The Occasional Journal

Love Feminisms

November 2015


Alice Tappenden, Ann Shelton

It’s easy to get disheartened about feminism. As a movement and political cause, it’s made significant advances in past decades, but despite the endorsement of popular figures like Emma Watson,1 Hilary Clinton,2 and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,3 when it comes to the crunch there are still plenty of people who don’t want to put their hands up and identify as feminists. Our very own Minister for Women, Louise Upston, for example, told mainstream media in 2014 that she’s never called herself a feminist, and doesn’t “ever want anyone to look at me and say ‘she’s there because she’s a female’.”4 Anonymous commenters espouse extreme views on the internet, pushing for a change of terminology from “feminism” to “egalitarianism”, lamenting that there’s no focus on men’s rights too, and arguing that feminism is “hijacking civil liberties in your country.”5 When teaching, we’ve been alarmed at the small number of female students who raise their hands when asked if they identify with the word feminist. Perhaps this is due to a perception that the main battles have already been won, that they believe feminism doesn’t affect them or has no relevance, that feminists hate men, or that the expectations of being a feminist aren’t something they could possibly live up to.

At Enjoy, we thought that surely, we weren’t part of the problem. When Wellington writer Kari Schmidt submitted her research-based essay for this edition of the Enjoy Occasional Journal, however, we were genuinely surprised at the results she uncovered. For, despite the fact that over the years Enjoy has held many exhibitions by artists who would almost certainly call themselves feminists, and who address concerns associated with wider feminist discourses, we found out that the words “feminist” or “feminism” have never been used in the press material for an exhibition held here. Could feminism, then, still be a dirty word? Or is it just not seen as a relevant way to describe these artists and their practices? This year, Enjoy is turning 15, and at this age it seems timely that we grow up a little; that we address these questions head on. What does feminism mean to our community? What does it mean to be a feminist, and a “real” or “good” one at that?

In our initial callout for exhibition and journal proposals, we framed our invitation around the fact that as we see it, feminism in the mainstream media and in much public discourse is still a limited discussion. It often favours the ideology of liberal feminism and its representation of equality for women within existing hierarchical and capitalist structures, or the more sensational aspects of radical feminist dialogue surrounding the rights to display and access women’s bodies: discussions around pornography, abortion rights and domestic violence. In doing so, a westernised, pākehā middle-class version of feminism is privileged. This privileging of one “brand” of feminism over others sets up a division between feminists of different denominations, one we need to recognise. The presumption that there’s only one kind of feminism—and indeed, that the precise definition of feminism is often unclear—alienates those who identify differently, and puts off many of those students from raising their hands in class. By embracing the plural version of the term, Feminisms, we’ve made a conscious decision to acknowledge manifold positions. The resulting exhibition and participatory project series, Enjoy Feminisms, and this journal, Love Feminisms, represent examples of those positions that are alignment and those that are in conflict. We acknowledge that our offering is particular to this place, and represents only a handful of the many possible discourses and perspectives of feminisms. Those that are represented here include ecofeminism, Pacific feminism, mana wahine, intersectionality, cyberfeminism, design feminism, transfeminism, historical feminism, Middle Eastern feminism, Sri Lankan feminism, queer identity politics, menstruation in contemporary art, and the feminism of Mad Max: Fury Road. The titles we’ve chosen—Enjoy and Love—are deliberately generous in spirit, but beneath those titles are critically rich, crucial, and sometimes challenging engagements with significant issues for feminists of all persuasions.

Signing off from us, Love Feminisms is not intended to close the conversation, but instead, to start one.