On being a feminist killjoy

This speech was made by Dr. Meagan Tyler on March 25, 2015, in Melbourne, Australia at the launch of Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism.

“I’m a feminist, not the fun kind.”

– Andrea Dworkin

As is customary at a launch, I’ll start with a list of people to thank.

Firstly, I must thank Miranda Kiraly who came to me with an idea for an edited collection all those months ago.

I’d like to thank Professor Sheila Jeffreys for so generously agreeing to launch this book for us tonight, and for sharing her reflections on the decades since The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism conference, back in 1987.

I also owe a huge thanks to all of our contributors. You gave us such fantastic material to work with. We’ve got so many different issues covered in this book: pornography, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, corporate social responsibility, sexual violence, heterosexuality, marriage trafficking, prostitution, and neoliberalism. And that’s not even an exhaustive list.

You’ll notice that the book does have a noticeably high number of Australian contributors, and that is something I am very proud about. I have heard many times over the years that there are no young women writing good, sturdy feminist analysis in this country, but I’m happy to say we certainly found quite a few!

But we also have wonderful contributors from Canada, the US, the UK, and Scandinavia. While we don’t all share exactly the same perspective, what we do share is an intense frustration with what passes for feminism in much of the mainstream media.

Jessica Valenti’s piece in The Guardian today is an excellent example. It’s about the positive possibilities of commodifiying breast milk, or — as she put it — “pumping for cash,” and all in the name of “women’s choice.” It is almost as though she wrote it just to prove our point. Right on the day of the launch.

And I am very glad that we are launching this collection today, because I was very depressed last week. There has — understandably — been so much anger swirling around about the appalling rate of violence against women in Australia and how little those in the public eye seem to know about it and who is responsible for it. So I went to an event where I thought we could put that anger to good use. We gathered together in park. It was supposed to be an act of resistance, but also an act of mourning.

So I winced when I saw a couple, posing for a selfie, grinning while holding a sign about ending the murders of women.

There was definitely an emphasis on making the event fun.

“Make it fun.” “Make it appealing.” We hear that all the time. But I don’t think we require that of other movements for civil rights and liberation. It is the political equivalent of saying “give us a smile, love.” Now I’m aware that this isn’t exactly the greatest recruitment line, but why on earth should fighting against a tide of misogyny and male violence be fun?

And who is the fun for? A performance for the media? An attempt to persuade those who are maybe unsure if women are full human beings, worthy of equal consideration, by having balloons and bouncy castles? Well, it’s not going to work.

So I love this quote from Andrea Dworkin: “I’m a feminist, not the fun kind.” In a strange way, it gives me hope. Hope that we can reclaim a feminism that doesn’t have to apologize for being “branded” badly, or not appealing to everyone, at all times, on all issues. A feminism that doesn’t reduce everything to individual choice just so as not to inadvertently offend anyone, at all, ever.

And maybe fun has its place. But to quote Dworkin again: “I have a really strong belief that any movement needs both radicals and liberals. You always need women who can walk into the room in the right way, talk in the right tone of voice… But you also need a bottom line.”

I sincerely hope that this book helps reinforce that bottom line in conversations about feminism both in Australia and beyond.

Dr Meagan Tyler is an editor of Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism.

Contributors include: Meghan Donevan, Teresa Edwards, Kate Farhall, Shakira Hussein, Natalie Jovanovski, Miranda Kiraly, Julia Long, Finn Mackay, Laura McNally, Meghan Murphy, Caroline Norma, Camille Nurka, Helen Pringle, Kaye Quek, Naela Rose, Laura Tarzia, Margaret Thornton, Meagan Tyler, and Rebecca Whisnant.


Meagan Tyler

Dr Meagan Tyler is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and is the public officer of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia. Meagan is the author of "Selling Sex Short: The sexological and pornographic construction of women’s sexuality in the West" and co-editor of "Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism."