Wednesday, May 22, 2013


When one is a believer in any cause, it is sometimes instructive to see your particular belief from the outside, from an observer who weighs your belief as equal with many others, not positioning it as primary. It is an uncomfortable feeling because sometimes it makes your beliefs seem more trivial than you feel they are, and for a moment you think "am I too blinded by my beliefs to be rational and logical about the importance of these ideas?" Sometimes, however, seeing your beliefs listed with other universally accepted conditions makes for a similarly uncomfortable experience, despite its ratification of what you believe. Because when your particular passion project starts being acknowledged as a legitimate position or condition, one fight is over, and another begins.

Today I attended a talk hosted by the Institute of Advanced Studies given by Professor Burdett Loomis, Fulbright Flinders University Distinguished Chair in American Political Science entitled Stalemate in American Politics: Sorting Out the Culprits. It was pretty uneventful, an accessible explanation of the American Constitution and the results for modern American politics of the separation of powers between American governing bodies. It became a dry assessment of the Republicans spiralling into radical conservatism via Tea Parties, and the Democrats only able to defeat Republicans because of the extreme candidates fielded after aforementioned Tea Parties. So far, so standard, and I put away my pen because notes were not necessary.

And then, on one of the last slides in an otherwise politically passionless presentation, the 'War on Women' made its appearance. The slide was discussing the Republican Party and their journey back towards being electable and not obstructionist in Congress and the Senate. There it was, sandwiched between fiscal mismanagement and immigration policies, the political problem that makes me see red, right there, listed as one of those boring points you need to know for the exam. The war on women is a thing in America.

I felt weird seeing it there. Which is why I took a photo, because it really, truly made me feel weird. You see, when I read the feminist blogs, when I read the news of the situation of women around the world, when I really listen to what people joke about with me, when I find myself feeling uncomfortable because I know I just experienced something that was misogynist, I may get angry, I may get argumentative, but in one corner of my heart I am always hoping all that this ‘War on Women’ bullshit is a nightmare I am going to wake from.

Except it isn’t. The war on women is losing its quotation marks. It’s no longer mentioned only on the activist blogs and in the Women’s Studies and Feminist units in Universities. The Fulbright Distinguished Chair is listing the war on women as a key political condition in America along with immigration, the war on terror, the gun lobby and the ‘first past the post’ system keeping third parties out of the political environment. Frankly, it makes everything worse.

It makes everything worse because now when I get all ‘I need to write 2,000 words immediately in protest about this’ I am not writing about something still hidden, still needing to be dragged kicking and screaming into the light, but about something that is entrenched and getting bigger. I am writing about an idea that is now an acknowledged political concept, an idea that is going to be mentioned in textbooks and become a term that doesn’t shock because it is so familiar.

It makes everything worse because it means that we not waking up from this nightmare any time soon. There is no nightmare, just reality, and changing reality is a very different job to banishing nightmares.


Glen Hunting said...

Hi Claire,

I get the impression that you're unhappy with the Fulbright chair for mentioning the 'war on women' at all. Have I got this right? Supposing that a war on women is a political and social reality in the US today (which I won't argue with), isn't it possible that the presenter was merely acknowledging it as a contemporary reality, rather than showing indifference to it or attempting to legitimise it? Obviously I can't comment on the context in which this was raised because I wasn't there. Nor can I say what the appropriate treatment of the topic might have been within that particular lecture. But surely it's better to at least mention such ills than avoid them completely. Perhaps the presenter was merely mindful of not supporting denialism by omitting an uncomfortable truth...

What do you reckon?

Glen Hunting said...

I've just read your post again. It actually sounds more like you're upset that the issue is an issue at all, rather than with the erstwhile Fulbright chair for speaking of it. Silly of me to preach to you (of all people) about the dangers of remaining silent about this wee problem... :)

Claire Madeleine said...

Hey Glen!

I re-read that post with the eyes of someone who may not have read the posts leading up to it, and I am a little rueful that I did not provide context.

I wrote this from the experience of being told, by grown, educated men and women, that feminism has finished, there is no more gender discrimination, and that feminism is not for them because 'they don't hate men.'

It is a disheartening thing to experience that kind of blindness in people who read the news. HOWEVER, speaking out as a feminist one quickly gets used to talking into a vacuum of misinformation and disinterest, so to see a phrase that is a key topic of discussion amongst feminists added to the list of Real Things That Influence Politics surprised me before it vindicated me.

And then it left me feeling deflated and a little scared. If it really is a Real Thing That Influences Politics, then why do I get all the anti-feminist responses I get from members of the public?

I guess more light on dark issues is always a good thing, no matter how it makes me feel!