Welcome to what will hopefully be the first in an ongoing Dawn Chorus series of book reviews/author interviews, and what better way to begin than with Monica Dux & Zora Simic’s The Great Feminist Denial (AUD$34.95, MUP), an exciting new addition to the feminist bookshelf:
Feminism, if not dead, is at least seriously ill. It is now common to hear women declare themselves ‘Not Feminists’, whereas in the 1970s it was taken as given that any thinking woman would be proud to wear that label.
What the hell happened?
In The Great Feminist Denial the authors talk with women—feminists and non-feminists, young and old, famous and not famous, child-free and with child—and use their responses as a starting point from which to refocus the key debates.
The book is a compelling read, mixing debate and a potted history of feminism, and rumination on the topic, with key interviews (with a student, a blogger, a magazine editor, and so on) to explore just what condition feminism’s condition is in, essentially with regards to Australian women, but also women in general.
Dux and Simic’s careful melding of personal reflection (I particularly enjoyed their misty watercolour memories of being University feminists making ‘I Love My Cunt’ badges). The authors attempt to dismantle the “straw feminist” myths and stereotypes that have come to populate the general consciousness whenever feminism is discussed – the “HLL – hairy legged lesbian”, the “media slut”, and so on – and, in a move that I think is very important, discuss the media’s influence on people’s interpretation of just what feminism was, is, has done and is doing. Is feminism responsible for “raunch culture”? Do feminists make “better girlfriends”?
The book tackles many of the media’s favourite issues that have arisen in the past decade or so with regards to women – the apparent pornification of sex, the proliferation of Caesarian births and the “too posh to push” debate, motherhood, work, asking whether Muslim women can, in fact, be feminists, and so on. At times this plethora of discussion topics leaves some debate a little underfed, but Dux and Simic’s determination to explore as many facets of their thesis remains compelling throughout.
Unlike, say, Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, The Great Feminist Denial doesn’t baulk at the state of affairs and run scared, whilst waggling its finger at everyone. The finishing moments of the book – which ask why, if women and men are apparently equal, women still get a raw deal on everything from pay to Third World poverty – are, if anything, rather sobering, and should be a good answer to anyone who still bothers to suggest that feminism has done all it can do.
I asked the book’s authors, Monica Dux and Zora Simic, to give The Dawn Chorus an insight into the process of putting together The Great Feminist Denial.
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The Dawn Chorus: What was your formative feminist moment?
Monica Dux: “I had many formative feminist moments, but growing up I didn’t have the word “feminism” to pin them onto. I have two older brothers, and their toys always seemed more fun, boys in general seemed to have access to so much more of the world than I did. I was meant to like dolls, to be cute, to not run, to wear dresses, and it felt very restrictive. I remember at a Christmas all the boys were given these ace cars by a family friend, and I was given pink underpants. When I tried to join in with the car games the family friend’s son told me to go play with my underwear, and I thought ‘that’s just not fair’. It wasn’t until I went to university that I called myself a feminist. Up until that time it was something I’d read about, but wasn’t sure I could claim. But from the moment I did, my feminism was constantly reconfirmed. When I was 19 I bought a motorbike, and if you want some lessons in extreme sexism try being a girl on a 600cc touring bike.”
Zora Simic: “Watching the Kate Bush video to Babooshka on Sounds when I was a little girl. It had nothing to do with feminism per se, but it got me excited about being female. Generally I’d say my feminism was formed in the context of a mostly female household – I’ve got two sisters and no brothers. I got mixed messages about being a girl from my parents – my mum still loves to tell me that she was a virgin when she got married and that sex is only ever suffering, but both my parents were delighted whenever I did well at school or sports. It took going to a rough co-ed public school to make me angry about sexism.”
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