What the “Telephone” Video has to do with Women in Congress

proof that feminism has been super-successful and hasn't "won"

Ada, as you know, feminist bloggers are always getting lots of critical comments. I feel like we are a real part of the club now. And I know that the sentiments in this comment are not unusual.

As for the actual criticisms: I, like you, think that blogging about pop culture versus doing the kind of political work that everyone recognizes as political work—such as electing more women to Congress—is a false choice. You can do both.

But even if I spent my entire life thinking and writing about feminism and culture, which I mostly do, I’m definitely not going to apologize for it or minimize it. I don’t think what I am doing is less important than what people engaged in other kinds of political work do; I think all different kinds of political work support (and critique and revise) one another.

Besides, getting more women elected to Congress without changing the culture means getting more women elected to Congress who are in tune with our still-fucked-up current culture. Feminists have been writing for years about how often women who rise to power get there because they say and do the kinds of things that the men in power say and do. That’s how you get a Phyllis Schlafly. Or a Sarah Palin. And many of those women try to put restrictions on the rest of us.

Pop culture is all around us. We can’t get away from it. “Feminist” herself alludes to this in her comment on our Lady Gaga post when she says that she doesn’t want 10 year olds to see the “Telephone” video. Why worry about the meaning of a video in the first place if this stuff doesn’t matter?

Because it matters. What happens in public office is one tiny part of politics. Not to mention that people in public office watch tv, too. (Or if they don’t, I’m a little worried about them being out of touch.) And plenty of pop culture is actually explicitly political—I’m thinking of someone like M.I.A. for example.

I would agree with “Feminist” that the American women’s movement has been incredibly successful but we didn’t, to use her word, “win.” If we did it wouldn’t be such a big deal that a woman just won the Oscar for Best Director for the first time. People who don’t conform to the ideal of the middle-class hetero nuclear familes wouldn’t have to worry about health care. Teenage girls wouldn’t have eating disorders or worry about getting raped. We would never again argue about a woman’s right to an abortion. I mean, I could keep going here.

But I have a Janelle Monae song I am in the mood to listen to.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “What the “Telephone” Video has to do with Women in Congress

  1. bookgreen

    Great post. Of course it does matter, though I think it also matters how one or whether one engages with the mainstream culture in order to make a difference. As a writer you do play a role in this and obviously take that responsibility very seriously. I live in New York and I know that the things I listen to and the books I read and the films I see are pretty esoteric from the point of view of the mainstream.
    Telephone is not that way, which is maybe why I did actually wish you had done *more* to parse it than you did. There are clearly many many issues surrounding this artist. And the fact that it is mainstream makes it important. I guess I worry that we sometimes feel like we can’t be critical of stuff like this, which obviously does have a feminist edge, or at least feel conflicted, I think insiders see it as campy and Thelma-and-Louise and taking back sexploitation and Tarantino-esque and everything. But is that how it’s viewed out in the, excuse me, real world? And is it elitist to even ask that?

  2. bookgreen

    And I wonder how this video is viewed by men and women in other parts of the world where women still have so far to go.

  3. bookgreen

    Like, is Bridget Everett pretty much preaching to the choir?

  4. bookgreen

    A few more thoughts: I actually wouldn’t have imagined that she was the first woman to win best director if everybody hadn’t made such a big deal out of it. It says something that a woman hasn’t won until now of course, but on the other hand I think most men and woman don’t think twice (or don’t think at all, which is good) about seeing women anywhere. (E.g., there have been lots of female heads of state around the world; just not here.) It’s the noticing and the making such a big deal out of it that often bothers me.

    Your Sarah Palin comment: I think she’s an idiot, but I also think we need to be careful not to suggest that there is a single political viewpoint that women can take, as if the only legitimate female politician is a liberal, Democratic or left-wing one. Men are all across the political spectrum, and I know my liberal husband seethes at how many right-wing men and women across the country actually seem to vote or advocate against their own interests with respect to domestic policy such as healthcare, without even realizing it. We have to allow women to be idiots too.

    And I’m sorry to say I have a feeling that Lady Gaga is counterproductive to the effort of changing right-wing people’s views about what they now see as decadent, east-coast, cultural depravity and elitism.

  5. mh

    kara, thank you for this. I was discussing this topic today with someone and I wish I had had your viewpoint in the mix along with my own (definitely ambivalent/multivalent? complex? human?) feelings on the subject of “real” activism vs feminist responses to pop culture and if that dichotomy is even real, etc etc. I’m babbling but this is something I have thought about for so long and this:

    Besides, getting more women elected to Congress without changing the culture means getting more women elected to Congress who are in tune with our still-fucked-up current culture.

    Is definitely a new take for me, though I still feel like, getting Martha Coakley elected vs more feminists in the top 40, I know which one I would choose. It is important convo to have and probably important to never settle, but you! brought something new to it and I had a lot of caffeine today and what I am saying is: Good Point.

    The end.

    I can edit this later, right?

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  7. lol. 90swomen + caffeine = anything can happen.–kara

  8. That is awesome how you said that just getting women elected is not enought. That’s great because I see so many feminists think tactically like that without taking into consideration the change to culture.

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