My response to Time magazine's cover story on in the June 29, 1998 issue.
So, my housemate came to me the other day and said, "Hey, Deanna, I got you a little present-- check this out..." and he handed me the issue of Time (c) magazine that poses the ever-prevalent question, "Is feminism dead?" (Check out the issue and article, the rest of this will make much more sense that way.) I chuckled at the cover; indeed, pop-TV shows like Ally McBeal make me question certain things about the status of women in the late 1990s. I went to bed at about 3 a.m. that night, and decided to read the article as a nice bedtime story. As I read, I became frustrated and outraged at the suggestions it posed; soon, I knew I wouldn't be going to sleep any time soon. I jumped back up and wrote the following response to Time, finishing at about 5:30 a.m.:
Ginia Bellafante's article "Feminism: It's All About Me!" (June 29 1998) has inspired me to make a number of critical arguments that are rarely raised in mainstream media's portrayal of "current feminism." In fact, Bellafante's discussion is generally subject to many of the false assumptions and reinterpretations that the popular media subscribes to: selecting, digesting, and regurgitating in simplified form many of the extremely complex issues that face the retainers of this information: we, the people. The arguments that Bellafante raises often lack substance and form, and are thrown together in a fashion that is easily recognized as a fashionable type of journalism: grab the top headlines, rearrange them to fit the thesis, and thrown them back out again.
Bellafante asks the question, "If feminism is, as Gloria Steinem has said for decades, 'a revolution and not a public relations movement,' why has it come to feel so much like a spin?" To answer her simply: Because the media feeds on the attention-grabbers and the flashy voices. My own thoughts are that journalism today has a nasty habit of taking the loudest, most outrageous voices and putting them on covers of magazines and book covers, at the top of the hour on radio shows, and in the right in the face of viewers of television. Are there that many people that actually subscribe to Rush Limbaugh's line of thinking? I doubt it. But he is loud, he is outrageous, and therefore, he gets top billing. It is rare that one finds a well-thought-out piece on simply facts an information; instead, journalism chooses to make our decisions for us, to answer to our fears and concerns, to feed off the burning question, "What is 'hot' right now?" Article's like Bellafante's only perpetuate a vicious cycle standardized by the instantaneous information age.
The issue of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair is an easy target for anyone to bring into a debate about the so-called "death" of feminists. Where are the feminists now? is the question that everyone seems to have on their minds. To this, I refer to Marcia Ann Gillespie's article in the May/June 1998 issue of Ms. magazine. To paraphrase, it is as though "we", the feminists, are a large hunk of biomass, all thinking and feeling exactly the same way, all acting in the same exact manner. Wrong. "We" are a group, we have social identity, but "we" celebrate diversity of thought, not conformity to a code of honor or policy. Many feminists were engaged in heated debates about the Clinton/Lewinsky affair; again, the media chose to ignore this fact and exposed only an mistaken sense of indecision, and therefore silence, of this group who is supposed to support all women everywhere at all times in every possible situation.
Bellafante also seems to enjoy tying feminism in with the current status quo of the American self-obsessed Me. By and large, I think this is a gross over-generalization of the movement; yes, there is a sense of "me" the individual, but I have always felt that the basis of the women's movement has always been both a reclamation of self, and a building of the community around us. Women have been denied power, plain and simple. Now we, as women, as human beings, are proclaiming the regeneration of women, and at the same time, we are forming community bonds to retain and uphold that reclamation. It is difficult for the popular media to digest; therefore, it is tied to this wave of self-obsessed hysterias that are sweeping the nation. Now, when viewed as a hysteria, feminism is easily classified and pigeon-holed with all of the outrageous talk-shows, the gang wars and health-care issues: the disasters of America's children.
I applaud Bellafante for mentioning the various statistics of the position of women in business. The fact that there are only two women with CEO titles in Fortune 500 companies is ignored far too often. At the same time, there are still intrinsically threatening statistics out there continuing to show the value of women in our society: During 1992 approximately 28 percent of female homicide victims (1,414 women) were known to have been killed by their husbands, former husbands or boyfriends. In contrast, just over 3 percent of male homicide victims (637) were known to have been killed by their wives, former wives or girlfriends. There are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. There are 3,800 animal shelters. 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. It isn't just in the workplace that we are still struggling; it is everywhere that women are still struggling. And these statistics represent figures for the United States alone.
One of the most disturbing themes of Bellafante's article is her perpetual usage of mainstream pop-culture to represent a movement that is too diverse and wide-spread to classify through the works of a select group of authors, artists, and musicians. Her careful selection of these people represents not a careful, thought-out research of current movements (and I emphasize the plural, here: movements) of feminism, but rather a sprinkling of the New York Times' bestsellers' lists and Billboard's Top 40. Granted, these are the pieces that the masses are seeing and reading. At the same time, without exposures to artists such as Ani DiFranco and PJ Harvey, or books such as _Listen Up! Voices of the Next Feminist Generation_ and _Third Wave Agenda_, the masses will never hear the whole story as it is happening in our lives. In addition, without extending to the frontlines and talking directly to the people (women and men) involved in this revolution (where are the true references to the many webzines and paper 'zines, excluding the obviously condescending tip-of-the-hat to the Riot Grrrl Movement?), people will never truly understand what it is people like myself are doing, calling myself and others feminists.
This seems to be the conclusion that I am drawing both from Bellafante's article and the mainstream media's approach to the third wave of feminism: Those in charge of the largest distributions of information seem to have forgotten that feminism (which I consider a sub category of humanism) is about people making changes that better the lives of everyone involved. It is not the masses who have labeled feminism dead, evil, too radical, and extreme; it is the media's never-ending thirst for the loudest, most outrageous, and most easily digestible information available that has done so.
I invite Bellafante to respond to me personally, although I realize this is highly unlikely. For further information, please see my collection of articles on my *own* webzine, located at http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/7387/ . Thank you for your time.
you can contact me oh-so-easily by sending mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org