Zadie Smith: why the focus on make-up ignores the massive elephant in the room

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see Zadie Smith at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, which is why I know the “Zadie Smith banned her daughter from wearing make-up” is utter bollocks. Quite how the person who spread this rumour managed to understand Smith’s comment as a ban is mind-boggling. I’m veering between two options: a) they are on the wrong side of dim; b) deliberately propagated this for click bait.

It is incredibly disappointing to see media who claim to be feminist calling out Smith without investigating the context in which Smith referred to make-up. She did not “ban’ her daughter from wearing make-up.  The statement below was in response to a question from the about raising children within the harmful culture of patriarchal standards that hold girls to unrealistic expectations of beauty. Smith used the issue of time as a way to explain to her daughter, in age appropriate language, how patriarchal standards negatively impact girls’ lives.

This article from Feministing very good on ‘choice’ feminism and patriarchy:

… Makeup cannot be beyond the realm of criticism just because we enjoy it and it makes us feel good. There are social contexts and structures which contribute to why we enjoy it and why it makes us feel good. Our existence in a misogynistic society operates in complex ways: we can subvert and reappropriate the tools of our oppression, but we cannot completely erase the patriarchal conditions of our existence through our own choices and enjoyment.

To lambaste Zadie Smith for expressing worry that her daughter could be forced to care about things that her son won’t be compelled to care about — things that could affect her self-worth, her spending, and her assessment of herself — is to fall into an uncritical and complicit liberal feminism. We can, and must, pass on a feminism that more rigorously interrogates systems (and does not see this critique as an attack on individuals) to the next generation of young people who will need it to navigate a sexist world. …

What seriously pisses me off about the attacks on Smith are that all of this media coverage has erased the real problem: white privilege.

The chair of the sessions was critic Stuart Kelly, who I had not heard of before this. I had a raised eyebrow early in the session due to some of Kelly’s questions, which were on the wrong side of pompous. This is without the multiple references to his involvement with the Man Booker prize. I left the session under the impression that Kelly had been both a judge and the organising committee for a number of years. Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, says no.

Kelly lost all credibility when he stated that the focus on choosing ‘quality’ books for major literary awards will, eventually, lead to ‘equality’; that focusing on gender, race, or class is not necessary. Quite how long he expected this transformation to take considering millennia of oppression experienced by those not privileged enough to have been born white, rich and male.

I’m also pretty certain he’s been practising that statement in front of the bathroom mirror because he looked incredibly pleased with himself for sneaking it in. Because he was a judge at the Man Booker prize one year. After a deer in the headlights moment when he realised no one was going to give him cookies for being awesome, Kelly opened the session up to questions from the audience; a number of which were more white people’s feelings than recognising Smith’s discussions of race, class and gender.

Granted, a number of questions from the audience weren’t exactly quintessential examples of intersectionality at play, but the focus on Smith’s words around make-up and raising girls in a culture which considers beauty more important than intelligence is sexism. I would love to see feminist press targeting Kelly’s refusal to understand how multiple oppressions prevent people from accessing publishers; never mind how books are chosen for literary awards. Instead, they’ve gone for shaming Smith for trying to raise a daughter who recognises the structural oppressions within a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

#WomenWrites: on prostitution, white supremacy, radical feminism, and Joss Whedon

Legalise prostitution? We are being asked to accept industrialised sexual exploitation, by @KatBanyard

… For all the ways it is marketed, the sex trade boils down to a very simple product concept: a person (usually a man) can pay to sexually access the body of someone (usually a woman), who does not freely want to have sex with him. He knows that’s the case – otherwise he wouldn’t have to pay her to be there. The money isn’t coincidence, it’s coercion. And we have a term for that: sexual abuse. Getting governments to facilitate a commercial market in sexual exploitation therefore requires masking it with myths such as: that demand is inevitable; that paying for sex is a consumer transaction, not abuse; that pornography is mere “fantasy” and that decriminalising the entire trade, pimping and brothel keeping included, helps keep women safe. …

“Who is the Ultimate Traitor? On Patriotism and White Supremacy”, by Crystal M. Fleming, Ph.D.

