A couple of weekends ago, I attended the launch of a new film zine, Filmme Fatales. Two friends independently invited me, one of them promoting the magazine as ‘feminist’. When I talked to the editor, however, she hastened to say – perhaps worried that the term feminist might turn me off? – that the magazine was mostly just ‘about women’.
Launched in a hip bar in Collingwood filled with cool twenty-somethings, Filmme Fatales is full of life and exuberance. In fact, both descriptions – ‘feminist’ and mostly ‘about women’ – are accurate. Or more properly, the magazine falls into that space between the two, at times asserting women’s rights, at others addressing women’s experience. The overwhelmingly personal nature of the articles reflects this ambiguous space. Some of its articles could easily be categorized as ‘Girl Power’. One is called ‘How to Dress Well: A Guide For Bad Bitches’; another, ‘In Defense of Megan Fox’. Here we’re a long way away from structural analysis. Other articles, however, examine how women are represented in film: ‘Use it or Lose it: Virginity on Screen’; ‘The Women of Diner’; ‘Get Your Dick out of My Blockbusters’. These undertake more cultural analysis, showing the patterns and trends of films, the consistent representation of women as ‘weak’ or ‘sluts’ or only interested in ‘getting a boyfriend’.
If there’s one concern that runs throughout the zine, it’s the question of sex. Again and again, the pieces return to the contrast between the social expectations placed on young women, and their everyday, lived reality. At times, the zine reflects on the power relations of sex. Most obviously, Greta Parry’s ‘Make Love Not Porn’ explains that men in their twenties have a predisposition to ‘porn sex’, something that had become clear to her through personal experience and those of her single, straight, sexually active girlfriends. Parry catalogues a series of incidents, including one where, a ‘friend was alarmed to find that performing oral sex on a guy she had met just hours before quickly turned into his performance when he started ramming her mouth and throat so hard that she was compelled to stop him and point out to him that “I’m not a porn star!”’
Parry’s piece expresses a concern that has gone global in the last year. The Jill Meagher abduction and murder; the rape case against members of an Ohio college football team; the rape and murder of a student on an Indian bus – each of these have forced the issue of sexual violence into the public sphere. Each of them has helped foster the rise of new concern about feminist issues, even the slight stirrings of a movement.
Like Filmme Fatales, this new consciousness exists – in Australia at least – primarily on the level of individual rights. Young women have mostly absorbed the belief that they have the right to do what their male counterparts can, to walk down the street just as a man is able, they have the right to control their own body. Its sibling is the equal love campaign to legalise gay marriage, a campaign that also rests on the ‘rights’ of the individual.
These developments are reminiscent of the consciousness-raising groups of the second wave of the women’s movement – exemplars of the slogan ‘the personal is political’. It’s not so far from the concerns expressed in Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique. This consciousness – like Filmme Fatales itself – should be celebrated, for they provide the starting point for broader reflections.
But in other ways it is a long way from the radicalism of the Second Wave. As a movement, the Second Wave emerged from (and at times against) the broader left-wing currents of the 1960s. Many of the early women’s liberationists came from these social movements – the civil rights movement and the New Left, in particular. From this milieu, they brought a structural approach, seeing patriarchy as either a product of capitalism, or intersecting with it. They spoke of a feminist revolution.
The various histories were nationally specific, and the ways in which the subsequent events played out unique, but the general outline is clear. The movement split early, between those who saw feminism as a part of this broader radical struggle and a separatist trend, and for a decade or more these two trends engaged in a struggle. As the radical energies of the 1960s dried up, the current interested in transforming society (the socialist, Marxist and other left-wing feminists) slowly dissipated (like the broader left around it), providing the conditions for the dominance of the radical feminism (separatism) of the 1980s and 1990s, a process charted by Lynne Segal in her excellent Is The Future Female? But radical feminism itself proved to have a limited lifespan as political activism of any sort was increasingly anachronous – political consciousness was driven down to the base level accommodated by neoliberalism. Thus the final destination of the women’s liberation movement was in dissipation, leaving behind it ‘personal politics’ that both reminiscent of the early 1960s, and starkly different from it – of the kind represented in Filmme Fatales.
Should the women’s liberation movement grow in future years, we might expect to see a reverse of this trajectory, from consciousness-raising and concern for individual ‘rights’ towards a more sustained radicalism. Still, it seems inconceivable that any single current of radicalism – feminism, environmentalism, and so on – could grow in isolation, but instead might develop in conjunction with other struggles. This, it seems to me, places a constraint on the development of this new consciousness. What will provide the source of nourishment of Filmme Fatales? Where else will the magazine find inspiration? In any case, it does appear that the feminist movement is stirring, raising its head, if only ever so slightly, as if to see what else might be happening.