Liberal feminism’s blind spot: material & structural oppression

“How would training women to ask for higher pay help her, as someone who earns a set award wage and has very little power to negotiate anything? How would professional mentoring empower her? How would her life be improved by quotas for women on boards?”

– Eleanor Robertson in her Meanjin essay ‘Get mad and get even’, talking about her sister, a part-time childcare worker.

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The week before last I read Eleanor Robertson’s critique of hyper-individualistic liberal feminism – and pop feminism – in the current edition Meanjin Quarterly. It is a thoughtful essay; you can read it HERE. Robertson challenges the popular discourse around empowering women in the workplace and society at large; “solutions” that focus on individual actions (of a particular class of women) that, she argues, only benefit the individuals themselves. Robertson asks: “Shouldn’t our demands be for universal changes to the structure of society that will help all women?”

For example, Robertson argues that Sheryl Sandberg’s self-help philosophy, ‘Lean In’, is the manifestation of liberal feminism’s Enlightenment values of individual choice, meritocracy, and “acceptance of the basic structures of capitalist social organisation.” She points out that Sandberg’s idea – and by extension, liberal feminism – completely fails to acknowledge or address an array of structural barriers that prevent many women from realising the liberal feminist dream. [This is a point I emphasised in section 3 of my post ‘Diversity Feminism’].

Robertson writes:

“This mythology is only available to women who share most of Sandberg’s own social positions: middle- or upper-class, white, educated, heterosexual, able, employed. It doesn’t really attempt to engage in analysis of material or structural factors that circumscribe women’s freedom. Few modern liberal feminists are pro-Sandberg, but her views are the logical distillation of liberalism applied to women. The concepts it excludes from its analysis—solidarity, collective action, bottom-up democracy—are the ones most essential to the project of emancipating women as a class.[emphasis mine]

A valid and sharply made point. Robertson’s critique of the pursuit of entertainment diversity, however, is less so. Whilst I do agree that equating diversity in marketing and entertainment products with broadscale empowerment is misguided and naive, the cultural products that surround us do shape (not merely mirror or distract) our consciousness; only someone who is accustomed to being in the historically oppressive ethnic majority (and educated, heterosexual, able bodied, employed, cisgender – as the author appears to be), or simply detached from society, would dimiss the idea that diversity in culture (including visual culture and storytelling) has value at all.

That being said, Robertson highlights the inefficacy of the so-called “offense model of feminism” in regards to protecting women’s human and civil rights, which in places like The United States are under persistant and increasing attack from reactionaries. Moreover, all this focus on individual action and choice, she argues, is funnelling time and resources away from “sites of real struggle” – and preventing us from seeing the need for collective action organised around a vision for a world that is fairer and healthier than the one we currently have.

A world where “being poor, being black, and being a woman didn’t mean being ground into the dirt by arbitrary power”.

You can have a read of the essay in full HERE. Though I am not 100% on board with all of Robertson’s assertions, there is a load of food for thought in this piece.

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Another recent essay that captured my attention (and a great many others) was Richard Cooke’s piece for the Monthly, ‘The Boomer Supremacy’; about the demographic hoarding political power, securing their own economic advantage, imposing their cultural dominance, and crapping on younger generations at every opportunity.

Highly recommend reading it HERE

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Stella Mag Blog.

A few of my posts so far up on the Stella Mag blog:

Jennifer Food Show

Café Niugini

Jennifer Baing-Waiko has channelled her passion for preserving traditional food systems knowledge into a fantastic new show ‘Cafe Niugini’.

Julia tatu

Reviving & Protecting Melanesian Tattoo

Julia Mage’au Gray reflects on the joys & challenges of reviving & protecting traditional tattoo designs in a globalised world.

Ella Mask

Afrobetty Mask Making Workshops

PNG-Australian artist & educator Ella Benore Rowe invites you to explore identity & healing through her mask making workshops.

Mothers Day post

Giving life to those who give life

Childbirth death is still alarmingly high in PNG. Today we look at one way we can improve maternal care for our mothers.

Grace Dlabik

Grace Dlabik & The Social Studio

As Managing Director of GiDi Creative, Papua New Guinean-Austrian entrepreneur Grace Dlabik is using her talents for social good.

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Read these and other interesting posts on the Stella Mag blog HERE. Subscribe to the print magazine HERE. It’s really, really good 🙂

I will post some substantial essays here on ‘Just the Messenger‘ soon. Nothing much to report right now: writing, screenwriting, learning and living simply, as usual.

I hope you are well.


Cover story in Issue 13 of Stella & Entrepreneurs at CPAF

Hey look at this – the first post of the year! Hope you are well 🙂

Just writing, screenwriting and working in (arts) communications & publishing this year – which affords me time to tinker with organic and simple living (really my main hobby, other than ‘Whatsapp’-ing with my enormous family in PNG) and to prioritise nurturing my health. I am also now considering pursuing a gender research opportunity – specifically, I am considering whether I can bring something of worth to this particular task.

