Look out, girly feminists: you’re doing it wrong!

Oh the wonderful things you find in the Sydney Morning Herald!

So-called feminist Elizabeth Farrelly was shocked when someone accused her of misogyny a while ago. Just to prove how not-a-misogynist she is (besides, we all know women can’t be misogynists themselves!), she writes an article accusing all us feminists of doing it wrong. (Comments are bile – read at your own risk.) Because “what passes for feminism these days” just “legitimises girliness.” And as we all know, acting girly is something horrible which one must never, ever do.

Because this piece is just filled with so many wonderfully false and ridiculous arguments, I’ll take it apart bit by bit. Let the shaming begin!

Not only are many of my best and closest of the female persuasion but I despise men every bit as much as I despise women. Especially when they behave like girls.

OK. Joke!

Classy. Start of with a sexist joke which buys into the idea that male friends are just so superior, prefaced by the argument that “clearly, poking fun [at women] is considered misogynistic.”

I don’t usually read women authors but not because they’re women. Because they’re boring… I tell you, if I never read another intelligent female devoting her first page to how she felt when her husband left her it’ll be too soon.Not that it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. I just don’t want to read about it. In part this is an aesthetic thing. I like writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage: tougher, edgier, stringier.

Wow, generalising much? Of course Farrelly doesn’t like women’s writing. The whole canon of literature tells us that women’s writing is not worth reading, because it’s trivial, because it’s boring. Female voices in literature are still marginalised, considered lesser, and Farrelly is complicit in this.

Way to go on pointing out that women could obviously never achieve the same standard of writing that male writers can. What she’s saying here is that women as a whole aren’t intelligent enough to write tough, edgy literature. I can only assume they’re far to caught up in their girly, meaningless personal lives to actually be clever. I don’t really know what the deal with the pH comment is, but I’m guessing that women’s writing is just too wishy washy for her. Again, stereotyping much? Maybe she wasn’t a misogynist before, but she definitely is after sprouting that “fact.”

I have nothing against girls, which is lucky considering I have two of my own. Up to a point, girls are entitled to girliness. But it’s still – barring drunken love affairs perhaps – a thing to grow out of.

I’m lost – she has nothing against girls, and yet she has written this whole article about how being girly is despicable? And the bit about girliness being a thing to grow out of – well, we can’t have Proper Women ™ acting young and feminine, can we? No, if we want to be taken seriously we must abandon our girly ways and aspire to becoming like men, which we will never actually achieve because we could never be as intelligent and rational as men, but if we don’t try then we’re not worth a thing.

 Just as suddenly the Women’s Weekly, which for me growing up symbolised everything frilled, dumb and domestic – everything I did not want my life to become – is a cultural icon, with its own TV drama and a National Library project to digitise it as “nationally significant material”. Now you can catch up on all those stain-removal tips and sponge-making recipes online, secure in the knowledge that you’re engaged in something of national significance. Super. Anyone would think those synthetic oestrogens in beef were finally having their way with us.

If everything domestic is dumb, then obviously women are dumb. Because women still do the majority of housework, without it being paid or classed as “actual work.” Funnily enough though, it’s not actually most women’s choice. And the jibe about stain removal tips? The stench of classism is enough to make me want to vomit. Maybe Farrelly doesn’t have to remove stains herself, but there are plenty of women who don’t have the money to hire people to do their domestic work.

And let’s not forget to add in a snide comment about how domestic labour is essentially, biologically female work. Oestrogen is what makes us all frivolous, cleaning-obsessed loonies! I mean, what else could it possibly be: the pervasive idea that women don’t belong anywhere but the unpaid domestic sphere even though they would much rather be out there doing something intelligent and fulfilling? Never. It’s all biology!

Everywhere you look there’s women’s stuff. Websites, blogs, zines and e-groups. The explosion of social networking, and not just the ability but the expectation that you indulge, is a symbolic victory for the X chromosome. But how feminist is it, actually? It’s not only sexist. Instead of Wendy Harmer’s site The Hoopla, imagine a website called, say, The Stoush, featuring articles only by, about and for men, touting men’s insights and wisdom, focusing on What Men Want. Instead of the site ”Parlour: women, equity, architecture” (Parlour? Really, girls?) imagine one called The Boardroom; men, success, architecture.

I know, you’ll say those things already exist, they’re everywhere. This is affirmative action. But are they, actually? Is it? Do two sexisms make a decency? I’m unconvinced. But it’s more than that. The sub-heads of the Parlour blog, for example, go unconscious bias, leadership, mentoring, pay equity, career paths, work/life, and so on.) It’s run by writers and academics but none of it – not a word – deals with architecture the stuff, the content, the juice.

I don’t get the point Farrelly is trying to make here. Those things do already exist. They are everywhere. Maybe there’s a decently-sized female social networking and internet presence, but that does not translate into real life. In real life, the spheres of boardrooms and success are still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Bias, pay equity, work/life balance – what are these crazy women on about? What could possibly be important about pay equity? Or having to balance work with family (where the burden of parenting still pervasively falls on the mother)? Obviously those things are not worth thinking about, as they are not men’s interests. Obviously they’re simply trivial and unimportant, proving that women don’t actually have a right to be academics and writers, or create spaces for themselves in a world where the default position is still MAN.