Among centrist Democrats and even some progressives, the argument is frequently being made that confederate statues should be condemned because confederates were “traitors”. While this might seem like a compelling argument, it very quickly becomes troublesome for the anti-racist. It is evident that throughout history, people who opposed racism (from anti-slavery agitators to the Black Panthers to the relatively moderate Martin Luther King Jr.) have been framed as traitorous, unpatriotic and even treated like domestic terrorists by the government of the United States. It is widely known that the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, directly referred to Martin Luther King as an “enemy of the state” and, under Obama’s presidency, the same FBI targeted peaceful activists associated with the Movement for Black Lives—and refused to label white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof a white supremacist terrorist. It should be noted that Barack Obama—the same man who insisted, against all empirical evidence, that racism is not “endemic” to the United States—also declined to acknowledge the fact that Roof was, indeed, a domestic terrorist. …

HOW I ENDED UP HERE, at Radically a Woman

As it is the case with many younger radical and gender critical feminists, I haven’t always been into such politics. I spent years on the opposite side. I’m familiar with liberal feminist and trans activist terminology, from DFAB to demi girl – although I’m sure dozens of new terms have emerged since I left those circles around Summer 2016 – so no trans activist argument is strange to me. That’s something trans activists and liberal feminists tend to forget (or knowingly ignore) when they argue with us or spread whatever rumours about us; our disagreement isn’t based on ignorance, it’s based on thorough understanding. …

Calling women ‘non-men’ isn’t inclusive, it’s sexism straight from ancient history  via @FeministCurrent

Last month, Teen Vogue published a how-to article on anal sex that defined males and females as “prostate owners” and “non-prostate owners,” respectively. The magazine may have thought that these terms were more appropriate for an audience that includes people who identify as transgender or non-binary, and who therefore don’t feel the terms “male” and “female” apply.

However, in their efforts to be inclusive, the magazine tacitly perpetuated a sexist, patriarchal perspective as old as Aristotle: that women are a type of “non-man” rather than a distinct type of human. …

Patriarchy or Male Supremacy? at Liberation is Life

Meeting Ground On Line has recently reprinted a short 1993 piece by Carol Hanisch on what is described as the unfortunate shift by feminism, from describing our current system as a ‘male supremacy’, to describing it as ‘patriarchy’.

As the Editor’s Note on the reprint remarks:

Patriarchy has all but replaced male supremacy and sexism as the preferred word for the system of discrimination and multi-faceted oppression that women face. The term patriarchy wasn’t used by most 1960s pioneers of the Women’s Liberation Movement and only came into popular usage as those founders were disappeared from view. The liberal and academic takeover of women’s liberation by women with access to the press and money led to the dropping of “liberation” from the name of our movement and to the rise of the word patriarchy to describe what is wrong with “the system” or “society”. Some claim it more accurately blames the system rather than individual men. We think it lets the class of men off the hook and is not applicable to current late capitalist conditions. The short piece reprinted here is an earlier argument against blaming a patriarchy for women’s oppression.

Joss Whedon and the Theater of Allyship, by Rebecca Barrett-Fox

Joss Whedon took a risk that reeks of male entitlement: to claim feminism but not give up his abusive behavior toward women. Maybe he’s a faux-feminist or a woke misogynist. Maybe he’s a liar who wanted to cash in on feminism. Maybe he can’t make the connection between the political and the personal. Maybe he’s doing what more feminist-identifying men would do if they were given the opportunity. The fact that he decided to speak like a feminist and act like a dirtbag suggests to me that he wanted the benefits of both—for him to be celebrated by women and also for him to have power over them. Like lots of men, he sees the advantages that feminism has for him, but he doesn’t want to give up the perks of sexism. It’s rather nice to have the tools of sexism—firing women for getting pregnant, marital infidelity—in your toolbox, just in case you might want to use them one day.