Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The anti-feminist feminist

There was a short interview with Martha Stewart in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. (This happened to be lying around because John bought it to use as a prop in his book trailer.) Call me wackles, I've always kind of liked Martha Stewart. But this interview really annoyed me, chiefly this part:
A Freudian might say you bring classically male ambition to traditionally female pursuits.
I don’t think in a male or female way. I don’t differentiate between male and female. I never have. I’m not considered a feminist.

Clearly, at age 68, you haven’t been analyzed.
No, I haven't. I never will be. I have no patience, [sic]

Why do you say you’re not a feminist?
Do we really need to waste time saying, “I’m a feminist”? I never thought about glass ceilings. I never thought about glass floors. I was thinking about how many pies can I come up with for my pies-and-tarts book. Those are all original ideas.
Look, Martha. Both "I'm not considered a feminist" and "Do we really need to waste time saying 'I'm not a feminist'?" take longer to say than "I'm a feminist." Length of utterance aside, your statements are a waste of time since you believe that women and men are effectively equal and should have equal opportunities ("I don't differentiate between male and female")*. That's what "feminist" means, so why "waste time" denying it?

I'm not sure Martha Stewart actually wrote these answers; maybe some underling armed with the Martha Stewart branding handbook sent them in. It's also possible that Martha is only distancing herself from feminism so as not to alienate her audience. In any case, I don't understand why people who clearly ascribe to the ideals of feminism, as laid out in the damn dictionary, refuse to be described as such. Why do people go all Rush Limbaugh when the designated word for this concept is uttered?

* I assume she doesn't mean she literally cannot tell the difference.

24 comments:

  1. "Maybe some underling armed with the Martha Stewart branding handbook sent these answers in" < Ha!

    I think these non-answer answers underline the profound worry professional women have in saying they are feminist. Of course Martha is feminine -- she makes friggin' pies, that she made an empire of pie makes her feminist whether she wants the word or not.

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  2. Yes, when she said, "I'm not considered feminist," I thought, "By who?" I consider her a feminist despite her dubious claims otherwise.

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  3. i don't think someone who specifically says she's not a feminist can be called a feminist... it's a badge of honor that she doesn't deserve, precisely because she doesn't want it...

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  4. I waffle about that, Matt. She says she's not a feminist, but she doesn't seem to know what the word means. How many women that nervously say "I'm no feminist..." haven't bothered to look it up and rely on associations with bra burning and Nazis?

    If you look at it from the flip side: When someone says, "I'm not racist, but {insert racist statement}" -- are they not racist just because they claim not to be? (Of course not.)

    I realize it's not exactly the same situation, since separating oneself from feminism seems, well, anti-feminist. But, you know, it's complicated.

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  5. but racism is a bad thing :)

    what i mean is, "feminist" to me means that you're putting forth some kind of conscious effort in favor of feminism (and not neglecting to call it feminism). i feel like it's something you have to earn. (earn not necessarily by achieving some goal, but just by trying.)

    like, to call yourself an environmentalist, you'd better recycle! (which is why i can't call myself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite. i'm lame that way.)

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  6. I totally see your point, I just go back and forth. I find myself wanting to "take back the word" and force people to acknowledge what it actually means.

    I mean, it would be super weird if someone owned a Prius, biked to work, recycled or composted everything, only ate meat from small farms and then said "I'm not an environmentalist." I'd kind of be like, "Yeah you are."

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  7. yeah that would be weird. though i think i would just call that person a hypocrite. --but like, a "good hypocrite" i guess. like martha stewart...

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  8. Whoa. Re: Deborah Solomon's first question "In your latest book, “Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts,” there’s a section that instructs the reader on how to turn her husband’s old shirts into decorative pillows. Do you think that is a good use of a woman’s time in the 21st century?
    "--I've totally done that. And I'm still totally a feminist. And so is frickin' Martha Stewart, whether she wants to be or not. Good post.

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  9. The questions were all really challenging. I guess that's DS's MO?

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  10. DS's MO is definitely in-your-face. I don't always love it, though clearly it's "provocative." In fact, I feel kind of personally affronted about the pillow question--sewing stuff out of recycled/sentimentally valuable material is not inherently unfeminist--it's just kind of DIY. But I like how she pushed the feminism thing w/ Martha.

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  11. On the one hand, I can understand how certain women will want to distance themselves from the word "feminism" - because the word itself has tons of baggage, been co-opted by all sorts of wankers and capitalist marketers, and so forth. Also, for many, the word is just representative of a certain type of struggle favouring women of a certain class / race.

    However, I doubt that those are Martha's concerns. I've never been able to wholly dislike her, either, but I'm guessing in her case she just assumes herself to be a fantastic, magnificent human being who is above the messy concerns of the general pleb, ie. "I don't think about males or females. I don't think about glass ceilings or floors. Feminists, what the hell? A waste of time. I MAKE PIES."

    I mean, I actually think she honestly could care less because she can't get around her own gigantic ego.

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  12. Ha. Well, that's unfortunate. I think that clipped "I have no patience" is funny, since she clearly has the patience to make her own pie crust and shit. Basically, Matt called it: hypocrisy.

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  13. Though I have only the fragments you've provided, Elisa, I think you've all missed something really subtle in this interview: "I'm not considered a feminist" and "Do we really need to waste time saying, 'I'm a feminist'" is NOT the same thing as saying, "I'm not a feminist." In fact, she carefully avoided saying that she isn't a feminist, and--as you point out--she has implied that she is.

    I don't think it's a waste of time to say you're a feminist, but saying, "Do we really need to waste time saying, 'I'm a feminist'" sounds a lot like saying: isn't it obvious that I'm a feminist?

    It also sounds like Stewart is saying that instead of worrying about what she ought to be called--what label should be applied to her--she believes in action, she believes in DOING.

