In the wake of Jemma O’Leary’s interesting column ‘Ultra-Feminism is Eroding Our Values’ on the university times website, a lot of people asked the question just what is an Ultra-feminist? Well I’d like to take up this mantel and proudly declare myself an ultra feminist. I claim it not because I think all the lowly men-folk in this world ought to be made slaves that carry me around like Cleopatra and feed me grapes for the rest of my life, but because I am a screaming, raving, hardcore fan of feminist theory. I’d just like in the spirit of sisterly debate to rebut a few points Ms. O’Leary made in her piece. I promise that I’ll try not to oppress anyone too hard under the hard sole of my Doc Martens and sexual liberation.
I just really like critical theories that point at the world we live in and go ‘hey, here’s some stuff that seems RIDDLED with problems. Can we get some maintenance guys in to look at this? There’s a light bulb gone in the gender relations department.’ Feminism is essentially a strand of critical theory- It was created, generally, by people looking around, seeing that there is a whole world of stuff to examine through the prism of gender (or class, or race, or whatever) and went with it. That’s all. Much as I would love to think that feminism has become so influential in the corridors of power that it could even approach being an oppressive force, I don’t think that’s true sadly. In a country that doesn’t even have free right to choice for it’s citizens and less than 10% of the parliament is represented by women, I don’t think Ms O’Leary has a strong case.
Ms O’Leary also talks about how she, in her personal opinion, thinks feminism has gone ‘far enough.’ Well, I think I can agree with her in so far as it’s done wonders for women like us- both university students, both from presumably comfortable backgrounds. She’s right that generally speaking, we’re doing okay. We get to sit around in seminar rooms and read about all this stuff and decide for ourselves what we’d like. We have protection in employment, pretty good maternity leave ahead of us and anything that we need that our country doesn’t offer to us, we can pay to travel out of Ireland to get it (we also have the freedom to travel wherever we like without suspicion, as western ladies) Yeah, We white middle class western ladies have it pretty sweet.
It’s like Lucinda Creighton when she spoke of how proud she was to be an Irish woman, and how she thinks it’s a grand county to be a lady in. Well, it’s great if you’re university educated, middle class, in a well paying job and don’t have to look beyond your own experiences for things. If my and Jemma’s experiences were the sole barometer by which we measured how all 3.5 billion odd women in the world were getting on, I might agree that we ought to tone the feminism down a tad. Perhaps.
But it’s not. We live in a world where class, gender, sexuality and race all intersect in fascinating ways to create the accepted structures of power. That’s how you get cases like Slanegirl- Variously described by the delightfuls on twitter as a ‘skanger’, a ‘knacker’, a ‘dirtbird’ and a good old fashioned slut. It’s not that all the feminists were crowding around to defend this girl to the hilt; it’s that in the face of a torrent of online abuse and mirth at the picture of a public sex act, it was the girl getting all these names thrown at her. The man in this story was ‘a pure lad’ a ‘lucky bastard’ or a ‘dirty fucker’- but there was still a sort of shrugging ‘eh… fair play’ reaction to his part in the act. The girl was the dirt bird. It goes back to all these double standards we have about sexuality, and the roles we give people in sex. Which while we’re at it, sucks for everyone.
Women are told by society that sex is a chore and something that needs to be endured to please men. Men are also told this and that reinforces the idea that women need to be sort of coaxed into the act. Like they’re an easily spooked pony, you must always approach a lady from the side. I’ll also point out that the entire field of masculinities is a feminist critique of the expectations placed on men by a gender binary and how deeply screwed up it is. Just look at the absolute goldmine of essays on breaking bad and masculinities recently. The expectations placed on dude by the patriarchy are crushing for the men who don’t easily fit into them. Personally, I strive for a feminism that allows us all to shag without shame and with respect for each other.
