While the system remains firmly intact

glosswitch on Snow White vs The Evil Queen: Some thoughts on feminism’s “generation gap”. It starts with a movie, Snow White and the Huntsman.

It’s everything that’s terrible about how mainstream feminism is marketed and it’s a bloody fairy tale. Just what is wrong with the world?

Charleze Theron’s Ravenna, the villain of the piece, is a cross between Tampax Pearl’s Mother Nature and Valerie Solanas. She is pitched against Kristen Stewart’s Snow White, who is young, beautiful and feisty, all set to overthrow a patriarchal regime that demands all women be young, beautiful but not particularly feisty. Snow White rebels by remaining young and beautiful while also having agency™ and being empowered™ – go her! Meanwhile Ravenna, the Evil Queen, can only maintain her youth and beauty by being evil. Deep down she’s an ageing minger and therefore not worthy of exerting any power or influence. So Snow White kills her. Yay feminism! Kill that stupid, youth-addicted, power-hungry, post-menopausal waste of space!

It’s interesting how familiar that sounds.

It’s obvious that Ravenna ought to just get old and lump it rather than try to beat the system. The camera lingers over ancient (late thirties) Theron’s face, comparing it unfavourably with Stewart’s pure, unlined visage. It’s not clear whether “the system” here is fairyland or Hollywood – perhaps there’s no real difference. Anyhow, the message is this: if you’re going to be a rebellious woman, be a very young, pretty one who only rebels against other women, preferably the older, less pretty ones. That way you can put on a sexy show of beating the system while the system remains firmly intact.

I can’t help thinking this is the perfect metaphor for the so-called generational model of feminism, one that sees women proceeding in successive waves, each one trashing the one that came before it plus the one that follows. Ravenna is to Snow White what second wavers are to younger feminists today, and what first wavers were to second wavers. She’s demonic, extreme, deluded. She doesn’t “get it” in the way Snow White does. She’s a misogynist caricature whereas Snow White, once you strip away the agency bullshit, is a patriarchal fantasy woman, a cool girl feminist par excellence. And that’s the story of feminism. Either you’re an evil witch – a racist-transphobe-frigid harpy who doesn’t know her time is up – or you’re an ineffectual sexy faux-rebel, storming the castle and swishing your hair with no clue that actually, you’ll get old too. One day you’ll be the past-it minger to whom no one wants to listen. Queer gender all you like but one day you’ll be placed on the same old scrapheap of womanhood as the rest of us.

No. That won’t happen. There’s a new system in place now – for the first time in history, all the women who are young and pretty now will stay that way forever. They will also continue to “get it” forever; no one will come along in five years rolling her eyes and getting it better.

Misogyny is clever these days. Women are so empowered we’re allowed to project manage our own women-hating via the medium of feminist discourse. I’ve noticed this recently in response to the New Statesman’s series of essays on second-wave feminism. The belief that older women’s work is of no value – that they are indeed evil witches – is very much to the fore in the knee-jerk responses from people who (I’ll hazard a guess) have not read the work of the thinkers they deride:


Plus also sexy and not ugly.


  1. says

    That seems like a…rather problematic defense. I mean, I thought I’ve seen plenty of acknowledgements of strides feminists have made in the past.

    But as much as the system has been shitty to the ‘evil queen’, that doesn’t make it okay to have Snow White murdered, or various other rather vile acts.
    Kinda in the same way, making progress on various areas of women’s rights doesn’t seem to me to then make people immune to criticisms of their racism, transphobia, and whorephobia.

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Speaking of the system remaining firmly intact (but slightly off topic), I happened upon this:


    Apparently, our government thought it would be a Great Idea for CIA spies to go into Pakistan under the guise of health care workers who were there to administer polio immunizations. These spies would pretend to give children immunizations (which weren’t really immunizations at all), all the while keeping their eyes peeled for any sign of the elusive Osama bin Laden.

    Well, guess what, people? NOW Pakistan won’t immunize because it is rightfully afraid of ALL health care workers now, since the last bunch were actually spies who were only there to spy, while tricking people with phony baloney faux immunizations. And now polio is on the upswing.

    Of the 77 cases of polio documented since the beginning of this year, 61 of them are in Pakistan.

    GREAT job, US government. STELLAR achievement. Burn in hell.

