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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

Where have all the interesting women gone?

August 16th, 2010

I’ve just discovered a new imprint: Zero Books. Here is how they describe their philosophy: ‘Contemporary culture has eliminated the concept and public figure of the intellectual. A cretinous anti-intellectualism presides, cheerled by hacks in the pay of multinational corporations who reassure their bored readers that there is no need to rouse themselves from their stupor. Zer0 Books knows that another kind of discourse – intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist – is not only possible: it is already flourishing. Zer0 is convinced that in the unthinking, blandly consensual culture in which we live, critical and engaged theoretical reflection is more important than ever before.’

How interesting! Here is one of their latest titles: One Dimensional Woman by Nina Power. Its description: ‘Where have all the interesting women gone? If the contemporary portrayal of womankind were to be believed, contemporary female achievement would culminate in the ownership of expensive handbags, a vibrator, a job, a flat and a man. Of course, no one has to believe the TV shows, the magazines and adverts, and many don’t. But how has it come to this? Did the desires of twentieth-century women’s liberation achieve their fulfilment in the shopper’s paradise of ‘naughty’ self-pampering, playboy bunny pendants and bikini waxes? That the height of supposed female emancipation coincides so perfectly with consumerism is a miserable index of a politically desolate time. Much contemporary feminism, particularly in its American formulation, doesn’t seem too concerned about this coincidence.

This short book is partly an attack on the apparent abdication of any systematic political thought on the part of today’s positive, up-beat feminists. It suggests alternative ways of thinking about transformations in work, sexuality and culture that, while seemingly far-fetched in the current ideological climate, may provide more serious material for future feminism.’

See the Zero Books website.

8 Responses to “Where have all the interesting women gone?”

  1. “cheerled by hacks”?

    … oh right, it’s “cheer-led by hacks”!

    Anything that promotes rigorous intellectualism will be cheerled by me!

  2. I think Paul is right – they are out there. However, I do rather despair at the whole post-feminist thing whereby the feminist manifesto ends up being confused with episodes of ‘Sex in the City’. A friend of mine teaching at degree level has actually had young women students complain to her that they can’t see the point of being taught about feminism because ‘that’s all been done now’. Apparently the battle has been won in their eyes (?!?). Nina Power’s point about consumerism and feminist debate is a very important one. Makes me think of Edward Bernays cynical (evil even) but genius idea of using women’s liberation to sell cigarettes -calling them ‘torches of freedom’ and encouraging women to equate smoking with their own emancipation. Female emancipation becomes yet another lifestyle that can be sold to us via the products we are encouraged to buy -yet another image without any substance. As cosy as this might make us feel, women still don’t get paid as well as men or experience the same level of opportunity; they still have to bend themselves out of shape to fit certain working environments and far too often encounter that glass ceiling; a frighteningly high percentage of women suffer abuse and violence (most often from their nearest and dearest) but hey, we can now drink men under the table and have casual, meaningless sex and going under the knife to change our bodies to meet fascistic and bullying ideals of supposed womanhood is apparently ’empowering’ and merely a consumer ‘choice’ that transcends any messy, ideological or social critique. If ‘Cosmo Women’ is being understood by younger women as the pinnacle of our ambitions for ourselves, it would seem that we have swapped being chained to one kitchen sink for another.

    ZerO Books look really interesting! Off to my Yoga class now to enjoy being taught by one of those interesting women who are quietly making a difference. :0)

  3. Zero Books is an imprint of the same publisher I work with: O Books. I think they’ve done a daring and worthwhile thing with this new imprint, and I’m glad to be working with them.

    Good choice of book to feature here!

  4. The media has always barred great female writing, but it has gotten worse in the last ten years. Because of the anti-feminist backlash they stopped having to pretend. Publishers even dropped profitable female writers who were not writing blockbusters. Women columnists who used to appear in many places got swept off the board (I never seen Ellen Goodman unless i pick up Boston Globe) and in my local paper she’s been replaced by a (female) rightwing jingoist. To top it off, while i love Bob Herbert and Nicholas Kristoff etc for covering violence against women, it’s very distressing to see that the feminists who raised these issues long ago are no longer solicited to appear in print. The great majority of featured public intellectuals are men, must be men. Even my local Pacifica station tried to terminate Women’s Magazine, the one program that reliably covers female commentators and issues that target women as women. They didn’t succeed, but they still regularly preemt that slot. We have lost ground, but a resurgence is mounting now. Glad to see this new press.

  5. I agree with Maria–very good post there. It’s current with a discussion in the NYTimes opinion page today between Gail Collins and Stacey Schiff where they talk about the word “feminist,” and how it’s anathema to some women, especially young women today. They do mention the idea that young women today think it’s all been done–not realizing that men are still getting paid more for doing the same job!! (It’s all been done, indeed).

    And I sadly agree with Max as well. Men can get away with a certain intellectualism in the mainstream press that women find more difficult.

    I look at little girls these days, the prevalence of the color pink, and the incessant “girly” behavior to dress and act like a princess. Many of my professional women friends can’t believe the “pretty in pink” daughters they’ve produced. It’s all well and good as long as it doesn’t cause irreversible gender identities that can’t be breached. When I was growing up I purposely did things to prove that I wasn’t handicapped by being a woman. If the prevailing sentiment was the women couldn’t work on cars, go backpacking and camp in the woods, well then you could be pretty sure that I was going to work on cars and go backpacking.

    I think that part of the problem, at least in the US, is the current polarizing political climate, and the almighty power of the advertising dollar. This has hit the publishing industry too, which leads to fewer books getting out there, meaning fewer ideas get out there. So, Zero Books is to be heralded. I’ll certainly support them!

  6. I recently visited The Museum of London’s new gallery in which was a section on the Suffragette Movement. I found it very moving watching the little pieces of film. What particularly touched me where the photos of women, taken without their knowledge whilst in the prison yard having their daily walk. These were women who had been incarcerated for mostly minor vandalism and acts of public disturbance, many where on hunger strike, women from different social backgrounds and ages who were there because they believed that we deserved the vote. This is less than a hundred years ago! The photos are extraordinary close-ups; they could have been me or women that I know or see in the street and I couldn’t quite articulate fully why I felt tearful looking at them. The thing is, if we stop acknowledging the past, devaluing the struggle and sacrifice of those that went before us, we are in danger of finding ourselves right back there. I believe this is also the case with the welfare state, the NHS etc. In the UK there seems to be a great cynicism towards both the women’s movement and good old fashioned socialism but if you dig just a few years back and take a good hard look at the fate of many folks (and sadly, many places now too) -the poverty and the injustice – you begin to understand just how important these movements were in securing the more comfortable lives many of us enjoy now. What scares me is that many youngsters don’t have a sense of their own connection to this past or, in some cases, even a basic knowlegde of it. Many live comfortable lives where they feel they simply just don’t need to. If we stop caring about the underdog and social justice, we will leave many to slip through the net. In fact, we could even find ourselves slipping through that net too: there but for the grace of God as they say – forget the past at your peril. If we and our kids end up living in a historical, social and political vaccum where everything is dumbed down by the illusions that consumerism sell us, then much that has been gained will be lost.

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