A basic web search for ‘feminist issue’ brings up predominately body image pages: mainly related to Susie Orbach‘s book ‘fat is a feminist issue’, then make-up, not surprisingly prostitution, recently (and due to euro-elections& the BNP ‘threat’) anti-fascism, same-sex marriage, the (recession inspired) economy, teacher-pay, immigration, rape, the internet, and again, fat.
It occurs to me that naming something ‘a feminist issue’ is actually the issue – it actually signals that there is a green lights and then some weird creatures called ‘the feminist’ will step in and make it their job to preach what should and what should not be done about it. For example, in ‘Is make up a feminist issue’, the writer shouts
‘I remember thinking what the hell have feminists got to do with my legs, their mine, they can fuck off and deal with their own legs!’
‘For me, make up can help me get into a role but that doesn’t mean I am betraying the sisterhood, because my role is not exclusively ‘I am out to get men’s attention’. I just feel that where feminism is concerned they should stop focusing on surface issues, and I thought that was the whole point? To judge the person and not their looks’.
Feminists are the judge here and there is a lot of ‘betraying’ going on- I had a personal feeling of this when I seemed to function as a representative of ‘the feminists’ in a doctoral summer camp. Apart from the extreme inaccuracies that I heard (such as ‘Brighton is a place where people with AIDS chose to live’, ‘I think she is not a woman- Her confidence is not real- She must have a penis’, ‘feminism is a theory where women are superior to men’, and the overall understanding that feminism is this notion whereby everything must be pure and sex is not permitted) there seemed to be a feeling of betraying feminism and a hostility to these women that stand there, like the ultimate judge for other womens’ actions. The guilt is such in these cases that even the mentioning of the word ‘feminism’ makes certain women adopt a defensive attitude of ‘what do you want? leave me alone’, or, at best, ‘I’ve been there, I know about all that, I’m now past it’ (as if feminism is a children sickness that you have to survive).
There is a war of definitions going on which concerns who does the definition. The war is between ‘the women’ and ‘the feminists’. ‘The feminists’ include media feminists like Julie Bindle who is a radical feminist, accused as transophobic, writing for the Guardian, or Germaire Greer who is a celebrity. Or the f-word. And best-selling books that focus on body image. ‘The women’ include people who seem to adopt the ‘sex and the city’ attitude, a no-wave post-feminism according to which there is no need for feminism any more. This is essentially an anti-feminism stance since feminism is in fact a political position and these women are not just uninterested to the scopes of feminism, they are antithetical to its very existence.
In scholarly feminism, ‘feminist issue’ is whatever contributes ‘to understanding of the oppression of women’ (Karen J. Warren (1995) The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism, in ‘Readings in ecology and feminist theology’, edited by Mary Heather MacKinnon, Moni McIntyre) and it varies, depending on the school of thought. For example, ecological feminism will say environmental degradation, pollution and destruction of natural resources is a feminist issue because of the local effects it has in women’s lives.
It is important that the epistemological crisis which postmodern feminism caused to ‘the world of knowledge’, allows thinking of the different competing forces which attempt to define what a ‘feminist issue’ is in a fruitful way. There is not one feminist issue, there is not one issue in any case as there is not ‘one true story of reality’ to be told (Harding, S. (2005) From the woman question in science to the science question in feminism, in ‘Knowledge and society: forms of knowledge’, edited by Nico Stehr, Reiner Grundmann). Especially as the efforts to define what is and what is not ‘a feminist issue’ do not necessarily come from different strands of feminism but in fact different forces within the society, this can be seen as a hegemonic struggle for power over meaning. What is troubling me however is how to incorporate this ‘war’ over meaning and in fact ‘war’ over the scope of feminism in the postmodern seeking of solidarity. If ‘the women’ who declare war to ‘the feminists’ do not want to be represented by them and do not accept their personal lives to be bullied that is one thing. If they object to the very need for an anti-oppression discourse, then this does not really allow any space for solidarity, or for indeed for politics.