I really want to understand Helen Razer’s take on the Lingerie Football League, I really do, because I admire her writing style and her intellectual rigour so much. However, it makes no sense to me and on first reading it left me despairing. Besides the fact that I had to look up the word “syllogistic” in the dictionary (and still don’t fully understand it), I just don’t get why Razer and some other feminists seem to be falling over each other to defend the LFL. I also don’t understand their seemingly wilful dismissal of voices against the LFL as “the morals police”, when in fact we are not arguing on grounds of the moral but on grounds of the political.
I’ve read bits and pieces of Foucault and other writers Razer likes to reference, and understood even less, so I am not able to debate with her on an equal footing, but I will attempt to summarise her argument and explain why I disagree.
Razer is of the view that the LFL is not so much sexist but distasteful. She likens it to pole dancing and bar fighting, and says that it is not sexist when compared with wage disparity or, in her humorous wisdom, Neighbours. (Razer does not explain why feminism should be concerned with the “tat” of Neighbours but not that of the LFL). In effect this is where we diverge, because Razer apparently doesn’t have a problem with pole dancing and bar fighting, while I object to them (in the case of pole dancing, when it occurs in the typical strip club) not on moral grounds but on the basis of opposition to the exploitation of women and to violence in general. I’ve noticed that a lot of the feminists defending the LFL, pornography and prostitution hardly ever mention violence against women as a feminist issue. They tend to focus on safer issues such as wage disparity, the representation of women in the media, or whether a woman takes her husband’s name in marriage.
Razer goes on to say that the LFL is “cheap”, and that those who object to it do so on grounds of taste (and, presumably, morals), wrongly stating that we would rather see women in “nicer outfits playing something more wholesome”. In actual fact the feminists against the LFL don’t give a toss what women wear, as long as they are choosing to wear it themselves. According to her, women can be compared with Monster Trucks, and arguing against the exploitation of women by patriarchal market forces is not a political but a “missionary reflex”; suggesting that the players have no volition is demeaning and oppressive. Even if we accept that the players have volition, this doesn’t mean that the LFL is not oppressive or degrading. We know that some women experiencing domestic violence do have a level of agency, but we don’t use that as reason to suggest that violence against women is okay. Conversely, if a woman has little or no volition in a DV situation, we don’t say that quality feminist services designed to assist her if she chooses to use them are oppressive or “missionary”. Furthermore, when working with a woman experiencing DV, supporting her to gain information, knowledge and understanding of the dynamics, effects and risks of domestic violence (in other words, consciousness-raising), while this may remind her that she is being demeaned by her partner, does not further demean her but assists her to enhance her own safety and options.
Following from this, Razer states that the Minister for Sport’s objection to the LFL is based on snootiness and if she wants to ban it she should ban roller derby. Razer claims that such a ban would not happen because the sport is played “by middle-class women in Brunswick”. Here again I disagree. Such a ban would not be prevented because of the middle-class player’s (apparent) good taste or sense of irony. Rather it would not happen because with roller derby there is nothing to exploit. As far as I know there are no big corporations interested in profiting from having control of the roller derby; it sounds like a grassroots bottom-up women-led, not-for-profit hobby, not a top-down, multi-million dollar, male-controlled business. As far as I know there are not thousands of leering, drunken males queueing and paying to watch roller derby, and if there were I suspect the players and organisers would be none too pleased, which may suggest a little hypocrisy in Razer’s argument. Alternatively, if it happened that big business was interested in investing in roller derby, the women who control it would be in a position to chose whether they would go down that road, and on what terms this happened. I can’t be sure, but if other big corporations are anything to go by, I don’t imagine there are many women in control at the top of the LFL, and the players certainly are not.
Razer claims that volition, therefore, “is a matter of class and distinction”. (She appears to feel that roller derby is tasteful; of that I have no knowledge.) She goes on to say that “we” are okay with Scorsese, erotica and burlesque, but not video games, pornography and strippers. I’m not sure who this “we” is she refers to, but I for one find it very difficult to watch the violence and misogyny of Scorsese films. His and other films with violence tend to act as triggers for me and if I watch them I often find myself with a greatly increased heart rate and sweaty palms, a result of trauma from domestic violence. Erotica and burlesque I know little about but I suspect that the lack of condemnation of them has less to do with their tastefulness and more to do with the fact that they are not associated with the sexual violence, abuse and exploitation that is found in pornography and other parts of the sex industry.
Razer ends by saying that feminism should not be used in “the service of snobbery”, but I fear that is exactly what she herself is doing. As she is okay playing her roller derby, which she wrongly equates with the LFL on the basis of the clothes worn by the players, she dismisses the political work of other feminists as “snootiness”. Feminism, she says, has “far more important work to do”, but she does not say what. In a way I agree with her, because in the scheme of things the LFL is not a priority for women experiencing or who work in the field of domestic violence, an issue which I presume Razer deems worthy of feminism. But I wonder where people think violence against women comes from? I assume they know it comes from male privilege and men’s sense of entitlement over women. Ending violence against women requires revolutionary societal unlearning of such male privilege and entitlement. As I can’t see how the LFL assists with this in any way, and in my opinion it contributes to it, I therefore consider it a feminist issue.