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Politics

Filmme Fatales and the rise of a new feminism?

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.

Rjurik Davidson is a freelance writer. Rjurik has written short stories, essays, reviews and screenplays. His novel, Unwrapped Sky, was published by Tor Books in 2014. PS Publishing published his collection, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. Rjurik’s screenplay 'The Uncertainty Principle' (co-written with Ben Chessell) is currently in development. He can be found at rjurik.com and tweets at @rjurikdavidson

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  1. Thanks for that Rjurik. It seems to me that we are seeing the first fragments of new analyses of women’s oppression emerging in the current period, but that much of the analysis to date stops short of explicitly theorising the social bases of that oppression, focusing instead on the symptomatic aspects of that oppression in the neoliberal era. Or at least the theoretical framework is unstated or presumed or implicitly equated with the symptomatic issues.

    I am interested in the “rights” issue because I think some Marxists have mistakenly written this off as a reflection of bourgeois individualism. It certainly *can* be left at that but I think that – apart from articulating a materialist theory of women’s oppression as integral to an overarching theory of the totality of social relations – it is incumbent on Marxists to recognise that capitalism is a system that produces formal equality of political rights without substantive equality, and that the democratic struggle for true equality must be a key starting point for political intervention. Therefore thinking about how we relate to some of the “rights” questions you relay here seems vital.

  2. I think you’re right Tad, and I thought a lot as I was writing this about how to frame the question of ‘individual’ rights (and contemporary feminist consciousness). An individual right, of course is never an individual thing – for no one is an individual in a ‘bourgeois’ sense. For this reason, socialists have often been in the forefront of campaigning for such rights, precisely because they open up the possibility of unveiling the underlying structures.

  3. This journal, a materialist feminist journal, put out by a bunch of feminist collectives in the US is pretty amazing.

    http://liesjournal.tumblr.com/volumeI

    “Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism” is my favourite so far (containing a useful account of seperatist feminism and the myth of “sex negative” feminism). The Oaxaca uprising account is a must-read (detailing how misogyny and patriarchy undermined the effectiveness of the barricades and occupations); the piece on the Gender Rift in Communisation is great and the archive articles “All the Work we do as Women”: also excellent. Look, just read all of it

  4. “which means that we are
    interested in (among other things) the conditions that enable us to
    make and circulate a journal, the way a text in print expresses a set of
    practices and relations. Materialism cannot be opposed to or purged
    of ideas” &c. (LIES, p. 10). There is massive lesson in this early par in the LIES editorial. I think I’d add something about the political economy of these practices: how do they localise an intensification of value and what does this mean for politics?

  5. LIES – because everything we write will be used against us.” “Every claim on or lament against society will be received in the same way as accounts of rape – as lies. We don’t care anymore.” From the editorial…

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