The Hawkeye Initiative and the dictum of cultural challenge


I’m writing about this issue because it reflects two things: my fandom for the Marvel Universe, and my enduring admiration throughout much of my life to the many great animated series, games, comic books and even Youtube re-dubs put out by Marvel. I used to be a big fan of the X-Men when I was younger, then was quite a fan of Iron Man and in recent years I’ve come to enjoy the Avengers through their cinematic entry and their recent comicbook tussle with the X-Men (five of which were powered by the Phoenix Force). It comes from this perspective that many people may find it difficult to criticise the things they love.

From about 10 days ago I saw a memetic emergence, in true Susan Blackmore style, a cultural idea was successful enough to be interesting to people that people would wish to replicate it, or reblog to be more specific. This memetic emergence came from (I understand from a trustworthy nerd source) a comparison between a comic book cover of Character Natasha Romanov/Black Widow replaced with the male character Clint Barton/Hawkeye. Many people found the interpretation so powerful that they made their own versions, some looking very low quality (but that’s not really the point) and others are more professional looking mark-ups, transposing ridiculous poses that women are depicted in on the covers of comics, to drawing men in such a fashion.

What Hawkeye Initiative shows
The Hawkeye Initiative, as it came to be known, began to collate a large number of variations on a theme. Not just Marvel comic book covers began to be copied, it became evident that this seemingly humourous transposition of a female character on a comic issue’s cover to a male one reflects the systematic objectification of women in comics. Compared to men, female characters are often in postures which would be difficult to maintain, perhaps physically impossible. The depiction of women often reflect idealised perceptions of what comic writers, artists and what they presume their audience would consider as an idealised female body. The costumes of women, when worn on men in such a way that the Hawkeye interpretations show, reflect the inherent disproportionate treatment of women as sexualised in some kind of enticement towards the audience.

For a long time I was aiming to write a piece on how unrealistic male comic characters are physically, however it seems that it is the case for both men and women characters.

What Hawkeye Initiative means
(image: Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Braddock, or Psylocke action figure. I used to have one this very action figure when I was younger, and it was a very rare find)

The Hawkeye Initiative shows the institutional disadvantage of women in comic book culture. The comics represent many of the gendered values of ordinary society and while some comics can be progressive in political and social ways, gender is a bit of an Achilles’ heel. It should be said that while there is a progressive aspect to the subversion of gender roles embodied in the Hawkeye Initiative series of comic book re-interpretations, a number of people have pointed out the ways in which transgender people could also face the same kind of ridicule in that their bodies at birth may not conform to the percieved norms of how females are depicted in comic books and wider culture. By the way of subverting the posture of say Black Widow or Ms. Marvel and depict it a Hawkeye as point of comedy, it has been seen as a ridicule of those who do not fit the putative conception of a straightforward gender and sex isomorphism. This was brought up on the Tumblr blog and the moderator of the blog acknowledged this as problematic but no specific offense was intended to groups such as those individuals assigned female at birth.

The dictum of cultural challenge

From the Hawkeye Initiative has come talk of the ‘Hawkeye test’ in comics. This is in my view an example of culture as a form of critique, at its best. In many points throughout my blogging and even in my non-blog writings on aesthetics, I’ve spoken of something I’d call the Dictum of cultural challenge, this is the notion that culture insofar as it is worthwhile, should challenge the ills of the status quo. A corollorary of this principle would be: art that makes one see the world in a different way, gives one the potential to think of the world in a different way. Perception in this sense becomes politicised. By noticing the ways in which men are depicted in comic books as a neutralised and non-gendered stance, while women are highlighted as gendered when if their male counterparts are drawn in a similar way the latter looks unusual or (excuse the pun) comical, then there is an asymmetry of our imagination, an inequality of the ways in which we treat gender.
(Image: Nathaniel Essex/Mr. Sinister, what’s more noticable: the menacing nature, or his ‘Mr.’ prefix?)

(Image: Miss Sinister, I think its fair to say that the ‘Miss’ is more noticable than ‘Sinister’)

On balance

Here’s the thing. I still really like Marvel Comics, and I think there are interesting characters of all genders and none. The objectification of women puts off a large audience to very engaging stories and strong characters, such as Major Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel who outranks Captain America, or Ororo Munroe/Storm, who not only faces the challenge of being a mutant in an homo sapien world, but during combat faces her claustrophobia in perilous situations. Thinking about the sexualisation of women also makes me rethink about other female comic characters, such as Vampirella or Witchblade. I wonder how much of the value or appeal of Vampirella would be there without the constant titillation and lecherous behaviour of the vampire men she opposes, or in the case of Witchblade, which of the alter-egos do we consider more challenging to the putative discourse on femininity. One thing is for sure, objectification in comics hurts the audience, the potential audience comics are losing and most of all, its culturally damaging to perpetuate what is essentially a status quo about gender perceptions about physical appearance.


