[BOOKS] The Failures of the New FeminismPosted: May 16, 2014
From across the pond, by way of Arts & Letters Daily, this item: Even Germaine Greer, that curmudgeonly old feminist (her words!), has found cause to rejoice: Glossy women’s magazines are on the wane..
For The New Statesman, Germaine Greer writes: The most curmudgeonly old feminist has got to be glad that in February 2012 two young women set up a blog raging about the insidious nastiness of the women’s press and got seven million hits in its first year of operation.
“Feminism in Britain has had two strands: as a media phenomenon and as an academic discipline. The vast realm of reality that lies between remains unaffected by either.”
The hope springs up that there might be sufficient angry women out there and they might be sufficiently angry to bring about actual change. But then we’ve thought that before and before any difference could be made to anything, we were told that it was over and that feminism was a dirty word again. Feminism in Britain has had two strands: as a media phenomenon and as an academic discipline. The vast realm of reality that lies between remains unaffected by either.
Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, who set up the Vagenda blog, have now uttered a book of the same name. The title was meant to be an ironic version of the portmanteau words adopted by the lower end of the women’s press – a compound of “vagina” and “agenda” – but, like much of the wordplay on the blog and in the book, it doesn’t really work, being neither amusing nor informative. “Vagina” is a vile name for any female orifice, because it means “scabbard”.
[Germaine Greer’s most recent book is White Beech: The Rainforest Years]
No feminist could in conscience adopt it despite the never-ending afterlife of the ghastly Vagina Monologues. A similar insensitivity besets The Vagenda, the book. The jacket design is as offensive as anything ever seen in print. It is based on the logo for the blog but with a hideous refinement; the image of a nude female from waist to nearly knee, now photographic, has a chunk ripped out of it, extending from hipbone to hipbone to below the mons pubis, forming a gaping black triangle, in which appear the words “The Vagenda” in Barbie pink. The page design is almost as brutal as the cover.
The writing style of the book takes its cue from the hyperbole of the magazines that are under attack and struggles to outdo it. Baxter and Cosslett (who also write the V Spot blog on the New Statesman website) tell us that, in their personal experience, “Losing your hymen is about as pleasurable as having someone rap your knuckles with a frozen veggie sausage.” Do they seriously wish us to believe that their hymen somehow got lost and that they were aware of its getting lost at the time? That is no more likely than that someone, anyone, would have rapped them on the knuckles with a sausage of any kind, much less vegetarian, much less frozen. To refer to a first episode of penetrative sex as hymen loss reveals a level of ignorance that is positively medieval.
For both writers then to cast themselves in this fictitious double devirgination episode is part of a pattern in which they allege their own behaviour as evidence for the rightness of their arguments. They know! They’ve been there, they chorus. “Let’s face it,” they shriek, “the absence of a bra only feels like freedom if you’ve got the kind of boobs that can stand on their own two teats.” What is the meaning of “stand” here? What is it we’re being asked to face, exactly?
Baxter and Cosslett have no doubt that, “A lot of lactating women do want to get jiggy with it, whether or not they accidentally squirt their sex buddy in the eye while changing positions” – a vision that seems to be derived from the behaviour of playful farmhands in the milking parlour. (The human breast, like the bovine udder, will not squirt unless compressed.) “Of course we all know that [a particular] kind of mock-satin static-inducing pants . . . would have your vag steeped in crusty discharge faster than you can say pH imbalance,” they yelp. Can these two young experts really believe that “crusty discharge” is caused by pH imbalance, as if the vaginal introitus were packed with potting mix?
As the reader flounders through a morass of soiled underwear, amputated body parts, obscure beauty treatments and minor surgery, the figure of the target male, like Moby Dick, appears only to disappear again. He is blamed for all of it, when he is probably as unaware of most of it as Moby Dick would be. Men did not make women wear thongs or Louboutins or false eyelashes or breast implants. Men don’t make women spend money on Glamour magazine or even Cosmo. Men exist inThe Vagenda solely as mute sexual partners, sometimes mentioned as “the boyfriend” or “a boyfriend”…(read more)
Germaine Greer’s most recent book is White Beech: The Rainforest Years
Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Square Peg, 296pp
Simon & Schuster, 384pp
- The Vagenda guide to feminism (thetimes.co.uk)
- The Vagenda feminists are anti-women (telegraph.co.uk)
- What Germaine Greer and The Female Eunuch mean to me (theguardian.com)
- Maybe some campaigns should stay on Twitter, not turn into books (standard.co.uk)
- Webchat: Is modern feminism depressing? Join us for a frank discussion (telegraph.co.uk)
- Picketers at CMHR target feminist lecturer over transgender views (metronews.ca)
- The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide To The Media – mark the book’s release with our Who Made Your Pants? competition (theguardian.com)
- Why it’s time to burn your knickers – an extract from the Vagenda book (theguardian.com)
- Deborah Ross: My vagenda magazine (thetimes.co.uk)