Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Testing, testing - India Knight and feminism

Hello blogland!

It's been a long time since I picked up virtual pen and put virtual ink to paper.  I wanted to begin this blog by raising a big eyebrow about a sentence in India Knight’s recent article in The Sunday Times Magazine.  You can link to the article here: .

Knight writes, 

‘And these “small”, “domestic”, “feminine” concerns — boxed in since the advent of feminism, because we’ve all been supposed to be too busy busting the glass ceiling to concern ourselves with whether guinea pigs make good pets — had finally found an outlet’.

I’m a confused about how to interpret Knight’s statement that ‘feminine’ concerns have been ‘boxed in since the advent of feminism’.  So I’ll ask a series of questions:

Boxed in by whom?  Is it the case that for Knight feminists have silenced and subordinated women’s domestic concerns to a larger concern about work?  Is it therefore also true that for Knight, feminists have had a position of power which they have used to silence other women?

Her article is concerned with women’s use of and access to a particular type of ‘feminine’ language.  She here is asserting that at some point in time feminists have silenced this ‘feminine’ language.

In this quoted text, Knight seems to be referring to the feminism of the mid- to late- 80s in which women were working to eradicate basic sexual inequality in the workplace.  One of the most successful results of their work was the political correctness movement.  In fact, it may be that the political correctness movement is the only time feminist have had a substantial influence on how the public at large uses language.  What was the political correctness movement about?

Well, once upon a time in the history of their office careers, women were commonly referred to by a host of diminutives.  They were called ‘babe’, ‘baby’, ‘darling’, ‘honey’, ‘sweetheart’, etc. by both their male peers and their male bosses. The revolution that feminism had on language directly challenged the use of diminutives.  Since then, it has been less and less acceptable to subordinate women in this way.  

So yes, political correctness is an example of the one time in their history that feminists have successfully change the way we spoke and thus the way we lived.  Silencing the use of diminutives to refer to women had a real and positive impact on the lives of women. 

But did political correctness silence women?  Did it subordinate female concerns?  I don’t think so.  I think that what has generally been the case is that in order to succeed in business, women have had to suppress their domestic concerns when speaking to their male peers.  Domestic language is not the language of the office.  This is not something that feminism invented, nor is it something that it encouraged.  In fact, this is what feminism has been rallying against for the past 10 years. I think that if Knight were to research feminism in its current state, she would find that recent feminist ideology supports women being women in the workspace, meaning that domestic concerns are as viable topic of conversation in the office as is sports or pubs or cinema.

To that point, Knight’s article claims to uncover that women are ‘revolutionising their lives’ by ‘spilling their secrets on the internet’.  In other words, she claims that this revolution is happening through a freer use of ‘feminine’ language that enable women to make connections with one another -- replacing isolation with internet kinship.  I have no doubt that women make significant connections with one another on the internet.  I doubt however, that these connections are confined to being made over ‘feminine’ topics.

The topics Knight is interested in basing this revolution are: sex and motherhood.  For Knight these topics are not appropriate for the workspace: 

‘It is because this stuff [...] isn’t necessarily appropriate for work chat, or what you want to tell your friends on the rare occasions you actually manage to get away from your children’

Why not?  Why aren’t the concerns she sites such as ‘irritating husbands or weird rashes or family-friendly holidays’ appropriate for general office banter? Knight seems to hold a very conservative view of the male / female divide.  The office is reserved for ‘male’ concerns, while the internet, with all its anonymity, is a good place for women to unleash their feminine concerns.  

As another case in point, she does not mention the blogs by and for women about becoming financially secure or those that fight racism or those that campaign for women’s rights all over the world.  For Knight, the revolution of language is to be found in women blogging about sex and motherhood.

How can Knight talk about a revolution of language if these ‘feminine’ topics are relegated to the anonymity of the internet blog rather than the face-to-face of our everyday?  Furthermore, how can we ever truly revolutionise the lives of women if writers such as Knight insist on claiming that the revolution of language for women is based in sex and motherhood?  

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