An encounter with the door bitches of Club Feminism

The Feminist Denial

August 30, 2008

The Canberra Times

I didn’t really think it could be Mink, but it’s always best to ask.  Flipping through a second-hand rack of coats, the old woman running the store beamed at me. “Oh, no dear. That’s not fake, it’s faux fur”. She pronounced it “fax”. And she seemed to think I’d struck gold. “It’s a lovely faux fur”.

I left, coat in hand, wondering how many legs she thought a “faux” might have, and whether it’s got one head or two?

It seems “faux” is in vogue right now. Even feminism has fallen for it.  Apparently. A new book out this week, “The Great Feminist Denial”, purports to be an attempt to sort out the faux from the fair dinkum. The authors, Monica Dux and Zora Simic say they’re over “faux-feminism” and “feminism of convenience”. They want to sort the wood from the trees, and the fakes from the fully fledged, ticket-carrying, badge-wearing, banner-waving, fully endorsed feminists – such as themselves.

If ever there was a sense of a snotty, private girl’s club within feminism, this is it. Both Dux and Simic have set themselves up as the classic “door bitch”, refusing entry to Club Feminism, unless of course you’re on their side. And it appears I’m not.

The authors say they want to “out some of the imposters and identify some of the saboteurs” of feminism. They zoom in on “two notable examples” of women who have let the side down and sullied the name of feminism. “Like jilted lovers, they’re lashing out”. Those two noisy and “lashing” women they’ve outed are me, and the late Age newspaper columnist Pamela Bone.

Firstly, let me say this.  Bone is one of my heroes. She was one of the most thoughtful, intelligent and compassionate writers to ever grace Australian newspapers. Her deeply considered penetration of the myriad issues affecting the lives of women brought a rare clarity to any discussion. Bone’s preparedness to step outside Club Feminism’s parameters – as set by women like Dux and Simic – was nothing short of admirable.

There were times when Bone’s convictions jarred with mine. Such as her initial defence of the Iraq invasion. And there were times when my position jarred with hers. She once refused to run a piece I wrote about paid maternity leave. But, until her untimely death early this year, I never stopped reading Bone and admiring her courage and good sense.

Secondly, I have no problem being the subject of – yet another – literary attack. Even though it’s becoming rather hackneyed and dull.

However, this latest tome by Dux and Simic gets up my nose.

I am furious at the bald faced misrepresentation of my personal life, my argument, and the trivialization of my rallying call to women to get serious about fertility and its finite window of opportunity.

The authors refer to me as “Virginia Haussegger of the A-Feminist-Stole-My-Babies lament”, and accuse me of “peddling motherhood”.  And yet, in other parts of their contradictory account of feminism, my message and the so-called “Haussegger media storm” is referred to as having a long and loud “resonance” with women. The authors then puzzle over why.

I have said this countless times: I take full responsibility for each and every choice I’ve made, and even those I didn’t know I was making until it was too late. And no, I do not blame anyone, including my “feminist foremothers”, for any disappointments I might harbour.

But I do not, and will not, back-away from my argument that second wave feminism, back in the 70’s and 80s gave motherhood a bad wrap. Career success was valued above and beyond breeding babies.

Why feminist writers are so afraid of acknowledging this really doesn’t make sense. And why they insist on continuing to play the man and not the ball, is even more senseless.

Dux and Simic are certainly not the first to relish using my name for punching practice, and to highlight a feminist taste for blood sport. And they probably won’t be the last. But it’s a disappointing distraction.

There should be room for plenty of nuance within feminism. But Dux and Simic’s new book unfortunately wants to thrash the life out of any position that doesn’t fit with their somewhat ivory tower approach to feminist ideology. As such, their book presents the danger of sending us all backwards. If feminism’s future is only in the Byzantine world of academe and literary discourse between agreeing friends, then feminism has no future.

Lastly, why the spite? Why the snide bitching? In writing about the financial pressures on Boomer women who have no decent superannuation to help support them in old age, the authors have another dig. They suggest that I have will have no such concerns. “She may have her problems, but without the interruption of children, this poser-girl singleton – professional, educated and cashed up – (is) more likely to be choosing between holidays in Rome or Paris (in retirement) than deciding whether to pay the power bill or buy groceries”.

Apart from being breathtakingly arrogant and offensive, this is pathetic. It’s a statement that highlights the author’s claim to the high moral ground. And their telling determination to push everyone else off.

Frankly I would never want to share the same moral mountain with these two. And I hope that they get very lonely up there.

So, how many heads does the “faux feminist” animal really have?

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