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Backlash - just finished reading it. Whereabouts on the 'cycle' are we now?

(21 Posts)
FrozenNorthPole Tue 06-Sep-11 12:44:39

I've really enjoyed reading Faludi's Backlash although it has made me very, very angry at times (with media/political establishment not the author). However, I'm trying to put my recent lived experience (and indeed UK women's recent lived experience) into its context, and struggling. It was published in 1991, so there's a bit of a gap that I'm trying to mentally 'fill' in. I see multiple manifestations of the backlash around me on a daily basis (Daily Mail article anyone?) but don't yet have the perspective to put them in the context of what has gone before. I simply haven't been a feminist for long enough. But lots of you have had far more experience than I have, and have been thinking about / aware of these things for much longer than I.

So - my question ... are things getting worse for UK women in terms of societal backlash? Are they getting better? Where do you think they will go next?

<crosses fingers for replies>

giyadas Tue 06-Sep-11 12:58:16

I loved reading Backlash. I grew up in the '80s being told that girls were equal now and feminism was redundant, despite seeing clear evidence to the contrary all around me. When I read Backlash it put words to a lot of the things I was thinking and showed how they were all interlinked, and how little sexisms reinforced the bigger sexisms, and nothing was a trivial as it was mad out to be.
I think things have got steadily worse and recently have got so bad that it's harder for people to ignore, and I see a renewed interest in feminism which gives me a lot of hope.
I think we might be at the beginning of a more feminist part of the cycle, our backlash against the backlash.
Great thread, will lurk with interest. As i said, I loved this book.

CRIKRI Tue 06-Sep-11 13:19:45

Yes, excellent book and I really must take it down and have a re-read. Like giyadas, it validated SO much of what I experienced around me, but was repeatedly assured wasn't actually happening - oh we're all post-feminist now, that sort of baloney.

I don't remember specifically what she said about the "cycle," so will need to look at that again. What I seem to notice is that where there appear to be gains in one area of gender equality and women's liberation, there is often something else, somewhere else dripping away. It's like knitting an eternal jumper. You frantically knit at one end while someone is unravelling it at the bottom.

One thing that has changed in 20 years has been the onslaught of digital technology, at such a fast pace that most people I think are struggling to keep up. Marketing of products and services isn't now just through tv, radio and print, but can be more personalised and direct through social marketing. What then would have been seen as extreme hardcore pornography now saturates the internet with many very young children able to access it - and the messages and images of porn have become quite "mainstream," (e.g. stylising of advertisements, music videos, women's fashions/waxing/make up/plastic surgery/expectations of sex, etc.) Oh, and social media and instant communications provide an effective vehicle for sexual bullying, either individually or collectively (e.g. the Mumsnet Sucks group on BookFace.)

The other issue that I don't think was in the fore then was this idea of women making "lifestyle choices" rather than being pressed by the mechanisms of patriarchy to act in a certain way. Everything from fake tans to pole dancing lessons are touted as "empowering" and we're now told that women don't reach the board room or command the same salaries as men because they just prefer to choose a better work-life balance.

The problem is, that makes it even more of a headfuck for women. Not only are you dealing with the very real and consistent risks of sexual violence, pervasive barriers to achieving your potential because of what's (not) in your pants and customs and practice that perpetuate the idea of female inferiority. You are also bombarded with messages that tell you to actually embrace these things, turn them on their heads and tell yourself that they are actually good for you. So, if you still feel shitty because the whole set up is stacked against you, then you only have yourself to blame because well, it was your "choice" after all.

CRIKRI Tue 06-Sep-11 13:39:06

Oh, just as an afterthought - thinking of "cycles," I think it was around the late 90's/early noughties that there seemed to be a school of thought, loosely connected to what was being called "Third Wave Feminism" that actually most of the big battles were all but won. The legislation and policies were in place, almost a "we've never had it so good" feeling was abound and there seemed to be a move towards self-reflection and individual "empowerment" being the way forward for women. Katy Roiphe's (sorry if spelling wrong) book on rape and Natasha Walter's book at that time both were sort of in this mould. There was almost this idea that the "F" word was a bit passe, didn't reflect what "women today" were about and it was okay to loosen up a bit on the campaigning.

At the time, I remember thinking this line was just way, way too optimistic. I was working in or volunteering in Women's Aid, reproductive rights campaigns, stuff like that and I certainly wasn't seeing evidence of emancipation, of much progress there at the sharp end.

