Much as we wanted, we at Bitch were unable to attend the V to the Tenth celebration in New Orleans last week. So I asked Bitch friend Annie Lipsitz to write up a quick report-back. Here it is...
NOLA feminism's big, but not always easy
By Annie Lipsitz
On Saturday, we spent the morning at an ACORN affordable housing fair in the Ninth Ward and in the afternoon we went to the Superdome for Superlove and the V to the Tenth celebration. Over a week later, after leaving New Orleans, I've been struggling with what to write for this post. I so so so badly wanted to stick it to Eve and Oprah and Donna and Jane, and Victoria and her secret, but I must admit that I've come off my high horse. I'll say it; I think V to the Tenth was great. I think it celebrated women from the Gulf South who've had a helluva time putting their lives back together. Who am I to say these women didn't want a massage or a makeover after their years of hard work before and after the storm? It was the feel-good, celebratory, vagfest it set out to be. I do, however, still have some complaints.
My beef isn't the intention or even the myriad outcomes of the event and the VDay campaign more broadly. It's woman-centered, no doubt, but as Debbie posted just last week re: the WAM! Conference, anything with the connotations and dare I say label of feminism attached to it that doesn't critically examine capitalism and consumerism just isn't feminism to me.
By having corporate sponsors and offering beauty makeovers, one could argue that V to the Tenth was, in part, peddling an idea of corporate feminism built on capital and an ideal of beauty and wealth. By having free giveaways of Victoria Secret lipstick, were women encouraged to try this and then buy some more?
Why not, instead of a beauty room (that's what it was actually called), have a room akin to the ACORN affordable housing fair? Why not offer information on local businesses and organizations that offer support and services to deal with the real and persistent needs of the community. Heck, even have another massage and wellness room, but make this one NOT sponsored by Donna Karan and her "upper-class women pay a lot of money to buy my clothes" Urban Zen Foundation.
As I write this, though, I'm struggling with the in the system/out of the system decision countless feminists have to make. Yes, V to the Tenth was underwritten by corporate, consumerist capitalism, but if that is the system with which we are presented, why not take advantage and make the most of it? Shit, if Donna Karan wants to throw a lot of money at a wellness room, then who am I to complain? If Eve Ensler wants to put together a star-studded event, Oprah included, (who apparently did not end up coming due to "illness"), and that is what gets people off their butts and into activism, then bring it on! Of course, I don't whole-heartedly believe that, but these are questions worth posing as a feminist activist living in a world largely driven by capital and Hollywood.
It's also worth noting that ACORN doesn't explicitly call itself a feminist organization. The organizers and volunteers in New Orleans definitely have a gender perspective specifically based on their personal experiences, but the organization as a whole does not posit "women" as a specific constituency or "gender" as a category of analysis. Of course, there are myriad ACORN chapters and affiliates, and each is comprised of thousands of individuals working on different campaigns, some arguably feminist and some not. A feminist analysis of ACORN also speaks to the question of whether or not "feminist" equals "gender." Is an explicit gender analysis necessary for something to be considered feminist?
I think in any sort of social justice work—organizing, celebrating women and vaginas, makeovers…oh wait…—there needs to be room for pointing out flaws and criticisms. This holds for any and every implicit and explicit feminist event and activity we encounter. Ultimately, V to the Tenth and the ACORN fair were both smash successes, but I'm left wondering if the benefits outweigh the feminist shortcomings?
Sidenote: This week in New Orleans, George Bush is meeting with the presidents of Canada and Mexico to discuss, among other things, NAFTA and the expansion of free trade in the Americas. Don't worry though, because free trade is usually pretty good for women, people of color, indigenous communities, and poor people.