It makes me want to scream. Stop self-obsessing, girls. Leave the sewing circle. You want respect as architects, get on and bloody do it. Build something brilliant, funny, sweet, enchanting, weird, crazy – I don’t care. Do it, and they’ll come.

But geez, stop with the idea that sewing can be important too! Obviously, you will only be respected if you have a Real Career and Real Interests ™.

I believe Greer is right (she too is labelled misogynist, as is Paglia, so I’m in good company). There is a level at which men hate women, for a very simple reason. They’re jealous. Women are core, men are luxuries. But this very core-ness can turn us into ruminants, and saying so is not misogynistic. Quite the contrary. It’s recognising that it’s bigger than us. The world needs heroic females more than ever; it needs us out there, muscular, mindful, purposeful and strong. That’s funny.

Ok, I’m lost again. Men are jealous of women? After this whole article has been one long rant on how women are never concerned with anything of value, are fickle and trivial and whiny?

There are some seriously false assumptions going on through this whole article, and the last sentence really hammers it home. The whole thing assumes that masculinity is better than femininity – after all, why else would women writers be boring and shallow? So for women to be taken seriously, to be Proper Feminists, they need to adopt all these traditionally male characteristics: muscularity, purpose, strength. Because only then will they be worth something.

I wonder if Farrelly has ever heard of the idea that masculine and feminine are social constructs which inherently privilege one over the other? (Here’s a hint, it’s not femininity that’s privileged.) Maybe if she were to open her eyes, she would realise that there are women who are strong and successful and purposeful. And that there are women who are feminine and concerned with families and sewing circles who are ALSO strong and purposeful.

Farrelly needs to recognise that actual feminism involves not shaming other women for their interests and choices, and recognising that society often forces them into conditions and stereotypes that they don’t actually want to be in and don’t agree with. That feminism involves criticising the notion of masculine as strong and feminine as weak. And that, if we want equality, we need to stop with the assumption that “women’s issues” are trivial and worthless and recognise that the feminine is powerful as well.

And if she wants women to stop being girly, why is she wearing lipstick in her author photo? It’s a wonder anyone takes her seriously.

Not so funny.

14 thoughts on “Look out, girly feminists: you’re doing it wrong!

  1. I’m a girly feminist – and a house worker and mother and struggle with all these assumptions all the time. Thanks for writing this so well Jo. Nice to have some connection with womens’ stuff and feminism.

  2. women are core and men are optional? Way to reduce us to nothing more than reproductive organs, Farrelly.

    Great post.

      1. I think she’s referring to women’s role of birthing children. and the conception that men are now ‘optional’ due to technology.

      2. Right. So, why is she hating on women again? *shakes head at the ridiculousness of the whole thing*

  3. Jo, another fantastic blog post as always. I think the term misogynist  is appropriate as describing someone who belittles the female gender. If that person happens to be female and puts down their own gender I think that counts as deserving the term too. 

    I would like to take the opportunity to chime in here with my own thoughts – having only before now had a cursory glance at the Parlour Architecture blog mentioned when it was brought to my attention a few weeks ago, I went back for a closer look into gender discussions about the profession I am rapidly headed towards. 

    I believe myself to be extremely lucky in my chosen career as I am convinced architecture has the potential to be a truly genderless profession. While some would think architecture is mostly about building (yes, there is a lot of that) the main thing it really boils down to is problem solving. While the form of the solution is a building, I don’t think that good architects are necessarily always good builders, but I am yet to be exposed to a good architect I did not consider to also be a good problem solver. 

    While some other professions deal with gender assumptions because of what people believe to be one sex’s skill set (women as good nurses because they are seen to be better caregivers, men as good labourers because they are seen to possess more physical strength), architecture is dealing with another problem. Since architecture encompasses problems that are both traditionally male-oriented, (engineering, construction) and traditionally female-oriented (interior decoration, fostering relationships with and understanding clients needs) I think male and female architects would be equally valuable in the process of designing any building – whether a house, a hospital, a high-rise office building, or an airport. Perhaps in this aspect is where Farrelly sees gender issues being unnecessary in architecture. (I am unsure)

    But if all things are equal, why is there a difference in the type of architecture women are involved with, and the architecture men are involved with?

    Because of how the workplaces operate. For anyone unfamiliar, there is some discussion that the industry is heading towards two main types of profitable architecture firms – sole traders/offices of less than 5 employees, and very large national or international firms with more than one office spread through a state, country or globally. I imagine that any female architect interested in also having a family is going to have to forgo working at the latter type of office unless their career is to be put on hold for several reasons: 

    A locally operated small office is less likely to require their staff to travel, for example interstate.

    A small office is not going to require their staff to transfer to another office in order to achieve career progression.

