ Category

I wish fake feminists would cut it out.

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 19, 2009

“You can’t claim to be a feminist simply because you’re a woman.”–Julie Bindel

“There is no such thing as a bad feminist.” –Jess McCabe

Being controversial may not always be fun, but it certainly guarantees that people will pay attention. This is exactly what happened with Double X, the new site launched by Slate earlier this month. Double X describes itself with a slight nod toward feminism without explicitly mentioning the dirty F-word itself:

Double X is a new Web magazine, founded by women but not just for women, that Slate launched in spring 2009. The site spins off from Slate’s XX Factor blog, where we started a conversation among women—about politics, sex, and culture—that both men and women listen in on. Double X takes the Slate and XX Factor sensibility and applies it to sexual politics, fashion, parenting, health, science, sex, friendship, work-life balance, and anything else you might talk about with your friends over coffee. We tackle subjects high and low with an approach that’s unabashedly intellectual but not dry or condescending.

Double X targets its demographic with both barrels smoking, presenting itself in pastels, pinks, and purples and offering stories on motherhood ( “Why are moms such a bummer?”), breast cancer (“Enough with patenting the breast cancer gene”), and first-person, “it-happened-to-me” testimonials (I Wanted to be Blondie. Now I Write for Colbert”).

By now, it may be clear that this is not your mother’s feminism. The site is playful, mouthy, and just a little self-indulgent–normally exactly my cup of tea, except…well, if you were, say, a 30-ish, self-described feminist living an out-of-the-mainstream lifestyle, you might be a little worried.

This is not necessarily about topic choices–it’s about the fights Double X has picked in its opening weeks. As this Guardian article by Amelia Hill and Eva Wiseman points out, Double X galloped out of the gate, chasing down and pummeling the popular site Jezebel. In “How Jezebel is Hurting Women”, Linda Hirshman explains that

[t]he Jezebels are clearly familiar with the rhetoric of feminism: sexism, sexual coercion, cultural misogyny, even the importance of remembering women’s history. But they are also a living demonstration of the chaotic possibilities the movement always contained…. From removing the barriers to women working to striking down the criminal laws against birth control and abortion, feminism was first and foremost a liberation movement. Liberation always included an element of sexual libertinism. It’s one of the few things that made it so appealing to men: easy sexual access to women’s bodies. (And to their stories about sex, which helps explain why 49 percent of Jezebel’s audience is men.)

But unregulated sexual life also exposes women to the strong men around them, and here, the most visible of the Jezebel writers reflect the risks of liberation…. How can women supposedly acting freely and powerfully keep turning up tales of vulnerability—repulsive sexual partners, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, even rape? Conservatives have long argued against feminism by saying women are vulnerable, and we need to take care of them. Liberals say there’s no justification for repressing sexual behavior.

The Guardian article highlights the conflict that has erupted out of this attack (Jezebel, of course, struck back, prompting a response from Double X…there is, so far, no end in sight), pointing to the heart of the issue: A struggle over how to define feminism in 2009.

It’s a struggle that strikes close to my heart, as I see the term, if not the ideals, taken up in disheartening, even terrifying ways by friends and colleagues. Men calling themselves feminists push for “open,” commitment-free relationships, since “that’s what women want.” Women shove their way to the top of corporations at the expense of (male and female) coworkers, and proclaim victory in the name of feminism.

For that matter: Women who call themselves feminists and push for “open,” commitment-free relationships, and men shoving their way to the top of corporations at the expense of (male and female) coworkers.

It’s no wonder so many young women and men are so loath to consider sexism as an ongoing issue: Feminism has been co-opted in vile ways for the purpose of self-advancement. Why would anybody want to associate with a movement whose name is responsible for so much abominable behavior?

Feminism, at its heart, is not about political justification of personal behavior. At its very best, feminism is about setting aside petty personal interests and considering what’s best for an entire culture–and considering the best approaches for making the kinds of changes that will enable this culture to emerge. The Double X-Jezebel debate threatens to obscure this larger point beneath vitriol and, on the part of anti-feminist observers, the most loathsome kind of schadenfreude.

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Posted in blogging, breast cancer, feminism, lame, obnoxious, sex, social justice | 2 Comments »

Gearing up for Operation Feel Your Boobies

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 9, 2009

I’ve just learned about a breast cancer awareness organization called “Feel Your Boobies.” As the name probably suggests, the target demographic of this group is young women. Here’s what you learn by visiting their website:

Feel Your Boobies® is a breast cancer awareness non-profit organization whose mission is to utilize unexpected and unconventional methods to remind young women, to “feel their boobies.”

I learned about Feel Your Boobies through Facebook, when a friend joined the cause online. The upside, I guess, of using the name is that it piques interest; while I normally pay little attention to similar notifications, I did notice this one. I checked out the Facebook group, then I went to the website. Then I started writing.

I gotta say, I’m not a fan of the name, however positive the effects. After all, isn’t the fetishizing and sexualizing of female body parts a piece of the problem? Let’s face it: We’re really freaking immature when it comes to talking about breasts. Culturally, we treat them as dangerous; unless they’re on display as sex objects, we don’t want to see them at all (for more on this, google “breastfeeding in public”). We’ve imbued the breast with so much sexual power that serious cultural conversation about diseases and dangers is difficult, at best, to carry on. It was only through great struggle and the loss of many great women to breast cancer (and, I suspect, a parallel rising awareness of the dangers of prostate cancer) that we got to the point where we could begin having frank discussions about tactics for diagnosis and prevention.

That’s why calling a campaign “Feel Your Boobies” doesn’t quite work for me. I get the point, I really do–kind of a ‘reclaiming,’ a ‘taking back,’ a clever usage of the language of the target audience. The organization and its name may even have some impact, raising awareness among young women and perhaps leading to some early diagnoses (the site provides some testimonials to this effect). I do wonder, though, what the longer-term effects may be. No matter how “postfeminist” we believe our society to be, the reality is that we’re walking around in a heteronormative culture designed through a partriarchal lens. We continue to agree to think and talk about the world in male-friendly ways. On the one hand, “Feel Your Boobies” may make men (and lots of women, I’m sure) productively uncomfortable: Sexualizing breast self-exams, increasing awareness through the promotion of a kind of autoerotic call to action. On the other hand, the name seems to perpetuate the kind of socio-sexual power breasts have in our society. “All hail the great Breast,” right?

I’d rather see us take the sex out of self-exams. I’d rather see us work to divorce breast cancer research and breast cancer awareness from the cult of the breast. My sense is that Feel Your Boobies may increase awareness—and that’s good—while continuing to worship at the altar of the breast—and that’s not so good.

Posted in breast cancer, culture, Facebook, sex | 21 Comments »