The Valenti discussion has swung back around to blogs I read and thus has me mulling things over again. As usual, I find this to be an interesting discussion not because I give two shits one way or another about Valenti, but because it seems like a lot of different folks with a lot of different ideas about feminism are using this instance as a way to talk about our differences.
I find that exceedingly helpful.
And so I want to speak about Schwyzer’s post from my own position. I don’t have coherent thoughts because I’m sick, but here are my thoughts nonetheless.
1. Bfp outlines all kinds of good reasons why talking about feminism and the marketplace and the good Valenti is doing by focusing her work on reaching that marketplace are problematic. I just want to add to that. If we judge what Valenti is doing in order to reach a broader “market” in the terms of the marketplace, her book is a failure by that standard.
I don’t think you can have it both ways, though, to me, it looks like Schwyzer is trying. You can’t say “Well, whatever Valenti is doing is worth it, because she’s trying to reach a broader market than just her fellow feminists,” and turn around and try to argue that what she’s doing has value, even though the market hasn’t recognized it.
Ann Coulter’s latest book is considered, in the industry, to be a dismal failure. The last Bookscan numbers I saw for it were about 140,000 copies sold and it’s ranked, at this second, on Amazon at 745. I don’t know what Valenti’s Bookscan numbers are for sure, but I’m going to guess they’re less than 10,000, based on what imprint she’s on. Her ranking at Amazon, at this second, is 12,635.
Does this mean that Coulter’s ideas are more important or have more validity than Valenti’s? Not in any sane world.
But that’s what the market seems to think.
My point is apparent, I think, but let me articulate it: the market is not a meritocracy. The best ideas are not often given the most value. To argue that Valenti’s approach is necessary in order to reach her market, means accepting that her market has found little value in that approach, and thus Valenti’s book is a failure. I, myself, would rather not hold Valenti’s ideas to that standard. I believe it can take time and repetition for ideas to sink in and, if her book is a part of that, repeating ideas over and over again until they sink in, then we can judge it’s value on that.
2. I would like to take issue with this:
I said, quoting others before me, that I’d rather 97% of the world grasp 3% of feminism than have 3% of the world grasp 97%. That’s not a false dichotomy, that’s realism. 97% of the public will never read bell hooks or Helene Cixous. 97% of the public can, however, get the idea that women are of equal worth to men. 97% of the public can eventually accept the idea that biological sex is no barrier to any form of public or private achievement. 97% of the public can come to terms with the idea that “no means no” and “yes means yes”, and that we need to do everything we can as a culture to make certain that the “yes” is never coerced.
And, for a second, I’d like to focus on just the United States. We have had, in the United States, people making the argument than women are of equal worth to men since the inception of our country. I don’t believe that there’s a person living in this country for longer than a day who has not been exposed to the idea that women are of equal worth to men. Everyone here gets the idea.
Just because people can articulate our basic positions doesn’t mean that they accept them or think they have value or are important enough to rearrange their lives.
It’s not enough to be heard.
3. I find the comparison between feminism and evangelical Christianity to be so gross as to make me want to vomit.
Let me be clear. You can be a feminist and be a Christian. There’s no reason those terms should be mutually exclusive.
But I don’t believe you can claim to be a thoughtful person who cares about women without being considerate of the minefield that is the relationship of the Church and women. Christianity has been responsible for some of the greatest advancements in social justice and it has played a crucial role in some of the most egregious injustices humanity commits against itself. And women have had an uneasy place in the Christian church for all of its history.
And, as someone who has been a participant/observer of Christianity, I can tell you that even now, right this very minute, in this very country, there are women who are being told that the violence perpetrated against them is part of God’s plan and that they are sinners beyond redemption if they leave their spouses. There are people who love each other dearly and who are committed to each other for life who can’t seek the secular benefits of that commitment because of the will of their fellow Christian countrymen. There are girls who hear constantly that they are responsible for the sin and temptation in the world. There are churches where women cannot participate in the central rituals of the church because they are women.
In fact, I would hazard to guess, from my own experience, that many women come to feminism not because of injustices out there in the secular world, but because of the heartbreaking injustice of being told, over and over again, that, no matter how much you love your God and feel a deep relationship to Him, you can’t serve him in the ways you feel moved to serve him because you don’t have the right body.
If you’ve never been through that, count yourself lucky, but for those of us who have, who can’t reconcile the love and acceptance we feel when one on one with the Divine with the rules others say the Divine has set up to exclude us, it’s soul-crushing.
It’s one of the main reasons I left Christianity (the most important reason being that I’m a polytheist, but we could have, I think, worked around that).
And so, to see someone so neatly and unproblematically compare Christianity to feminism, someone who is supposed to get both of those institutions?
It puts me off.
It makes me feel more and more like what I think of feminism and what the popular conception of feminism among some other feminists is are two very different things.
It’s making me really think a lot more hard about what I mean when I say that I’m a feminist. And I’m not sure yet that I can articulate what that means.