I can't lay my hand on it, but there was an article earlier this year I think in The Independent that suggested that the seemingly unstoppable rise of "pinkification" and "sexualisation" in products and services marketed for girls could be linked to their mothers being of a generation when it was considered old fashioned and square to be a feminist. So, when they became concerned about the impact of those constant negative gender stereotypes on their daughters (and sons) they didn't feel they could actually do or say much about it, lest they be seen as feminists (bad thing.) I certainly don't blame the mothers, the women who absorbed the "feminism is so yesterday," idea for the wall to wall carpet of messages that passive and sexualised are "good" traits for girls. But, I can see where these concepts became more acceptable in part because alot of people took their eye off the ball.

meditrina Tue 06-Sep-11 13:42:41

Marking place - I remember reading this when it first came out and it was definitely formative for me. As I have aged, however, my response to it has changed so it will be interesting to see what others (especially younger posters) make of it now.

UsingMainlySpoons Tue 06-Sep-11 13:43:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ElephantsAndMiasmas Tue 06-Sep-11 14:58:07

Marking place to read later. I LOVE this book, and think we're on an upsurge of feminism at the moment. This is the phase where we have to get as much done as possible so that the backlash against us can't take us all the way back down again.

FrozenNorthPole Tue 06-Sep-11 15:29:28

Reading avidly, thank you for all your responses already. smile

Hardgoing Tue 06-Sep-11 16:04:51

Whoever pointed to women's situations being framed as 'choices' is spot on. If childcare is still considered a woman's problem and is still very expensive, the choice to work/not work is often an economic one (more than one child in expensive area=not economic to work, only one child in cheaper childcare area =more economic to work). The issues around childcare and work are still framed as nothing to do with men at the political level (though on a personal one, I see more and more men on the school run, that definitely has been destigmatised for men, as has pushing prams and generally doing stuff that my FIL is still considered a 'new man' for doing). That depresses me, as I see a lot of women doing part-time work which is really really not using their talents (or qualifications), some may be achieving a work-life balance, but many want to do great jobs, but not 60 hour weeks.

SybilBeddows Tue 06-Sep-11 21:13:36

There is something happening in my old profession at the moment - academia. Every 5 years or so they count up how much research everyone has done and use it to allocate funding for the departments. They are currently proposing to only make allowance for maternity leaves this time round if you have taken more than 14 months, so someone who has had 2 kids and taken 12 months off will have will be expected to have done as much research as someone who hasn't had any, ie will be expected to have had similar productivity in 80% of the time.
This looks to me like it ought to be illegal, and it is certainly unfair and it doesn't take much of a brain to see it will affect one group (ie women) unequally.
Moreover it seems to be such a basic flouting of the equal rights we are meant to have achieved. And yet there is this widespread assumption everything is equal and fine, but really you have to fight to just get your basic legal rights.

FrozenNorthPole Tue 06-Sep-11 21:38:03

Hardgoing, I completely agree. I was talking about male privilege with DH a few weeks ago and asked him how many people had asked "what are you going to do about work now the baby is here?" when our DC were born. He looked at me blankly. 'Going part time' is very much framed as a choice (and the act of an indulgent employer to boot!) but it so rarely is for most women, as indeed is staying at home to be 'kept' by your DH.

Elephants, it's interesting that you sense an upswing in interest in feminism - I feel the same sense of potential and anticipation, but wondered if it was partially because the feminism board is getting so much more traffic (and is getting up so many MRA noses). A sense of ... I don't know what? Anger and purpose?

Usingmainlyspoons, I see what you mean re: new threats to existing freedoms and rights. I have a horrible feeling that 'cost cutting measures' will perpetuate this further, both overtly and covertly.

Meditrina, how has your response changed?

Crikri, what a fabulous summary ... I particularly agree that the advent of almost omnipresent digital input into everyone's social consciousness / sense of identity and context has taken us into unknown territory. Your recollection of the ground covered by the book is pretty accurate - particularly re: the issue of the use of language to 'reframe' things. The example that stays in my mind is the re-branding of 'anti-abortion' into 'pro-family', the twisting of a campaign against WOHMs into a crusade for women's right to stay home etc. from the American right in the 80s. But I see so much of that coming up, time and again, today.

Giyadas, I particularly relate to your realisation that 'nothing is trivial'. I wonder if we're ever going to get to a point where it is 'in' to be a feminist again? A few months ago, a friend asked a group of female English Lit undergrads whether any of them would self-identify as feminists. No-one raised their hands. When probing, they told her that 'feminism' was something old-fashioned, passe and irrelevant. A feminist, they told her, would put nice men off. sad

FrozenNorthPole Tue 06-Sep-11 21:40:12

Sybil - good grief, is that just in your institution or wider? I'm in the process of trying to break into academia. It most certainly isn't a female-friendly field.

dittany Tue 06-Sep-11 21:46:06

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SybilBeddows Tue 06-Sep-11 21:51:41

Frozen - it's the official government thing - it's the draft rules for the REF ('Research Excellence Framework') by Hefce, the Higher Education Funding Council For England.

