Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rifles and Rural Feminism

(Courtesy of Flickr user mijori at Creative Commons 3.0)

Always a voice of reason, Jessica Valenti wrote an article for The Nation to address the confusion surrounding some conservative women and feminism.  In "Who Stole Feminism" she explored how women who do not align themselves with the agenda of the women's movement have adopted the label "feminist" to denote their aspirations for success.  And her final word was especially brilliant:
Feminism isn't simply about being a woman in a position of power. It's battling systemic inequities; it's a social justice movement that believes sexism, racism and classism exist and interconnect, and that they should be consistently challenged. What's most important to remember as we fight back against conservative appropriation is that the battle over who "owns" the movement is not just about feminists; feminism's future affects all American women. And if we let the lie of conservative feminism stand—if real feminists don't lay claim to the movement and outline their vision for the future—all of us will suffer
Being a public figure and a woman doesn't automatically qualify you for feminist status.  (Ahem, Palin and O'Donnell.)  But tell that to Jon Carmanica at The New York Times.  Caramanica reviewed the start of Miranda Lambert's national tour in Manhattan and had this to say about her performance: 
A concert by Lambert is a theater of rural feminism, principled and flexible. She’s one of the most disarming singers in mainstream country music, with a sharp tongue, a penchant for flamboyant lyrical gesture and a cooing voice that only barely sugarcoats deeply acidic thoughts.
Caramanica was especially taken by Lambert's song "Gunpowder and Lead."  The lyrics send a strong, yet skewed message about domestic violence-- "His fist is big but my gun's bigger, he'll find out when I pull the trigger," after which Lambert raised her rifle-shaped microphone stand high in the air and gave everyone a taste of what he calls rural feminism.

As opposed to what-- those big-city-no-bra-wearing-hairy-legged-women-libbers?  While Lambert would make an excellent spokesperson for the NRA, she certainly is not the country-fried Gloria Steinem Caramanica is suggesting.  Feminism is definitely dedicated to combating domestic violence, but the suggested remedy has never been “Annie, get your gun.”  Violence against women stems from a long history of systematic inequality; the belief that women are second class citizens, economic circumstances that leave women dependent on their partners, and other factors of institutionalized discrimination. 

Even so, homicide is not empowering.  And let's not forget that men are at risk for abuse as well.  It is estimated that at least 3 women and 1 man are murdered as a result of intimate partner violence in this country every day.  Probably more since the release of "Gun Powder and Lead."  Obviously, killing every abusive partner is not an ethical answer or a feasible option.  The playing field needs to be leveled socially, politically, and economically, not just in gun ownership. 

Caramanica was also impressed by Lambert's fearless use of the word "justice" while on stage, which lead to his assumption that Lambert openly supported women's rights.  Meanwhile, Lambert passed on an opportunity to stand up and identify as a feminist, so is it really fair to describe her as launching her own back-woods branch?  Seated on a panel for the LA Lilith Fair press conference this summer, I asked Miranda Lambert and others “who here identifies as a feminist,” and I was answered with silence.  Very telling silence.

(Lilith Fair, July 2010)
 Later, when she took the stage, Lambert sang the very song Caramanica was so enamored with, and I found myself thinking—“Wow.  I’m not sure if I agree with this message.”  Don’t get me wrong.  Years ago, the Dixie Chicks dabbled in revenge with their song “Good-bye, Earl,” which is surprisingly feel-good.  Maybe because Earl was poisoned, rather than shot.  Even so, domestic violence will never be remedied by any means of retaliation.  And rural feminism is just another example of the media confusing privileged women's interests in personal gains with an interest in social change.  Or equating feminism with women that scare them.

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