I just question what ‘values’ Ultra Feminism is eroding and why they’re such a great idea anyway. Why is that value that sex is basically dirty and gross and people are gross for doing it something that needs to be protected from erosion by the sea walls of patriarchy? Why does the value that women ought not to criticise or speak up but rather elegantly and gracefully take it on the chin something that ought to be preserved? Ms. O’Leary doesn’t make a decent case for this at all. The entire idea of Critical theory is that it challenges these norms and forces us to examine them. It’s the similar to Marxist critique of capitalism- just because you have a few problems with the way the world works doesn’t mean every single Marxist is out there tearing it down. Feminists simply point out inconsistencies in our social world. That can be uncomfortable for us all- being forced to acknowledge our own privileges and biases- but it’s important work and it certainly doesn’t need to tone it down.
Let’s call a spade a spade here- O’Leary isn’t talking about the erosion of ‘values.’ She’s talking about the erosion of norms, and not making such a hot case for why they’re so great in the first place.
Really at the end of the day, Ms. O’Leary is saying people are ‘ultra fems’ (I do love this term, and hope that she won’t mind me nicking it for my own purposes in future) are out of control because they dare to criticise. ‘Critical’ is a very loaded word when it comes to women. All their lives women are cautioned against being a shrew or a nag, or being too loud. Being ‘Critical’ is kind of code for ‘being a bitch’ or ‘thinking too much into these things.’ But when you really examine feminist theory- And I mean get a cup of tea, a pack of biscuits and really sit down to get to grips with it- you’ll find a multitude of voices.
It’s not a monolithic structure with ONE opinion, that opinion being CRUSH THE MEN. There are actually lots of ideas and opinions about lots of things- about body image and policing, about gender roles, about Trans women, about race, about class- and yes, some of these theses don’t include a disclaimer that says ‘by the way we recognise that men aren’t all pigs, some of them are rad.’ That goes without saying. You’re not going to get much out of feminism if you just read The Second Sex and How to be a woman then dust off your hands and declare it all a bit of a faff (although I do recommend reading both as an excellent articulation of basic theory and a silly but enjoyable memoir respectively). If you look at the wealth of feminist literature out there- From the big guns of the 70s like Greer and Dworkin right through to the bloggers and activists of today, you’ll see a lot of variety and lot of discussion.
So yeah, I don’t think Ms O’Leary is, as she so elegantly put it ‘a cold-hearted bitch.’ I think she’s a little blinkered, possibly a bit sheltered to the wider field of feminist theory and activism. I think she probably forgets that she, like me, grew up in the age immediately prior to camera phones being carried by every person in Ireland connected constantly to twitter and Facebook. We both had our teens played out in relative, blissful privacy and all our moments of ill judgement or drunken revelry were carried out away from social media and only the stuff of mere rumour. I think in short that she’s being a little judgemental in writing a piece that writes off an entire field of critical thought as going ‘a bit too far’.
Sorry if you were expecting me to smash a table or scream ‘INTERNALIZED MISOGYNY’ at you for a few paragraphs. That’s not how the Ultra Femmo rolls.
Niamh ‘Battle cry of the Ultra Femmo’ Keoghan
This column originally appeared in the Student Standard volume 1, issue 1 on the 12th February 2013. The Student Standard is NUI Maynooth’s independent new source and can be read online here
published here with kind permission of Keith Broni, editor of the Standard.
Bank Holiday Tuesday 12th February 2013
Another year, another Superbowl Sunday passed with me in bed early, not willing to stay up until 5AM watching the most excruciatingly boring sport known to man (Worse than Cricket, Curling and Lawn Bowls put together because AT LEAST those sports don’t stop for a little rest every every. single. Play) only for the faint promise of nine minutes of Beyonce that I could catch on YouTube the next day. No, I experienced the superbowl the way I also experienced the Late Late show’s debate on marriage equality last week- tucked up in bed with a hot chocolate, following the proceedings via twitter.