Closing reflections on Hakim’s ‘Erotic Capital’

I know this blog post is about a week later than I intended it. I’m ridiculously busy and spending half the time enjoying my last few weeks of being 25. Doing this book review has reminded me of the importance of sociology as a discipline, including how it can be informative towards feminist and wider gender issue discussions. I have a few specific points I’d address that sum up aspects of my thinking on this book:

What informs our understanding of gender?

Such a general question: what informs gender notions? One of the things about working in a sociological area that hits close to home is that the researcher will have some personal stake or experience in this issue. Gender is arguably one of the few issues that people can escape for better or worse.

Hakimappeals to a variety of sources to create her notion of femina sociologicus [note: Destre told me not to say ‘homo feminis’ due to the absurdity of it] by a variety of qualitative and quantitative sources:

  • Interview histories: some of which Hakim admits details are ‘changed’ for dramatic effect, as well as the standard ethical anonymity reasons. Some of her interviews often tell a story, but seem so contrived and suggestive I feel they are unhelpful. For example, Hakim’s examples of the two sisters (one ugly, one attractive) where one predictably has self esteem issues and is an underachiever, and the other is a social climber.
  • Cultural references: Hakim references a bit of erotica such as ‘The Story of O’ and ‘Secret diary of a call girl’. The point of these references are to establish a sense of zeitgeist of how real people live. Cultural references are a good resource for getting insights on social perspectives and issues, but methodologically speaking lack the rigour of strong operationalism
  • Public health data: This is really the meat of the research that backs up Hakim’s conclusions. One may quibble about the comparison issues of say USA and Finnish datasets or the measuring and melding of the data, but I see this as immaterial to the conclusions made which were coarse grained. The data gives an indication for instance that more male men report a lack of sexual satisfaction than females in the data. When looking at massive datasets, we may entertain exceptions from personal experience or testimony, but as social scientists, one should know better than to regard personal or anecdotal testimony higher than the wider dataset. I thought this point was unhelpfully highlighted when incumbent London Mayor Boris Johnson reported in the Mayoral debate that crime in London was down significantly and a person in the audience reported she’s never seen so much knife crime around her before. This point may have made Boris red in the face, but the data is dispassionately more comprehensive, even if it tells us things we don’t want to accept

Lemma: Ideology and prejudice

I’d like to talk a bit about prejudices now. Prejudices can take a whole variety of forms. A few months ago I was making a music suggestion to someone who will remain nameless of a band they would like. I made this decision on the basis of knowing their interests and wider outlook on life. However it was because I biased the conversation by talking about Black Metal in the same sentence that primed her to say she would immediately not like it. Months later a facebook post magnanimously accepted the bias involved in her initial judgment. Cognitive bias 1, passive aggressive okayguy.

There is currently a book review of Magnanti’s book on Sex Myths which would also point to a greater commitment to ideology than actual facts. Note how few of the empirical points or the methodology are critiqued, and how the review reads as the immortal: ‘it’s not what you said, it’s the way you said it’. Hakim embarrasses feminists. Which feminists, you might ask? As I’m sure Hakim would identify with the advancement of womankind. The ones who are committed to being a vague unspecified feminist. The kind who is like the Christian who refuses to acknowledge that denominations exist and genuine disagreements and disputes can and should exist even among people who are supposed to be allies. It’s one thing to acknowledge your opponents, its another to misunderstand your detractors.

The commitment to an ideology undercuts the commitment to facts, conclusions, or the revision of said ideology. This was a big problem in Adorno’s work where his view on social research was basically anti-methodology and all theory, and even ventured to essentially say that ‘research’ is an undermining conspiracy against his agenda. Antisophie said in a comment earlier this month how when anyone says ‘I believe’ it immediately smells fishy. Nobody should be allowed to say ‘I believe’ in an argument, you either justify your conclusions or you don’t contribute constructively to a discussion. Feminism as an ideology with propositions is definately a bad idea. The immunity to criticism is also really bad. Liberal men have spent hundreds of years adopting this position of engaging in amicable disagreement about the most fundamental notions. It upsets me when there are politicos who refuse to accept a conclusion contrary to their own, solely on the basis that it is not their own. This is dogmatism, and challenging notions such as whether sex work is always criminal, or whether sex work is ‘oppressive to women’ needs to be challenged, opened up and critically considered. Dogmatism has no place in decent social thinking.