Anyway. Just wanted to share a couple of things to kick off this blogging thing for 2015.

‘SISTERS FOR WEST PAPUA’ IN ISSUE 13 STELLA – ON SALE NOW!

As mentioned late last year, I wrote a 6-page feature article on Nattali Rize, Petra Rumwaropen and Lea Rumwaropen for the latest Entertainment‘ issue of Stella Magazine (it’s the cover story for this issue) – which features fantastic articles on some amazing talent coming out of the Pacific! Here are some words from the Editor:

“If we’ve learnt anything from this issue, it’s that we love to entertain. And with the region brimming with so much talent, we are excited to share the stories of some of the most flexible, resilient and inspiring entertainers of 2014.

In this issue, meet the artists who’ve established unique voices in Australia, New York City, Israel, Fiji, and Tahiti. Working in music, film, literature, fashion, and dance, these artists share an interest, not in fame and fortune, but for social reform and social justice.

As much as we like to be a source of positive media for the Pacific Islands, injustice and exploitation is an ongoing challenge for us as we strive to decolonise our lands and our minds.

With our Pacific Youth being anything but pacified, we are excited to announce the launch of the Stella Pacific Writing Prize, a chance to make some noise about something you care about.”

There is also within this issue a little contributor profile on me, in which I admit to enjoying Katy Perry. If all this doesn’t convince you to SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE BY CLICKING HERE, I don’t know what will.

Check out the strong cover for Issue 13 HERE.

CONTEMPORARY PACIFIC ARTS FESTIVAL 2015: ‘OCEANIA NOW’

The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (CPAF) this year will be held from 9-11th April 2015, with workshops being run during March and visual arts exhibitions running until May!

CPAF 2015 will explore the spiritual, physical, cultural and political dimensions of contemporary Pacific identity – situated in the present, the medium between honouring the past and authoring the future. Oceania Now. A space of pure potentiality and agency.

Stay tuned to the CPAF site for updates and ticketing information for workshops and the Symposium. This years festival will include:

5 different Art and Creative Workshops. Including Pacific Photobook Project, Bilum Weaving with Vicki Kinai, Pacific Bling Weaving Workshops, Pacific Fashion Runway Workshop, and Hula Fitness Workshops.

Community Day. Featuring a FREE concert headlined by Radical Son, Children’s Area (a creative village for children and young people with workshops and activities running throughout the day), face painting with artist Ella Benore Rowe, the Craft and Weaving Tent (with Sounds of Polynesia), Interactive Art with Naup Waup (Naup will create work and display his own creations, as well as cultural artefacts from Papua New Guinea), and the Pasifika Fashion Parade featuring participants from the two day Pacific Fashion Runway workshop. There will also be a marketplace with stalls selling a variety of goods.

Traditional Tattooing with Julia Megeau Gray. She’ll be an artist in residence over the three days of CPAF (including Community Day) to demonstrate live tattooing. Julia will be working on individual pieces, and will be available to work on people at FCAC on the 9-11 April.

Woodcarving demonstration with Fono McCarthy. This carver and multi-disciplinary Samoan artist will create an 8ft free standing responsive sculptural work made of native wood titled ‘Gafa Fa’avae’ over 3 days of the CPAF festivities – the work will be completed during the CPAF Community Day.

‘Resonance’ Exhibition. Curated by Chuck Feesago, and featuring work by Naup Waup, Cecilia Kavara Verran, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Kirsten Lyttle, Chantal Fraser, Chuck Feesago, Leuli Eshraghi, Anna Crawley, Eric Bridgeman.

‘Construction Piece Scores’ ExhibitionCPAF Artist in Residence Ann Fuata will collaboratively develop a work based on ancient intercontinental ocean floor highways that are thought to stretch across the entire Pacific Ocean.

Fiafia Bar – The Festival Bar. 6pm-10pm for the three days of the festival. Step into the Fiafia Festival Bar and witness a Pacific collision of island culture, dance, song, circus and all flavours of contemporary entertainment.

CPAF Symposium. 9-10th April. 25 speakers, 6 chair persons, the PK-CPAF presenters and our keynote speaker Ema Tavola will be progressing a lively and focused discussion on issues relevant to contemporary Pacific arts practice in both an Australian and international context.

We’ve just released the Symposium line-up HERE and HERE.

I’m looking forward to seeing Stella Magazine Editor Amanda Donigi chair the panel ‘Entrepreneurialism in Pacific Arts’.

A two-day pass or one-day passes are available. To book your place in the audience, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned to the CPAF website and CPAF Symposium website for further announcements, booking information, and the full festival program (yet to be released).