  3. theoreticalgrrrl says

    I’ve read a lot of second-wave feminist writing. I frankly prefer a lot of it to my generation’s watered down anythingawomendoesisautomaticallyempoweringbecauseawomanisdoingit and donotquestionthesystemlearntolovesubmissionEatTheCakeAnnaMae feminism. Yes, they were learning and growing up in a time that was extremely homophobic and they didn’t fully understand trans issues. But everyone has learned from that and has evolved. I don’t know where you get “whore-phobia” John-Henry Beck, unless you’re accusing feminists who questioned violence against women in porn and sex-work to be “phobic” of the sex workers themselves, and not in reality analyzing the system that keeps women paid less, charged more, and economically dependent on men so much so that the only choices women had were sex work or sandwich-making, home-making work. Maybe they wanted women’s opportunities expanded to other areas as well, like science, medicine, philosophy, engineering, to mention a few.

  4. theoreticalgrrrl says

    Also, Third Wavers haven’t exactly fixed the problem of white privilege and racism within feminism. Women of color feminists and womanists say the marginalization of women of color is still a serious problem that they face. And dividing feminism into “waves” is still based on U.S. and U.K and some European feminists, it doesn’t have much meaning to women everywhere else in the world.

  5. says

    theoreticalgrrl @ 3

    I’m not doing the accusing. I don’t pretend to be an expert on feminism or sex work.

    I’m pretty sure the problem isn’t with questioning violence against women. What I’ve seen sex workers upset about has to do with policies that endanger them and make it harder to make a living, including the stigma that makes it harder to live a decent life or to get other work. Basically, some of them seem to view it as feminists indirectly causing more violence against sex workers. That’s the sort of bigotry they call whorephobia.

    Anyway, I only spoke up because about the only context I’ve heard about glosswitch are other feminists ranting on Twitter about something horrible she’s written. Which leads me to suspect that it’s not so much the ‘cool girl feminists’ criticizing her in support of the status quo, but rather women of color, trans women, and sex workers upset over her bigotry. I don’t think they’re happy with a style of feminism that leaves a whole lot of women hurting.

  6. says

    John Henry – and all of “second wave feminism” can and should be assumed to be guilty of “racism, transphobia, and whorephobia”? And should be dismissed out of hand for that reason?

  7. theoreticalgrrrl says

    I don’t know any feminists who want to stigmatize sex workers. Violence against sex workers is completely at the feet of the police, the pimps and johns, and a society that views women’s sexuality as dirty and evil.

    It’s one thing to de-stigmatize sex work, it’s quite another to just pretend that it can’t be a dangerous job and that all women freely choose it. There are women who feel silenced by those who make it sound like it’s just a choice, because they didn’t freely choose to work in this profession. That’s the only criticism I’ve seen. And I don’t see how that further stigmatizes anyone. It’s an honest criticism…If you choose it and find it fulfilling work, don’t assume all women and men do.

    I’d welcome you to read a blog by an exited woman. She analyzes the system as it currently exists, and doesn’t gloss over uncomfortable facts:

    Rebecca gets a lot of bullshit for writing about her experience. To blame other feminists for violence against sex-workers is pretty ignorant in my opinion. Patriarchy and male supremacism are what makes violence against sex-workers normalized. But feminist are easy targets, going after the real cause is lot scarier and has consequences.

  8. says

    This appears to be a case of “NOT ALL 2ND WAVE FEMINISTS…..”, cos yeah for sure some are trans inclusive, some are for sex workers rights. Others not so much. I don’t think I need to make a case for the horrible history of transphobia in feminism that persists to this day. Secular Woman’s petition to get TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) monitored as a hate group by the SPLC says it all?
    One of the things that has amazed me is the level of support for transphobic feminists within the upper echelons. While on FTB and Skepchick there is unequivocal support for trans rights when you get to Glosswitch, Giagia, Helen Lewis, white (mostly) middle class feminists … Not so much.

    As to sex work …

    I don’t know any feminists who want to stigmatize sex workers.

    You know I don’t think a lot of trans exclusionary radical feminists want to stigmatise trans women either, in fact they have a small cadre of sympathetic trans women who they get along with. Unfortunately by their actions they do stigmatise trans women and do real harm. I’d say the same with sex work, especially since I’ve seen the same set of feminists insist to sex workers that they are raped whenever they have sex with a client. That seems pretty stigmatising to me, as well as demeaning, denying agency and minimising actual rape victims. Many support legislation that would lea to criminalisation of the women who work as sex workers, also pretty stigmatising. Or am I missing something? Feminist Whore has a good video on a feminist stigmatising sex workers while claiming not to …

    There is also a backdrop to this of wars on Twitter, Glosswitch especially has been fighting with the intersectional feminists. Her and a few others even had the unbelievable gall to initiate a “reclaim intersectionality” twitter campaign, after rubbishing it as “too academic” for the plebs to understand. Given it was coined by a WOC, Kimberle Crenshaw, well, that was breath taking in its un-intersectionality!