The Ski Jumpers

One objection about subcultural research is that it overemphasises the deviants of society. What about people who are boring and not part of a subculture? If we judged solely by media representation the year of 1977 most Londoners would be savage punks opposing the Queen or protogoths in the early 1980s. The point about the Ski Jumpers is that while there were movements of social ‘cool’ credibility through things like subculture, it didn’t affect everyone. In fact, most people wish to overlook the naff fashions of yesteryear, like the Ski Jumper. Likewise, we might think that Hakim is overemphasising erotic capital, even if we concede the data about sexual focus between men and women, or her points about how sex work should be considered a legal enterprise, perhaps for most people it would not change their mundane lives.

Is Hakim overemphasising the place of Erotic Capital for women? My initial thought was that this may only apply to something like the upper 2-4% of attractive women. However Hakim would have a reply to this, in the idea of upper class ideals and virtues filtering down social classes. Hakim links this to the idea of Elias Norbert’s take on the historical process of social etiquette which was initially held by aristocratic classes that was then filtered down to other social classes through guidebooks. Erotic capital could also have a ‘filtering’ process, it may be the upper percentile of extremely attractive women who provide the recipe of success that can in some ways be replicated such as good manners, social attractiveness, improving coded signifiers of attractiveness like jewelry, hairstyle, fitness etc. In that way, highly attractive people who use erotic capital successfully act as trendsetters or shepherds for others to follow as a guide of erotic capital’s successful execution. My initial critical thought is therefore addressed.

I also think it is fascinating how Hakim links Hoschild’s work on ‘The Managed Heart’ as a piece of microsociology to the macrosociological theme of Elias’ social filtering. Methodologically speaking, Hakim tries to breach the qualitative/quantitative gap, as well as the micro-macro in the social. feminis socialis is both homo sociologicus and homo economicus.

Phsyiognomy, the worrying conclusion

Hakim alludes to Erotic Capital as if it were like the process of Shaw’s Pygalion, transforming from a peasant to a queen. If there was a 19thC English writer that I’d allude to with Erotic Capital, it’s Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a story of a man trapped by his beauty, but also simultaneously blessed by his beauty. The world of Hakim’s erotic capital is quite a cynical one. A world that says that the pretty candidate gets the job in an interview; the most attractive barrister wins the case and that your looks will be an asset or a discredit in the same way that say, your economic background or education might.

In essence I think that Hakim has not discovered a new way of female emancipation from men by manipulating their sexual urges to benefit the former. Rather, she’s unveiled a new form of discrimination. There’s no legal opponent for not discriminating on the basis of one’s looks, and in the most intimate of competitions (sexual), that is the truest of judges.

I put forward the normative question: is that really how we want to judge society and our values as modern people of today? Hakim would say yes, and point to how private sector employees tend to have a beauty premium over those in public sector, where looks are valued in commercial ventures. The problem with Hakim’s world is not that she’s given us the wrong depiction of the social reality, the problem is that it looks like she’s right. More than anything this is the worrying concern. A similar problem with Goffman’s ontology, where is the authenticity of the social in the interaction-based world of erotic capital? How much of the real person is behind all that flirting and nice presentation for others?

When Goffman shows intricately the ways in which the ‘front’ stage of social performance permeates so much, I think how in the early 21st century the personal has become commodified: people can talk about what they’ve had for breakfast on Twitter or Facebook and even though these experiences are immensely personal (and mundanely boring), they immediately lose rights to those thoughts and ideas, as they become official data owned by Facebook and privacy is diminished. The cultural focus on the personal in television programs such as documentaries which try to document how people feel in their experiences, or the proliferation of 24 hour media even further limit the scope of privacy or authenticity for public officials and significants, for they are always on ‘stage’. So too is the social presence to want to be these celebrities. We are always on the front region of Goffman’s stage and Erotic Capital shows how one of the most personal worlds we inhabit (our sexuality, attractiveness and set of social intentions) are essentially a commodity.

Perhaps many women may read Erotic Capital as a guide to social and economic advancement, I read it as a pessimistic reminder of how authenticity is under attack.


