Feminism is dead.

Maybe not quite just yet.

Persephone Books is a magical land of “reprinted neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers”. The cover is this beautiful fabric end-paper with matching bookmarks. Definitely worth a visit. (Plus, you should go to the next-door Senate House library if you get a chance).

Marginalizing feminism

According to McRobbie (2009), feminism today is being rejected by women and many distance themselves from the movement. In her study of 2009, McRobbie argues that the status of feminism is slowly being downgraded and discarded. This idea has been relayed in a recent paper analyzing, using corpus linguistics, the media representation of feminism in British and German press discourse between 1990- 2009 ( Jaworska, S. and Krishnamurthy, R.). The authors add that public attitudes to feminism today are mostly based on stereotypical views of feminism being connected to lesbians and lefty politics.

There is a general feeling out there of ‘female success’, as McRobbie puts it, where women have fought hard to get equal rights but now the battle is won and we can all go home. But obviously, looking at the gender pay gap, for an example that is tangible, we can see that that this is not the case. McRobbie believes that the slow marginalization of feminism is due to what she terms as ‘double entanglement‘: this is a situation where on the one hand, women are bound by a conservative pre-set gender role mixed with,on the other hand, what I said above, the notion that women have reached at long last, the promised land of equality.

An interesting example of how feminist ideals, have been misused given in the paper is of the NRA (National Rifle Association) appropriating feminist slogans of self-empowerment in their ads:

refuse-to-be-a-victim-seminar-body-image-1458060020

New femininity, according to McRobbie, is centered in fashion and beauty (you just have to go on Youtube) which goes against the way feminism is depicted: hostile to men and outdated.  If it sounds a bit crazy to you, there’s proof. A study by Buschman and Lenart (1996 in Jaworska, 2012) of undergrad female students shows 35% believing that women’s status was good enough and so the feminist movement can be disbanded thankyouverymuch, while 42% believed there’s still work to be done, but disagreed with the feminist movement. All the groups had a negative association of the movement as being radical and militant.

“‘feminism’ has a “negative cognitive frame, and this may be due to the stereotyping of feminism in popular culture, especially the mass media”.(ibid)

Whenever the feminist movement is discussed in journalism, it is often trivialized:”the focus is on individual rather than social transformation” (Rhodes, 1995). So in this paper, the authors set out to examine the discourse surrounding feminism, using corpus linguistics (CL). CL is a very interesting tool linguists use for research. A corpus is, literally from Latin, a body of data that comes from many different sources: written (newspapers, books, any written mode, really) as well as spoken transcribed data.  Using a corpus to look at language patterns, frequencies and collocations (words that often co-occur) is a way of examining ‘language in use’ i.e., the way people actually use language. CL has been used in many critical studies such as racism, gender, homosexuality, climate change, refugees. It provides a more quantitative backbone to the qualitative critical discourse analysis that is often employed alongside. (Please see under ‘references’ for a site to try out a corpus for yourself!)

In this paper, the authors investigate collocations of feminism. Collocations are lexical, vocabulary items that co-occur in a speech community. They can be indicative of ideological stances. For example: fast food (not quick food).

Is Feminism really marginalized?

The authors looked through a reference corpus (good practice for CL researches, this is to give  a benchmark to what ‘normal’ language is, as opposed to any specific corpora the authors would choose to analyse more deeply). Here’s what they found:

1.Exposure of feminism discourse is limited

Distribution: the analysis shows that feminism is a topic discussed in written mode, especially in academic texts, and in broadsheet. This could mean that since broadsheet circulation is smaller than tabloid papers, the exposure of feminism is very low.

2. Radical, lesbian, passé

In terms of collocations, the most frequent was radical. So the word ‘feminism’ was most often occurring with the word ‘radical’. Lower on the list was also liberal but that was usually in reference to homosexuality, with adjectives such as lesbian and gay, exemplifying the stereotype associated with feminism. Finally, the idea that feminism is outdated is shown through the pattern of time phrases that were most frequent such as 1970s, post, contemporary.

3. Been there, done that!

The German reference corpora reveals feminism collocates with words like Emanzipation (emancipation). one of the movement’s goals. But looking closely, these aims are presented as already achieved. (p. 413)

4. English vs. German – the cultural context

The English corpus reveals more collocates of homosexuality, confirming the lesbian stereotype, while the German corpus shows a higher frequency of academia and arts collocates suggesting feminism is buried in the deep recesses of academia somewhere.

Traditional vs. young feminists?