    A small office could be considered to be more flexible with hours. 

    Small offices are limited in the scale of projects they can usually take on, so tend to specialise in residential, and smaller buildings. 

    With more resources to draw on larger businesses can take on the hospitals, airports, high-rise city structures, etc.

    So from what I can see, once I graduate I hope to receive fair treatment and opportunities in my work because my skills are just as valuable as a man’s…. Until I want to settle down and start a family, and then I will be forced to work for a particular kind of business, and subsequently will be locked out of some opportunities and projects. 

    1. What about male architects who want to have a family? Why don’t they have to give up working at a small office or put their careers on hold? I know that they don’t have to take time off to give birth, but it could be argued that they’re being selfish by working at a larger office and traveling for work, thus leaving behind their kids for their wife to watch after alone.

      A female architect wouldn’t need to put her career on hold for a family, because there are usually 2 parents so her husband/children’s father could be the one to stay home with the kids and put his career on hold instead. She might only need to take some time off if she wants to give birth, but adoption and surrogacy are also options.

  4. Thanks Jo! Brilliant post – I hadn’t seen this “article” and this – I like writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage: tougher, edgier, stringier. – is one of the most offensive things I have ever heard.

    I am so confused and angry about where she is coming from. I honestly can’t believe a woman who calls herself a feminist would write this. It makes me so sad. AND MAD.

  5. People often assume that when you look girly, that you cannot do things that appear masculine. You are right femininity and masculinity are social constructs. I for one feel that I can have both traits while looking “girly”. I teach college students, and just recently a student stated that I don’t look like I am into sports because I look like a girly girl. I did state to her that I can be athletic and that my wardrobe shouldn’t be my complete definition of who I am. I also do see the word misogyny working for both sexes. Once you belittle or objectify a woman in any ways you are a misogynist. People do not generally see themselves that way, because they have been taught to feel that women being objectified is okay, because it exists in our society (sadly). Thanks for this post, very interesting analysis of the content written.

  6. “I like writing with a higher IQ” wow this is unbelievably insulting and frankly just a ridiculous statement.

    I’m wondering which female authors exactly Farrely reads? Last time I checked, Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver, Virginia Woolf and Lionel Shriver weren’t writing about “when their husbands left them”.

    But how typical of sexism, that a couple of (subjectively poor) authors, who happen to be female, suddenly define the standard of ALL female authors.

    And as for “tougher, edgier, stringier”, the writer clearly hasn’t ever read The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)…

  7. Steph-I’d hate to see Julia Morgan’s, or any other female architect’s work, become genderless. I want countertops and shelves which fit small-to-medium women, not six-foot men, and porch flooring which doesn’t trap high heels.
    I’m damned tired of that variety of bigotry which demands that intelligent women masculinize, that working women shear our hair and adopt masculine attire, and most of all, the attitude that only pretty, young women seserve, or should be allowed, the accoutrements of femininity. The childhood bullies who told non-pretty little girls that we were supposed to be lesbians and who made Miss Piggy an object with which to ridicule fat girls are alive and well, and have integrated their gangs to include “bitch bullies”. This is one such hanger-on. Thank you for exposing her agenda.

  8. Well here are some of the things that came to mind while reading this while wearing knee highs, a skirt, my favorite purple hoodie and listening to Rock music with my glittery headphones (Is that girly?). Tougher, edgier, stringier??? Well I don’t care for mushy books either, but I don’t look at authors names unless I really like what I’m reading and plan to try their other works. Of course I can’t say they’re intelligent but the adventure/SciFi/fantasy lover in me instantly thinks J. K. Rowling and Erin Hunter for female writers. Other favorites are Gosho Aoyama and Stan Lee.
    And well I think she must have a rather narrow mind to think you can only go right or left. That attitude can only lead someone backwards instead of forward like is needed. My biggest issue is the notion that women need to be men to be equal to men is not something that can make sense in a day and age where men cook, sew, wear pink, and raise kids. As well as other “traditionally female” things.
    There is no reason someone can’t be who they are. Be it girly, sporty, studious, goofy, artistic, geeky, introverted, extroverted, a leader or someone just content to going with the flow.

  9. I’d never heard of Elizabeth Farrely before. I read her article. She’s a rather poor writer, I don’t think she has half the IQ she thinks she has, and I wonder if she’s always wanted to be a man herself…
    Anyway, I am a feminist, a lesbian, I’m girly, I’m athletic, I’m intellectual, I’m independent… And everything I am, I am despite gender and sexual stereotypes and resistance from a still highly patriarchal society. I think what many people (Farrely clearly included) don’t understand that equality in feminism doesn’t translate into being like men, behaving like men and having the same aspirations as men. Femininity, for me, is a very distinct sensibility that derives in a specific way of undesrtanding and interpreting the world around us, a different way approaching and solving problems, a different way of creating alternative realities (yes, writing is a big part of it). We need that sensibility to be recognized as equally valuable as the masculine sensibillity.

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