The Vagenda

I am Sexy. I am Funny. I am a Fucking Feminist.

 
 
So, I’ve been fuming about this Guardian article, entitled ‘Feminists can be sexy and funny, but it’s anger that changes the world’ for two whole days now, and thought it was high time that I wrote something about it. In fact, I woke up angry about it, and seeing as it’s anger that is apparently so effective at changing the world, I thought I might as well channel it into a pissed off blog post. 
 
In the article, Ellie Mae O’Hagan argues that the ‘new feminist movement’ is doomed if it continues to prize being sexy and funny above being angry. That feminism needs to be, at it’s core, angry, rather than likeable, otherwise it will ultimately fail, and that in a patriarchy, what is popular is what is acceptable to men. It also features a dismissal of Caitlin Moran as ‘blokey’ (nice), as well as cherry-picking and misrepresenting some (admittedly uncool) remarks Moran made in an interview about high heels and rape as, I don’t know, examples of her apparent crapness as a feminist (and incidentally, if we’re playing that game, then Frieden was a homophobe, so hardly perfect either). 
 
Now, I am a feminist. I am a sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes even SEXY feminist (sometimes I wear lipstick and heels and stockings and fuck on top, and sometimes I wear baggy jumpers covered in croissant crumbs and eat food of the floor and pick my nose and talk about Marxism, and sometimes I talk about Marxism WHILE fucking on top). 
 
I am also in turns angry, frustrated, disheartened, ashamed, and fucked off at the inequalities still rife in our society. In other words, I am a fully rounded human being capable of a whole spectrum of emotions and, unlike Katherine Hepburn or Ellie Mae’s vision of a full-time angry feminist, I can run the whole fucking gamut fairly easily. 

So this is my first issue with the piece. That, as feminists, we have to be this, or we have to be that. We can’t be both, or many things, or everything. Granted, some feminists are better at the jokes than others. Moran, particularly, tells a really REALLY good joke. But to dismiss her essentially as ‘a joke’ or ‘a joker’ does her a disservice. How To Be a Woman is a hilarious book. It’s also in turns sweet, sad, upsetting and yes, angry. I like it. Whether or not you do is your biznizz, but to take this woman’s autobiography-cum-manifesto and to reduce it down and dismiss it as frivolous humour essentially takes a massive shit on Moran’s life’s work. Perhaps it’s time for a re-read of those chapters about being bullied, and abortion, and her traumatic labour. You know, the ones that are really, really sad, and make you tear up, and fume, and clench your fists, like all good writing should. I have never really seen Moran as merely a ‘fun feminist’, just as I don’t imagine Julie Bindel strides around her house shouting at the walls about human trafficking. In fact, I bet Bindel can tell a fucking good joke, too. We’re all human beings, and we express things in different ways,  at different times, and that’s ok. It’s more than OK- it’s awesome. 
(As a side note, anyone who thinks Moran doesn’t engage in issues pertaining to ‘social oppression’, as Ellie seems to imply in the piece, needs to go and read Moran’s column about growing up on benefits, or the one about the cuts and how they affected her friend with mental health problems, both of which will probably make you cry, because they are that good. Moran is writing about social oppression on a pretty god-damn regular basis in a conservative newspaper, which is arguably more likely to change people’s minds than anything about cuts in the Guardian. So go and read them. Yes, a one day subscription to the Times does mean you’ll be feeding the cash cow that is News International. Deal with it)
 
But I don’t want to make this whole piece about Caitlin Moran. There are enough blog posts in the underbelly of the internet about whether or not armchair feminist bloggesses everywhere approve of her or not, and quite frankly it’s boring. I mean, who cares? She’s doing her thing- now go and do yours, already!
 
But anyway, allow me to return to this point about how apparently we’re only ever allowed to express one emotion at a time, that we need to be ‘one voice’. As someone on Twitter so sagely pointed out, ‘A multiplicity of voices is inconvenient. We must come in a recognisable dismissable guise.’ 
 
Quite. 
 
One of the things I love (and I mean LOVE) about this new wave of feminism, is that it features a range of women campaigning on different, varied issues. A war on many fronts, if you will. I see it as progress, as the feminist movement moving on from a time where you were essentially supposed to sign up to some kind of bullshit feminist charter in order to join the club. It was particularly highlighted on Sunday night, when we were guests at the women’s dinner at Queen’s College, Cambridge. At the drinks reception, Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism made an amazing, impassioned, heartrendering speech about the culture of misogyny we inhabit. People were literally choking up. It was ace.
 
Then after dinner we got up and made some gags about blowjobs. 
 
