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
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."

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  • I think fun is okay, so long as one does not compromise their political or moral values. Unfortunately having fun the liberal way requires just that. It requires that you consume pornography and have “subversive” sex (which usually means having sex in a way that involves aggression or degradation) with as many people as possible, or at very least brag about having done these things and encourage other people to do so.

    Fun is not a bad thing, but liberals want it to take priority over other things, like honesty, consistancy and being a morally decent person. Some of them also insist that you can only have fun if you are doing the kinds of things they like. If your life is not full of drunkenness, marajana use, pornography and casual sex, they call you “sheltered” and “boring” and “conventional” (even though their way of behaving is the social convention within colleges/universities.) The fact that the word “partying” (which is supposed to refer to group of people getting together to have fun) is used by young adults to refer almost exclusively to the kinds of behaviour I listed above is a sign of how influencial this mentality is. It’s like we have completely lost sight of the fact that it is possible to have fun without harming your body and mind, not to mention the status of women in society.

    I think people can have fun together while they are fighting for women’s rights, while still taking the issue seriously. When people with a common set of values and aims get together and interact freely, fun is the natural result. Feminists don’t need all that other garbage and they don’t need to go out of their way to make their protests fun, they need to make them effective and relevant to the issue. If people wind up having fun, that should be viewed as a bonus, not the goal.

    I wish I had been there for the launch of the book, I was probably somewhere near it, since I was in the city for the education protest. I wish the book and its authors luck.

    • Clive

      fun is light hearted, self absorbed and non serious it has no place in the work for people’s rights.

  • I want to read this! Good for including the introduction on academia.edu — but i didn’t see a link to the buy page. Might want to add that.

  • Smartpatrol

    “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.”

    Great. Feminists ripping other feminists to shreds for failing arbitrary purity tests. Nothing new about women tearing down other women. How very Feminist Sex Wars / Meet the New Boss Same as the Old Boss of y’all.

    • Meghan Murphy

      What? Who is being ‘ripped to shreds’? And what is the ‘purity test’?

    • The problem is not that choice feminists fail some kind of purity test. The problem is that they are made of a completely different substance (metaphorically speaking.) They do not value and prioritise the same things that radical feminists do. I don’t think liberals should be “torn down” and made to feel bad about themselves and I don’t advocate unnecessary meanness, but people (including women) should be allowed to tell them that they are wrong. Though I guess that in the eyes of most liberals being told you are wrong is the same as being torn down, which tells me that liberal, post-modernist ideology is very closed off to criticism.

      By the way, sex-positive feminists started the “sex wars”. The anti-pornography feminist movement’s aim was to fight against the pornography industry (not against other feminists), but liberal self-proclaimed feminists rushed to the industry’s defence and took action to combat the anti-pornography movement, while purging anti-pornography opinions from their own movement. The anti-pornography movement had to respond. Even the term “sex-positive feminism” is an implied attack on feminists who oppose pornography.

    • Dana

      You’re right. How dare we be offended at the notion that women or women’s parts or secretions should be commodities to buy and sell.

    • genny

      Some women do deserve to be torn down, especially if they are working with the enemy, while making other womens lives that much harder.

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