Twitter is a great medium for experiencing telly, a crowdsourced annotated commentary of whatever happens to be on. It’s basically watching highlights that are tailored to your own personal tastes- so in my case, the Superbowl coverage I saw was mostly ‘When’s Beyonce on?’ Then hysterical tweets when she actually did come on (SHE’S SO GOOD AT WALKING!) all about the dancing, the costume, the choice of song (‘Baby Boy?’ Really? That song was lame back in 2004. Come on Bey, do Bootilicious, come on-OH MY GOD THEY’RE DOING BOOTILICIOUS) and of course, the fact that Destiny’s child had ‘reunited.’ When really, all that happened was that Bey got her moderately famous backing singers back. I always liked Kelly Rowland. She reached a minor solo peak around 2003 when I first got into pop music. Sadface. Oh wait, now they’re doing single ladies- I have to do Single ladies on this deadly silent train now, excuse me.
The Bey halftime show was a bit of an experience for me, watching it on my phone on the train to Maynooth Monday Morning. It was when I finally sort of ‘got’ Beyonce. We’ve long had a complicated relationship because she just doesn’t really have a lot of songs I can groove to. Bootilicious and Single Ladies are aggressively good and that is Beyonce at her best. Telephone is an over produced masterpiece of pop excess. If I were a boy and her other break up jams always felt a bit flat to me. It never really captures the actual pain of a break-up- they’re more like revenge dreams. I’d theorise that ‘If I were a boy’ is really a dissing of the sort of casual misogyny that’s common in most hip hop and rap.
Beyonce isn’t particularly titillating. She’s too fucking scary to be titillating. Compare some of her earlier videos- writhing on a beach because Sean Paul is just too hot to comprehend (note- it was 2004 after all) in baby boy, to the aggressive dominance of the Single Ladies dance. Single Ladies is an aggressive, iconic song. It’s not sensual- it’s a war cry. She’s strong and she will fucking TRASH YOU in a song if you wrong her. She’s not pandering to sexism so much as sticking a sharp heel through it. Men do fancy her (note-I fancy her. everyone fancies her. don’t lie.) but she’s not for a moment subservient to any man. She consistently out-earns her husband. All you need do to set off any woman born between 1980 and 1993 is to go up to her and ask earnestly ‘Kelly, can you handle this?’. You will be treated to every woman in the vicinity shrieking the lyrics to ‘Bootilicious’ at the tops of their voices.
Which brings me to the title of her new tour- Mrs Carter. Using her husbands name on her solo tour has been a bit… confusing to people who have always seen Beyonce as a strong independent figure. Personally, I had actually forgotten Beyonce had a surname at all. ‘Knowles’ sort of became redundant after Sasha Fierce came out- She’s reached Cher levels of ‘first name only’ recognition. I had also forgotten Jay-Z had a surname either, in fact I just assumed they were monarchs and didn’t have a need for one, you know? Privately, Bey and Jay apparently both hyphenate their names, going as the ‘Knowles- Carter’ family. Bey has said publically that when she’s stressed, she likes to go make love to her husband to chill out. She is one of the most athletic and accomplished dancers of our generation- I’d argue her choreography will define the dance of our generation in the same way Michael Jackson defined the 80s. In the promo for this tour she’s dressed in a Louis the XIV style leotard and a fur cape. She’s Beyonce. LADS. She is Beyonce. Beyonce is allowed name her tour whatever she wants.
Niamh ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this Jelly’ Keoghan
Okay, here is part 1 of all the things that I am able to remember from 2012. Either I remembered it, or was reminded of it by reading my old tweets. I tried to pick things that had a deeper cultural relevance that I noticed, rather than just being a list of stuff that came out or happened. Also a lot of shit happened so I’m not going to get everything in. But here is what Bank Holiday Tuesday remembers
Everyone dressed as Slenderman for Halloween. 2012 will go down in history as a very difficult year and you could see echoes of this all through pop culture. Our collective consciousness was fixated on the approaching Mayan Apocalypse date with a kind of gallows humour. Slenderman became a widely known character in 2012, after spending time building up steam on message boards, youtube and in general internet counter culture.