Except, of course, we didn’t just make gags about blowjobs. We talked about sexism in the media, but we did it in a funny, engaging way. Just as people had responded to Laura with anger and sadness, people responded to us with laughter. 
 
In other words (and I’m going to say this three times to really hammer it home): there is room for both. 
 
There is room for both.
 
There is room for both. 
 
During my time as a feminist blogger and writer, I have met some of the most genuinely hilarious women that I could ever hope to meet. They are all campaigning tirelessly against sexism, they are all brilliant. I am honoured to call some of them my friends. And to imply that what they’re doing somehow isn’t good enough, or that they are frivolous, or that they are simply ‘funny and sexy’ and therefore impotent and weak, well, that makes me pretty angry.
 
Anger is at the core of most humour. What? You think we made a whole blog and wrote a whole book because we were mildly cheesed off at gender inequality after lunch one day and thought it would be a good opportunity to make some cheap gags? Nope. We did it because sexism makes us REALLY ANGRY. Oh, and also because embarrassing people by pointing and laughing at them is a really good way of combatting bad behaviour. 
 
To dismiss humour not only limits your options as far as activism is concerned (and there has been some pretty hilarious activism – KNITTED VAGINAS, people!) but also completely dimisses the long legacy of women who have challenged patriarchy through jokes. Dorothy Parker, Betty White, Tina Fey, cartoonists such as Jacky Fleming and Claire Bretecher, theatre groups and troupes and comedians and writers and actors, fascinating Aida, activists such as La Barbe, and that woman who wore the t-shirt which said ‘if I wanted the government in my womb, I’d fuck a senator’. You’re essentially saying that all those women just aren’t good enough.
 
It’s poppycock of course. Ellie is great and I like her and her writing, but she is so wrong on this. These women are good enough. They are brilliant feminists. They, and not the furious blogging twitter mob Rad Fems comprehensible only to each other, are the reason I, and many like me, identify as one.
 
Like it or not, humour speaks to people. It garners their interest, it draws them in, and it makes them wet their pants laughing. It is a more effective recruiting tool than anything else. Say what you like about Moran, but she is the reason the movement is seeing a resurgence. She is the reason that women I know, women who never thought about this stuff, have turned around and said ‘yeah actually, I’m a feminist.’ She is the reason they then move on to Greer. 
 
No, it’s not particularly academic, and no, the buck doesn’t stop there, but it has power, and it’s converted so, so many to the cause. Shouting doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Try it. Next time you’re at a party. See how many friends you make. Then come back to me with the results. 
 
The other thing that struck me about piece was that, actually, suggesting that feminists shouldn’t be funny is pretty sexist. No one says, ‘oi! Armando Iannucci, you’re the Thick of it programme is jokes but you’re clearly not doing politics properly’ or ‘hey, Ian Hislop, you’re not taking the government seriously enough. Politics is serious bizznizz’. They literally NEVER say that.
 
And that’s because men get to do both. 
This week, we’ve been working with the Girl Guides on ways of making feminism more appealing to young women. We’re also doing our first school assembly in May, and are really looking forward to it. Feminism should be about recruiting a new generation of potential warriors, not about telling some woman her tactics are wrong (especially when her tactics are, FYI, super-effective). When we go into that school, I am going to make damn sure that I make the girls laugh. I want them rolling in the aisles. I want them questioning things, discussing things, engaged, passionate, arguing. The last thing I want to be is an angry feminist cliche who alienates them further. I want them to know the truth: that feminism is fun, and hilarious, and important, and that you can channel anger into something positive and world-changing. That you can be clever, and powerful, and palatable to men (if that’s what you want.) That feminism doesn’t mean all those things they think it means, and that we know they think it means, because they told us:

 

 
 
I will try to undo some of the bad PR this Guardian article will have inevitably have caused by essentially confirming everything that teenage girls have been saying to us about why feminism is a dirty word. 
 
I will tell them that we live in a horribly unequal world, and sometimes you have to laugh, or else you’ll cry, all the time. 
 
I will tell them: ‘I am sexy, I am funny, and I am a fucking feminist.’ And I know some of them will join me, and we will change the world.
 

22 thoughts on “I am Sexy. I am Funny. I am a Fucking Feminist.

  1. Yes yes yes! I went to my local feminist meet up after reading your blog and Caitlin Moran and deciding I was a Strident Feminist and I was met with withering remarks about ‘funny feminists’. When they asked me what kind of campaigns I was interested in I told them inspiring the next generation of feminists (your girl guiding thing sounds ace). My local feminist group was not interested.

    Needless to say I was very discouraged and did not go back.