    They seem to think WOC and trans feminists are trying to bully them into silence by criticising their white-centric view of feminism. Flavia Dzodan has written about this on a number of occassions. As has Gradient Lair in terms of the view that WOC criticising white feminists is a distraction and they should fall in line for sisterhood. Led to #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, I believe, on Twitter.

    So to me it seems there are feminists with large platforms like Glosswitch, Helen Lewis, Giagia and the like claiming bullying from sex-workers, trans feminists and WOC feminists. I am skeptical about that for obvious reasons. This post by Glosswitch seems to be another salvo in that ongoing dispute and hence I personally take it with a large pinch of salt. The reason being that there are plenty of older feminists who are trans and sex worker inclusive who are not treated as if they are worthless.So this seems a rather convenient way to dismiss her critics.

  9. says

    Gah, too many links, stuck in moderation! I would add that I know at least one of the people Glosswitch screened out, for some reason. Everyone knows who it is and can search!

    Maybe Glosswitch hid the tweets because comparing a trans woman sex-worker, Sabine, to Snow White and herself, cis-white columnist with a large platform, to Ravenna is clearly ridiculous in terms of power dynamics. She is the one seen as “Snow White” in this power structure, not Sabine. She also get’s pretty close to the “TERF is a slur” crowd at the end there too, along with Brennan et al.

    BTW AFAIK Sabine absolutely does not think only the “young sexy” feminists are worth listening to. She is pointedly talking about the dismissal of criticism by Glosswitch and other “big names”, and is frustrated by it.

  10. theoreticalgrrrl says

    Oh oolon, you’ve got to be kidding me.
    Are you accusing anyone who wants to analyze the MISOGYNY that has been the backbone of the sex industry for as long as Patriarchy/ male hegemony has existed as contributing to violence against sex workers? The idea that sex work is all freely chosen is just not true, and it doesn’t deny anyone’s agency to say there are women who experience the sex industry as a form of rape, in that it’s economic coercion instead of physical coercion. If you are a sex worker and don’t feel that way, then this doesn’t apply to you in any way.

    Do you think johns and pimps are reading feminist blogs and books and then deciding they are going to be violent against sex workers because a feminist said the sex industry is built on misogyny? Give me a fucking break.
    I don’t know Glosswitch, never read her. If she’s transphobic and excludes women of color, then yes OF COURSE that’s a problem.

  11. Jackie the wacky says

    You know something Ophelia? Summing up third wave’s criticisms of second wave as “Ew. Old ladies are gross” is exactly what’s wrong with second wave.

    I’m a third waver near forty. Being described as a little girl doing what the patriarchy tells me to pisses me off. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last. I get it. I’m on your lawn and I need to step off and take my loud music and clothing you don’t approve of with me, because I’m not doing feminism right. Nevermind that the wave after me is already here. I’m still a silly upstart who only thinks she’s doing feminism.

    I only disagree because I think I’ll be pretty forever and I want to curry favor with men? Really?

    I’m just a chill girl?

    Wow, thanks for putting me in my place. We youngsters (not really) got a little too uppity, thinking we could improve upon your movement. We should just shut up and let you tell us what to do and be. How dare we call ourselves feminists? How dare we mention transphobia and racism if we have not completely eradicated them ourselves? We’re causing deep rifts! Choices are only feminist when they are the “right” ones. You’ll tell us what those are, right? Don’t we know that we’re just vain puppets of the patriarchy because a shitty movie said so?

    Why the fuck should I smash the patriarchy so that I can still be minimized and told what to do (for my own good)?

    So much NOPE.

  12. geekgirlsrule says

    theoreticalgrrrl, you really need to spend more time on twitter.

    The problem isn’t analyzing the misogyny that is the backbone of sex work. There’s plenty of analyzing still going on, frequently by people ENGAGED IN SEX WORK.

    The problem is pressing for the passage of laws that will make it harder for sex workers to make a living without providing any other means for them to support themselves.

    The problem is not doing jack to help de-stigmatize sex work.

    The problem is also acting as though no woman involved in sex work is there of her own volition and knows exactly what she is doing. Yes, many sex workers are trafficked and are in it against their will. But many are neither trafficked nor doing it against their will.

    The problem is when second wavers dismiss 3rd wavers as “Do Me” feminism.

    Look, I was born dead between the two waves, and I have to say, I’m with the 3rd wavers with their intersectionalism, and allowing the disenfranchised to speak for themselves, even if what they say isn’t popular.

    And don’t get me started on the fucking TERFs.

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