Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sisters are doing it to themselves

Lady in red by Pants, collage on paper

We women get one day of the year to celebrate our achievements and then end up paying for it in backlashes for the rest of the month. Imagine if that happened over Labour Day - hark at them pesky workers congratulating themselves for destroying industry and cushing themselves up for a lengthy retirement. Imagine it happening over ANZAC Day - hark at them pesky soldiers dragging up all that unpleasantness again just to make sure they keep getting cheap lunches at their horrid little soldiers' clubs. The war was won wasn't it? The forty-hour week and paid holidays? Done and dusted.

It's unthinkable that anyone would get away with ridiculing men and their self-honouring. But we women are the perpetual open goal - hark at those pesky women drawing attention to themselves. Equal wages? Do they never tire of making these absurd demands? By crikey, they're lucky we give them a bite to eat and a place to park their brats, who would obviously be destitute were it not for our generosity of heart.

You expect it from men. They have a vested interest in maintaining the upper hand. But could we women please just get over ourselves for long enough to turn a page? This is not a question btw. Cruising the weekend papers for Australia and the UK, I've come across a worrying number of self-recriminating articles about 'feminism'. Note to sisters - International Women's Day is not a Black Forest gateau. You do not have to do penance and hate yourself the next day. Liberty is not restricted to an 'ism'. That is kind of the point. Men do not define themselves by an 'ism'.

Victoria Coren in one's beloved Guardian dismisses Kathryn Bigelow's historic double Oscar win as too little, too late. She says it would have been worth celebrating in 1974. She doesn't say why she picked 1974. It probably would have made more sense to pick 1975, International Year of the Woman, but arbitrary is arbitrary. By this logic, I'm wondering if there would have been a 'right' time for Marie Curie to discover radium, Jane Austen to write Pride and Prejudice or Elizabeth Garrett Anderson to take up medicine.

Women making it in a man's world, e.g. Coren in international poker, quite often can't see what the problem is. It would be pretty hard to discriminate against a player in poker. You either win or you lose. There's no undermining relativism ganging up against you. No assessment system skewed to exclude you from eligibility or usurp your gains. Victoria might like to consider timeliness in the context of the USA finally honouring its WW2 women pilots.

Fewer than a third of these women are still alive and they're in their late 80s and early 90s. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. It's the highest civilian honour in the USA. But it's not a military one. These women were Women Airforce Service Pilots. They were in the same military and subject to the same discipline as men. But they didn't receive the same service pay and benefits as men. They didn't see active combat but then again neither did a lot of the men who got full pay and benefits. Thirty-eight women pilots died in service during WW2. Yet, when it was all over, the surviving pilots had to pay their own bus fare home. They finally gained veteran status in 1977, after a long fight. You see Victoria, there is such a thing as better late than never. That there shouldn't be a need for it in the first place doesn't really apply.

Over at The Times, multi-tasking 'alpha' careerwoman Minette Marrin tells us she's tired of being 'hectored' by 'alpha' feminists. In the curious way that top women columnists have of separating themselves out from the other 'alpha' females who would ruin our gender given half a chance - perhaps this is her version of journalistic objectivity - she surmises that most women do not want to work outside the home for money, even though she herself is happy to do so. I presume she has surveyed 'most women', as an objective journalist would naturally do. On one level, although not one with which the privileged Ms Marrin would be familiar, I suspect most women would prefer not to leave their children in order to do menial, soul-crushing work with no material benefit. This is not to say that women, as individuals, do not have the right to expect the same access to self-determination as men. Ho-hum. For how many more years do we have to have this conversation?

Honestly, I'd be happy to have a little more hectoring feminism in my life. I would love to have something to agree with for once. The Australian papers are no comfort, I'm afraid. Former editor-in-chief of the Australian women's magazines Cosmopolitan, Cleo and Dolly, 'feminist' Mia Freedman, tells us her political spots have changed since she became a mother. Sorry, but when I was a real feminist in the 1970s in Australia, these people were our enemies. By all means rail against 'raunch culture' Mia but it was your magazines that invented it while the rest of us were involved in grown-up battles, like fighting for abortion on demand and freedom of the press and the right to protest in the street. Amazingly, we all managed to find egalitarian sexual gratification without the spurious advice of women's magazines.

Natasha Walter is the turncoat who turned, as easily as a pancake is flipped. As a thirty-one year old in 1998, she was happy to tell all the women who'd broken ground for her, up to and including her own mother, that their views were no longer relevant. These are the women who think it's all about them. Sorry Natasha. You are not one of us. You give reason to the men who would attack us for a vanity that is nothing to do with most women but everything to do with you and Mia and Minette and all of the rest of your privileged set. The men indulge you - do you not get that? They do not love you for yourself but for what you are able to commercially provide. You are no more or less a commodity to them than the rest of us. See Natasha, we were doing perfectly fine without you saying this,

Puritanism alienates women because it does not reflect the real, often wickedly enjoyable relationship they have with their clothes and their bodies.

Wrong. We were the anti-puritans who put the clothes on your stupid, unworthy back because we made it possible for you to have a high-paying job. Actually, we didn't care too much for clothes. You're the one trying to retrospectively enhance the relationship between bodies and clothes from a feminist perspective. As I remember it, clothes were just bits that were peeled off and chucked on the floor before sex and picked up and put back on afterwards. That was my youth and I'm jolly proud of it.

All day I've been trying to remember the name of a great film I first saw in about 1978 or 79. I've gluggled myself senseless in the effort to track it down. I think it was Norwegian. It might have been Danish or Finnish or even Swedish.

The premise of the film is a societal role reversal between men and women. Older women control industry and are serviced by young men. The women bosses wear skirt-based suits and still look like women. The young male secretaries wear tight flares and body shirts and still look like men. The powerful older women manifest corporate indulgence. They eat fattening foods. They quaff claret. They puff cigars. The young men fret about their attractiveness. They nibble crispbread and constantly stress about gaining weight. The young men shop for groceries on their bicycles on their meagre lunch breaks and get knocked off the road by their female bosses' limousines. In the nightclubs, the women sit courtly while the insecure younger men
adjust their chest hair pieces in the toilets and stress about being wanted. It's a completely plausible reversal of the power paradigm.

Just this once, I'm opening comments in the hope that someone might reunite me with this wonderful film...


Wisewebwoman said...

Oh three cheers for this post, wonderful you!
I soooo want to see this film so please let me know when you track it down, I will meanwhile do my own search.
I also posted a piece called the "F Word". Would that I had your enviable gift of slice and dice, my dear!

That's So Pants said...


Not being able to find this film is driving me nuts. I have been through vast lists of Norwegian films and Swedish, Danish and Finnish too.

I have a vague recollection that it was a one-word title and that it started with 'D'. Duet or something like that. The really annoying thing is that I saw it again on late-night TV about ten years ago and really made a big effort to remember the name as I'd forgotten it once before. Grrr.