Monday, June 18, 2012

Why I'm still learning how to be a feminist

I have been among the thousands - or probably millions - of people watching reality TV show The Voice in Australia over the last couple of months.  Unusually for me, I got quite involved in the Twitter stream during each episode.  Probably because at times I found the tweets more entertaining than the show. Especially the sharp minds that came up with scathing and hilarious comments on everything from the shoes to the song choice.

It was all too easy to get caught up in the hype. The conversations about the singing, costumes, the coaches' critiques, and more. But ultimately it was the people; of whom I know nothing other than what the show's producers chose for me to see.

But, as the show ends, none of that is what has really stuck with me.  Somehow, this carefully constructed 'reality' tv program - about an industry that is undeniably image-centric and does as much damage to women as good - became a lesson in feminism.  I've realised both why I declare myself to be a feminist and also why I still have a long way to go.

Lesson 1: power imbalances are visible

I was not the only one to notice that Seal had a (literally) very hands-on approach to his contestants, particularly the female ones.  He cupped their faces in his hands while congratulating them on their performances.  He talked to them about owning their sexuality and expressing it in their music.  He looked at some with thinly-concealed sexual appraisal in his gaze.

All of which might be standard music-industry behaviour.  All of which is probably (as a hapless colleague said to me over lunch one day) "just" Seal being himself, expressing his personality.  All of it done in a hugely public way (although that is preferable to behind closed doors) in front of an audience composed of untold numbers of young people still forming their concepts of gender, relationships, sexuality and healthy boundaries.  And all of it ignoring the glaring power imbalance between this male, older, famous, sex-symbol, music-industry role model and the naive, hopeful, barely-adult and adolescent girls he was coaching.  

I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Seal's character or intentions, but I cannot help but view his actions as problematic, even disturbing.  It might be naive and idealistic of me to hope that people with that kind of social and cultural clout would be not only aware of their power but to use it consciously and judiciously.

But the acid test is a gender reversal: what if Delta Goodrem behaved like that towards her male contestants?  What if one of the young women behaved like that towards one of the male coaches? It could not be dismissed or minimised nearly so easily.

1 comment:

  1. ugh. ugh ugh. and of course that has NOTHING to do with the fact that women have been a form of property for most of history...

    yes, the gender reversal test is a revealing one.