When I read The Guardian’s review of NSFW (Royal Court theatre, London), I was struck by the candidness of Ms. Kirkwood, who seemed quite open about the paralysis of the feminist movement (or at least, the grinding stalemate on many of the fronts feminists and their allies battle away at).

NSFW has it all for anyone interested in globalized gender issues. Confronting her audience enjoying her play are broad cultural issues at stake: the complicity between men and women to ‘betray’ women, the ‘plastic’ sexuality fed to boys and young men on a mass scale, and the destructive patterns of internalization males and females alike suffer today.

More striking is Kirkwood’s admittance that she, her performance, and notably everyone else suffer from a complete lack of answers to these problems (‘It [the play] tries to suggest love as a thing to cling to when everything else is being eroded. But of course I don’t have any answers; none of us does’). And as she tacitly admits, love seems to be a bit of a weak answer, perhaps a non-answer, in the face of corporatist-cultural misogyny. So there you have it, as frank as any eloquent, expressive, young and talented cultural voice can be. We have no answers.

…a new demon for the movement rears its head…

Yet much of what she warns about is true. With each step towards what feminism can only see as progress – legislation of gay marriage, for example, a new demon for the movement rears its head, such as the almost complete indifference in popular culture to the multi-billion dollar industry of hardcore pornography, where the often unnatural is now all too natural to many men and women.  Almost as a course of necessity, feminism has signed an unenviable pact with popular culture.

It has no choice but to celebrate certain glimpses of progress in the modern zeitgeist like marijuana and abortion (both of which are gaining momentum) while coexisting uneasily beside things that are not only accepted in the very same culture , but so patently absurd that the only reason why they exist is because there is a market that’s been created for them. How can it be, for example, that several women were taken to hospital for injecting stuff into their cheekbones because the product was not supervised properly, and the only shrill questions we ask is how much we can sue the company, and not why those women – who were not disfigured or suffering any condition – hated themselves enough to want to change their heads’ bone structure?

…the culture wars are far from over…

Because for all the Slutwalks, for all the Hollabacks, for all the courage that we see in the women who are determined to catch their rapist by protecting the man the Barbados government has lazily scapegoated, the culture wars are far from over. On the other side of the pond, a great fuss was kicked up about how Barack Obama’s victory over the Tea Party and its anti-gay, anti-abortion allies meant the end of the culture wars.

Even to the most enthused progressive this must have seemed a complacent, headline-grabbing soundbite, especially when only a few weeks later, we were treated to reports about the widespread culture of rape and sexual assault in Western militaries, the ludicrously contemptible coverage and hypocritical hysteria over David Petraeus and his dalliance – all of these being different reflections (with varying degrees of moral failure) of the almighty patriarchal institution that NSFW identifies as part of the problem, not the solution.  

The feminists’ fight to find some answers to the cultural madness is not abating. And if you believe Kirkwood’s sharp and honest observations, it’s only going to get fiercer and crazier.

 

 

About The Author

A journalist of religion, Raymond is the editor of Buddhistdoor International. He divides his time between London and Hong Kong and can be reached at raymond@buddhistdoor.com.

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