If you’re still refusing to read the Daily Review for its exploitation of unpaid bloggers,° you may not have seen Helen Razer’s latest tirade against contemporary feminism. Couched in a review for Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, a book based on the eponymous internet campaign initiated by the author, Razer rants her way through 1500 words or so, cursing the ‘bitches’ who rage against sexism on the internet, who aren’t a patch on de Beauvoir and Greer in the literary stakes, and who take to Twitter to vent their frustration with the status quo but don’t dare stir from their armchairs for fear of actually changing anything.
If this seems familiar, perhaps I’m getting it mixed up with Razer’s previous denunciation of contemporary feminism – the one about the meaninglessness of Destroy The Joint, another hashtag-cum-online community, which, incidentally, involved Razer venting her frustration on Twitter while not daring to stir from her armchair… etc. To borrow a Razerism: Look, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether or not the irony is conscious.
So let’s be frank: hatchet jobs are fun to read. The hatchet job is an art in and of itself. But Razer’s excoriating review of Everyday Sexism isn’t just a scathing denunciation of a book; it’s another attack on the preoccupations of today’s feminists and one that spends more time swearing and snarking than it does proposing anything of value (other than, perhaps, everyone ought to read Spivak). Even better, it includes asides about the flagrant use of unpaid labour that went into the creation of Everyday Sexism, while simultaneously being published by a business that does not pay many of its content providers.
Now, I’m not contemporary feminism’s biggest defender. I’ve argued on Overland and elsewhere before that feelings are an unreliable barometer of political righteousness, that contemporary feminism should focus on action over spectacle, and that one cracker speech does not a feminist revolution make. There are shades of all these themes and more in Razer’s work – her arguments aren’t new, and sometimes they’re not even wrong – but her selling points are venom and disdain.
Her combativeness is not spirited debate; it’s outright toxic. Denigrating the breadth of feminist theory that’s come out of the academies and elsewhere (except for the usual suspects, because if Razer doesn’t mention Judith Butler at least once in every article her head might explode) is hardly comradely for someone who purports to be on the left. She opposed the Biennale boycott for being merely ‘symbolic’, no matter that it resulted in an actual win for the refugee campaign (there is no question that the arts will struggle for it, but it was a win all the same). Outcomes should be valued above all else, she cries, except hang on – didn’t she just argue in this same review that we should all stop focusing on action and read more? She wants it every way at once: theory instead of action and action instead of social media, all from behind her TV column and a Twitter feed that flicks on and off like an old fluorescent light in a camping ground toilet block. It seems to me like what she really wants is the ability to rage into the void from her little cocoon and be paid for it, and her favourite axe to grind relates to those pesky feminists who are always doing everything wrong.
But the biggest issue isn’t even that we should all be nicer to each other – although it is actually possible, believe it or not, to disagree vehemently about politics on the left without becoming a reactionary in the process – but that being on the left means working towards progressive change. Not once has Razer proposed anything other than a bunch of insults which smack of precisely the condescension and elitism she claims are falsely standing in the way of feminists educating themselves about the history of feminist thought. Some progressive.
But hey, saying ‘fuck’ in a book review is funny.
Everyday Sexism may well be little better than tabloid fodder, but opposition to sexism is good, and the fact that there is more and more of it gives activists greater opportunities to build a deeper opposition to injustices in the world. If Razer really wanted to make a difference, she could have channelled some of that energy into, for example, helping the organising groups that have been working in opposition to mandatory detention for the last decade. She could easily have joined the campaign against Geoff Shaw’s proposed private member’s bill to restrict Victorian women’s abortion rights in late 2013 and early 2014.
She didn’t. Because there’s no need to get off the couch when you’ve staked out territory for yourself as a freelance troll.
° Note: since the publication of this article, Ray Gill from the Daily Review has asked that I clarify the Daily Review’s policy on paying writers. You can read its payment policy here.