July 8, 2008

Backlash Everywhere

Two important pieces on the regression of rights and the consistent backlash of feminism need to be read. What's going on, or has it been going on for so long and gotten so bad that we are all finally noticing?

It started with Katha Pollitt's May piece in The Nation Backlash Spectacular excoriating Washington University for giving Phyllis Schlafly (I thought I would never write this woman's name on my site) an honorary degree and then was followed up by The Guardian's Kira Cochrane's piece Now, the Backlash last week.

Here's some of the pop culture references from the pieces

Pollitt: There are more powerful female Hollywood executives than ever, but as Manohla Dargis pointed out in a splendid rant (her word) in the New York Times, the movies are relentlessly male-focused: the conventional Hollywood wisdom is "Women can't direct. Women can't open movies. Women are a niche." Culturally, there's misogyny wherever you look: Grand Theft Auto IV, which offers players the opportunity to have sex with prostitutes and kill them, got rave reviews and is expected to have $500 million in sales its first week out.
Cochrane: That intense scrutiny of women's bodies is one trend in pop culture. Another related one is the current obsession with women as mothers, a trend being played out all over our cinema screens - in films including Juno, Knocked Up, Baby Mama, Happy Endings, Waitress and Smart People. It's also being played out in the gossip magazines. In the past few years we have seen Jennifer Lopez paid a reported $6m (£3m) for exclusive pictures of her with her twin babies; Angelina Jolie is expected to clear $10m if she agrees to pose with the twins she will give birth to later this year.

The message that these images strike home is that women's worth is directly tied to childbearing, the constant images of mothers are a siren call for women to get back into the home, and yet we're also seeing more and more blame put on mothers.

The other big gossip-magazine trend is for women to be depicted as "mad". Over the past few years we've seen a massive media obsession with women who are considered to be out of control - Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and, to a lesser extent, Paris Hilton - and it's hard to avoid the sense that people want to watch these women's story arcs reach the same conclusion as that of their predecessor, the former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, who died of an overdose last year.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the is a consistent and persistent backlash. We need to keep fighting and not get complacent about anything.