    "I never thought about glass ceilings" could be her way of saying that she never hit any glass ceilings OR that when she saw a glass ceiling she didn't give it a thought: she just smashed through it.

    That fact that the term "feminist" even appears in her magazine implies that Stewart doesn't object to it.

    Wow. She's 68. She did time. She became wealthy by demanding perfection. She took so-called "woman's work" and brought it to a place where it has be taken seriously if only for the fact that it's big business.

    I'm not trying to prove you wrong--but there are interesting alternative interpretations of Stewart's answers that deserve to be considered.

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  14. Adam: "That fact that the term 'feminist' even appears in her magazine implies that Stewart doesn't object to it."

    Not sure what you mean by this. This is from the NYT Magazine, not Martha Stewart's magazine. I'm pretty damn sure the word "feminist" has never appeared in that, but please enlighten me if it has.

    I honestly don't see how "I'm not considered a feminist" can be interpreted in any other way than a desire to distance herself from the movement. Most people who consider themselves feminists don't mind saying so. But, again, I think for her this may be mostly an issue of strategic branding.

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  15. My mistake re. the magazine.

    But: "I'm not considered a feminist" is absolutely different from "I'm not a feminist."

    It's an interesting comment (by Stewart) because she's telling her interviewer what she thinks other people think of her--not what she thinks of herself. She's saying People don't consider me to be a feminist.

    But she didn't say I am not a feminist.

    If she really wanted to distance herself from the term, wouldn't it be more effective to just say, "I'm not a feminist"? Of course! But she doesn't.

    As I said, I'm not trying to disprove you--that Stewart is being coy for business purposes is probably close to the truth--but she may also believe (and you can find her at fault for this belief) that she doesn't need the term. That she so obviously lives feminism--as you say, is the dictionary definition of it--that to proselytize would be a distraction.

    Georgia O'Keefe objected to the term, and yet, her work and her life inspired a generation (or two) of feminist artists (who called themselves feminists). Does it matter that O'Keefe simply wanted to be called an artist, no more and no less? Did she hurt the cause that the term feminism is meant to represent?

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  16. I agree that they are different, but I also think it's very, very telling how much she talked about the topic. A large part of my point was that I DO consider her to be a feminist, and I bet I'm not the only one, though her typical reader probably doesn't think about it at all.

    I don't think anyone needs the term, per se, but it irritates me that people continue to further the notion that feminism is a bad thing. By dissociating herself from it, it's like she's saying being a female role model, being a successful, strong woman, and being a feminist have nothing to do with each other. She has the opportunity to speak up for a worthy cause, without even having to change her behavior, and she chooses not to. I find it disheartening and somewhat irresponsible. Because for most people, it's not enough to simply believe that women have equal rights. You actually have to fight for them.

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  17. Sorry, above I meant talked AROUND the topic, not talked about it.

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  18. It is telling that women wish to distance themselves from the term. I teach (as you know) at an all women's college. I get to know a group of about twenty teen aged women (18, 19) for a year (my course has become a year-long course). It's a very diverse group of women, though mostly Latin American and African American. Few of these women would want to be called feminist. (None would have the remotest interest in Martha Stewart, by the way, but I had the pleasure of introducing them to Georgia O'Keefe this year--and seeing the "Oh!" expression when we contemplated the in-your-face aspects of her flower paintings.)

    I think their desire not to be called feminist has less to do with not being feminists and nothing to do with the definition of feminism and everything to do with the connotations associated with the term.

    And that--I think--is in part what rankles you. The connotation are unfair and Stewart is in a position to clear things up but doesn't seem to want to.

    I'd still argue that she might change the connotations simply by being what she is (think of all the feminists who never know/knew the term). The result might be the same.

    however, she might feel she isn't capable of correcting people's misperceptions, either because she doesn’t know enough about feminism herself, or because she’s media savvy, and knows that what she’s says will be distorted (not an excuse), or that she know what people think of her—how negatively people view her—and so worries that if she were to call herself a feminist, she would do more damage than good.

    This is certainly rich territory, and we haven’t even touched on the fact that Freud was invoked in the article!

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  19. "I think their desire not to be called feminist has less to do with not being feminists and nothing to do with the definition of feminism and everything to do with the connotations associated with the term. And that--I think--is in part what rankles you."

    This is exactly it. I used to be one of those young women like your students; I thought "feminist" was a bad word with ugly connotations. I didn't want to be one. But I think I was wrong. I just didn't know that much about gender politics then. I had to learn what feminism really means and why it's necessary. The only reason I blather about this stuff is because I know, from my own experience, that minds can be changed. I wish some nice person had told me earlier on that there is nothing negative about feminism, but I grew up in a very 'Publican community, where feminists were all thought to be humorless, butch bitches. I'm trying to show people that isn't the case.

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  21. Also, keep in mind that the ever anti-feminist Deborah Solomon is the interviewer here. She tends to massage people's answers to fit her script.
    On the other hand, I think MS probably isn't interested in analysis or identity movements. Like she said, she just wants to focus on her pies (i.e. money)

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  22. K, I wasn't aware DS was anti-feminist. That puts the questions in an interesting light.

    Upshot of all this: I've lost respect for both them.

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  23. I know this has been exhausted but...

    As an interviewer she just always seems to try to make her subjects look silly and horrible. She doesn't seem generous or compassionate, which I think someone should be unless they're interviewing a war criminal, I guess. And this interview doesn't make her sound like much of a feminist ally to me, not that she needs to agree with every thing every feminist says, but she just always seems to want to cut people down.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/06/magazine/06wwln_q4.html

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  24. Thanks for the link. She (Debra Solomon) really is combative!

    Let's declare post-feminism dead.

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