I think this surge in popularity can be attributed to two things- our approaching sense of dread, uncertainty and doom, and THAT FUCKING GAME. I don’t think there is a university aged person in Ireland now who hasn’t played that game while wankered at a house party with all your friends around you screaming DON’T GO IN THE BUILDING! He’ll sneak up behind you OH MY GOD THE CHAIR’S BEEN MOVED.
In all seriousness, I do think the Slender man’s popularity as the horror mascot of the 2010s is telling of our anxieties and fears as a generation, and perhaps also of the stagnation of the horror film industry. The next iconic horror character after Samara from the Ring movies (remember when Samara from the ring movies was a ‘thing?’ remember throwing all your hair in front of your face and whispering ‘seven daaaaays’? good times) Doesn’t come from a schlock slasher horror or a remake of Japanese suspense- Slenderman didn’t come from any work at all; he originated on a horror message board (Slendy is page 3,hilariously) and was then adopted into various works such a Marble Hornets and… that fucking game. It’s a public domain, open source free shared horror template!
So with all this in mind, a million tall skinny guys went as Slendy for Halloween, with mixed results. My top award goes to Danny who honestly scared the bejesus out of me with his costume. Everyone else, I will offer the wisdom; a morph suit does not a cosmic horror make.
Barrack Obama was re-elected but do I really need to include it on my review in detail? It all played out like a really forced media game, with people insisting ‘ooooh no it’s gonna be really close, seriously!!!’ when the stats really showed otherwise. Bouncing back from what I personally think was a voodoo magic sabotaged performance in the first debate, Obama pretty much stormed it beyond Fox News and conservative talk radio in the states, mostly because Paul Ryan and Mittens are just so. fucking. WEIRD. No really, Paul Ryan is really scary looking and I would not have wanted him to be the vice Prez. Now with a looming debt crisis and without the idealism of change behind him, Obama has a very rough second term to ride out.
It was a good year for feminism in a strange way, considering we had so much complete and utter fucking bullshit to contend with. The GOP candidate Todd Akin started off with some incredibly bone headed comments about rape and how rape victims rarely get pregnant because the body has magic rape detection powers that repel the evil sperm- if only this were true. Cue more comments from other GOP candidates about how ‘some girls rape easy’ and the shitstorm caused by health insurance providers possibly being made to include birth control as part of their healthcare plans. Apparently sex is now a lifestyle choice, and avoiding pregnancy for medical reasons can ONLY be done via no sex. Weird. Also weird is the idea that the pill is solely birth control when often it’s used for regulation of hormones.
Chris Brown Left twitter, leaving in his wake the need for another terrible celebrity to lol at, and a shitload of misogynistic abuse leveled at the female comic whose sparring with Brown seemed to be what fucked him off Twitter. I will confess to never wading into the Chris Brown pool because I’d feel like a hypocrite and an elitist, because I listen to Ike turner, John lennon, Phil Spektor and many others who have done terrible, terrible things to women without much sign of remorse. I would say I don’t take much stock in Chris Brown as an artist and in his music, he is absolutely hideous both with general misogynistic bullshit and with constant backhanded references to his violence and all it paints for me is the picture of an entirely unapologetic guy. I will never ever like Chris brown. What a jerk.
Online bullying is the sad new way people are terrible to one another now, with several heavily reported young deaths by suicide linked to online harassment. To throw my hat into the ring on what is a very sad and controversial topic, I have to say that I’ve always argued it’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s the attitudes prevailing in society. The big problem people have with the internet is that it is essentially anonymous, and it is claimed that this encourages downright sadistic and unpleasant things to be said and done to people. I have to argue that people talked shit and said horrible things to me when I was 12, before facebook and even before bebo. back then, they got to me by sending text messages and making phone calls- teenagers will always utilize technology to be brutal to one another, and in the adult word we seem to have entirely forgotten harassing phone calls and letters. This isn’t a new thing, and it isn’t going to be solved by censorship or legislation.