Reviewing the book reviews (continued): Male erotic capital, sex work, puritanism and cynicism

Continuing the look at the reviews and pieces on Hakim’s ‘Erotic Capital’, I look at Will Self’s review of the book, and the response from Quiet Riot Girl of Guardian Watch. Before that I might just give an honourable mention to a very peculiar interview described by The Guardian’s Zoe Williams. I just feel bemused at the way this interview seemingly happened. Also looking at Self’s review and QRG’s response to it, I think perhaps some thematic concerns should address this post:

On Sex Work

Will Self’s review highlights the claim that Hakim makes that sex work should not be demonised, and it would seem that Self is inclined to agree. However, Self does seem to feel a sense of mourning or acknowledge a loss of innocence from addressing the reality that ‘Erotic Capital’ portrays, through Hakim’s notion of female gender empowerment through sexual empowerment. QRG also addresses this as a form of a backward step in the journey towards equality.  Self rightly points out how Hakim creates strange bedfellows of radical feminists and the religiously conservative, and how they have similar views on the public display of feminine sexuality.

On Anglo-saxon sexual puritanism

Hakim gives the example of a line from Orwell’s 1984 that the most radical thing a person can do is engage in their sexuality, which is what Winston Smith does as his form of rebellion against the all-controlling state. Williams tries to push Hakim on this point and the latter does not respond so well on this issue. Williams notes how Hakim is initially reluctant to give examples of ‘french and german feminists’ who are apparently so much more liberal and realistic about sexuality than anglo-american feminists. Hakim in ‘;Erotic Capital’ addresses the cultural differences between anglophone women and their european sisters in sexual attitudes and even in the statistics on extra marital affairs (the section in that book is very explorative on a subject that people wish to pretend doesn’t exist).

There is some merit to the sexual puritanism thesis, which Williams does concede to agree with, but Hakim refuses in the interview to co-operate about any other questions on this topic, such as cross-cultural comparisons (Hakim briefly in her own book addresses a few). I have a suspicion that Hakim’s puritanism as an historical thesis is as broad and generic as Weber’s ‘Protestant ethic’, but it also may be subject to criticisms similar to the ones put to Weber: namely, the question of alternative cultural histories.

On men

What about the men? Aren’t men erotic capital-ists too? This is the point that QRG makes. Hakim does address this to some extent with a few anecdotes (such as an older woman who discover her erotic capital after a neighbour makes a sexual advance on her, then turns him down and considers the option of being sexually involved with a younger man). Being a man myself, I was considering that male erotic capital has a place alongside that of women. Hakim acknolwedges this and the objection that QRG holds is correct, but it isn’t really an objection because its already taken up. I get the impression that QRG didn’t read the book herself (but she does admit to reading a couple of Hakim’s other academic articles).

Male erotic capital can be seen in all kinds of places: gay culture, celebrities and Hakim goes into some detail about notable attractive men (David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and one of my favourite celebrity men: George Clooney). The difference is between men and women, that men may have erotic capital, but it is the perceiver who grants that sexual and social power. Women have so much erotic capital because men are always gagging for it (to put it crudely), and (male) gay culture  which has much of an emphasis on looks (such as fasination with body archetypes such as the clones, bears and twinks). Heterosexual men only would have erotic capital if women desired them, and the stats show that women tend to be less sexually focused so proportionately it is women who have most to gain from exploiting their looks, compared to men. That’s not of course to say men do not use erotic capital either, just that its not as big a part of an inventory.

The Goffmanesque cynic conclusion

Day’s critique is an example of how not to review a book. I’m reminded of a story told in my undergraduate class on Goffman, that one objection to Goffman in the reception to presentation of self in everyday life is that Goffman is ‘too clever by half’. The meaning of that response never seemed clear to me at the time. Sometimes the problem with a work of sociology is not that its wrong in some way, but the horrifying conclusions of if it is right. Goffman’s ‘presentation of self’ is a great example of this. The world of social agents becomes more of a drama, where we are all performing roles. The critical question becomes: where is the human in this world of agency? Likewise, if we are in a world obsessed by looks, where is equality? In a sense, equality comes from the random distribution of attractiveness. Good looks entail social upward mobility, in the same way that intelligence used to. In that way there is an equality of random distribution. As a moral or social equality, a world obessed by looks highlights the ways in which social attitudes are horribly judgmental. Consider for instance, the saying that there has not been a bald US president in the television age, or the fact that US presidents have become taller over the years.