DontCallMeFrothyDragon Tue 06-Sep-11 21:56:16

<adds Backlash to reading list>

I remember about four months back, I was on the bus with DS, heading to uni, when two middle aged misogynsts men, sat next to me, started spouting about how the only reason "girls" go to university was to find a husband or to do "silly" degrees like Equine Studies. I don't think they noticed my raised eyebrows as I was in the middle of teaching DS his letters...

Was quite amused, mind, when a matter of minutes later, DS started talking to the man nearest us, and delightfully informed the chap that "Mummy's going to uni today".

Luckily, I don't think we've got back to the times when DC were taken off single mothers. Thank god. But seeing single mothers blamed for the riots infuriated me.

Was very worrrying to see one poster state on another thread that "men and women are equals". Only a misogynist would think that we truly had equality.

CRIKRI Tue 06-Sep-11 22:19:30

Aha, found the link to the Independent article mentioned above. The gender gap: Messages that can affect the way boys and girls grow up.

The bit that stuck out for me was this:

Angela McRobbie, cultural theorist and author of The Aftermath of Feminism, believes the root of the problem is that so many of today's mums think of feminism as uncool – "that it's no longer relevant and that it's associated with the boring tediousness of political correctness". She adds: "Because they don't want to be associated with it, they have become fearful of speaking out about the return of gender inequalities. What consumer culture has done is come along and exploit that, so that today's non-feminine little girls are penalised."

vesuvia Thu 08-Sep-11 12:02:09

I think the second-wave feminism of the 1970s was the highpoint of North American and European feminism, doing more than any other period of feminist activity to improve the status of women in western societies. The third-wave "choice" feminism since the mid-1990s has had some limited impact on an individual woman scale but very little pro-woman impact on a society-wide scale.

Many women are now realising this as they move into e.g. the family-raising phase of their life. I think interest has increased in second-wave style feminism, both the liberal and radical flavours. Anti-feminists have realised this and are again increasing their resistance to change.

So, I'd say there has been a recent feminist revival and the backlash by anti-feminists is just starting. I think that is reflected by the Mumsnet feminism section starting last year and the invasion of anti-feminist trolls this year.

KRICRI Thu 08-Sep-11 12:16:31

I agree entirely vesuvia. I wonder if the "tough economic times," is being used as an excuse to disregard even those small gains made by feminists, insisting they are unaffordable added extras that aren't really needed. I'm thinking of funding for community based services like Women's Aid, Rape Crisis and the watering down of access to legal advice (making it pretty impossible to bring a claim against an employer, for example.)

vesuvia Thu 08-Sep-11 12:44:24

dittany wrote - "I think the backlash of the 80s was nothing compared to the backlash of the last 20 years."

I agree with you.

One difference could be related to the rise of individualism for both men and women under Thatcher and Reagan. I think that has resulted in many more women now having a selfish "I'm all right jack" attitude to women's rights. Many of those women are anti-feminist.

(Anti-feminist men have been a constant occupational hazard for feminists, of course).

I think the style of anti-feminist backlash at the moment has much of its focus on "what are women complaining about, everyone is equal, legislation is in place etc." The current backlash has benefitted from the widespread equality illusion we see in western societies today. (I think Kat Banyard is spot on, using that as the title of her excellent book). Back in the 1980s, that illusion of equality was probably less convincing and therefore other backlash tactics were prominent.

vesuvia Thu 08-Sep-11 12:51:46

KRICRI wrote - "I wonder if the "tough economic times," is being used as an excuse to disregard even those small gains made by feminists"

Yes KRICRI, I can't imagine any anti-feminist not jumping at the chance to use the state of the economy as an excuse to push back gains made by women.

Even in boom years, like 1950s America, middle-class white women were pushed back into the kitchen because society was supposedly so prosperous that a family could live comfortably, with only the man working.

JosephineB Thu 08-Sep-11 12:58:56

A few months ago, a friend asked a group of female English Lit undergrads whether any of them would self-identify as feminists. No-one raised their hands.

My DH teaches adults and often asks the same question. He follows it up with 'Those of you without your hands up - what rights do you think men should have that women shouldn't?' grin

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