Tuesday, March 14, 2017

feminisms formal and informal, Ethan Iverson interview sparks controversy, and a fearless girl statue gets called out as crass corporate pandering

For those who don't consistently read the blog of the jazz pianist Ethan Iverson ... the last week and a half unfolded with some probably fairly usual internet controversy in the wake of Iverson's interview with one named Glasper.





One of the implications in some (by no means all) of the back and forth on the Iverson interview is that the expectation is that misogyny is, more or less, entirely the purview of people on the right.  Iverson's early self-defensive approach leaned on that a bit and then he understandably had second thoughts and misgivings about whether or not insisting on his progressive/feminist credentials necessarily mattered.

There are plenty of guys on the right who have low views of women ... but what if that trope is part of a problem on the left?  Why would it be that everyone who is to the left of somebody like ... just pick somebody ... is by definition not a misogynist?  It's not as though Christopher Hitchens convinced me when he asserted that women just aren't funny.  Here we are in 2017 able to consider the bicentennial of the death of one of the great comedic genius of English literature, Jane Austen, and Hitchens isn't around for it.  How much of Hitchens' work will or should be remembered two centuries from now? 

People have highlighted how few women Iverson has interviewed.  Now, sure, Higdon could potentially be interviewed.  How about Joan Tower?  As a guitarist I'd lean slightly more toward Annette Kruisbrink or Nadia Borislova--Kruisbrink has written superb chamber music for guitar and double-bass, for instance, and Borislova has written some fun chamber music for clarinet and guitar but neither is anywhere in the zone of the music Iverson seems into.  So it goes.  Perhaps in time we can get around to discussing those two guitarist composers here at this blog.  The backlog of music and arts stuff I've meant to blog about got pretty big while I spent half a decade documenting the life and times of what was once Mars Hill.

Which reminds me, there's all sorts of ways in which it behooves folks on the liberal/left side to not congratulate themselves as automatically being exempt from misogyny because they're not like that guy.  Driscoll and his fan base may be misogynists but they don't see themselves that way, and even if by some astonishing circumstance Driscoll could concede he'd said things that could be construed as misogynistic the defense would be that it's only insulting to compare MEN to women as if that were a negative thing because women being like women is how women should be. 

But ... really ... there are other reasons even from within a left scene to not take the  Iverson or Whedon style feminism as sufficient.  Whedon has lamented recently that all the left seems to know how to do is attack itself.  Well, depends on what gets defined as the left.  There's neoliberalism, it seems.  Then there's progressivism and then there's the Frankfurt scene and then there's old-school Marxists and communists and post-Marxists and ... surely by now you get the idea.  As noted here a few times in the last year it'd be foolish to ignore the fact that the coalitions of the traditional left and right in the United States both crumbled in the post-Cold War period.  One person's powerful feminist statement is another person's crass and opportunistic corporate crony capitalist ruse even if we're talking about just intra-left thought.  The fearless girl statue seemed like crass opportunistic publicity shilling for something to me.  Apparently you don't have to be on the actual left to regard that statue as a mercenary corporate shill.


Last night, I spent half an hour with “Fearless Girl,” the bronze sculpture created by artist Kristen Visbal and installed by financial firm State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) on Wall Street for International Women’s Day. I watched people pose for photos with her in nonstop succession — young and old, male and female, literally everyone wanted their picture taken with “Fearless Girl.” I listened to a young man compare “Fearless Girl” to his sister. I got yelled at by a group of photo-takers for blocking the view of “Fearless Girl” confronting the “Charging Bull.” I heard a man who was shooting a long exposure of “Fearless Girl” strike up a conversation with a nearby woman about the sculpture. “It’s complex,” he said. “It IS complex!” she exclaimed. Another man joined the conversation and offered that “Fearless Girl” was “pretty profound.”
Having witnessed all of this firsthand, I do not think it’s a stretch to say “Fearless Girl” represents basically everything that’s wrong with our society.
Here is the narrative being spun about “Fearless Girl”: An advertising firm and a financial services firm got together to drop a “remarkable,” “guerrilla” sculpture of a young girl in front of Wall Street’s famous “Charging Bull” in the middle of the night. The girl is part of a campaign to encourage companies to increase the number of women on their boards. The girl “is a remarkable evolution for Wall Street.” The girl might even represent “the turning point of gender equality in corporate America.” The girl “celebrates all the people who resisted by staying in place.” If installed permanently, the girl would be “a constant source of strength” for women who work in the vicinity.

That’s fuzzy and inspiring and stuff, but here is the truth about “Fearless Girl”: It features a branded plaque at its base. The companies that installed it had a permit. They are advertising firm McCann New York — whose leadership team has only three women among 11 people, or 27% women — and asset manager SSGA — whose leadership team has five women among 28 people, or 18% women. SSGA is a division of State Street, which has a board of directors that includes only 27% women. SSGA is also, according to Wikipedia, the world’s third-largest asset manager, managing more than $2.4 trillion in assets in 2014. And, like any good capitalist behemoth, it has some shady dealings in its history — like the time the SEC charged State Street with misleading investors during the subprime mortgage crisis. Or the class-action lawsuit brought against it for mismanaging retirement funds. Or the over $64 million that the company agreed to pay in January to settle fraud charges brought by the government, as Nick Pinto pointed out in the Village Voice.

But don’t worry about those cheating Wall Streeters who can’t be bothered to take care with people’s investments and lives — “Fearless Girl” will stop them! She has, as a visitor commented last night, “no doubt” and “no fear”!

I spent International Women’s Day on strike and not looking very much at the news or my phone. When I heard about the stunt, sometime in the evening, I felt offense begin to bore a hole deep in my core. Could there possibly be anything more patronizing than two massive, male-dominated capitalist companies installing a branded statue of the most conceivably non-threatening version of womankind in supposed honor of a day devoted to women’s equality that was founded by the Socialist Party?

No, alas, I think there could not.


Ah, but that was written five days ago.  Three days ago something happened that may or may not have been worse. 

All the same, the point has been presented ,that what passes for feminism these days may not be good enough if it isn't socialist enough, or if it's turned out to be paid for by firms with a history of misconduct. 

So in a way the point of the op-ed was anyone who fell for the fearless girl statue as a symbol of feminism isn't quite left enough.  If Whedon's, say, a third generation screenwriter within the Hollywood scene there might be all sorts of reasons he wouldn't understand why his version of feminism couldn't possibly pass muster with more radical and less Hollywood elite versions of feminist thought.

And while Iverson's a consistently entertaining and readable blogger who often has stuff I like to read as a musician, Iverson seems to have realized his defense from earlier this month came off badly.

Much of the music I've played in the last fifteen years has been church music so Glasper's whole way of describing musical grooves would be something I would scrupulously avoid!

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