    All the stuff I see you guys do in London (through my twitter stalking) seems really cool- I would love to attend/help if there was stuff like this going on in the North West, but alas the organised feminists up here are not an approachable bunch.

    • I’ve had quite a similar experience in attending ‘feminist’ groups and ultimately decided I wasn’t the right kind of feminist, whatever that means, it was pretty discouraging! Glad I’m not the only one!

  2. Yes! I love this!

    But why bash rad fems? They simply argue for and support specific viewpoints and stances, many of which are comprehensible even if you don’t agree. And they too have different styles of doing their thing. Some of them hilarious! (IBTP?)

  3. I’m an angry feminist. When I’m not being a funny feminist. The butt of my jokes is the Patriarchy. I’m also a sexy feminist, an artistic feminist, a home-decor loving feminist …

    We’ll just agree that I’m a feminist and be done, yes?

    Love this post. The school assembly sounds great, I hope you will inspire many teenagers there!

  4. ok, so first off I have to admit that I haven’t read all of this article as it is quite long. Did anyone read the comments section on the guardian article? Quite an eye opener, not just because it mainly consisted of many people talking about pubic topiary, but because someone mentioned ‘Girl Said What’. Have you guys seen this? She’s on Youtube and she’s done quite a lengthy talk on why she wouldn’t call herself a feminist. I was actually shocked at how convinced I was by it. So I think when she refers to feminism she has a specific and maybe more extreme concept of feminism than I would consider myself, but I think the points she makes are very valid. She is still advocating gender equality, but she very effectively dispels with a lot of myths that feminist dialogue has created. It actually makes you realise how this kind of discourse shapes how you view the world. Anyway, I would recommend you give it a watch.

    • I think she’s working off one basic assumption (the same one made by, say, the “amazing atheist” in his apparently brilliant critique of feminism):

      Patriarchy = a system which solely benefits men.

      This is wrong. I could go into detail about how it’s a system through which those who conform to gender roles are rewarded (hence how some now prefer the term kyriarchy), but that isn’t as important as the simple fact that she is – albeit via a more considered and nonconfrontational route – resorting to the “man-hating” attack on feminism.

      Also lol at her point that “men fought and died in wars for the vote” and “men invented the systems which allowed women into the workplace”. Yup, when you exclude women from certain spheres of life, they are surprisingly bad at influencing them. It’s almost like they aren’t equipped with advanced telekinetic powers via which they can make cars from the kitchen…

    • What would you say the problem is then?Genuine question. I always assumed there was a problem and that as a woman I am somehow disadvantaged in society. But, actually, I don’t think I really have any grounds for thinking that. I guess teh point I was making with that youtube vid was that it made me question whether this is a problem now. There are plenty of countries in the world where, yes, women are marginalised and subjugated. But to be honest, I really don’t feel like it is here.

  5. So so SO good. At ScienceGrrl we’re all about passing on our love of science to the next generation – by showcasing who female scientists really are and what they get up to, in all their glorious diversity. We want young women to look at us and recognise real people they can relate to, doing amazing stuff; hopefully they will look at us, what we do and the lives we’ve made for ourselves and think, “You know, that looks pretty good”. We are here, doing what we do, being amazing at it, discovering new stuff that makes the world a better place (on the whole) AND having a great time. Come on in.
    I feel utterly stifled by the obligation to be ‘serious’ in order to be taken seriously. Stuff that. Let women be themselves, in all their happy/sad/sexy/angry/sharp/dull/bored/creative/funny multicolour – including those of us who do that ‘serious science thing’ for a living.
    Dr Heather Williams, Director, ScienceGrrl
    http://www.sciencegrrl.co.uk @Science_Grrl

  6. I find your approving comments about Julie Bindel incredibly disturbing, considering the she has recently delivered what is probably the worst transphobic rant coming from an alleged feminist. I respect and admire this blog enormously, and a large part of that comes from its championing of an inclusive feminism. Don’t let you readers down.

  7. I just want to say that I agree with so much of what you’ve said here. Caitlin Moran turned me on to feminism, your own Emer O’Leary’s article encouraged me to ditch the razor and offer an alternative form of feminine beauty, and I don’t think any of that would have happened with humour. More importantly, a humour with intelligence and no victims, something sadly scarce. So, thanks for all that.

  8. Feminism should be about recruiting a new generation of potential warriors, not about telling some woman her tactics are wrong (especially when her tactics are, FYI, super-effective)

    … okay, confused now, what did I just read if not a blog post telling Ellie Mae O’Hagan her tactics are wrong, and distinguishing ‘good’ feminists from ‘bad’ ones (the rad fems on twitter)?…

  9. Thank you for writing an awesome article, and I don’t know if you’ve read this response by Naomi McAuliffe (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/28/feminists-funny-angry), but it seems you’re not alone in disliking the thrust of O’Hagan’s point.

