Specifically, I'd like to address this comment by Monica McClure:
So many images of women in the media do disturb me as much as they mesmerize me, and my poetry tries to air out both sides of that. I cringe at Miley Cyrus’ twisted performance of a manufactured sexuality, the pro-patriarchal garbage spewing from the mouths of Fox News blondes, the ubiquitous battered, raped body of the black woman in 12 Years A Slave, and on and on.
On the other hand, there’s power in the images of themselves that girls put online, even when they’re highly decorated or their flesh is on display. Does that mean they are in collaboration with the culture that hurts them? Sure they can’t control whether their image will become an affront or a pleasure object, but they’re beating the culture to the punch anyway.
I agree ... but the article in question is not a case of "images of themselves that girls put online." We're not critiquing the women's Tumblrs, we're critiquing a story on a news site. The poets did not create or control those images. So how exactly is it different from the Miley Cyrus performance? In both cases, "agency" seems beside the point when it's an image being broadcast to the masses for the profit of media companies, not the women on display.
This morning, Drew Gardner linked to an interview with Pussy Riot, which includes this quote:
GQ: Does it bug you as feminists that your global popularity is at least partly based on the fact that you turned out to be, well, easy on the eyes?I kind of hate this idea that a privilege (and beauty is a privilege) could be subversive. It may be a stereotype that all feminists are ugly; nonetheless, some feminists are ugly (in the sense that they're not attractive by conventional standards). So take two women who have the same feminist beliefs, one of them "ugly" and one of them "beautiful." We're supposed to believe that the beautiful feminist is somehow more subversive, just because she breaks the stereotype? No, I don't buy it. All her beauty means is that she's relatively lucky, both in terms of genetics and, since what we call beauty is mostly manufactured and a force of effort anyway, probably wealth.
Nadya: I humbly hope that our attractiveness performs a subversive function. First of all, because without "us" in balaclavas, jumping all over Red Square with guitars, there is no "us" smiling sweetly in the courtroom. You can't get the latter without the former. Second, because this attractiveness destroys the idiotic stereotype, still extant in Russia, that a feminist is an ugly-ass frustrated harridan. This stereotype is so puke-making that I will deign to be sweet for a little bit in order to destroy it. Though every time I open my mouth, the sweetness goes out the window anyway.
This reminds me of Frederick Seidel, whose own wealth is his main subject. This too is often seen as subversive; Billy Collins, for example, said Seidel "does what every exciting poet must do: avoid writing what everyone thinks of as 'poetry.'" So, if poets are expected to be rich white men writing about nature and feelings, a rich white man writing about being a rich white man is subversive? I guess he gets by on a technicality.
*Even if, for the sake of argument, I were critiquing the women's actions, instead of the culture, I'm tired of this idea that feminism is purely about women's choices, in the sense that whatever women feel like doing is fine. As Sandra Simonds said on Twitter recently, "it's market enforcement in the guise of liberation." Or, as Chris Rock might put it, "Women are supposed to be beautiful." So how is that subversive?