Recently, one of PM’s editors brought my attention to an interesting story regarding a book published by Caitlin Moran, focused on how to make feminism accessible to a wider audience beyond the specialized feminist crowd. What followed was an interview between Lena Dunham, the creator of Girls and Moran, in which Moran was asked via Twitter if she asked Dunham why the show did not include any women of color. The response by Moran was that she "literally couldn’t give a shit." Feminists responded by critiquing Moran, arguing that the movement must be attentive to race, class, and other aspects of identity.
Eclipsing these kinds of "women’s issues" are recent remarks by some of the Republicans’ finest — one Todd Akin rings a bell — on the subjects of rape and contraception. These remarks are reminiscent of an outmoded way of thinking by some in the political establishment, which also finds reflection in broader social dynamics in America.
Cue the main reason for writing this piece in the first place. What America represents is subject to various narratives, depending on who you ask. While feminism is not my expert field, I might say that such debates within feminism reflect wider racial and inequality issues in the U.S., and that this is the nature of the debate we’re having here.
Is feminism in a self-perception crisis? What Moran's comments, and the backlash against them, illustrate isn’t so much a crisis as it is a moment of self-reflection about how feminism has been relevant in the past and how it will be so in the future — socially, economically and politically.
On this side of the pond, we can say we do live up to some of the expectations of the feminist movement. Hillary Clinton is secretary of state. Women have a full range of professional opportunities. They vote and participate in regional government. And they do all that alongside raising kids. The question here is how to most appropriately build on these foundations, when the aforementioned Republican examples show a distinctly outdated mindset at odds with the gains made by women in the last decades.
Adding in the foreign policy dimension, America officially supports the participation of women in the socio-political-economic fabrics of other countries, at least in principle. In practice, from a gender critique point of view, the U.S.-Saudi relationship is very functional, yet the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia has yet to enter the Middle Ages. From our point of view, the wider political status of women’s issues and rights in the Middle East is also in need of much improvement. Feminism, therefore, is a core foreign policy issue in matching principles with realities.
Again, however, here we have a clash of worldviews. The value set of women’s roles varies from society to society. Our notion of feminism is grounded in secularism and the division of religion and state. In a multicultural society like America, one might even venture that those global tensions get their mini-versions played out in our southern neighbor.
Overall, this is what I think sums up the "feminist question": the debate between its historical, present, and future relevance comes down to questions about our contemporary value sets and worldviews. Until that’s sorted out, we’ll continue to witness gaffes and remarks from our favorite politicians.