Vivienne Westwood is an interesting character. Despite being a hugely successful female entrepreneur, as well as caring about some sociopolitical issues, she’s often hesitated to call herself a feminist. In a recent interview with The Telegraph UK, she further explained her position:
…Is she a feminist? She says not, because she doesn’t see why women in ‘the privileged world’ need to be. She can’t see the point of fulminating and agitating in order to prove that you are as good as a man. ‘Another reason is because I live in the privileged world I would never accept the idea that somehow I am a victim of society. Just by being born a woman!’ But she definitely feels that ‘women in – other cultures, let’s call it – should be supported. And in our culture if they are somehow in the position of victims. But I think men are victims just as much really and I think in our society it would be really scary to be a man.’
Let’s boil this down. Vivienne Westwood is not a feminist because she doesn’t think women “in the privileged world” are victims. But she still supports helping women in “other cultures,” i.e. the third world. Or women who are “somehow victims” in our world. Hmm.
I’m not sure what world she’s talking about when she says “the privileged world.” Is it the developed world? Or simply the wealthy upper-class world in which she moves? Let’s take it to mean “the developed world.” In any case, I think this is interesting, because it gets at the oft-repeated idea of victimhood. Somewhere along the line, people began to equate wanting social, financial, and political equality to walking around feeling like victims all the time. Is this necessarily the case, though?
Personally, feminism makes me feel like the opposite of a victim. It makes me feel like I have agency in the same society which constantly tells me to hate my body, the same society in which I didn’t even try to lock up someone for sexually assaulting me because I knew the odds were stacked against me. The same society where men constantly act like my body is public property. By participating in feminist actions, I’m refusing to be a victim and doing something about the things that piss me off. Because contrary to what Ms. Westwood says, there’s still work to be done, even for privileged people like myself.
Of course, our oh so developed world also includes many queer women, women of color, disabled women, and transgender women who find themselves at the intersection of many more problems than I do, from the way they’re represented in the media, to the way they’re treated by the cops. Is she including them in her statement? Weirdly enough, someone who thinks she’s transcended feminism has brought up a criticism that’s often been leveraged at modern feminism by those who might be seen as radical feminists: a feminism that only concerns itself with bourgeois things like electoral politics and getting promotions at work is not very useful to much of the population. Hence, we need a truly intersectional feminism that concerns itself with the needs of the most marginalized people first. That way, we know that everyone’s being included in the fight, not just the white, cisgender, career-oriented feminists that have historically been the face of the movement.
(That said: the feminist movement was started and popularized by flawed, myopic, and even racistÂ bourgeois women. I don’t think they’re great role models, but they do play an important role in our history.)
And then there’s the curious separation Westwood makes between herself (a non-victim) and others (victims). She’s willing to advocate for the needs of oppressed people, but she doesn’t think that makes her a feminist. Whereas I think it absolutely does. Think about the difference between coming into a situation and saying “I, a non-victim, am going to help you, a victim, out of the goodness of my heart,” and fighting for your fellow humans because you realize you have common interests and you’d want someone to do it for you, were your roles reversed. (I am always with the common interests lately.) And it’s not just about who has a vagina. Personally, my interest in feminism is part of a greater humanism that wants equality for everyone. A pie in the sky goal, but a worthy one.
So thank you, Vivienne Westwood, for giving me a chance to talk about some of the issues you very tangentially touched upon. I understand your reluctance to name yourself as a member of a movement that’s most needed by people less fortunate than yourself. But it needs all the solidarity it can get, and it’s hardly going to kick you out just because aren’t its primary focus. If anything, I’m sure it could use some of your snazzy clothes and talent for PR. Plus, money. It could really use your money.
TL;DR: There is definitely a place for the wealthy in feminist and otherwise radical politics. Stop feeling guilty for your insane good luck, and start using your vast and potentially very helpful resources to make the world a better place.
(Via The Telegraph)