    That said, I can’t help feeling a little defensive of O’Hagan. Perhaps it’s my inner White Knight, or something, but I felt like she was criticising the prioritisation of being funny and sexy, rather than the mere fact of being funny/sexy. It’s in the title – ‘Feminists >can< be sexy and funny' She writes at one point that ‘In my mind, if being sexy and funny are the two cornerstones of a new feminist movement, we may as well all pack up and go home now.’ Isn’t that very different to, as you put it, ‘suggesting that feminists shouldn’t be funny’? Hers is a point about priorities: we can’t let being funny be the cornerstone of feminism, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a vehicle for feminist advancement! If, as you say, ‘Anger is at the core of most humour’, then are you not also in very close alignment with her suggestion that ‘At its core, feminism should be angry’? Equally, if Joan Rivers is right (in a quote I shamelessly stole from Naomi McAuliffe’s article up there) that “Men don’t want you too funny”, isn’t O’Hagan consequently right to say that ‘In a patriarchy… what is popular and non-threatening is what men deem to be acceptable’? i.e. if what you’re saying isn’t pissing at least a few people off, it is genuinely and unequivocally ineffectual. As O’Hagan wrote in the comments section, ‘You can’t challenge the status quo AND be accepted by it’. That was the point I took away from her article. None of this is to suggest that you are wrong to defend humour in feminism, or to critique some of what O’Hagan wrote. I was enlightened by your defence of Moran, whom I had long deemed to be a div for her comments on rape, and although I agree with O’Hagan that her comments are made without any social context, that’s probably because most of them are made on twitter. Equally, you made me realise that, if even feminists are taking this as a Julie Bindle-like attack on fun (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/08/fun-feminism-women-feminist), then O’Hagan went wrong somewhere. I just don’t know if she’d actually disagree that ‘There’s room for both’.

  10. Patriarchy is so good at excluding those that don’t conform to a gendered ideology, their influence even extends to defining what a feminist can and cannot be.

    What has always struck me as extremely odd is that people tend to think all feminists are alike and adhere to exactly the same beliefs. Feminism, like other political movements, has a broad spectrum of supporters and individuals that implement their values and attitudes in a multitude of ways. We aren’t robots on a mission to destroy man, as patriarchy would have you believe, we are just individuals asking for respect and equality. We have different attitudes, diverse concerns and diverging ways of engaging with people. Patriarchy has stereotyped us as angry, unshaven, man haters that don’t want to engage with society, in order to limit us and reduce our behaviour – to control. Well we aren’t two dimensional characters, and ridicule and humour are extremely effective tools to criticise faults. Patriarchy knows this; it just doesn’t want us to catch on!

    Psssttttt – patriarchy! If you’re listening, this might shock you, but men can be feminists too!

  11. People are always telling me I can’t be a feminist if I like this, or do that, or wear this. As if they know me better than me or are the World’s Official Judgers of Feminism. Offensive! Great post.

  12. ‘I will tell them: ‘I am sexy, I am funny, and I am a fucking feminist.’ And I know some of them will join me, and we will change the world.’
    This really struck a chord with me. It’s beautiful and fierce.

  13. I didn’t read all of this post (super-soz) but I feel the need to defend the Guardian article a little:

    It doesn’t argue that anger is the only thing feminists need. It says it’s an important thing, and that JUST being funny or sexy isn’t enough, but you need to be funny and angry, or sexy and angry (or heck, all three). And that’s something that you’re totally on board with, right? So I don’t see the problem…

    Except for misinterpreting that Moran quote, that was a definite error.

  14. You’re misinterpreting her article. She said: “Feminists can be sexy and funny, but it’s anger that changes the world’ for two whole days now.” Did you read that? CAN be sexy AND funny. Then strangely, you go on to say that the article is arguing “That, as feminists, we have to be this, or we have to be that. We can’t be both, or many things, or everything.”

    Seriously, re-read the part you just quoted. “And” is a conjunction that adds things to each other. You also seem to be very concerned about feminism’s “PR”. Feminism is trying to change the world: trying to change the world entails not pleasing a lot of people who like the way it is just fine. No, I don’t think you need to be angry all of the time – that would be terrible for your mental health – but being unpleasant at times is a necessary element of it. It’s not the *only* element, but it will always be there. The sooner you accept it, the better.

    And no, I am not at all concerned if feminism is “sexy” or not. I can be sexy at times (I hope), but feminism is a political stance.

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