In a broader sense, I’m kind of disturbed by this obsession we all have with understanding why someone took their life- the media seems determined to connect it with one single influence when in reality the victims of suicide have many different reasons and factors effecting their ability to think straight and seek help. It’s a terrible complicated mental health crisis and we can’t keep catching our heels on scapegoats.
The Olympics and Paralympics blew everybody’s minds mostly because I don’t think people were expecting much. It had some pretty bad pre talk, but the thunderous opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle let you know this was the real fucking deal. Mostly due to Tom Daley representing team GB the diving events had a lot of popularity (and now there’s a celebrity diving competition on ITV1 next year!). I took great personal pleasure from the extensive coverage of the men’s gymnastics. (Team GB Gymnastics squad, I’ll see you in my dreams)
Katie Taylor inspiration-bombed all of Ireland with her amazing Gold Medal performance (I watched her final fight through my fingers) and the rest of the Irish team put in a fucking fantastic Olympics, our best performance since 1956. Cian O’Connor redeemed himself after the stripping of his 2004 gold by claiming bronze here and Rob Heffernan came agonizingly close to a bronze for Ireland in the bafflingly intense and amusing spot of race walking. Ireland’s Paralympians continued the inspiration-parade, being fucking fantastic setting world records and the like. I’m still a bit sad that it’s gone, tbh.
The question ‘You don’t agree with abortion, do you?’ Made dinners in older relatives homes excruciatingly awkward for many this year, as the mother of all throw downs sparked off again. led most visibly by Clare Daly of the ULA and Sinead Redmond, a righteously pissed off pregnant woman the campaign for action on the X case was launched this year. Youth Defence reared their charming heads again with a billboard campaign around Irish cities that showed torn stolen istock photos and 18 week scans reading ‘Abortion tears her life apart.’ Following this, the posters were vandalized, criticized and generally just written off as the sort of bullshit YD like to go on with.
When Savita Halappanavar died the game seemed to change. Previously on the fence onlookers marched on government buildings, the Catholic church made statements, people squabbled over the numbers attending rallies and in the midst of all this the media had no idea where to turn.
Interesting to me was the reaction to the story that asked people to give Praveem Halappanavar, Savita’s widower, his privacy. Enda Kenny was quoted as saying ‘we must remember that a man’s wife has died.’ The political set seemed confounded by what to do when Mr. Halappanavar made it clear he wasn’t going away and doesn’t want a respectful silence over this issue. They got really confused when Mr. Halappanavar Insisted he wouldn’t co-operate with a HSE led investigation that included several Galway based doctors on it’s panel.
Pro Choice groups called for the X case to finally be legislated for, while Pro Life groups wrung their hands over things like the ‘suicide clause’ not being included in any legislation (Although I do wonder why any woman would fake being suicidal to get an abortion as opposed to the much easier option of, oh I don’t know, GETTING THE BOAT TO ENGLAND). Now as the year closes it does so with the news that legislation for abortion in line with the X case ruling will be introduced, governed by regulations.
The age of X Factor seems to be ending, as James Arthur only managed to squeak number 2 for Christmas. Overall it seems we’re getting a bit tired of the polished pop reality star- even X Factor USA was won by a 40 year old country singer, and Britain’s Got Talent by a teenage girl with a dancing dog. Glee popularized ‘Somebody that I used to know’ to the point where it became the smash indie hit of the summer, along with fun’s ‘we are young’ and Adele continuing her charts dominance. Glee has slipped from cultural juggernaunt with some modicum of critical acclaim into the realm of the cheesy melodrama it used to parody.
Whew, way too much happened this year, fucking hell. I’ll see you in part 2
Niamh ‘There will be awards at the end of all this’ Keoghan