‘Let Me Hear You Depoliticise My Rhyme’: Queer Feminist Cultural Activisms and Disruptions of Conventional Protest

Downes, Julia (2008). ‘Let Me Hear You Depoliticise My Rhyme’: Queer Feminist Cultural Activisms and Disruptions of Conventional Protest. In: Davy, Zowie; Downes, Julia; Eckert, Lena; Gerodetti, Natalia; Llinares, Dario and Santos, Ana Cristina eds. Bound and Unbound: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Genders and Sexualities. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 181–200.

URL: http://www.cambridgescholars.com/bound-and-unbound...


Many, feminist identified and not, commentators have criticised contemporary feminism as lacking a strong public presence. In his summary of the British women's movement, Paul Byrne asserts that in the contemporary British landscape, 'the autonomous women's movement has largely disappeared' (1997, p.127). In a similar vein, Ruth Lister draws attention to what she terms the 'lack today of a collective, big 'F' feminist movement', constructing contemporary feminists as isolated and deprived from collective support(2005, p. 457). This belief, however, is not restricted to intellectual opinion as repeated assertions of the 'death of feminism' are a regular feature in the mass media (Hawkesworth 2004). This has led to a surge of soul searching and anxiety amongst women's movement participants, often leading to the question 'what happened to the women's movement?' (Epstein 2001; Staggenborg and Taylor 2005). In this chapter, I wish to draw attention to the potentially problematic tenets upon which claims for an active feminist movement are made. I argue that 'bounded' conventional conceptions of what constitutes 'legitimate' activisms and feminisms can be (re)produced within these accounts. In particular, reliance upon the contentious politics approach within social movement studies (McAdam and Tilly 2001; Tilly 2004) tends to privilege social movement strategies that are public, national, and state-focused. Perpetuating these conceptualisations of conventional protest tactics and targets, silences the contemporary presence and legacy of 'un-bounded' unconventional activist tactics within feminism, which push for social change in locations beyond the state's gaze. In the UK and US, feminist activists are engaging in cultural production strategies and grassroots organisation, to expose and resist the cultural invalidation of women in art and film worlds (Guerilla Girls,Big Miss Moviola, Birds Eye View) and music culture (Riot Grrrl, Ladyfest, Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls).Therefore, I wish to advance an understanding of queer feminist protest forms (Roseneil 2000). These tactics challenge multiple authorities through an engagement with a plethora of cultural, performative and discursive forms of resistance. Allowing for a dynamic set of tools within which hegemonic cultural norms of genders and sexualities are exposed, resisted and transgressed. I argue that research on contemporary feminist activism needs to broaden its definitions of activism and protest, to attend to the shifting targets and tactics of feminist activism. To re-situate contemporary feminist activism as an 'un-bound' dynamic praxis which responds to changes in social, cultural, political and technological climates (Staggenborg and Taylor 2005).This chapter also encounters the various causes, conflicts and contexts in which claims for the death of a contemporary feminist movement can emerge. This exploration inevitably confronts diverse tactics of 'soft repression' that aim to disarm feminist identification and dismiss the threat of feminist activism within industrial democracies (Ferree 2004). The issues feminism gives voice to run the risk of becoming incorporated, and some would say neutralised, in governmental committees, academic feminism, popular culture and organisations. This creates a situation where it is possible to talk about and gain empowerment from feminist issues, albeit in a depoliticised manner, often avoiding explicit references and involvement with feminist politics and activism altogether. This cultural shift is accompanied by a crisis within the contemporary feminist milieu, wherein the impacts of post-structuralism, queer theory and post-modernism has fragmented the feminist movement. It has become increasingly difficult to identify a coherent feminist subject or feminist activism. This dilemma in feminist subjectivities has led to a critical reconstitution of feminism, often associated with the 'third wave', that questions what it means to be a feminist, what issues are feminist issues, and what feminist activism should look and sound like. In this contemporary location the boundaries of feminist activism have become critical sites for the continuous discipline and negotiation of feminisms. In particular, I interrogate the constructions of 'authentic' feminist subjectivities within 'generational' debates and tensions between so-called 'second wave' and 'third wave' feminisms, drawing upon my own (and others) experiences as a 'third wave' feminist cultural activist in the UK. In order for a fuller recognition of feminist activism the benefits of dialogue and 'radical openness' (Purvis 2004) will be briefly explored. Generational divisions are challenged through re-situating 'third wave' strategies within ahistorical feminist legacy. Forms of social protests that engage decentralised targets of social and cultural experience to resist hegemonic genders and sexualities often termed as 'third wave', can be reconceived as a continuation and defence of radical feminist possibilities in a contemporary UK context.

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