Signs of attractiveness fuel the voyeuristic media age, Hakim is pointing to a social narrative of image and its importance. If we are to treat the pretty in such favourable ways, what may we do about the disfigured? Hakim’s erotic capital may read like the horrible antithesis of Goffman’s Stigma, but instead of addressing disfigurement, we are in an big brother house asylum of popularism and judgment by good looks. If we are to accept the myths of attractiveness, which are to some extent inecapable, we face a degree of psychological damage. I end this post by sharing this video:


Feminism, a counterpoint: On bell hooks’ ‘Feminism is for Everybody’

Since the blog ‘A Year of Feminist Classics’ started their monthly online reading group last year, I’ve tried to follow a few of their books that I could find easily. In this post I will consider Feminism as construed by bell hooks in the book ‘Feminism is for Everybody’. In particular I will frame her understanding of feminism in a way that is completely antithetical as a response to social and cultural inequalities to my favourite social thinker: Theodor Adorno

bell hooks defines Feminism essentially as a commitment to the end of sexist oppression. This is such a vague definition it allows for a variety of feminisms. One of the overriding themes of hooks’ book is that there are different kinds of feminisms within the unitary aegis of the label ‘feminism’. Once the influence of some feminist ideas and social and legislative reforms came to pass, a counter-discourse, or several counter-discourses emerged to critique the former reformer feminists as disingenuous and appealing to their sense of priviledge. Priviledge and the appeal to priviledge is something I don’t quite understand in this literature, but it serves as a way of pointing out how one form of oppression may take place even in a critical discourse.

There are at least three ways in which my experience of reading hooks’ ‘Feminism’ is utterly different to my ongoing read of Adorno. Firstly, Feminism, much like Liberation Theology or the committed socialist Marxists, consider activism and social reform as essential to the movement, as well as the ‘theory’ that underlies it. Secondly, feminism is distinctly optimistic. Thirdly and finally, feminism, according to hooks, has a commitment to accessibility in terms of the understandable nature of the ideas and proposals addressed, and in co-opting all people (women across all divides and men).

Feminism as praxis; Adorno as theoria

Feminist movements, feminist literature and feminist ideas, in its 19thC inception through to today emphasise activist activity. To call for the end of sexist oppression is to call for a state of affairs in the world. Feminism shares much with Marxism in that it calls for action and change, as well as a theoretical understanding of the world (cf. Feuerbach’s 11th thesis).

Action is important, because what is wanted is a better world. This may seem obvious to some but one must appreciate that there are many who are invested in the status quo for a variety of reasons. It would seem according to hooks, that there is a certain amount of division of labour within the feminist movement, there is a place for all levels of activity, from theorising in the academy, to large scale reform and grassroots movement. hooks calls for feminist television channels and radio for example. Since the book was written in 2000, I wonder what the author would think of Anita Sarkeesian’s ‘Feminist Frequency’ or the influential role of the bloggosphere.

The role of praxis seems almost entirely absent in the work of Adorno. Adorno is committed to the analysis of culture and the way in which the oppressive nature of capitalism is maintained through mass media (the culture industry). By contrast to the likes of Horkheimer or Mercuse, Adorno seems distinctly committed to the all encompassing influence of capitalism in such a powerful way that the reform towards more egalitarian relations is increasingly difficult to achieve. Adorno is, as I would bluntly put it, a Marxist without the communist revolution. It is very much in following his intellectual forebears Weber, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, pessimistic.

Optimism versus pessimism

Feminism strives for a better world, and it should be said that the conditions have vastly changed in the reform of the social, legalistic and economic conditions of women. hooks points out that these changes for women should raise the question ‘changes for whom?’. For example, the place of contraceptive measures has liberated the sexuality of many women in allowing them to be more forthcoming about their sexuality, but this is only for a section of the female population for whom contraceptives are affordable or culturally viable. Even when advancing the dialectic of feminist critique through class, ethnic and lesbian discourses, reform is implicitly implied through advancing the feminist conversation. Inherent to the feminist cause is the possibility and actuality of social change towards the elimination of sex based oppression.

This is an interesting counterpoint to Adorno, who leaves very little in the sense of social and economic reform. There are glimmers within Adorno’s thought to suggest that there is a limited possibility for social criticism in culture, and even though Adorno addresses a largely different discourse to gender inequality, he hardly thought that radically positive change would happen in the condition of capitalism. Adorno takes an almost Kantian turn in looking at the conditions of possibility when it came to the mass media, and in looking at the conditions of possibility for the subsuming of culture under capitalism, also sets the conditions for its downfall, and such conditions are far too tight to give much optimism about change.