There’s one thing I disagree with in this article. The authors investigated one article from The Guardian to find out how their general analysis fit within one example. The article was about an online row between what the authors termed ‘traditional feminists’ and ‘young feminists’. The website in question was a young women’s blog about fashion, sex and drinking, which the ‘traditional feminists’ claimed damages women and the feminist movement. While I do agree that women are once again backed into a pen where their existence is allowed via fashion, sex and its derivatives, we should also not fall into that same trap: who are traditional feminists? Did the Emancipation include Madonna, Marylin Monroe? The mini skirt? The pinup girls? 

Feminism for you, me, and for the planet

A branch of study off ecolinguistics, is ecofeminism which nicely reminds us how ecolings are sociolings -we are all united by the physicality of this earth, our being and our inevitable sharing of the planet with other living beings.

Tzeporah Berman’s article: The Rape of Mother Nature? Women in the Language of Environmental Discourse is an example of critical ecofeminism, and the way she writes, situating herself in the article, is refreshing. In her article, Berman argues that the oppression and subordination of women and nature is perpetuated through language. The examples given are of metaphors and idioms: ‘rape of the land’, ‘virgin forest’, ‘Mother Earth’. As Berman notes, many have pointed to the anthropocentric view that governs the Western world, in which humans are central and nature is a resource.

“…the structure of language reflects and reproduces paradigms which underlie the separation of male and female, nature and culture, mind from body, emotion from reason and intuition from fact. (2001, p. 259)”

This separation or compartmentalization, as it is argued in Pachirat’s (2011) account of the inside workings of a slaughterhouse: A Politics of Sight in Every Twelve Seconds, enables the continuation of mass slaughter and the perpetuation of meat-eating. 

Do you remember this in Legally Blonde?

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Well, it’s true. Dorothy Smith (in Berman, 2001, p. 260) argues that men have always been responsible for dominating language and separating women from male experience.

An interesting example of the social construction of gender categories can be seen in The Rosenthal experiment, offered by Deborah Cameron (1992 in Berman, 2001, p. 261). In this experiment, people were asked to identify objects as masculine or feminine. For example: knife/fork, salt/pepper, vanilla/chocolate. The results were almost completely unanimous. Which do you think were feminine and which were masculine? 

The conclusion is pretty obvious.

So when the Earth is characterized as ‘Mother’ it beings with it our cultural association with motherhood and with it, the devaluation of women and mothers in society: maternity is unpaid in most countries, teachers, especially in low level schooling, are women who are often underpaid and devalued. In this way, Earth is projected as a source that gives and nurtures us for free: ” we can take without giving back”.

The problem

 

marilyn-monroe-quotes-4

Feminism for me could be seen as maybe too deterministic but at the same time characterized by ambivalence. This makes sense, especially in the light of what we’ve seen in the research paper I summarized above.

Feminism as a concept is problematic because it rests on the binary division of sex. ‘Doing femininity’ takes many forms and people, both men and women, are made up of not one but several identities that they perform and signal in different situations. So we get a broad spectrum of what it is to be feminine.  For example, I think high heels are anti-feminist, feet binding contraptions, but someone else would see in them the epitome of femininity.

Don’t you think I forgot about you, boys. Where do men stand?  Feminism is not just about women. It’s about how men and women, and non-human animals fit together to create sustainable, equal existence.We’ll be looking more closely at masculinity in sociolings soon.

To wrap this up I’ll leave you to listen to one of my favourite bands who are some badass feminists!

Seneca Falls- The Distillers

Owned, raped, sold, thrown,
A woman was never her own

They cried freedom rise up for me!

I want I want I want freedom

Where do you stand on feminism and femininity? What is femininity to you? What do you think about high heels, for example? Leave me a comment below 🙂

 

References:

* If you’re interested to try out a corpus, I recommend using Lancaster University’s CQPWeb Corpus. You’ll need to sign up first, but most of the corpora are free and easy to use. Andrew Hardie, the creator of this, has put together fabulous tutorials that are simple and easy to follow.

Berman, T. (2001b) ‘The Rape of Mother Nature? Women in the Language of Environmental Discourse’, in Fill, A. and Muhlhauser, P. (eds.) The Ecolinguistics Reader. London: Contiuum, pp. 258–270.

Fill, A. and Mühlhäusler, P. (2001) The Ecolinguistics Reader. London: Continuum.

Jaworska, S. and Krishnamurthy, R. (2009), On the F word: A corpus-based analysis of the media representation of feminism in British and German Press discourse, 1990 – 2009, in Discourse & Society, 23(4) 401-431.

Pachirat, T. (2011) Chapter 9: A Politics of Sight in Every Twelve Seconds, London, Yale University Press, pp. 233-256.

 

The author is willing to remove any content that may infringe on copyrights

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