Lest a month go by without feminist bloggers talking about each other's breasts, "Boobgate 2006" was revived today by HuffPo's Liz Funk. The post titled "Feministing: Feminist? Or Just Ing?" (exactly what that means, we're not sure) examines last month's flap between feminist law blogger Ann Althouse and Feministing's frontwoman Jessica Valenti. The skirmish -- previously detailed here -- started when Althouse derided a photo of Valenti and several other bloggers with Bill Clinton. Althouse criticized Valenti's "three-quarter pose and related posturing"; she then followed up with a post titled "Let's Take a Closer Look at Those Breasts" and set in on Feministing for being a "breastblog."
Funk revives the fray, it seems, to address the role sex plays in feminism. It's a valid aim that is unfortunately foiled by some good ol' female-baiting. She starts in by detailing Valenti's attire in the Clinton/blogger photo: "She is wearing a figure-hugging cable-knit sweater. But she's not in a little blue dress, either." And if she were? Here we are, right back to the most troubling sentiment behind Althouse's original rant: What a woman thinks, feels, or says, is never quite as important as the way she looks, chooses to dress, or who she's sleeping with. Again, it's any woman in the near vicinity of Clinton who is judged for his infidelity -- not Clinton himself.
She also describes the Feministing staff as "perky, educated (and cute) young women" and then goes on to assert that "nearly everyday, [the site] is updated with risqui and often sexually implicative content." Let's be accurate here: For roughly every post about vibrating appliances is one about political chauvinism in Zimbabwe -- and then there's a whole lot in between.
Funk posits that Feministing may use sex to attract attention. She writes, "Sex sells... and women buy it." (Well, not according to some reports.) Indeed, Feministing employs sexual imagery. But, typically, it's meant to be subversive or ironic, as with Feministing's curvaceous mud-flap girl giving the one-fingered salute.
Of course, though, this debate isn't anything new. Erin Matson, the co-chair of that National Organization for Women Young Feminist Task Force, told Funk, "This controversy is a rehashing of a very old debate within the feminist community: is public sexuality empowering or harmful to women? [S]ome feminists may disagree with the stance taken by many of Feministing's writers, but let's reserve the word 'anti-feminist' for our real enemies." Funk then sharply elaborates: "The criticisms of the sexuality of Feministing omit a critical part of Feministing's context: feminists are obsessed with sex. Some of the major feminist issues, from reproductive rights, to stopping sexual violence, to promoting positive images of women in media almost always pertain to sex." Indeed, the discussion of sex and sexuality is implicit in feminist discourse.
What's most depressing about this controversy is that rigorous infighting in the feminist blogosphere is too often limited to attacks on appearance and sexuality that deem some women unworthy of feminism. That's why the kicker at the end of Funk's post is so perplexing: "When we hear Paris Hilton say, 'Feminism: that's hot,' we'll know feminists are in trouble." When Paris Hilton is deemed an inadequate member of the feminist movement but, say, Eve Ensler is considered worthy, I start to feel like feminism has been co-opted as the Mean Girls' table in a high school cafeteria.
I can agree with Althouse on one point, though. She says, "Maybe if feminists had the nerve to engage in real debate about feminism they could get some young people excited about real ideas." Agreed. So, let's stick to discussing the issues, not each other's breasts.