The role of accessibility

The most amusing aspect of comparison is accessibility. There are two senses of access that hooks considers. Firstly there is the accessibility of understanding, that feminism as an idea is presented in simple readable language that people can understand whatever their education level is. hooks even suggests the importance of audiobooks for promoting the message to the non-literate, I’m quite a fan of the audiobook as a medium. hooks insinuates at various points that while the presence of feminist academics is a great way of establishing institutional status and credibility for the movement, there is a risk of alienating their materials in the technical jargon and difficult language of the academic that prevents the ordinary person from reading and understanding it.

I have a few things to say about the importance of certain insights from feminist theory, namely, the role of sympathy, and the benefit of gender reflexibity on the history of philosophy or the methodological insights that can come from a gender sensitivity to the construction of knowledge, but I’ll leave that to another post perhaps as that is not confined within hooks book. To be an intellectual within an activist movement means to communicate to an audience who has a set goal for a concrete outcome, as such, communicability is vital. Accessibility is deeply linked to activism. I have noticed on the occupy websites for instance that one of their ground rules is to aim to communicate in a way that is understandable for many people.

What of Adorno on this regard? Well, Adorno is notoriously difficult to understand and I think that is what motivates much of the criticism from many later people to call him ‘elitist’. Adorno’s alleged elitism comes from the influence of philosophy and social theory; psychoanalysis and serialist modernism. To understand Adorno’s critique of society means that it would help to also understand expressionism. Were it not for my interest in Kant, sociology and the music of schoenberg, as well as my cultural outlook that despair is the most fundamental expression relevant to the contemporary world, I probably wouldn’t read Adorno. I hardly keep accessibility in mind when I am familiar with many of the authors and ideas that he refers to (but not all, it should be said).

Adorno writes as an academic. Adorno even acknowledges his priviledge as an academic author in the essay “Free Time”. There comes a point in understanding an issue where it is necessarily complicated, and being impenetrable to the general public seems a distantly difficult goal. This is of course, the goal of anyone who tries to publically promote an academic discourse, many do so by glossing over certain things or just getting to the punchline. For many issues this is not very easy. I wonder if there is a link between his pessimism of social change to the difficult way in which he writes.

hooks uses accessibility in a second sense, in trying to get more people involved with feminism and that they can see it as something relevant to them or something that they can contribute to. One thing that I find interesting about hooks’ other sense of accessibility is something I did not suspect, namely men. Men are apparently important to the feminist movement. hooks states that men can help in a few specific aspects, through activism and through their everyday understanding of the world through gender (for instance, if they are involved with the upbringing of children or engaged in relationships with women). As a man reading this book, seems to me that it is important to be self conscious of gender, not only in observing it in the world, but in one’s own behaviour and beliefs.

Final Remarks: other aspects of feminism

In self-reflection, we need to take account of our own internal sexisms, this may be learned or developed. Sometimes the perpetrators of sexism are themselves women, and the battle to eliminate sexism may involve confrontations with women upholding patriarchy. Reflexivity is a crucial aspect of the movement, and I would say further, any activist cause. Consciousness raising is a related and important aspect of the feminist discourse. In identifying and calling out instances of patriarchy or the cultural assumptions present in culture, we may discover the underlying values and ideology of the discourses in everyday life and the mass media. Consciousness raising is an aspect of the feminist cause that is perhaps the most understandable to a wider audience, for instance noticing how children’s products are marketed differently between the genders, or how toys for children reflect cultural assumptions such as the passivity of females and the activity of males.

One ongoing theme of my own thought is the important role of pessimism, both in the sense of (a lack of) positive social change as well as in the Schopenhauer sense of an ethical insight to frame one’s life. My growing interest in feminism comes from consciousness raising, but it may stop at the way it conflicts with my pessimism. In emphasising the activist component of the feminist movement, hooks frames the disagreements between feminists as a dispute on the way to achieving the shared goal of eliminating sexist prejudice. Certainly more can be said on the theoretical import that feminism might bring, but perhaps I’ll leave that for another post. I find it really refreshing and challenging that feminism for many people is an activist cause rather than an armchair pursuit. Many feminist identifying groups have been very good at the DIY punk style ethic of activism. But will it stop me from being a pessimist? I’ll leave that for future posts to try and work that one out.